WASHINGTON: The Taliban’s internal debate over whether and how to negotiate with the Afghan government is playing out in the open, even as there have been renewed attempts to restart talks.

Breaking with nearly 15 years of public silence, Sayed Muhammad Tayeb Agha, who until recently was the Taliban’s chief negotiator and head of their political commission, issued a letter about peace talks to the insurgency’s supreme leader over the summer and discussed reconciliation efforts in an interview with The New York Times in recent days, his first on the record with a western publication in years.

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times and appeared in the Afghan news media, Agha supported the idea of talks, and said the insurgency should be urgently trying to position itself as an independent Afghan political movement.

Agha led the efforts to open the Taliban’s political office in Qatar in 2011, and he was instrumental in negotiations that led to the release of the last known American prisoner of war held by the Taliban, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for the release of five Taliban detainees from the American prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. But he became disgruntled over the internal power struggle that broke out in 2015 after the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Muhammad Omar, for whom he was a trusted aide. He remains in exile abroad.

Within the Taliban, discussions of whether or how to take up negotiations have proved divisive. Some of the group’s most senior field commanders openly bridled at the possibility in 2015, when a meeting in Pakistan seemed to signal that talks might progress. Now, however, with the insurgents seizing so much territory in Afghanistan and badly bloodying the security forces, some officials believe that the Taliban might be more amenable to coming to the table, Washington Post said on Tuesday.

Agha’s letter, which he sent in July, has not been answered by the new Taliban leader, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, was a sign that not all senior Taliban figures were so reluctant to talk. In fact, he insisted that it should be a priority for the insurgency and that the Taliban movement must change to allow it or risk disintegrating into splinter groups, making way for bandits and Islamic State loyalists.

He suggested that the insurgency break with foreign fighters in its ranks, call itself a movement rather than an Islamic emirate, and stop pretending it is a parallel government.

His most important recommendation was that the insurgency’s leadership, which has operated in exile in Pakistan since the toppling of its regime in 2001, should leave that country.

“The presence in Pakistan of the movement’s key and decisive members and structures will force on the movement things that are against the interests of the movement and Afghanistan,” Agha wrote in the letter.

In the interview, conducted by email, Agha said that the most opportune moment for peace talks was 2010, when Mullah Omar signed off on the idea and his representatives began directly negotiating with the Americans, though not with the Afghan government.

But Agha insisted that progress could be made now despite the existence of a public ultimatum from the Taliban that they would never negotiate with the Afghan government as long as American or other foreign troops were still in Afghanistan — a demand he characterised as flexible.

In fact, he rejected the idea that the insurgency had strict preconditions for talks beyond certain necessary trust-building measures.

“Not at all — we did not have the precondition that the American forces leave and then we will sit down with the Kabul government, because that would not be wise and practical,” Agha said in the interview. “Of course, if we had reached that stage of negotiations, we would have asked for a deadline, for a timetable. And this was our right, and also a wise condition,” he added.

Now, some officials say, there have been renewed efforts to contact Taliban representatives and start working toward peace talks. But most described those attempts as preliminary, and there was some worry that the Taliban would continue pressing their military offensives while trying to fool the Afghan government by saying they were amenable to talks.