Norway’s foreign ministry announced Friday that the Norwegian government has invited representatives of the Taliban to Oslo early next week for “conversations” about the “serious situation” in Afghanistan. The talks come just a week after Norway’s former ambassador to Afghanistan was back in Kabul for talks there as well.
The meeting in Oslo marks the first time Taliban officials will make an official visit to a western country since seizing power in Afghanistan and storming into Kabul last summer. The planned talks will also include “representatives of the international community” along with others from Afghanistan who represent and try to serve the country’s deeply troubled civilian population. Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the goal is try to ward off hunger and nothing short of a “humanitarian catastrophe” after the Taliban seized power last summer.
“We are extremely worried about the serious situation in Afghanistan” Huitfeldt stated in a press release Friday, adding that it amounts to “a full scale humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people.” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the current humanitarian situation in Afghanistan as “a nightmare,” while Human Rights Watch has warned of famine in a recent report.
In order to help Afghan civilians, Huitfeldt said, “the international community and Afghans from various sectors of society must have a dialogue with the Taliban.” She claimed the Norwegian organizers of meetings in Oslo scheduled for January 23-25 will be “very clear about our expectations” to the Taliban, especially regarding how girls must be allowed to attend school and human rights issues including the participation of women in Afghan society.
Taliban officials will meet both Norwegian authorities and those from “several allied countries” that weren’t immediately identified. Meetings will also be arranged directly between the Taliban delegation and other Afghans including women leaders, journalists and those working with human rights and economic, social and political issues.
The country in which Norway participated for years in an international war against terrorism and the Taliban itself is currently suffering from economic collapse and the effects of years of violent conflict, in addition to the pandemic and a severe drought. Food supplies have literally dried up, with the UN warning that a million children alone can die of hunger. Fully 97 percent of the population can fall under the poverty limit this year.
Humanitarian aid is desperately needed, but difficult to deliver and “not enough” on its own to head of further collapse of the health and education systems. That’s what prompted a Norwegian delegation to travel to Kabul last week led by Norway’s ambassador Ole A Lindeman.
It was the first time Norwegian diplomats had returned to Afghanistan after feeling forced to close Norway’s embassy during the chaotic Taliban takeover and mass evacuations in August. It was all viewed as a “bitter end” to years of unsuccessful and often controversial efforts to ward off the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan. The meeting in Kabul on January 17 included efforts “to urge the Taliban to accept sustainable political solutions and respect human rights,” said Huitfeldt, who’s been in New York this week to lead a session of the UN Security Council. Norway wants the council to agree on a new mandate for the UN’s work in Afghanistan, since the current one expires in March.
Huitfeldt stressed that Norway’s latest meetings with the Taliban do not signal any change in current Norwegian policy: All humanitarian aid to Afghan authorities (now the Taliban) remains halted, with Norwegian support now funneled through the UN and various humanitarian organizations.
In order to continue support, she said, “it’s important to have contact with the new regime in power and others in the country.” She claimed that the meetings in Oslo don’t “legitimize or recognize” the Taliban, “but we must talk with those who in practice steer the country. We can’t let the political situation lead to an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.”
Not everyone welcomes the Taliban in Norway, with the right-wing Progress Party objecting to the government’s invitation. “The Taliban don’t have anything to do in Norway,” Progress’ foreign policy spokesman and Member of Parliament Christian Tybring-Gjedde complained to state broadcaster NRK. “Negotiating with them amounts to recognizing that they have legitimate government power in line with those in civilized countries.”