New WikiLeaks documents made available to Oslo newspaper Aftenposten suggest that Norwegian officials took the initiative to open negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan last year. Norway denies the contact, reports of which come just a week after other reports revealed previously unknown contact between Norway and Hamas.
Diplomatic cables from February 7, 2010 reveal that the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, had been told that contact had been made between Norwegian authorities and the Taliban’s highest governing body, known as the ‘Quetta Shura.’ The president of Afghanistan’s chief of staff, Mohammad Omar Daudzai, was reported as having told the Americans this in a meeting with their second-in-command diplomat in Kabul, Francis Ricciardone.
In the cable, the Americans suggest that Daudzai believed that the Norwegians might have been fooled into meeting self-proclaimed members of the Taliban who may in fact not have been Taliban members at all. The Quetta Shura itself is reputedly made up of the Taliban’s top officials, and operates in exile out of the Pakistani province of Balochistan.
The Norwegian foreign ministry responded through a communications adviser, Marte Lerberg Kopstad, that “we do not comment on documents stemming from WikiLeaks that we have not read, and moreover we have a principled position regarding not commenting on speculation around Norway’s work in this type of area.”
Aftenposten reports that an anonymous, high-level foreign ministry source denied, however, that any such contact with the Quetta Shura took place. Norway’s ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Kvile, also said that he had no knowledge of any such dealings.
Daudzai himself has claimed to have no memory of making such an allegation to the Americans, adding in an e-mail to Aftenposten sent by his secretary that he had never heard anything about contact between the Taliban and Norwegian authorities.
The allegations mirror the involvement of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide in discussions with the Taliban during the same period last year. Eide, who was the United Nations (UN) Special Representative to Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) until March 2010, reported that he had held preliminary discussions with members of the Quetta Shura in Dubai in January 2010. Similar skepticism surrounds the details of this meeting, and whether the Taliban members involved were sufficiently high-ranking. Such meetings would have represented the first-ever official meetings between the UN and senior Taliban members.
The latest leaks come hot on the heels of reports that detail contact between the Norwegian authorities and Hamas in Palestine. Last week, Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Støre was forced to admit to TV2 in Norway that he had conducted personal telephone conversations with Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal in 2007, having previously stated that contact with the Palestinian group had only been made at lower operational levels.
Støre suggested that such contact was crucial in order to form the power-sharing arrangement that now prevails in Palestine. Norwegian opposition parties strongly criticized the minister, with Progress Party leader Siv Jensen claiming he had “deceived” the parliament (Stortinget). The Israeli ambassador to Oslo also commented that “contact with this terrorist organization undermines a two-state solution” in the region.