In a first, India and Pakistan special envoys participate in Western talks with Taliban in...

In a first, India and Pakistan special envoys participate in Western talks with Taliban in Norway

Organisers reject criticism of Oslo meet by activists claiming it legitimises the insurgent group

Taliban representatives met with Indian and Pakistani special envoys and officials amongst a number of international diplomats this week, in an effort by the Norwegian Government to break the impasse in talks on the sidelines of a peace conference in Oslo.

The talks, which came in for criticism from Afghan diaspora groups, including in Norway, for “legitimising” the insurgent group that took control of Kabul in August 2021, are the first time India and Pakistan were invited to a European country for the talks, although they have been part of similar efforts at the Moscow format hosted by Russia, and in Doha hosted by Qatar. 

“Isolating Afghanistan now will be unfortunate, both for the Afghan people and for us. It could worsen the situation for the Afghan people and it could lead to terrorist groups such as IS (Islamic State) building up in the country,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told local media, confirming that three Afghanistan civil servants, and not “top leadership” were participating in the Oslo Forum and speaking about the “major challenges” in the country.

Afghanistan faces a humanitarian crisis with acute food shortages, and continuing human rights violations including denial of education and employment to females by the Taliban. 

Despite the challenges, New Delhi reopened its mission in Kabul in June 2022 and maintains a “technical team” there to oversee aid and development initiatives. While officials of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) declined to comment on the talks in Oslo, it is understood that India’s latest shipment of 20,000 tonnes of wheat that is arriving via the Chabahar port in Iran this week were among issues discussed. 

No progress was reported on the Taliban regime’s decision to stop girls from attending school and college, and women from going to work in many sectors, during the conference. Organisers said it was important that the officials, belonging to a number of Taliban Ministries, including the Taliban foreign affairs spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi, heard out concerns from different groups.

While there, the Taliban officials held closed-door talks with special envoys from the U.S., the U.K., Norway, Qatar, India, Pakistan, and the head of the UN Afghanistan Mission (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva, as well as with members of Afghan civil society, including a woman negotiator and a leading lawyer. They spoke at a session at the Forum where many angry questions over the decision to stop girls’ education were raised by participants.

According to Pakistan’s special envoy on Afghanistan, Asif Durrani, the discussions also highlighted “priority areas to stabilise the situation” in Afghanistan, and said that amidst the concerns, the Taliban regime received some “admiration” from the U.S. and European delegations on the crackdown on opium production in the country. 

Afghan activists based in Norway tried to enter the venue of the talks, and held a protest against the meet on Thursday in Oslo, accusing officials of “talking to terrorists” and legitimising a regime that no country at present has granted official recognition to. 

However, Afghan diplomats opposed to the Taliban rule said that Norway was using dialogue and conflict resolution as an “excuse” to engage with the Taliban, which hasn’t kept its promises. 

“Norway must end these failed efforts and instead work multilaterally to help rationalize the dangerous status quo in Afghanistan. This begins with steps to resume intra-Afghan talks for a sustainable political settlement that forms an inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans, “ said Ashraf Haidari, the Afghan Ambassador to Sri Lanka appointed by the previous government. The Taliban representatives present declined to comment on the meetings. 

“There’s no moral dilemma with speaking to the Taliban because they do run the country…If you just boycott or ignore them, nothing is going to be resolved,” Michael Vatikiotis, a senior advisor at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue that co-hosted the Oslo Forum told The Hindu, when asked about the criticism.

Among those who spoke at the event held under Chatham House rules, which focussed on a number of global conflicts, were Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Colombian Foreign Minister M. Álvaro Leyva Durán; Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Karim A.A. Khan KC; and Bangladesh’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam. 

Your email address will not be published.