KABUL - The Afghan government is planning to meet the Taliban in Saudi Arabia in an attempt to jump-start peace talks and will also seek Pakistan’s help to facilitate direct access to the Quetta Shura, the BBC reported on Sunday.

The landmark meeting will come in the coming weeks, before the establishment of a Taliban office in Qatar, according to Western and Afghan officials. The Taliban have refused previously to recognise the government of President Hamid Karzai.

Senior officials in Kabul say the Taliban have agreed to the meeting.

The militant group, contacted by the BBC, refused to comment on the move.

The Taliban have so far insisted they would only talk to the US and other allies of the Kabul government.

A senior Afghan government official told the BBC: “Even if the Taliban office is established in Qatar we will obviously pursue other efforts in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

He cont`inued: “Saudi Arabia has played an important role in the past. We value that and look forward to continued support and contact with Saudi Arabia in continuing the peace process.”

President Karzai was angered by US and Qatari efforts to kick-start the peace process without consulting his government fully. In December, he recalled the Afghan ambassador in Doha. A delegation from Qatar is expected to arrive in Kabul shortly in an attempt to mend fences. As reported in the media, a number of Taliban officials have already arrived in Qatar. However details for the establishment of a permanent office have still to be finalised.

Michael Semple, a former EU envoy to Kabul who was expelled in 2007 for talking to the Taliban, told BBC that the Taliban were “confused by the lack of coherence” between the Afghan government and the international community.

“There’s a risk that the Taliban sit there and think there’s some kind of divide-and-rule going on from the international side... and that actually no negotiated deal is possible and that they are far better off maintaining the coherence of their leadership which at the moment, frankly, looks rather more coherent and united than anything on either the Afghan government or international side,” he said. There are worries that the Taliban are using the political office to raise funds, and as a ploy to buy time before foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

There is also concern in the presidential palace in Kabul that those negotiations will be primarily focused on an exchange of prisoners between the US and the Taliban. Five senior insurgents are being held at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. America wants the return of three of its citizens held by the Taliban and its affiliates. They include a captured soldier, Specialist Bowe Bergdahl, and kidnapped US aid worker Warren Weinstein. All are being held in the town of Miranshah in Pakistani province of North Waziristan.

Messages have been sent to the Taliban commanders from the Quetta Shura, the Taliban’s leadership council, warning against dissent. Separately, President Karzai’s government is attempting to improve bilateral relations with neighbouring Pakistan.

AFP adds: Asked for response to BBC report that Afghanistan and Pakistan plan to open a second front in negotiations with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia, Afghan foreign ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said: “Of course we support any steps towards the Afghan peace process.” He refused to comment further.

But a senior Afghan government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the BBC report was accurate, saying: “We will always pursue all roads towards peace in Afghanistan, including contacts with the Taliban that are not limited to the Qatar office.”

A member of the Taliban’s leadership council, the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura, also backed the report of talks in Saudi Arabia. “The idea that the Taliban should have a point of contact in Saudi is pushed by the Pakistan and Afghan governments,” he said on condition of anonymity. “This is because they think they have been sidelined. They want some control over peace talks.”