Today, talks are being held in Norway between senior officials of the Afghan Taliban movement, envoys from Washington, European countries and figures from Afghan civil society.
Talks in Oslo focus on human rights and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where starvation threatens millions of people.
This is the first visit of a delegation from the Taliban movement to Europe since its return to power last August, when the international forces began the final withdrawal from Afghanistan. The movement’s delegation will be headed by the foreign minister in its government, Amir Khan Mottaki.
A US State Department official said the topics on the agenda would be “forming a representative political system and responding to urgent humanitarian and economic crises, security and counter-terrorism concerns, and human rights, especially girls’ and women’s education.”
The Taliban hope the talks will help “transition from the atmosphere of war to a peaceful situation,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban government, and Norway’s Foreign Minister, Anneken Hoetfeld, stressed that the talks “do not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban.”
“But we have to talk to the de-facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian catastrophe,” Huetfeld said.
Taliban government participation
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated significantly since last August. The United Nations has warned that ninety-five percent of the Afghan people will suffer from hunger.
International aid, which had financed about 80 percent of the Afghan budget, was abruptly halted, and the United States froze $9.5 billion in Afghan assets in American banks.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and government salaries have not been paid for months in a country devastated by several droughts.
The United Nations says it needs $4.4 billion from donors this year to address the humanitarian crisis.
“It would be a mistake to subject the people of Afghanistan to collective punishment only because the de facto authorities are not behaving appropriately,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday.
Kai Eide, a former UN envoy to Afghanistan, told AFP: “We can’t keep distributing aid by going around the Taliban.”
“If you want to be effective, you have to involve the government in one way or another,” he added.
The international community is waiting to see how Islamist militants will rule Afghanistan, after trampling on human rights during their first term between 1996 and 2001.
While the Taliban claim to be modernizing, women are still excluded from government jobs and secondary schools remain closed to girls.
On the first day of the talks, which are taking place behind closed doors, the Taliban delegation is expected to meet with members of Afghan civil society, including women leaders and journalists.
Narges Nihan, a former Afghan minister of mines and petroleum now living in Norway, said she declined an invitation to participate in the talks.
She said she fears that the talks will lead to “the normalization and strengthening of the Taliban, while there is no room for it to change.”
“If we look at what happened in the talks over the past three years, we will find that the Taliban continued to get what they wanted from the international community and the Afghan people, but there was not a single thing they offered,” she said.
The former minister asked, “What is the guarantee that they will keep their promises this time?”, noting that female activists and journalists are still being arrested in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Daoud Moradian, head of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies now based outside Afghanistan, criticized the Norwegian peace initiative.
“Hosting prominent members of the Taliban casts doubt on Norway’s global image as a country that cares about women’s rights, at a time when the Taliban has effectively established a system of apartheid based on gender,” he said.
Norway has a proven track record of mediating conflicts, including in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Colombia.