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Taliban undertakes first official trip to Europe with Norway in peacemaker role

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Taliban's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Oslo (Photo: QaharBalkhi/Twitter)

A Taliban delegation led by Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi held talks with Afghan civil society members and journalists in Oslo, Norway, even as many women expressed disappointment at the talks. Those opposing the meet fear that Norway might open up international recognition for the Taliban government.

But Norway hopes, as does the West, that by pursuing a dialogue with the Taliban, it will be in a better position to promote women's rights, advance human rights and strengthen economic and humanitarian efforts for the Afghan people who are under strain after the takeover of power by the Taliban.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt had said in an official release last week that inviting the Taliban for talks does not amount to giving it recognition. Huitfeldt said: "These meetings do 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".

The government formed by the Taliban militants in mid-August 2021 in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US and NATO troops remains a pariah internationally.

The Taliban had visited Beijing for talks in July 2021 (Photo: Chinese foreign ministry)

News agency Associated Press quoted Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam as saying that the meetings with Western officials were a step to legitimizing the Afghan government.

Besides civil society members from their own country, the Taliban delegation will also meet American officials and are likely to seek freezing of $9.5 billion of Afghan assets in American banks, humanitarian aid for the people and recognition of their government.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West welcomed the Norwegian initiative to invite the Taliban. In a tweet, West said: "Welcome our hosts' initiative to bring Afghan civil society and Taliban together for dialogue. Civil society leaders are the backbone of healthy and prosperous economies and societies".

Afghan people and activists say that the Taliban has not changed in the last two decades. They cite the example of the Doha talks initiated by then US president Donald Trump and the Taliban saying that the militant group did not abide by the pact that it signed with the US.

After seizing power by force in August 2021, the Taliban has proved that its stand on women rights, minorities and media has not changed. Women have been fired from government jobs, girls have been barred from attending school, journalists have lost their jobs and women can only venture out of homes with a male escort.

Various UN agencies have warned that the conflict-ridden country stands on the verge of a humanitarian collapse due to low food stock, few medicines and lack of basic necessities. The Taliban has repeatedly appealed for humanitarian aid which people say is a smokescreen for the militant group to seek legitimacy and usurp the aid for its own cadre.

Even though countries like China, Russia, Pakistan, Qatar are running their embassies in Kabul and Taliban delegations have visited these countries for official talks but official recognition has remained elusive due to the Taliban's dictatorial governance and opposition to women and minorities.

Even as the talks take place in Oslo, people have protested in Norway and in Afghanistan against the Taliban.