Afghanistan talks in Oslo have concluded

Beginning of an important dialogue

‘I thank the brave women activists, the human rights defenders and the other Afghans who took part in the meetings with the Taliban in Oslo. It is important that they sat face to face with the Taliban for the first time since the Taliban took power. They put forward their views on the grave situation facing Afghans, on the rights of women and girls, and on the future of their country. This dialogue is a start, and I hope it will continue,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt.

From the talks in Oslo. Credit: MFA
From the talks in Oslo. Credit: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The talks in Oslo came about in response to a request from of a number of Afghan organisations and in consultation with Western allies.

On Sunday 23 January, an all-day meeting took place between the Taliban delegation and other Afghans from a variety of backgrounds. These included women leaders, journalists and people working to safeguard human rights and address humanitarian, economic, social and political issues. It was the first time that representatives of Afghan NGOs and other parts of Afghan society have met the Taliban since the Taliban took power in the country last August. For security reasons, such meetings cannot take place in Afghanistan.

On Monday 24 January, meetings took place between the Taliban and special representatives for Afghanistan from Norway and other Western countries. The special representatives also met with participants from Afghan NGOs and other social sectors.

The meeting between the Afghans provides a basis for further contact to explore reconciliation and ways of creating a more stable and inclusive Afghanistan. It was positive that the two delegations agreed on a joint statement

‘The meetings here in Oslo provided a good opportunity for Western countries such as Norway, France, the UK, Italy, Germany and the United States as well as the EU to make clear what they expect of the Taliban. If we are to help the population and prevent an even worse humanitarian crisis, we must have dialogue with the de facto authorities in the country,’ said Ms Huitfeldt.

Afghanistan is contending with drought, a pandemic, an economic collapse and the effects of years of conflict. Some 24 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity. According to United Nations estimates, more than half the population will be facing famine this winter and 97 % of the population could fall below the poverty line this year. A million children could die of starvation.

‘The major Norwegian humanitarian organisations also met with the Taliban. They have extensive knowledge about the obstacles making it difficult to deliver food, medicine and life-saving humanitarian aid. We must prevent the collapse of basic services such as health and education. We must support the livelihoods of families and communities. That could reduce the number of people needing humanitarian assistance,’ Ms Huitfeldt said.

Human rights important

Norway continues to pursue dialogue with the Taliban in order to promote human rights and women’s participation in society, and to strengthen humanitarian and economic efforts in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan people. Last week, a Norwegian delegation visited Kabul for talks on the dire humanitarian situation in the country.

‘We recognise that a visit of this kind provokes reactions, and I fully understand that many people find it hard to accept that we our holding these meetings in Norway. Especially those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan. The values and policies of the Taliban are vastly different from our own. But we have to work with the world as it is. We believe it is important to have talks of this kind with the Taliban, because we must do what we can to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe,’ said Ms Huitfeldt.

Human rights were a key topic in the meeting between State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Henrik Thune and the Taliban delegation on Tuesday evening. Mr Thune emphasised that the Taliban must comply with their international human rights obligations and protect and promote human rights for all Afghans, including the rights of girls and women to education, employment and participation in society.

State Secretary Thune also raised the issue of the rights of minorities and persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. The Taliban must also demonstrate that they are serious about preventing Afghanistan from once again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism. Mr Thune made it clear that the Taliban is responsible for creating a framework that will enable the international community to support Afghans through the current crisis.

'No legitimisation'

‘Over the past two days, Afghans and representatives of key Western countries have clearly communicated their expectations to the Taliban. Let me stress that facilitating talks such as these in no way represents a legitimisation of the de facto authorities in Afghanistan. Nor does it represent any change in Norwegian policy. We know the Taliban will actively defend their own interests – and are seeking legitimacy. That is one of the reasons that I, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not meet with them. We have issued clear demands, and now we must wait and see if they deliver on what they have said,’ the Foreign Minister said.

One of the key principles underpinning Norway’s peace and reconciliation efforts is the willingness to talk to all parties. Norway has been in dialogue with the Taliban for many years.

‘For the first time since taking power, the Taliban agreed to have a in-depth political discussion with women activists and other opinion leaders in Afghan society. Face to face, in a safe place, they were given a clear message: legitimacy must come from the Afghans themselves, and it requires reconciliation and a more inclusive form of government,’ said Ms Huitfeldt.

‘A few days of talks will not change the situation in Afghanistan. Reconciliation between Afghans – and creating a framework for increased Western engagement with the Taliban – will take time, and will depend on many more people than were in the meeting room here in Oslo. But the talks will have ripple effects. They underscore the need to deal with the acute humanitarian situation. They establish points of contact between opponents. They show the Taliban that inclusion is essential in order to build a stable Afghanistan.’