Friday, May 27, 2022

 Taliban Scheduled To Convene Meeting With Norway Next Week

The acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, will head the Taliban delegation. Special representatives from the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and the European Union would take part as well.

 Taliban Scheduled To Convene Meeting With Norway Next Week
Representational Image AP

A Taliban delegation will travel to Norway for talks with the Norwegian government, meeting with representatives of the Norwegian authorities and several allied countries but also with civil society activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan. 

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it has invited representatives of the Taliban to Oslo from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25. 

Norwegian newspaper VG said that special representatives from the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and the European Union would take part. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

It would be the first time since the Taliban took over the country last August that they have met in Europe. 

Earlier they travelled to Russia, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, China and Turkmenistan. The acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, will head the Taliban delegation. 

Zabihullah Mujahid, the Afghan deputy culture and information minister, said Muttaqi also expects to hold separate meetings with the US delegation as well as bilateral meetings with European representatives. 

The rights of women and girls is expected to top most agendas, as well as a reoccurring demand of the west for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan's minority ethnic and religious groups. 

In December, in a rare interview, Muttaqi told The Associated Press his government wants good relations with all countries, and was committed to education for girls and women. 

On Saturday, Mujahid said in an interview with the AP that the new Afghan rulers were aiming for schools to open for girls and women in late March,  after the Afghan new year. 

Until now school for girls has been restricted beyond Grade 7 in all but 10 provinces.

In the capital, Kabul, private universities and high schools have continued to operate uninterrupted. Most are small and the classes have always been segregated.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said that ”we are extremely concerned about the serious situation in Afghanistan.” 

She said there is “a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people" in the country.

She stressed that the meeting was “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban. But we must talk to those who in practice govern the country today.” 

However Muttaqi is certain to press the Taliban's demand that nearly $10 billion frozen by the United States and other western countries be released. 

The United Nations has managed to get some liquidity into the country, even allowing the new administration to pay for imports, like electricity.

“We cannot let the political situation lead to an even worse humanitarian catastrophe,” said Huitfeldt.

The UN has warned that as many as 1 million Afghan children are in danger of starving, and most of the country's 38 million people are living below the poverty line. 

Even before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was desperately poor, with more than 54% living on $1.90 a day or less.

The Foreign Ministry said that the Taliban delegation meetings also will include Afghans with backgrounds “from various fields and include women leaders, journalists, and people who work with, among other things, human rights and humanitarian, economic, social and political issues.” 

It said that earlier this week, a Norwegian delegation visited Kabul for talks on the precarious humanitarian situation in the country. 

Norwegian news agency NTB said that Taliban earlier had taken part in secret talks in Norway when the current prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, was foreign minister, which was from 2005 to 2012. 

The Foreign Ministry in Oslo said that Afghanistan is experiencing drought, pandemics, economic collapse and the effects of years of conflict. According to them, some 24 million people experience acute food insecurity and are unsure of how to obtain enough food. It is reported that 1 million children may die of starvation. 

It added that the UN estimates that famine will affect more than half of the population this winter and that 97% of the population may fall below the poverty line this year.

“Norway continues to engage in dialogue with the Taliban to promote human rights, women's participation in society, and to strengthen humanitarian and economic efforts in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan people,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. 

Norway was the country that opened secret talks between the US and the Taliban as America began to press for national reconciliation, hinting as early as 2013 that the conflict could not be won militarily. 

This led to the opening of the Taliban's political office in Doha, Qatar, where in 2018, Washington launched negotiations for the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, culminating in the chaotic end to the war in August.

According to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the Scandinavian country that is home to the Nobel Peace Prize has in the past been involved in peace efforts in a number of countries, including Mozambique, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia, Sri Lanka and South Sudan.