A Taliban delegation, the first to visit Europe since the return of Islamist fundamentalists to power in Afghanistan, began talks with members of Afghan civil society in Oslo on Sunday, focusing on human rights.
Led by their Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Mutaqqi, the Taliban will dedicate the first of the three days of the visit to meeting with feminist militants and journalists.
On Monday, the Taliban delegation will meet with officials from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union.
Tuesday will be devoted to bilateral contacts with the Norwegian authorities.
In the 15-member Taliban delegation, all men, who arrived on Saturday night aboard a Norwegian plane, is Anas Haqqani, one of the heads of the Haqqani network, considered by the United States to be a terrorist group.
Facilitated by Norway, the talks are being held behind closed doors at the Soria Moria hotel on the outskirts of Oslo.
No country has so far recognized the Taliban government and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the talks “do not constitute legitimation or recognition.”
“But we have to talk to the authorities that de facto run the country. We cannot let the political situation lead to an even greater humanitarian disaster,” he said.
Several dozen people demonstrated in front of his ministry this Sunday, shouting “No to the Taliban!”, or “Taliban terrorists!”, among others, an AFP journalist found.
“The formation of a representative political system, the response to humanitarian and economic crises, security and anti-terrorism concerns, and human rights, in particular the education of girls and women,” will be on the table, he noted for his part of the US State Department.
The Taliban, who were ousted in 2001 but returned to power in August after a blitzkrieg, hope the talks will help “change the atmosphere of war … to one of peace,” a government spokesman told AFP. Islamist, Zabihullah Mujahid.
Since August, international aid financing about 80% of the Afghan budget has come to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets of the Afghan central bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants have not been paid for months, in a country already plagued by a severe drought.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, 55% of the population, according to the UN, which has asked donor countries for $4.4 billion this year.
“It would be a mistake to inflict collective punishment on Afghans just because the de facto authorities are not behaving well,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated on Friday.
“We cannot continue to deliver aid by bypassing the Taliban. If we want it to be effective, we have to involve the government in some way,” former UN representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide told AFP.
But the international community is waiting to see how Islamic fundamentalists plan to rule Afghanistan, having violated human rights during their first spell in power between 1996 and 2001.
Despite promises, women are excluded from civil service jobs and most secondary schools for girls remain closed.
Nargis Nehan, a former Afghan Minister of Mines and Oil, now a refugee in Norway, refused to participate in the talks, fearing that they “normalize the Taliban, strengthen them without changing anything.”
“If you look at what has happened in the talks over the last three years, the Taliban always get what they want from the international community and the Afghan people, but they haven’t taken a single step on their part,” he told AFP. .
“What guarantee do we have that this time they will keep their promises?” she asks, indicating that the arrests of feminist activists and journalists have continued in her country in recent days.
Political analyst Davood Moradian criticized the peace initiative, which he considers a “show” for the host country.
“Hosting a senior Taliban official casts a shadow over Norway’s reputation as a country that cares about women’s rights, while the Taliban have instituted de facto gender apartheid,” she said.
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