The Taliban's announcement in Doha, the capital of Qatar, that they are ready to negotiate with the United States and the government of Afghanistan is an event to be welcomed, but only with the greatest caution, and with little hope.
Canada paid a heavy price in defending the liberties of the people of Afghanistan. Consequently, the people of Canada continue to feel a strong interest in that country. The former chief of the defence staff, Rick Hillier, memorably described the Taliban as "scumbags" – not the most dignified expression, but nonetheless a just one.
The Taliban have at least accepted as a premise for the negotiations that Afghan territory should not be used in ways that pose threats to other nations – a periphrastic way of saying that Afghanistan should not harbour terrorists working to harm the United States and the Western world, as the Taliban government led by Mullah Omar notoriously did, before it was forcibly deposed by the United States and its allies in October and November, 2011.
The prospect of the presence of the Taliban in a coalition Afghan government, or their taking power in any Afghan province, remains unsettling. When one considers their assassinations, their massacres of civilians and their persecution of girls and young women who want an education, even a Taliban government that truly renounced any foreign intervention and any harbouring of international terrorists would still be disturbing.
It is conceivable that the Taliban could come to recognize the ultimate futility of their fanaticism and savagery. The Irish Republican Army, with the Sinn Fein as its political front, committed equally appalling crimes of terrorism, but the Sinn Fein has now essentially accepted non-violent politics. That transition was somewhat easier than any future conversion of the Taliban; the Irish terrorists had the advantage of operating in two liberal-democratic countries, Britain and Ireland, to which they could in the end adapt – an environment that is mostly missing in Afghanistan.
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – as the Taliban call themselves – professed in its statement on Tuesday to have pursued its goals by "every lawful means." Hypocrisy has been said to to be the homage that vice pays to virtue. The Taliban's expression of pious sentiments signifies an inching forward toward a happier Afghanistan – a progress that could easily be reversed.