What western PR firm is willing to take on the Taliban?

It’s only a matter of time before those religious zealots enlist PR help to justify their role in the rule of Afghanistan that is free of U.S.-led coalition forces.

In a signal that they are ready to open formal peace talks with the U.S., the Taliban this week announced a plan to open a political office in Qatar. That gives Afghan/U.S. negotiators an “address” where they can meet with legitimate Taliban representatives. The New York Times reported that “American officials have said in recent months that the opening of a Taliban mission would be the single biggest step forward for peace talks that have been plagued by false starts.”

PR representation of the Taliban won’t be a walk in the park. In today’s editorial, the Times wrote of the Taliban: “This is the same group of militants, led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, that ruled Afghanistan with such medieval brutality, denying women access to an education or health care. It is the same group that gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda before Sept. 11, 2001, and that is still killing NATO troops and terrorizing and murdering the Afghan people.”

That said, the paper also noted that “if there is even a remote chance of a political settlement — one that does not reimpose the Taliban’s horrors — it must be explored.”

It will take a mighty PR effort to “rebrand” the Taliban. A firm like BGR Government Affairs would be up to snuff. Since 2004, BGR has represented Qatar, which is now accused of stirring up Islamic mischief in Libya. It has worked for tough customers like Kazakhstan, Kurdistan and Serbia. BGR is the agency of the silver-tongued Republican operative and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who currently has no ties with the firm. Mullah Omar and Barbour would be perfect together, a PR dream ticket.

Stranger things have happened.