Tale/innlegg | Dato: 16.11.2022 | Utenriksdepartementet
Av: Utenriksminister Anniken Huitfeldt (Oslo, 16. november)
Utenriksminister Anniken Huitfeldt åpnet årets Afghanistan-uke i regi av blant annet Afghanistankomiteen.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Dear friends of Afghanistan,
Many of you have worked very hard to support Afghanistan over the years.
Humanitarian organisations, and the research community, have been – and still are – important parts of the wider Norwegian engagement in Afghanistan. The Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian Red Cross. The Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Christian Michelsen Institute, and other organisations as well.
I hope you realise just how valuable your contributions are, in their own right. But also, as very valuable input when we decide on government policy on Afghanistan.
It is good to see that you have maintained your commitment to a country that has experienced such widespread hardship and suffering.
As you know, massive changes have taken place in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power last year.
And for me, there is one image that comes to mind, which I think illustrates that very well. A bodyguard from the Norwegian Police Security Service – PST.
Who in January two thousand and eight (2008) was at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, to protect the then Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre. There is a media photo of this bodyguard in the basement of Serena. With his rifle lifted, ready to fight the Taliban-terrorists as they attacked the hotel and killed civilians. Including a Norwegian journalist.
Then, fast forward fourteen years, to January twenty twenty two (2022). In Oslo. A media photo of the very same bodyguard. This time, he is protecting the Taliban delegation, including the brother of the man responsible for the Serena attack.
For me, these are strong images. Not because of the bodyguard. He is doing his job in a professional way. But the images so clearly illustrate, firstly, that our former enemies are now the de facto authorities in Afghanistan. We can dislike it. But that’s the reality.
And secondly, that our role has changed. From fighting the Taliban then, to now trying to convince the Taliban, through dialogue.
What has not changed is our goal: To stabilise Afghanistan by improving the lives of ordinary Afghans.
The security situation for most Afghans has improved. Terrorist attacks still occur, but fewer civilians are being killed in hostilities.
But the Afghan people are contending with economic collapse, increasing humanitarian needs, and restrictions on their rights.
The freedom of movement of women and girls in particular has been curtailed. As has their access to education and employment.
The de facto authorities in the country, the Taliban, seem to have other priorities than improving the lives of ordinary Afghans. Thus, we - the international community – must do whatever we can to convince them that the wellbeing of their own people should be their first priority.
In order to do that, we have to talk with them. And the Afghans must talk to each other.
Inviting the Taliban to Norway some ten months ago was controversial. Perhaps the decision that has triggered most debate during my term as Foreign Minister.
But I am convinced that it was the right decision. Many people were surprised. Others were angry. And I can understand that.
But many also expressed support. Such as the Norwegian Chief of Defence, General Eirik Kristoffersen. And others, who fought in Afghanistan themselves. That support from women and men in uniform meant a lot.
They understood that contact with those who are actually in power is essential if we are to help the Afghan people.
Also, despite its controversy, the invitation had broad political support. Only one party in the Storting – our parliament – was openly against it.
This general broad agreement on foreign policy issues is one of Norway’s advantages. And one of the reasons why we could invite them here. I did not meet with the Taliban myself. But my state secretary did.
And we did succeed in bringing together the Taliban and representatives of Afghan civil society.
The talks also contributed to reducing the humanitarian catastrophe. That said, it is still a catastrophe. But not as bad as we feared it would be one year ago.
However, sadly, we can now say with certainty that the Taliban has not delivered on its promises from the Oslo-meetings. They have not formed an inclusive government. They do not respect human rights.
These are the main reasons why Norway and the international community do not have normal political contact with the de facto authorities.
We will not give the Taliban political recognition. We will make it clear what we expect of them. We will hold them accountable for violations of human rights. And we will continue to exert influence on them.
Afghanistan is a complex country. With stories of despair, but also of hope. And resilience. Developments differs between provinces. Providing challenges, but also opportunities.
