A Taliban delegation led by Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi has begun three-day talks in Oslo with Western government officials and representatives of Afghan civil society.
From Sunday, closed-door meetings in the Norwegian capital will see Taliban representatives meet with women’s rights activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora.
The delegation will be driven promises to uphold human rights in exchange for access to billions of dollars in frozen humanitarian aid, Al Jazeera has learned.
“The West’s leverage on the Taliban is close to $ 10 billion of Afghan money held mainly in the United States,” said Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid, who reported from Doha.
“Amir Khan Muttaqi will try to get some of that money back to pay the salaries of civil servants and to make sure that there is enough food in the country because the humanitarian situation becomes quite desperate, “he said.
“The other aspect of this, of course, is the promises the Taliban made when it came to power over women’s rights, girls’ education, civil liberties, and that is something the Taliban has yet to deliver,” he added.
Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer at the American University of Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera of the Afghan capital, Kabul, that it was only progress to get the Taliban to sit and talk.
“The reality is that the Taliban are new to the government and there is an opportunity to shape them into something better,” he said.
“I know they were rigid in some aspects, but with the right amount of international pressure and the right kind of activism within Afghanistan, the Taliban can be pushed to specific actions.”
In their first visit to Europe since returning to power in August, the Taliban will meet with Norwegian officials as well as representatives from the US, France, the UK, Germany, Italy and the European Union.
“In Norway we have a meeting with the USA and also with the European Union on matters of common interest. “And one of our encounters will be with our Afghan diaspora, which is outside the country, especially in Europe,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman.
“Their ideas, consultations and plans will be heard. This means that meetings for mutual understanding between Afghans will continue. “
Mariam Atahi, an Afghan journalist and women’s rights activist, spoke to Al Jazeera of Turkey’s Istanbul and urged the Taliban to release three women she said were abducted by the group while protesting for their right to education.
“If they want the recognition, if they want to govern Afghanistan, they have to recognize the human rights, the rights to education, the rights to political participation,” she said.
However, Taliban officials denied beating and arresting women rights activists.
The Afghan group was overthrown in a US invasion in 2001, but rushed back to power in August when international troops began their final withdrawal.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban government, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt emphasized that the talks “would not represent a legitimacy or recognition of the Taliban”.
“But we have to talk to the de facto authorities in the country. “We can not allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster,” Huitfeldt said.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since August.
International aid, which financed about 80 percent of the Afghan budget, came to a sudden halt and the US froze $ 9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank.
Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants’ salaries are not being paid for months in a country already plagued by several severe droughts.
Famine now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $ 4.4 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis.
“It would be a mistake to subject the people of Afghanistan to a collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not acting properly,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday.