On the eve of talks with Western diplomats, the Taliban broke the ice on Sunday in Oslo with members of Afghan civil society during discussions focusing in particular on human rights.
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Led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban delegation – the first to visit Europe since their return to power in August – met behind closed doors feminist activists and journalists in particular, at the Soria Moria hotel , on a snowy hill near Oslo.
One of the feminist activists, Jamila Afghani, spoke of “a positive meeting to break the ice”.
“The Taliban have shown goodwill,” she said in a message to AFP. “Let’s see if their deeds will follow their words.”
The participants stressed “that all Afghans must work together for political, economic and security improvement in the country”, also tweeted the spokesman of the Islamist government, Zabihullah Mujahid, in what he presented as a “declaration common”.
They also recognized that “understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions to all the problems of Afghanistan”, he said.
The humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan and human rights are at the heart of this three-day visit as millions of people are threatened by hunger in the country deprived of international aid and affected by several droughts.
No state has so far recognized the government of the Taliban, Islamist fundamentalists ousted from power in 2001, but who regained control of the country last August after a lightning offensive.
These discussions “do not constitute legitimization or recognition,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said on Friday. “But we have to talk to the authorities who are de facto running the country.”
Several dozen demonstrators protested in front of his ministry on Sunday to cries of “No to the Taliban”, “Taliban terrorists” and “Afghan lives matter”, noted an AFP journalist.
“It’s laughing in the face of all Afghans who have lost family members there,” said protester Shala Sultani. “How can they invite terrorists who have killed so many people to sit down and talk about peace?”
On Monday, the delegation will meet representatives of the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the European Union, before bilateral contacts with the Norwegian authorities on Tuesday.
“While seeking to resolve the humanitarian crisis with our allies, partners and humanitarian organizations, we will pursue lucid diplomacy with the Taliban (dictated by) our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan,” tweeted Sunday. US Special Representative Thomas West.
A critical visit
Among the fifteen members of the delegation – exclusively male – arriving Saturday evening on board a plane chartered by Norway, figure Anas Haqqani, one of the heads of the Haqqani network.
His presence in Oslo is particularly criticized. Responsible for several deadly attacks in Afghanistan, his clan, which has become a major component of the new Taliban regime, is considered by the United States to be a terrorist group.
Since August, international aid, which financed about 80% of the Afghan budget, has stopped and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets of the Afghan Central Bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants’ salaries have not been paid for months.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55% of the population, according to the UN, which has requested 4.4 billion dollars from donor countries this year.
“It would be a mistake to inflict collective punishment on Afghans just because the de facto authorities are not behaving well,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.
The international community, however, is waiting to see how the Islamist fundamentalists govern, having trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.
Despite the promises, women are largely excluded from public sector jobs and secondary schools for girls mostly remain closed.
Former Afghan Minister of Mines and Petroleum now a refugee in Norway, Nargis Nehan says he declined an invitation to talks, fearing that “they normalize the Taliban, that they strengthen them without changing one iota” .
This week, two feminist activists disappeared in Kabul.