KABUL, Afghanistan - Taliban representatives at a conference did not insist on total power in Afghanistan and pledged to grant rights to women that the militant Islamist group itself brutally suppressed in the past, according to a Taliban statement received Sunday.
The pledges emerged from a rare meeting last week involving Taliban and Kabul government representatives.
The less strident substance and tone came in a speech delivered at a conference in France. The French hosts described it as a discussion among Afghans rather than peace negotiations.
It was hard to determine whether the softer line taken by the Taliban representatives reflected a real shift in policy or a salvo in the propaganda war for the hearts and minds of Afghans.
The speech said that a new constitution would protect civil and political rights of all citizens. It promised that women would be allowed to choose husbands, own property, attend school and seek work, rights denied them during Taliban rule, which ended with the 2001 U.S. invasion. The speech was e-mailed from Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
"We are not looking to monopolize power. We want an all-Afghan inclusive government," the speech said. It was delivered by two Taliban officials, Mawlawi Shahbuddin Dilawar and Muhammad Naeem, during the conference on Thursday and Friday.
Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the government welcomed such talks but did not expect them to bridge the gap between the warring sides.
The United States started to embrace the idea of peace talks after President Obama took office, but discussions stalled in recent years, despite the formation of an Afghan government council tasked with reaching out to the Taliban and the establishment of a Taliban political office in Qatar.
"The peace initiative is a process, and one or two or three meetings are not going to solve the problems. But we are hopeful for the future," Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said. He said the government's preconditions for the talks with the Taliban have not changed: a cease-fire, recognition of the Afghan constitution, cutting ties with international terrorists, and agreeing to respect the rights of Afghan citizens including women and children.