A group of Taliban leaders met with Western officials in Norway on Sunday, January 23, in what were the first talks in Europe since the terrorist group took control of Afghanistan. Their aim is to achieve “unfreezing of Afghan assets” to allow a respite for their economy in a context of social, political and humanitarian crisis.
The meetings began in a luxury hotel in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital. There, the Taliban were present with a clear objective; to get Europe to intercede in their request for the release of almost 10 billion dollars frozen by the United States and other Western countries, AP News reported.
At a press conference prior to the meeting, Taliban delegate Shafiullah Azam told those present: “We are requesting them to unfreeze Afghan assets and not punish ordinary Afghans because of the political discourse. Because of the starvation, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support Afghans, not punish them because of their political disputes.”
The situation in Afghanistan is extremely complex, it is true that the country needs funds that are blocked abroad to meet the basic assistance needs of its citizens, but it is also true that there are no guarantees that its terrorist leaders will allow the development of the minimum rights that have so far been blocked.
In this context, the United Nations (UN) adds that 95% of Afghans do not have enough to eat. This tips the balance for the West to give in to its blockade stance against the Taliban.
However, there have been several protests in Europe with critics claiming that the Taliban should not be rewarded as a result of these meetings, recommending that the heavy-handed policy should continue.
Prior to the talks, Western diplomats met with Afghan women’s rights activists and human rights advocates to hear from civil society in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora about their demands and assessment of the current situation on what is happening there. The meeting was attended by representatives from the European Union, the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and the host Norway.
Among the activists’ demands were photos of Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahim Khel, two women arrested by the Taliban last week after participating in a protest against the Taliban’s imposition of the mandatory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, on women. Both have since disappeared.
Azam denied any responsibility for what happened to the arrested women and even hinted that it could be a “strategy” to gain asylum abroad. This response was met with utter contempt by activists calling for the women to be found alive.
Despite Azam’s unfortunate comment, the Taliban were generally cordial and willing to coordinate and negotiate with the authorities and members of civil society.
The talks come at a crucial time for Afghanistan as, in addition to the structural misery that has gripped the country following the departure of the United States and the Taliban takeover, the arrival of the harsh winter with sub-zero temperatures is aggravating the whole situation.