A delegation of Taliban officials met with representatives of Western countries last week in Oslo. The meeting on January 24 marked the first appearance of the Taliban’s self-declared government in Europe, and the first such gathering since the group took over Afghanistan last summer.
The closed-door talks held in the Soria Moria Hotel outside of Oslo, Norway’s capital city, were attended by the Taliban delegation, and representatives from Germany, the United States, France, Britain, Italy, the European Union and Norway.
The conversation focused on the major humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is facing, which has significantly escalated since the Taliban came to power in August 2020 after the withdrawal of US forces following their 20-year presence in the country.
After the US withdrawal, the Taliban, which had been in power prior to the US arrival two decades earlier, regained control over the country by overthrowing the US-backed government in a matter of days.
The Taliban’s abrupt takeover led to a series of sanctions imposed by several members of the international community. The sanctions cut the flow of most international aid, led to the suspension of diplomatic ties, and froze the assets of the Afghan Central Bank.
Shahab Jafry, consulting editor of the Pakistan-based Daily Times, told The Media Line that Afghanistan has been at war for almost four decades, which has completely destroyed the country’s infrastructure and also, therefore, the economy.
“During the fighting, different countries supporting different factions poured money into the country, which kept the war economy going, at least. But now that there’s peace, and no country is willing to recognize or trade with them (the Taliban), they have no real way of generating enough resources to run the country,” he said.
All this has caused the severe escalation of Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.
According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than half of the country’s population currently needs humanitarian assistance to survive.
Moreover, the UNDP has projected that “97% of Afghans could plunge into poverty by mid-2022” if the situation continues to escalate at its current pace.
As the situation continues to deteriorate, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, has urged the international community to reevaluate the sanctions imposed on the country. “At this moment of maximum need, these rules must be seriously reviewed,” he said.
Simultaneously, Guterres called on the Taliban to fulfill its promises and cooperate with the international community.
“We must prevent the expansion of all terrorist organizations in the country. And just as I appeal to the international community to step up support for the people of Afghanistan, I make an equally urgent plea to the Taliban leadership to recognize and protect the fundamental human rights that every person shares,” he said.
Jafry explains that, despite the desperate need for international aid, many Afghans say they are against the talks in Oslo as they legitimize the Taliban’s government.
He added that it is not a simple matter for the Afghan people to oppose to the talks. “They have not much of a choice in the matter right now. They are starving, their children are dying, and they have virtually no sources of income. … In their desperation, they’ll take whatever they can get,” he told The Media Line.
Omar Haidari, an Afghan human rights activist who resides in Germany, strongly opposes the talks. Haidari told The Media Line that he feels betrayed by the West for meeting with the Taliban in such a manner.
“Every person of Afghanistan is deeply hurt because of the direct attacks of the Haqqani group (an Afghan Islamist guerrilla insurgent group and wing of the Taliban), yet their high-ranking official is invited to the EU to discuss and negotiate how much Afghan women should be worth in the country,” he said.
He added that the whole world should be concerned by this. “Their presence in a land that pretends to empower and promote humanity [Norway] should not only hurt the Afghan people but every member of the human race,” he said.
Haidari suggested that Afghans expected “the EU to make preconditions prior to inviting these terrorists to Oslo such as reopening all schools for girls, allowing women to get back to their jobs, and putting a stop to the abductions and assassinations of the former Afghan soldiers.”
Jafry said that Norway has its reasons for inviting the Taliban to the talks in spite of the legitimacy it provides to its rule over Afghanistan. “The argument is that everything is being done in the interest of the innocent people of Afghanistan,” he said.
Meanwhile, Selsela Ahmadi, a defense lawyer and women's rights activist who still lives in Afghanistan, told The Media Line that most Afghans, even those in desperate need of the aid, oppose these talks.
“If the international community believes that they are sending money to the Afghan people in need, they are wrong,” she said. Ahmadi suggested that the Taliban’s goal in these talks is not to help the Afghan people. “They only want to show a good face to the international community and enhance their relationships with other countries,” she said.
Jafry believes that if the Taliban gets the international aid that it is seeking, the aid will end up in the hands of the people in need. “They also realize that running a country is very different from wining a war, especially when one is forced to do it in complete isolation. So, the general feeling in these parts is that, at least initially, aid money would be routed to the right places and people,” he said.
Afghans do not share the same sentiment, according to Haidari and Ahmadi. “The Taliban is not honest either with the Afghan people nor with any international organization,” Ahmadi said.
Haidari and Ahmadi believe the international community should not provide aid to the Taliban, or at least not blindly.
Haidari says that a serious guarantee should be taken from the Taliban before making the decision to cooperate with them. “Pakistan as the biggest lobbyist for the Taliban for two decades can play a major role in taking this guarantee,” he suggested.
“Until achieving this level of trust, the international community could deliver the funds and aid through non-governmental humanitarian organizations,” Haidari added.
Meanwhile, Ahmadi said: “We Afghan people demand from the international community to increase their pressure on the Taliban until they respect human rights and especially women’s rights.”