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Taliban Opens Talks With Afghan Civil Society, Western Governments In Oslo

Representatives of the Taliban arrive for talks in Gardermoen, Norway, on January 22

The first Taliban delegation to visit Europe since the hard-line Islamist group returned to power in Afghanistan began three days of talks with civil society members and Western diplomats, Norway's Foreign Ministry said on January 23.

Headed by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Afghan delegation dedicated the first day of ther visit to talks with women activists and journalists, among others.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote in a tweet: "All Afghans need to work together for better political, economic and security outcomes… The participants... recognized that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions."

"It was a positive icebreaking meeting," feminist activist Jamila Afghani told AFP. The negotiators "displayed goodwill... Let's see what their actions will be, based on their words," she added.

On January 24, the Taliban will meet with representatives of Western governments, including the United States and European powers. On the third day, they will talk with Norwegian officials.

No country has recognized the Taliban government, but there is a growing realization that governments must engage with the de facto rulers in Kabul to manage a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said earlier that the visit was “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban. But we must talk to those who in practice govern the country today.”

"We are extremely concerned about the serious situation in Afghanistan,” Huitfeldt said, noting that economic and political conditions have created “a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe for millions of people” facing starvation in the country.

A U.S. delegation, led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, plans to discuss “the formation of a representative political system; responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises; security and counterterrorism concerns; and human rights, especially education for girls and women,” according to a statement released by the State Department.

West later wrote on Twitter: "As we seek to address humanitarian crisis together with allies, partners, and relief orgs, we will continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban regarding our concerns and our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan."

Afghanistan faces a worsening humanitarian catastrophe, with 22.8 million people suffering from acute food shortages and 8.7 million near starvation, according to the UN.

Following the Taliban’s takeover in August, Western nations led by the United States froze billions of dollars worth of Afghan Central Bank 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 Taliban are expected to ask countries in Olso to free up funds.

Faced with the Taliban's request for funds, Western powers are likely to put the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan high on their agenda, along with the West’s recurring demand for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan’s minority ethnic and religious groups.

Norway, home to the Nobel Peace Prize, has in the past been involved in peace efforts in a number of countries, including Mozambique, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Colombia, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and Syria.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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