OSLO: The Taliban will hold talks with Western officials in Oslo next week on human rights and humanitarian aid in their first official visit to the West since returning to power, the Norwegian and Taliban governments said Friday.
The visit from Sunday to Tuesday will see meetings with “Norwegian authorities and officials from a number of allied countries”, including Britain, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, it said.
“We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt.
The Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan last summer as international troops withdrew after a two-decade presence.
A US-led invasion in late 2001 had toppled the Taliban in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since August. International aid came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion (8.4 billion euros) in assets in the Afghan central bank.
Famine now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $5 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis in the country. The Taliban said foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi would lead the delegation.
“This (visit) will open the way for talks, meetings and understanding with the countries of the European Union,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
Talks will also take place with representatives of Washington on “pending issues” like the release of the locked funds, he added. Stressing that Norway would be “clear about our expectations”, particularly on girls’ education and human rights, Huitfeldt said the meetings would not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban.
“But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said.
The European Union announced on Thursday that it would re-establish a “minimal presence” of its staff in Kabul to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid. No country has yet recognised the Taliban government.
The international community is waiting to see how the Taliban Islamic fundamentalists intend to govern Afghanistan, after having largely trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
Several nations, including China, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Iran have however kept their embassies in Kabul open since the Taliban victory last year.
Western diplomats began to evacuate their personnel in the first half of 2021, when US troops began operations to withdraw permanently from Afghanistan. The withdrawal culminated at the end of August with the chaotic evacuation of 120,000 people.
After participating in the international Operation Enduring Freedom which drove the Taliban from power, Norway, which is used to mediation, has maintained dialogue with the group in recent years. Norway has a track record in mediating in conflict zones including the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Colombia.
In Oslo, the Taliban delegation is expected to meet with women leaders, journalists and people active in human rights, humanitarian, economic, social and political issues, Norway said, without giving names.
While the hardline Islamists claim to have modernised, women are still largely excluded from public employment and secondary schools for girls remain largely closed. Before Norway, the Taliban have so far visited Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Doha, where they have held talks with US officials, among others.