KABUL - The Taliban and senior Afghan government officials have held two secret meetings since September in Qatar in a bid to restart long-stalled peace negotiations, sources said Tuesday.

An official in the National Unity Government in Kabul told AFP that the two rounds of discussions took place in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper said the talks were attended by Mullah Abdull Manan Akhund, brother of Taliban founder and long-time leader Mullah Omar who died in 2013.

A senior American diplomat was also present in the Qatar meetings, the newspaper said citing a Taliban official.

The Taliban and the US government have so far not commented officially on the development.

The outcome of the September meeting was not clear but a Taliban source told the newspaper that it “went positively and was held in a trouble-free atmosphere”.

A second dialogue was held this month despite intensified nationwide fighting between insurgents and US-backed Afghan troops.

The meetings come after Pakistan - the Taliban’s historic backer - hosted several rounds of international talks over the last year to jumpstart peace negotiations, which yielded little progress.

The dialogue process ground to a complete halt when the US killed former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in May.

The insurgency has shown stubborn resilience under new Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, attacking northern Kunduz city for a second time and threatening the capital of the southern opium-rich province of Helmand.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, Afghanistan’s intelligence chief, and National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar attended one of the Qatar meetings, local Tolo television said citing a presidential palace source.

“In Afghanistan war and peace go hand in hand,” another Afghan official told AFP, confirming the Qatar meetings. “While the government is fighting the Taliban we are simultaneously trying to talk to them. The purpose of these meetings is to find ways to end the 15-year insurgency,” he added.

The official did not say if a new round of discussions would happen, but hinted that the dialogue process could accelerate in the winter months, when fighting usually ebbs.

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No Pakistani officials were present in the latest talks, sources said.

According to Reuters, two Taliban officials said on Tuesday that the militant movement held informal, secret peace talks with the Afghan government earlier this month in Qatar, but a Taliban spokesman denied they took place.

The Afghan Taliban officials, based in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the talks had led to very little in terms of progress. They added that US officials were part of the process, although they did not specify whether they were directly involved in talks.

Afghan and US officials demanded that the Taliban declared a ceasefire, laid down arms and started formal peace talks, said the UAE-based official.

In response, he said, Taliban officials demanded that the group be officially recognised as a political movement, its leaders’ names be removed from a UN blacklist and all prisoners be released.

“Like our previous meetings, it was a waste of time and resources, as we could not achieve anything from the meeting,” said the UAE-based official.

A spokesman at the US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the issue, and referred questions to Washington.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed reports of the meeting, saying they were propaganda aimed at creating divisions within the insurgency.

He was responding to an article earlier on Tuesday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper that cited anonymous sources saying the Taliban had held two rounds of discussions, some of which included US officials.

A spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would not confirm or deny any recent talks in Qatar when asked by Reuters, but added: “We will use all possible ways in order to reach a lasting peace in the country”.

No Pakistani official took part in the latest talks, according to the Guardian.

Relations between the governments in Kabul and Islamabad have deteriorated over the past year, with Afghanistan and the United States accusing Pakistan of harbouring the Taliban and not doing enough to bring the group to the negotiating table.

Pakistan denies providing the Taliban a safe haven.

The Taliban have gathered strength over the past two years, carrying out major attacks in Kabul and taking over large swathes of territory for the first time since being ousted by a US-led military intervention in 2001.

The United States has continued to provide air power and other military support to Kabul, preventing the Taliban from making more ground.