A Taliban delegation led by caretaker Foreign Minister Amir Khan Mutaki began three-day talks in Oslo with representatives of the Western government and representatives of Afghan civil society.
Beginning Sunday, closed-door meetings in the Norwegian capital will see Taliban officials meet with women’s rights activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora.
The delegation will push for promises to respect human rights in exchange for access to billions of dollars in frozen humanitarian aid, Al Jazeera has learned.
“The West’s list of the Taliban is nearly $ 10 billion in Afghan money, mostly in the United States,” said Osama bin Jawaid of Al Jazeera, a Doha reporter.
“Amir Khan Mutaki will try to return some of this money to pay the salaries of civil servants and make sure there is enough food in the country because the humanitarian situation is becoming quite desperate,” he said.
“The other aspect of this is obviously the promises the Taliban made when it came to power on women’s rights, girls’ education, civil liberties, and that’s something the Taliban has yet to fulfill,” he added.
Obaidullah Bahir, a professor at the American University in Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that simply getting the Taliban to sit and talk is progress.
“The reality is that the Taliban are new to the government and there is an opportunity to turn them into something better,” he said.
“I know they have been firm in some respects, but with the right amount of international pressure and the right kind of activism in Afghanistan, the Taliban can be pushed into action.
On their first visit to Europe since returning to power in August, the Taliban will meet with Norwegian officials, as well as representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union.
“In Norway we have a meeting with the United States and also with the European Union on issues of mutual interest. And part of our meetings will be with our Afghan diaspora, which is outside the country, especially in Europe, “said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
“Their ideas, consultations and plans will be heard. This means that meetings of mutual understanding between Afghans will continue. “
Speaking to Al Jazeera in Istanbul, Turkey, Mariam Atahi, an Afghan journalist and women’s rights activist, called on the Taliban to release three women she said had been abducted while protesting their right to education.
“If they want recognition, if they want to rule Afghanistan, they have to recognize human rights, education rights, political participation rights,” she said.
However, Taliban officials have denied being and arresting women’s rights activists.
The Afghan group was overthrown in a US-led invasion in 2001, but returned to power in August when international troops began their final withdrawal.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban government, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Aniken Huitfeld stressed that the talks “will not constitute legitimation or recognition of the Taliban.”
“But we need to talk to the de facto authorities in the country. “We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian catastrophe,” Huitfeld said.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated dramatically since August.
International aid, which finances about 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget, has abruptly stopped, and the United States has frozen $ 9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed, and civil servants’ salaries have not been paid for months in a country already ravaged by several severe droughts.
Hunger is now threatening 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $ 4.4 billion from donor countries this year to tackle the humanitarian crisis.
“It would be a mistake to subject the people of Afghanistan to collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated on Friday.