The Taliban have reached a deal with the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which will allow them to open a political office there.
The move would seem to indicate that the Taliban have agreed to enter into negotiations with the Afghan government to reach some sort of end to the violence there. It would also seem to indicate that the Taliban will continue to play some role in the long-term government of Afghanistan.
"The news that the United States is going to support this is really not a significant shift at all," Tom Peters, a Christian Science Monitor correspondent, said to the CBC. "For the last year to year-and-a-half, you've seen very intense efforts on the part of NATO and U.S. forces here to try to establish some sort of channel to negotiate with the Taliban."
What's new is that the Taliban has agreed to go along with the idea. The Taliban are expected to appoint a representative to the liaison office, who will be sort of go-between with Taliban leaders and western officials.
The Afghan government has always said it's willing to negotiate with the Taliban if it accepts the current government and constitution as legitimate. Having failed to make real progress with violence, the Taliban may be seeking to influence Afghan society and values through the political process, Peters said.
Peters said in recent year that the Taliban have made some compromises, including being open to allowing education of women, provided they are segregated from men.
"You're seeing some willingness by the Taliban to be more open than it was when it was in power in the late 90s," Peters said.
The Taliban have insisted that they won't enter into negotiations with the United States, but Joshua Foust, correspondent for The Atlantic, said that fits with their PR agenda. They've been discussing the idea of negotiations with other countries, like Saudi Arabia, since at least 2008, he said, but have publicly denied being interested at all. So Foust said Taliban denials should be taken with a grain of salt.
"From the Taliban's perspective, we can assume the office is meant to give them a stable mailing office, for lack of a better term," Foust said.
Essentially, this will give outside individuals a chance to engage with and contact the Taliban, without the Taliban risking their entire operation.