Moscow - The Taliban official who has led the group’s peace negotiations with the US has told BBC the insurgents do not want to seize “the whole country by [military] power”.

“It will not bring peace to Afghanistan,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai said. However, he said the group would not agree to a ceasefire until foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar and remains a leading figure in the group, was giving his first interview to the international media while attending a meeting in Moscow with senior Afghan opposition politicians.  He said the Taliban’s experiences in power in the 1990s, when it faced armed opposition from rival Afghan groups, had led the group to conclude it was preferable to reach a solution by “coming to the table”.

“Peace is more difficult than war,” Mr Stanikzai added, alluding to the difficulties in reaching a settlement. But he expressed hopes that the conflict could be brought to an end.

Stanikzai told BBC he believed the Trump administration wanted to “bring peace to Afghanistan.”

The Taliban were notorious for their treatment of women, banning most of them to work or go to school. However, Stanikzai said “women should not worry” about the prospect of increasing Taliban influence as they would seek to grant women all their “rights according to Islamic rule and Afghan culture”.  “They can go to school, they can go to universities, they can work,” he added.

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP and one of only two women present at the Moscow meeting, told BBC: “It’s a positive step that the Taliban who were using bullets against the people of Afghanistan, especially women, are now using microphone and listening to women’s voices.”

She said a Taliban member had told her a woman should not be able to become president but could serve in political office.

“We need to make sure everything they say here, they mean it,” Ms Koofi added.

US negotiators have tried to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials, but Stanikzai remained vague when questioned about the circumstances under which they would ever agree to do so.

He said that “when the American forces announce the withdrawal of their troops” there could be further “intra-Afghan dialogue”.

It could include representatives of the current Afghan government, alongside others, to “select or elect a future government”.

Officials in Kabul have suggested the discussions in Russia are an attempt by political rivals to undermine the Afghan government, and explore a potential deal with the Taliban without their input.

Stanikzai said the Taliban had decided in Moscow to meet Afghan political figures who had “manpower” on the ground.

Speaking to Afghan TV channel TOLOnews, President Ghani said: “Those who have gathered in Moscow have no executive authority. They can say what they want.”

Despite the talks in Moscow, and a further round of US-Taliban discussions being scheduled for 25 February, violence in Afghanistan continues.

On Tuesday, Taliban forces reportedly killed dozens of members of the Afghan security forces in a series of attacks in the north of the country.