Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
January 26, 2022
Western diplomats said they linked humanitarian aid to an improvement in human rights in Afghanistan during meetings with a Taliban delegation in Norway.
The 15-member delegation held talks behind closed doors with several Western diplomats on January 25, the final day of the Taliban’s first official trip to Europe since returning to power in August.
Norwegian State Secretary Henrik Thune said ahead of the meeting that it was “not the beginning of an…open-ended process.”
He told Norwegian news agency NTB ahead of the January 25 meeting that the Western diplomats would “place tangible demands” in front of the Taliban “that we can follow up on and see if they have been met.”
The demands were to include the possibility of providing humanitarian aid directly to the Afghan people, according to NTB.
Norway was also to call for human rights to be respected, in particular those of women and minorities, such as access to education and health services, the right to work, and freedom of movement.
The European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, said on Twitter he had “underlined the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible for boys and girls throughout the country when the school year starts in March.”
Niklasson posted the tweet in response to the Afghan Foreign Ministry saying on Twitter that Niklasson had told the Taliban delegation that the EU would continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and called for continued meetings.
The Taliban-led government’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, the leader of the delegation, “thanked them for their assistance and emphasized positive relations and cooperation.”
Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated since the Taliban returned to power in August. The UN has estimated 22.8 million people are suffering from acute food shortages and 8.7 million are near starvation.
Since August, international aid, which financed around 80 percent of the Afghan budget, has been suspended and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank assets. Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants’ salaries have not been paid for months.
The Taliban was expected to seek both financial aid and international recognition during the meeting.
No country has yet recognized Afghanistan’s new rulers, whom human rights defenders accuse of committing serious violations, particularly over the lack of rights of women to education, employment, and participation in political and social life.
At the United Nations in New York, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the talks appeared to have been “serious” and “genuine.”
“We made clear we want to see girls back in school in March, also those above 12. We want to see humanitarian access,” he said.
Muttaqi said earlier this week that the opportunity to hold the talks was “an achievement in itself because we shared the stage with the world.”
“From these meetings we are sure of getting support for Afghanistan’s humanitarian, health, and education sectors,” he added.
Norway faced criticism for arranging the hosting the meeting but insisted the talks do not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban.
Gahr Store defended the meeting, saying a large part of the Afghan population depends on humanitarian aid to survive and the world community could not simply stand by and watch people, particularly children, starve, he told NTB.
With reporting by AFP and dpa
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