Taliban, Afghan civil society 'break the ice' in Oslo

Pierre-Henry Deshayes , Petter Berntsen - Agence France-Presse
Taliban, Afghan civil society 'break the ice' in Oslo
Representatives of the Taliban delegation are seen at the Soria Moria hotel during talks in Oslo, Norway, on January 23, 2022. The first Taliban delegation to visit Europe since returning to power in Afghanistan began their three-day visit on January 23, 2022 with talks with Afghan civil society members focused on human rights and with women activists. On January 24, 2022, the Taliban will meet representatives from the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the European Union, while January 25, 2022 it will be dedicated to bilateral talks with Norwegian officials.
Torstein Bøe / NTB / AFP

OSLO, Norway — Talks in Oslo Sunday between the Taliban and Afghan civil society members served as an "icebreaker", on the eve of their meeting with Western diplomats to discuss human rights and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, an Afghan participant said.

The first Taliban delegation to visit Europe since the hardline Islamists returned to power there, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, spent the first day of their three-day visit talking with women activists and journalists, among others.

"It was a positive icebreaking meeting," feminist activist Jamila Afghani told AFP. The negotiators "displayed goodwill... Let's see what their actions will be, based on their words", she added.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a tweet, said: "All Afghans need to work together for better political, economic and security outcomes...

"The participants... recognised that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions."

The closed-door discussions, facilitated by Norway, are being held at the Soria Moria Hotel, on a snowy hilltop outside Oslo.

Afghanistan's humanitarian situation has deteriorated drastically since last August when the Taliban stormed back to power 20 years after being toppled.

International aid came to a halt, worsening the plight of millions of people already suffering from hunger after several severe droughts.

Protests outside ministry

The hardline Islamists were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 but took over again following a hasty withdrawal by international forces.

No country has yet recognised the Taliban government, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed on Friday that the talks would "not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban", but that country's humanitarian crisis had to be addressed.

Several dozen people protested outside Norway's foreign ministry on Sunday, an AFP journalist at the scene reported.

One of them, Shala Sultani, said the talks were tantamount to "laughing in the face" of Afghans who have lost family members. "You do not talk to terrorists," she said.

On Monday, the Taliban will meet representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the European Union. On Tuesday they will talk with Norwegian officials.

Thomas West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, tweeted on Sunday: "As we seek to address humanitarian crisis together with allies, partners, and relief orgs, we will continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban regarding our concerns and our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan."

Joining the delegation from Kabul is Anas Haqqani, a leader of the most feared and violent faction of the Taliban movement –- the Haqqani network, responsible for some of the most devastating attacks in Afghanistan. 

He was jailed for several years at the United States' Bagram detention centre outside the capital Kabul before being released in a prisoner swap in 2019.

'Collective punishment'

International aid financed around 80 percent of the Afghan budget until it was halted in August, and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets in the Afghan central bank. 

Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants' salaries have gone unpaid for months.

Hunger now threatens 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 address the humanitarian crisis.

"It would be a mistake to submit the people of Afghanistan to a collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Friday. 

The international community is waiting to see how the Taliban intend to govern after being accused of trampling on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001. 

While the Islamists claim to have modernised, women are still largely excluded from public-sector employment and most secondary schools for girls remain closed.

'Gender apartheid'

A former Afghan minister for mines and petrol who now lives in Norway, Nargis Nehan, told AFP she had declined an invitation to take part.

She said she feared the talks would "normalise the Taliban and... strengthen them, while there is no way that they'll change."

Two women activists disappeared this week, seized from their homes in Kabul after taking part in a demonstration.

Davood Moradian, the head of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies now based outside Afghanistan, criticised Norway's "celebrity-style" peace initiative.

Hosting the Taliban's foreign minister "casts doubt on Norway's global image as a country that cares for women's rights, when the Taliban has effectively instituted gender apartheid," he said.

Norway has played a mediating role in many conflicts, including in the Middle East, Sri Lanka and Colombia.



As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: May 17, 2022 - 8:17am

Get the latest news as Taliban gains control of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera/AFP

May 17, 2022 - 8:17am

Afghanistan's interior minister promises "very good news" soon on the return of girls to secondary schools, in a rare interview broadcast Monday by CNN.

At the end of March, the Taliban, who took power after US forces withdrew from the country last August, closed high schools and colleges for girls just hours after their reopening.

The unexpected reversal, ordered by Hibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme leader of the Taliban and of the country, outraged many Afghans and the international community.

"I would like to provide some clarification. There is no one who opposes education for women," said Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, long one of the most secretive Taliban leaders and who only showed his face in public for the first time in March. — AFP

May 3, 2022 - 4:09pm

Taliban officials in Afghanistan's most progressive city have told driving instructors to stop issuing licences to women, professionals from the sector told AFP.

While Afghanistan is a deeply conservative, patriarchal country, it is not uncommon for women to drive in larger cities – particularly Herat in the northwest, which has long been considered liberal by Afghan standards.

"We have been verbally instructed to stop issuing licences to women drivers ... but not directed to stop women from driving in the city," said Jan Agha Achakzai, the head of Herat's Traffic Management Institute that oversees driving schools. — AFP

May 1, 2022 - 9:09am

The United Nations secretary-general on Saturday slammed a bomb blast in the Afghan capital the day before that ripped through a mosque and killed at least 10 worshippers.

"The Secretary-General strongly condemns yesterday's deadly attack on the Khalifa Sahib Mosque in western Kabul during Friday prayers," a spokesperson for Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

"He extends his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a swift recovery to those injured. Attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including mosques, are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law."

The target of the blast appeared to be members of the minority Sufi community who were performing rituals after completing Friday prayers, an official said.

Grisly images of the blast posted on social media showed survivors running out of the mosque, with some carrying victims including children. Patches of blood could be seen on the floor of the mosque compound.

Interior ministry spokesman Abdul Nafi Takor said at least 10 people were killed, while Kabul police said another 30 were injured.

The bombing was the latest in a wave of attacks that have rocked Afghanistan during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Dozens of civilians have been killed in the primarily sectarian attacks -- some claimed by the Islamic State group -- targeting members of the Shiite and Sufi Muslim communities.

Friday's blast comes a day after two bombs on separate minibuses killed at least nine people in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, targeting Shiite passengers heading home to break their Ramadan fast. -- AFP

April 29, 2022 - 3:28pm

Afghanistan's supreme leader called again Friday for the international community to recognise the Taliban government, saying the world had become a "small village" and proper diplomatic relations would help solve the country's problems.

No nation has formally recognised the regime installed by the Taliban after they seized power in August and reintroduced the hardline Islamist rule that is increasingly excluding women from public life.

In a written message ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada did not mention international sticking points — including reopening secondary schools for girls.

Instead, he said recognition should come first "so that we may address our problems formally and within diplomatic norms and principles". — AFP

April 20, 2022 - 8:02am

Several casualties were feared after two bombs rocked a boys' school in a Shiite Hazara neighbourhood of the Afghan capital on Tuesday, police said, with social media showing grisly images of dead and wounded at the scene.

Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP that two improvised explosive devices were placed outside the Abdul Rahim Shahid high school in the capital's western Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood.

He earlier tweeted that three blasts had rocked the school, which is in an area mainly inhabited by the Hazara community and has been previously targeted by the jihadist Islamic State group.

Tuesday's blasts occurred as students were coming out of their morning classes, a witness told AFP. — AFP

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