OSLO: The Taliban will hold talks with Western officials in Oslo next week on human rights and humanitarian aid in their first official visit to the West since returning to power, the Norwegian and Taliban governments said Friday.
The visit from Sunday to Tuesday will see meetings with “Norwegian authorities and officials from a number of allied countries”, including Britain, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, it said.
“We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” said Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt.
The Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan last summer as international troops withdrew after a two-decade presence.
A US-led invasion in late 2001 had toppled the Taliban in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since August. International aid came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion (8.4 billion euros) in assets in the Afghan central bank.
Famine now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $5 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis in the country. The Taliban said foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi would lead the delegation.
“This (visit) will open the way for talks, meetings and understanding with the countries of the European Union,” government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
Talks will also take place with representatives of Washington on “pending issues” like the release of the locked funds, he added. Stressing that Norway would be “clear about our expectations”, particularly on girls’ education and human rights, Huitfeldt said the meetings would not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban.
“But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said.
The European Union announced on Thursday that it would re-establish a “minimal presence” of its staff in Kabul to facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid. No country has yet recognised the Taliban government.
The international community is waiting to see how the Taliban Islamic fundamentalists intend to govern Afghanistan, after having largely trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.