The planned joint vetting was among the main focuses of a nearly five-hour meeting last week between three senior U.S. officials and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, officials of both governments said. The session also covered plans to grant Taliban figures living in Pakistan "safe passage" to political talks.
"Whatever you call it, the road map . . . will have many aspects to determine who is reconcilable and who is not, how to then move once you determine they are reconcilable, [and] what should be on the table and what should not be on the table," a senior Pakistani official said.
U.S. officials used similar language to describe the goal of the new partnership.
"It would look at who is reconcilable and who is not," a U.S. official said, with Pakistan using its historical intelligence ties to Taliban elements to advise the United States and Afghanistan.
The U.S.-Pakistan vetting operation would be part of larger cooperation taking place among Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the United States despite crosscutting tensions among all three nations.
Meeting Friday with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised Pakistan's recent interest in helping foster peace talks, but she did not directly address the new initiative.
Pakistan's participation in the Taliban effort is a recognition that some political deal to end the Taliban's 11-year insurgency is likely, or at least possible, after the bulk of foreign forces leave the country in 2014, officials said. Pakistan's leaders acknowledge they have so far been on the margins of efforts to draw the Taliban into talks.
The movement's top commanders, including Taliban chief Mohammad Omar, live in Pakistan.
The vetting idea is in the planning stages, and it was not clear whether it would involve Pakistani outreach directly to Taliban leaders living in or near the city of Quetta, or how the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate recently declared a terrorist group by the United States, would fit it.
"This will have to be a joint determination," the Pakistani official said.
The Taliban does not appear headed for defeat anytime soon. Large stretches of southern and eastern Afghanistan remain in the grip of Omar's faction or the Haqqanis, and incipient peace talks with the Afghan government have been inconclusive.
The Taliban walked away from talks with U.S. officials in March, saying the United States had reneged on several promises. An offer to open a Taliban political office in Qatar, where full peace talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government could be held, remains on the table. Plans to build goodwill by releasing five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are on hold.
Pakistan was suspicious of the Qatari effort, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai opposed it at the outset.
An internal Afghan effort to reach out to midlevel Taliban leaders appears to be more promising now, several U.S. and other officials said. The U.S.-Pakistani vetting operation could dovetail with the Afghan effort, they added.
"Our prerequisite in this is that is be visibly Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and that everybody else shares the responsibility" of helping to frame a viable political settlement, the Pakistani official said.
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, led the lengthy meeting with Zardari on Sept. 14.
Grossman's primary assignment is to foster a peace deal that would leave Afghanistan less likely to return to chaos that could foster terrorism directed at the United States.