If history has taught us anything, it is that it is not wise to give up on Afghanistan. No one will benefit if the country descends into civil war or becomes a base for international terrorism. The Afghan people need our assistance and support.
The Security Council
Although multiple global crises are competing for our attention, the international community has not forgotten Afghanistan.
This is clear from my conversations with counterparts from other countries. They want to talk with Norway about how we can work together to help the Afghan people. Partly because of the meetings in Oslo. But also because of our role in the Security Council.
Norway is the so-called penholder on Afghanistan in the Council. It means that we write the draft statements, and we take initiatives, for instance convening emergency meetings. And lead the drafting processes and negotiations on Council statements and resolutions. We have managed to navigate dividing opinions and to ensure that the UN in Afghanistan has a robust political mandate. Which enables us to monitor and expose human rights abuses. And to facilitate inclusive political dialogue.
The negotiations on the new mandate for the UN political mission in Afghanistan were particularly difficult this year. They took place just after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Despite different views, especially between the Western countries and Russia and China, we managed to negotiate a new mandate. It was adopted in mid-March. With support by all Council members except one, Russia, who abstained.
Norway has also led negotiations that have resulted in statements, backed by all fifteen members. The Security Council has sent clear messages on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, called on the Taliban to ensure inclusive governance and women’s full participation in society. And to immediately reopen schools for all girls.
Our efforts in the Security Council have shown that the international community is clear in its expectations and demands of the Taliban. We all have an interest in preventing a state collapse.
The Taliban’s return to power led to an economic crisis and compounded the humanitarian situation. Extensive humanitarian efforts enabled people to cope with the winter better than we had feared a year ago.
Nevertheless, many Afghans are still facing food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. Many lack access to basic services. And there is an urgent need to strengthen protection against violence and abuse.
Norway has increased its humanitarian support substantially. But humanitarian action alone is not enough. Norway has been at the forefront of efforts to mobilise assistance over and above humanitarian aid. Not for the Taliban regime, but to support the Afghan people.
We have listened to advice from many of you here today. And we have conveyed your views to the authorities in other countries.
We have actively encouraged the World Bank, the UN, and other donors to establish large-scale programmes to promote food security, health and education, and to safeguard people’s livelihoods.
We also promote processes that increase macroeconomic stability, such as strengthening the banking system.
And we have strengthened our efforts to promote human rights and women’s position in society. For example, by funding continued access to sexual and reproductive health services.
We have a pragmatic approach. Aimed at finding the best possible solutions in an extreme situation. It is very challenging to work in a country where we cannot support or cooperate with the authorities in a normal way.
There is still a long way to go. We will continue to argue for pragmatic solutions. And maintain a high level of aid. This month, we will disburse nearly two hundred and twenty million Norwegian crones to the World Bank and UN.
Our aid to Afghanistan this year will be higher than last year, totalling more than seven hundred million Norwegian crones.
Further dialogue with the Taliban
Promoting conflict resolution and reconciliation is a key component of Norway’s foreign policy. Since January, we have met in Afghanistan with both the de facto authorities and other Afghans. We have also met with Taliban representatives in Doha, on our own and together with international colleagues.
In all these talks, we have communicated our expectations very clearly. And conveyed the expectations of the Afghan people.
Some people are questioning the point of continued dialogue. When there appears to be no constructive response.
My answer to them is that the alternative to dialogue is much worse. We must avoid a humanitarian disaster. Aid workers must have access and space to carry out their work. And the Taliban must be reminded of Afghanistan’s international obligations.
Our international partners – and many Afghans – encourage us to continue to facilitate talks. Both with the Taliban, and between the Taliban and other actors in Afghanistan. To help stabilise the country.
So, we will continue to pursue dialogue whenever possible.
One of the challenges we face is that the people we meet – those in the de facto administration in Kabul – are not the ones taking the important decisions. The supreme leader and his inner circle are in Kandahar. And they do not have a habit of talking to foreigners.
We are constantly assessing how to maintain dialogue. How to access the real decision-makers.
