Taliban delegates, led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, and Afghan civil society representatives held daylong discussions, focusing on the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, on Sunday in Oslo.
The participants “listened patiently to each other's opinions” and exchanged views on the current situation in the country, said a brief Taliban statement after the meeting in the Norwegian capital. It said “a number of Afghan personalities” attended the meeting with Muttaqi’s delegation but did not elaborate.
“They affirmed that Afghanistan is the shared home of all Afghans and stressed that all Afghans need to work together for the political, economic and security prosperity of the country,” the Taliban statement noted.
The talks marked the beginning of three days of closed-door meetings the Scandinavian country has arranged among the ruling Islamist group, Western government officials and Afghans from a range of fields within civil society.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August and have since sent their delegates to China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Turkmenistan for bilateral as well multinational meetings.
Sunday marked the first time a Taliban delegation was in Europe.
On Friday, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the visit was “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban. But we must talk to those who, in practice, govern the country today.”
The United States and other Western countries have collectively frozen roughly $10 billion in Afghan central bank’s assets, mostly held in the U.S. Federal Reserve, after the Taliban takeover.
In his meetings with U.S. and European envoys in Oslo, Muttaqi was expected to renew his government’s demand for the release of the assets as Afghanistan faces an economic collapse and unprecedented increase in humanitarian needs.
Thomas West, the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan, was in the Norwegian capital for the talks with the Taliban delegation. He was accompanied by Rina Amiri, special envoy for Afghan women, girls and human rights, and officials from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
On Sunday, in a series of tweets, West welcomed Norway’s initiative to bring Afghan civil society and the Taliban together for dialogue, saying civil society leaders are the backbone of healthy and prosperous economies and societies.
“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,” the U.S. envoy tweeted.
The U.S. State Department said West’s delegation would discuss “the formation of a representative political system, responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises, security and counterterrorism concerns, and human rights, especially education for girls and women.”
The freezing of assets and financial sanctions on the new Taliban rulers have plunged the fragile Afghan economy into an unprecedented crisis, worsening a humanitarian crisis. On Monday, the Taliban are to begin discussions with Western nation delegates, where the discussion of frozen assets is likely.
The United Nations says it needs $5 billion this year to bring urgent relief to an estimated 24 million people experiencing acute food insecurity, with 9 million of them threatened with famine and as many as 1 million children suffering from "acute severe malnutrition.”
The U.N. has managed to provide for some liquidity and allowed the new Taliban administration to pay for imports, including electricity, The Associated Press reported.
Norway is no stranger to sensitive diplomacy and has in the past been involved in peace efforts in several places, including Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Mozambique, Myanmar, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria and Venezuela.
“We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said. “We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster.”
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press.