At Oslo talks, West urges Taliban on girls’ rights and education | News
Western diplomats told the Taliban that humanitarian aid to Afghanistan would be linked to improved human rights, according to reports released as meetings with a Taliban delegation wrapped up in Oslo, Norway.
Closed-door meetings took place during the Taliban’s first official trip to Europe since they returned to power in August. After the talks, the Taliban delegation left Norway on Tuesday evening without making a final statement.
The Taliban are demanding international recognition and the release of billions of dollars in Afghan central bank assets frozen by the United States after the group returns to power on August 15, 2021.
The country also found itself cut off from international financial institutions after the group’s return, triggering a banking crisis and fears the collapse of the war-torn economy.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated rapidly since then, worsening the plight of millions of people already suffering from hunger after severe droughts following decades of war and occupation.
Aid also dried up after the United States reinstated sanctions following the Taliban takeover.
The secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Jan Egeland, who took part in the talks, called for the sanctions to be lifted, telling AFP: “We cannot save lives until all the sanctions are not lifted”.
The aid freeze is “hurting the same civilians that NATO countries spent hundreds of billions defending until August”, he said.
Some 55% of the Afghan population now suffers from hunger, according to the United Nations.
Western diplomats lay out demands
The Taliban delegation, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, met with senior French foreign ministry official Bertrand Lotholary, British special envoy Nigel Casey and members of the Norwegian foreign ministry.
Western diplomats explained what they expected from the Taliban during the talks.
The European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, wrote on Twitter that he had “also stressed the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible to boys and girls across the country when the school year starts in March.
He was responding to a tweet from a spokesperson for the Afghan Foreign Ministry welcoming the EU’s commitment to “continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan”.
I also highlighted the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible to boys and girls across the country when the school year begins in March – and discussed engagement with special rapporteurs appointed by the UN. Looking forward to our next meeting. https://t.co/3ChjbvMQ8k
—Tomas Niklasson (@tomas_niklasson) January 25, 2022
Last week the Taliban promised that all girls would return to school by the end of March.
At the United Nations in New York, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the talks appeared to have been “serious” and “genuine”.
“We have made it clear that we want to see girls back in school in March, including those over 12. We want to see humanitarian access,” he said.
The Taliban are demanding that 10 billion dollars frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released, but there is no agreement on this yet.
The group hailed the talks this week as a step towards international recognition.
The Taliban foreign minister, speaking on the sidelines of Monday’s talks, said: “Norway is giving us this opportunity and it is an achievement in itself. From these meetings, we are sure to get support for Afghanistan’s humanitarian, health and education sectors,” he told AP.
Muttaqi said the Taliban government will “do its best to protect Afghanistan from all kinds of problems, attract more aid, seek solutions to economic problems.”
The UN managed to provide cash and allowed the Taliban administration to pay for imports, including electricity.
“The number one problem now is that Western sanctions are creating a liquidity crisis, which means we can’t bring funding into the country,” said NRC’s Egeland.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban, and the international community is waiting to see how the Taliban intend to govern before releasing aid.
Norway says the talks “do not represent legitimization or recognition of the Taliban”.
Foreign Minister Store, speaking to reporters, said “talking to the Taliban” and “holding them accountable is the right thing to do” and that the Oslo talks were “just a framework for approach them, communicate messages and hold them accountable”.
But the decision to invite the group – and fly over them in a chartered plane at great expense – has been strongly criticized by some experts, members of the diaspora and Afghan activists.
Store said he knew many were troubled by the meeting but: “The alternative, leaving Afghanistan, a million children, at risk of starving to death…that’s not an option. We have to face the world as it is.
Norwegian State Secretary Henrik Thune had earlier said: “This is not the start of an…open process.
“We are going to make concrete demands which we can follow up and see if they have been met,” he told Norwegian news agency NTB ahead of his talks with the delegation on Tuesday evening.
The demands were to include the ability to provide humanitarian aid directly to the Afghan people, according to the NTB.
Norway should also demand respect for human rights, especially those of women and minorities, such as access to education and health services, the right to work and freedom of movement.
The Taliban claim modernization
While the group claims to have modernized, women are still largely excluded from public employment and many girls’ high schools remain closed.
Norway has reportedly raised the fate of two female activists who went missing in Kabul last week after taking part in a protest. The Taliban have denied any responsibility.
On Sunday, the first day of the three-day talks, the Taliban met with members of Afghan civil society, including women activists and journalists, for talks on human rights.
Women’s rights activist Jamila Afghani, who attended the talks on Sunday, told AFP news agency “it was a positive icebreaker meeting”.
The Taliban “showed good will… Let’s see what their actions will be, based on their words,” she said.
In Oslo, a Western observer present at the talks told AFP “there have been gradual changes on both sides”.
“But I think we’re going to need more of these meetings before the Taliban and the West find a way to deal with each other.”
Norway will chair a UN Security Council meeting on Afghanistan on Wednesday in New York.