The European Union says it is reestablishing a "minimal" presence in Afghanistan for humanitarian purposes as a major economic crisis has pushed millions of Afghan into poverty, though the bloc stressed the move doesn’t mean it is formally recognizing the Taliban-led administration.
The move, confirmed by European Commission foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano on January 21, is the first such announcement by a Western power since the 27-nation EU and most governments withdrew staff and diplomats from Afghanistan as Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021.
Separately, a Taliban delegation is set to travel to Oslo later this week for three days of talks on ways to alleviate what the Norwegian government called a “full-blown humanitarian disaster” in the war-torn country. It would be the first time since the Taliban takeover that its representatives have met in Western Europe. Earlier they traveled to Russia, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, China, and Turkmenistan.
Following the hard-line Islamist group’s takeover, Western nations led by the United States have frozen billions of dollars worth of Afghan banking assets and cut off development funding that once formed the backbone of Afghanistan's economy.
That led to a major financial crisis, with soaring inflation, unemployment, and cash shortages depriving much of the Afghan population of access to food, water, shelter, and health care.
The international community has since ramped up humanitarian aid, designed to address urgent needs and largely bypass official channels, but no country has yet officially recognized the country’s new rulers, whom human rights defenders accuse of committing serious violations, particularly over the lack of rights of women to education, employment, and participation in political and social life.
"The EU has started to reestablish a minimal presence of international EU Delegation staff to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and monitor the humanitarian situation," Stano said.
A Taliban spokesman earlier tweeted that the group had reached an understanding with the EU, which he said had "officially opened its embassy with a permanent presence in Kabul & practically commenced operations."
However, Stano stopped short of saying the mission had been formally reopened.
"Our minimal presence in Kabul must not in any way be seen as recognition. This has also been clearly communicated to the de-facto authorities," he was quoted as saying.
The dpa news agency quoted EU sources as saying an ambassador would not be present.
Earlier this week, the EU said it was stepping up support to the Afghan population by launching projects totaling 268.3 million euros ($304 million). The aid is to be channeled through UN agencies working in Afghanistan, the bloc said.
Norway’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on January 21 it had invited representatives of the Taliban from January 23 to January 25 to meet with Norwegian authorities, officials from “a number of allied countries,” as well as civil society activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan.
Stressing that Norway would be "clear about our expectations," particularly on girls' education and “women’s right to participate in society," Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said the meetings would "not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban."
The statement didn't say which countries would participate, but Norwegian newspaper VG said they would include Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, as well as the European Union.
The Taliban said Afghanistan's acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, would lead the group’s delegation to the talks.
The visit “will open the way for talks, meetings, and understanding with the countries of the European Union," spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.
The meetings are to include “Afghans with backgrounds from a range of fields,” including “women leaders, journalists, and people who work with, among other things, human rights and humanitarian, economic, social and political issues,” according to the Norwegian ministry.
Also on January 21, Amnesty International urged the Taliban to investigate the abduction of a senior female prison official who has been missing for more than three months after she reported for duty in the western Afghan city of Herat, and immediately release her if in the militants' custody.
Alia Azizi, a member of the mainly Shi'ite ethnic Hazara community and the Head of Herat Women’s Prison, never returned home after going to work on October 2, 2021, the London-based human rights watchdog said in a statement, adding that "a veil of secrecy still shrouds her disappearance."