Before talks with Western diplomats, the first Taliban delegation to visit Europe since their return to power in Afghanistan began discussions in Oslo on Sunday with members of Afghan civil society, focusing in particular on human rights.
• Read also: Afghanistan: talks with Westerners in Norway will “change the warlike atmosphere”, according to the Taliban
Led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, the delegation, on the first day of its visit, was to meet feminist activists and journalists in particular, behind closed doors, at the Soria Moria hotel, on a snowy hill near Oslo.
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.
No state has yet recognized the government of the Taliban, Islamist fundamentalists ousted from power in 2001 but regained control of the country last August after a lightning offensive.
These discussions “do not constitute legitimization or recognition,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said on Friday. “But we have to talk to the authorities who are de facto running the country,” she said.
Several dozen demonstrators protested in front of his ministry on Sunday to cries of “No to the Taliban”, “Taliban terrorists” and “Afghan lives matter”, noted an AFP journalist.
On Monday, the delegation will meet representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union, before bilateral contacts with the Norwegian authorities on Tuesday.
In an interview with AFP on Saturday, the spokesman for the Islamist government, Zabihullah Mujahid, said he hoped that the talks would help “change the warlike atmosphere (…) into a peaceful situation”.
Among the fifteen members of the delegation – exclusively male – arriving Saturday evening on board a plane chartered by Norway, figure Anas Haqqani, one of the leaders of the Haqqani network.
Responsible for several deadly attacks in Afghanistan, this clan is considered by the United States to be a terrorist group and has become a major component of the new Taliban regime.
The senior official, who has no official function in government, was imprisoned for several years in a US prison near Kabul, before being released in 2019 during a prisoner exchange.
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 servants’ 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 dollars from donor countries 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 said on Friday.
The international community, however, is waiting to see how the Islamist fundamentalists govern, having trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
Despite the promises, women are largely excluded from public sector jobs and secondary schools for girls mostly remain closed.
Former Afghan Minister of Mines and Petroleum now a refugee in Norway, Nargis Nehan says he declined an invitation to talks, fearing that “they normalize the Taliban, that they strengthen them without changing one iota” .
“If you look at what 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 haven’t taken a single step on their side,” she told AFP.
This week, two feminist activists disappeared in Kabul.
Political analyst Davood Moradian criticized a “sounding” peace initiative 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, as the Taliban have de facto instituted gender apartheid,” he said.
From the Middle East to Sri Lanka to Colombia and the Philippines, the Nordic country has a long tradition of facilitating peace efforts.