Ahead of talks with Western diplomats, the first Taliban delegation to visit Europe since their return to power began in Oslo on Sunday to meet with members of Afghan civil society. Human rights were central.
Led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, on the first day of its visit, the delegation would meet behind closed doors feminist activists and journalists at the Soria Moria hotel, on a snowy hill near Oslo.
One of the feminist activists, Jamila Afghani, spoke of ‘a positive meeting to break the ice’.
“The Taliban have shown goodwill,” she said in a message to AFP. “Let’s see if their actions will follow their words.”
Participants stressed “that all Afghans should work together for political, economic and security improvement in the country,” Islamist government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also tweeted in what he described as a “husband statement.”
The humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan and human rights are at the heart of this three-day visit as millions of people are threatened by hunger in the country deprived of international aid and affected by several droughts.
Speak without legitimizing
No state has so far recognized the government of the Taliban, Islamist fundamentalists who were ousted from power in 2001 but regained control of the country last August after a lightning strike.
These discussions “do not constitute legitimacy or recognition,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said on Friday. “But we need to talk to the authorities who run the country de facto,” she said.
Several dozen protesters protested in front of his ministry on Sunday against slogans such as “No to the Taliban”, “Taliban terrorists” and “Afghan lives are important,” noted an AFP journalist.
On Monday, the delegation will meet with representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union, after which bilateral contacts will be established with the Norwegian authorities on Tuesday.
In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Islamic government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he hoped the talks would help “turn the belligerent atmosphere… into a peaceful situation.”
Anas Haqqani, one of the heads of the Haqqani network, will be among the 15 members of the delegation – all men – who arrive on Saturday evening aboard a plane chartered by Norway.
This clan is responsible for several deadly attacks in Afghanistan and is considered a terrorist group by the United States and has become an important part of the new Taliban regime.
The senior official, who does not hold an official government position, spent several years in a US prison near Kabul before being released in 2019 during a prisoner swap.
Since August, international aid, which financed about 80% of the Afghan budget, has stopped and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets of the Afghan Central Bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servant salaries have not been paid for months.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55% of the population, according to the UN, which has requested $4.4 billion from donor countries this year.
“It would be a mistake to collectively punish Afghans just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday.
Lyrics, lyrics, lyrics
However, the international community is waiting to see how Islamist fundamentalists rule after they trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
Despite the promises, women are largely barred from public sector jobs and girls’ high schools remain largely closed.
Former Afghan Minister of Mines and Oil, now a refugee in Norway, Nargis Nehan says he declined an invitation to talks, fearing they would normalize the Taliban, strengthening them without changing an iota.
“If you look at what has happened in the talks over the past three years, the Taliban always get what they want from the international community and the Afghan people, but they have not taken a step on their side,” she told AFP.