The Taliban's second-highest ranking commander is playing down reports of proposed negotiations between members of his group and the Afghan government.

"The enemy wants to engage the Taliban and deviate their minds. Sometimes they offer talks, sometimes they offer other fake issues," said Mullah Hassan Rahmani, second in command to fugitive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, in a rare interview. "The Taliban never ever tried for such talks, neither do we want these talks to be held."

Rahmani, who occasionally speaks with reporters by phone, agreed to a face-to-face interview with a Pakistani journalist hired by the CBC.

The interview comes as the BBC reports a meeting has been set slated for this week at which up to 40 representatives of the Taliban will meet with members of the Afghan government.

Karzai open to negotiating

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he has been open to the idea of negotiating with more moderate elements within the Taliban, and would try to include them in the government if they renounce violence.

Last month, he offered protection for Omar — who is wanted by the United States and is blacklisted by the United Nations — if he accepts Afghanistan's constitution and joins peace talks.

Although NATO has said that a military, not a political solution, will finally end the conflict, Omar and other senior ranking Taliban officials have rejected the call for negotiations.

They have said they will only talk once Western forces, including Canadians, have been removed.

Rahmani, who was governor of Kandahar during the Taliban's five-year reign and now co-ordinates their operations in Afghanistan said the "Jihad is going fine."

"During the night Taliban are able to carry out actions anywhere in Afghanistan, on any street," he said.

But he admitted that in spite of successful attacks inside Kandahar, where about 2,500 Canadian troops are stationed, they have not been able to take the city.

"Sometimes the Taliban capture several areas and come close to Kandahar, and believe they are in a position to seize it. They talk about occupying it. But the fact is that the Taliban has not been able to occupy Kandahar."

Rahmani, who lost a leg fighting the Russians in the 1980s,  also denounced recent acid attacks on schoolgirls in Kandahar, rejecting claims that the perpetrators were Taliban.

"This is propaganda aimed at defaming the Taliban. Nobody knows who threw the acid. Throwing acid on any human being, whether a man or a woman, has never been the Taliban's policy and the Taliban deny their involvement in such acts".

He singled out Canadians in the interview, saying they should "free themselves from American pressures."

"Don’t let their children [be] killed in this war which is not theirs. They say that they are sacrificing for the interest of Afghan nation and for the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. I suggest that they should not fool themselves for this American war."

Meanwhile, a new report from the International Council on Security and Development, formerly known as the Senlis Council, says the Taliban has a permanent presence in 72 per cent of the country compared with just 54 per cent a year ago.

It defined permanent presence as being the site of at least one insurgent attack each week and called for doubling of NATO forces, more aid programs and concentrating on cutting down on civilian deaths.

The report said that Kabul is surrounded on three of four sides by Taliban-influenced areas.

'There's a real irony here'

But CBC's David Common said the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan has questioned the report's findings, saying there have been 60 per cent fewer attacks in Kabul this year.

"There's a real irony here," Ron Hoffmann, Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, said in response, in a telephone interview with the Canadian Press from Kabul.

"On one hand, the report points to the effectiveness of the Taliban propaganda efforts. But I have to say that whenever a Senlis report comes out, it must be a red-letter day for the Taliban propaganda machine."

"The notion that 72 per cent of the country now has a permanent Taliban presence, I think, is just fundamentally inaccurate," Hoffmann added.

Hoffmann said the findings of the report are predictable, and based on "dubious analysis and flimsy research" coming from an agenda he doesn't fully understand.

Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson, commander of Task Force Kandahar, also disputed claims in the report, arguing that attacks by the Taliban do not indicate any kind of control and that, at most, only 20 per cent of the Afghan people support the insurgents.

With files from the Associated Press, the Canadian Press