Should we step up our dialogue with authorities in districts and provinces? Are there more effective ways of communicating our message?
We are not the only Western country that is talking to the Taliban. We cooperate closely with like-minded countries such as the U.S., Britain and the EU. That cooperation is crucial.
Because countries whose values differ widely from our own, should not be the only ones to influence Afghanistan. That is not in our interest. Nor, I believe, in the interest of Afghans.
But even these countries largely agree with us on the basic message. We have seen this in the Security Council.
Everyone is concerned about the fact that girls in Afghanistan do not have access to education after primary school.
Everyone agrees that it is important to prevent international terrorist organisations from gaining a foothold in the country.
And everyone is worried that the Taliban’s monopoly on power poses a threat to the country’s stability.
In fact, there is a remarkable degree of international consensus regarding Afghanistan.
No country has normalised its ties with the de facto authorities, and no country stands to benefit from Afghan destabilisation. Of course, different countries have differing approaches. But we have a common ground to base our efforts to stabilise Afghanistan.
The UNAMA mission should take the lead in translating this consensus into joint international action.
And, of course, we speak with Afghan civil society. People who work hard to make a difference. At the Oslo Forum in June, I met five Afghans who are working to bring about change. Yesterday, I met women who promote women’s rights. They might be here this evening. They told me about the harsh realities for women in Afghanistan.
They have been making demands of both the Taliban and the international community. And I listen carefully when they speak. Because they know where the shoe pinches the most.
Human rights and the rights of women
The human rights situation in Afghanistan is critical. An issue we always raise – and will continue to raise in our contact with the Taliban.
In addition to the severe rollback of the rights of girls and women, there are reports of killings, abuse, detention, and inadequate legal safeguards.
Religious and ethnic minorities are regularly subjected to attacks. Freedom of expression is greatly curtailed. Working conditions for the media are extremely challenging.
So far, pressure from the international community has not led to any improvements. Still, we must continue our efforts.
We have increased our support to organisations that promote human rights in Afghanistan. Including civil society organisations and grassroots initiatives with a special focus on women and girls. We fully support the human rights efforts of the UN, including robust mandates for the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan and UNAMA.
The Special Rapporteur appointed by the Human Rights Council, Richard Bennett, has been allowed to visit the country twice. And has access to the de facto authorities and civil society representatives. That is one positive development.
The threat of terrorism has increased in Afghanistan. The IS, or Islamic State, tries to undermine the Taliban’s control of Afghan territory.
The group has carried out terrorist attacks on minorities, such as the Hazaras. They express the aim to attack foreigners in the country. They pose a threat both within the region and internationally.
The US attack on al-Qaida leader al-Zawahiri made it clear that al-Qaida is still present in Afghanistan.
The UN Security Council has adopted a number of resolutions stating that Afghan territory must not be used to plan or finance terrorist acts, or to shelter or train terrorists. We expect the de facto authorities to comply with Afghanistan’s obligations under international law in this area.
Many Afghans who have close ties to Norway were granted residence here after the Taliban took power. I know that they have been through a difficult transition. And I know that many are passionate about their home country.
In the end, the future of Afghanistan is for the Afghans to decide. But there are many of us who care. And many of us who want to help. This week’s focus on Afghanistan shows that there are many people in Norway who are engaged, and who want to contribute.
Norway has a long history of engagement in Afghanistan. Thousands of Norwegian women and men have served there in military uniform.
Many, both soldiers and civilians, have sacrificed a great deal. We honour the memory of the Norwegians who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan.
Scores of Norwegian aid workers, researchers and diplomats have in-depth knowledge of the country. They have Afghan friends, some of whom have fled, and some who are still in the country.
The constructive cooperation between the Foreign Service, the aid organisations and the research community on matters relating to Afghanistan is of tremendous value. And the base for our continued assistance.
Norway has not forgotten Afghanistan. Our engagement continues. We must continue to be pragmatic.
To look for opportunities and find new, creative ways of helping the Afghan people as the situation evolves.