Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
January 24, 2022
A Taliban delegation and Western diplomats have opened talks in Norway to discuss Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis and human rights as the situation in the war-torn country worsens with millions on the brink of famine.
Closed-door discussions in Oslo are being held between the 15-member delegation and representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the European Union, and Norway focusing on Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation, which has deteriorated drastically since the Taliban took over the government in mid-August 2021.
The Taliban delegation is expected to request access to billions of dollars in assets that were frozen after the group seized power in the midst of the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces after being there for two decades.
Afghanistan faces a worsening humanitarian crisis, with 22.8 million people suffering from acute food shortages and 8.7 million near starvation, according to the UN.
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.
“We are requesting them to unfreeze Afghan assets and not punish ordinary Afghans because of the political discourse,” said Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam ahead of the talks. “Because of the starvation, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support Afghans, not punish them because of their political disputes.”
On January 23, during the first day of the all-male delegation’s three-day visit to Oslo, its members met with Afghan civil society representatives for talks on human rights.
Azam told the AP news agency that the January 23 meetings with Western officials were a step to legitimize the Afghan government, adding that “this type of invitation and communication will help [the] European community, [the] U.S. or many other countries to erase the wrong picture of the Afghan government.”
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt had earlier stressed that the talks were “not a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban.”
Feminist activist Jamila Afghani told AFP that the January 23 meeting was positive. The negotiators “displayed goodwill…Let’s see what their actions will be, based on their words,” she added.
While the Islamists claim to have modernized, women are still largely excluded from public-sector employment, and most secondary schools for girls remain closed. Two women activists disappeared this week in Kabul.
About 200 protesters gathered in front of the Norwegian Foreign Ministry on January 23 to condemn the meetings.
Among the members of the delegation is Anas Haqqani, a leader of the Haqqani network, which is responsible for some of the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan. The network has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.
With reporting by AP and AFP
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