KABUL/ISLAMANABAD: A week after Taliban and senior US and European officials held talks in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, the main outcome appears to be promises of an increase in humanitarian aid, contingent on demands related to human rights, with some analysts saying the talks imply a “de facto” recognition of the Taliban’s government.
No foreign government has yet formally recognised the legitimacy of the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan, referred to by the group as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), although several world powers have engaged with the government at various levels.
The talks in Oslo were the first official trip by acting Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and his delegation to Europe since the Afghan Taliban captured Kabul and took control of Afghanistan in mid-August.
Following the January 24 talks, diplomats from the United States and Europe said they told Afghan Taliban officials that humanitarian aid would be tied to an improvement in the human rights situation in the country, which international rights groups and Afghan activists have said has worsened considerably since the Taliban took over.
“Participants urged the Taliban to do more to stop the alarming increase of human rights violations, including arbitrary detentions, … forced disappearances, media crackdowns, extrajudicial killings, torture and prohibitions on women and girls’ education, employment and freedom to travel without a male escort,” said a joint US-European statement issued after the talks.
The talks also recognised “the urgency in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and highlighted necessary steps to help alleviate the suffering of Afghans across the country”, the statement said.
Last week, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread”, as the economy ground to a halt following the Taliban takeover and ensuing international sanctions, including the freezing of more than $9bn in Afghan central bank assets.
He also urged the Taliban “to recognise and protect the fundamental human rights that every person shares”.
Taliban official hailed the talks as “a gigantic achievement”.
“Without doubt, the Oslo talks were a gigantic achievement to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” said Shafi Azam, a foreign ministry official in the Afghan Taliban government.
“It was a fruitful opportunity for the Taliban to address the majority of members of the European Union and to hear their worries and share with them [our] achievements and to talk about the challenges and also pass on [our] future plans to Europe,” Azam, who took part in the Oslo talks, told Arab media.
Mohsin Amin, a policy analyst and researcher, said the talks, among other actions, were “signs of implicit recognition” of the Taliban’s government.
“I think it has already been recognised as a de facto government,” he said.
“I think [the Oslo talks] can be considered an achievement for the Taliban’s diplomacy. The Taliban want engagement with the rest of the world, and such meetings facilitated that sort of engagement.”
Sulaiman bin Shah, a former deputy minister of industry and commerce in the government of deposed President Ashraf Ghani, agreed that the Oslo talks and other forms of engagement “effectively create a situation where the new rule is de-facto recognised”.
Shah said the international community was attempting to walk a fine line between addressing the extreme humanitarian crisis while not legitimising the Taliban’s government.
“The attempt to walk a fine line is indeed an illusion that the foreign governments have made to achieve political goals and objectives,” Shah added.
“Only the events on August 15 [when the Taliban captured Kabul] were not predictable, but it does not mean that the international community is not accountable for the peace accords signed in Doha [between the US and the Taliban in 2020].”
The United Nations has said more than half of the Afghan population is facing “extreme hunger”.
Earlier in January, UN Secretary-General Guterres launched an appeal for more than $4.4bn “to keep the food, education and economic systems from collapsing”.
Shah said the crisis following the Afghan Taliban’s takeover had hit the public sector and its ability to deliver basic services “drastically”.
“While the fiscal and budgetary arrangements have been a daunting task for the [Afghan] ministry of finance, only marginal payments have been made to the public service officials including teachers and health professionals,” he said.
International sanctions that have frozen the ability of many Afghans to transfer money or conduct transactions have also stifled the private sector, he said.
Amin, the analyst, said that the crisis could not be addressed solely by humanitarian aid, but that measures taken to isolate Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover needed to be reviewed.
“Foreign governments cannot avert the humanitarian crisis solely by humanitarian aid,” he said.
“To alleviate poverty in Afghanistan, development projects must resume, sanctions on the banking sector of Afghanistan must lifted and central banks assets must [be] unfrozen.”
Azam, the Afghan foreign ministry official, said the Taliban had, during the Oslo talks, given “assurance of security to [US and European officials] for spreading out their [humanitarian] assistance all over the country”.
ne topic of debate during the Oslo talks appeared to be the US, European and other governments’ demand that the Taliban form an “inclusive government”.
The Taliban’s previous stint in power in the 1990s was marked by a largely homogenous, Taliban-dominated government that enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the country, with severe restrictions imposed on women in many spheres of life.
“[US and European officials] raised the importance of respect for human rights and the strong need for an inclusive and representative political system to ensure stability and a peaceful future for Afghanistan,” said the joint US-European statement issued after the Oslo talks.
Since the talks, acting Foreign Minister Muttaqi and other Taliban officials have questioned the definition of an “inclusive government”, saying foreign governments have failed to provide metrics on the term and claiming the current acting government is diverse.
Azam said there was “serious discussion” in Oslo on the term, but that the Afghan delegation did not come away with clarity on what the demand meant.
“I think there is no comprehensive definition related to the ‘inclusive government’,” he said, adding that conversations were also held on what the form of Afghanistan’s government should be.
“Finally, the summary is that it is the authority of Afghans to establish a government based on the nature and value of [Afghan] culture,” he said.
US and European officials, however, say the term “inclusive” must be defined in a way that is acceptable to all Afghans.
“It is not the task of the international community to define an inclusive Afghan government,” said EU Special Envoy on Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson, responding to a statement by Afghan acting Foreign Minister Muttaqi.
“It is for all adult Afghan men and women to do so through transparent processes – on which they have also had a say – and respecting their rights.”
Analysts have said some of the key determinants of whether the Afghan government is diverse will include whether the Taliban’s political opponents, such as members of the previous government, are able to participate in it, as well as the role played by women and ethnic minorities.
“The international community must establish an [Afghan government] that respects the values of humanity and will investigate the killings of women, children, minorities and all citizens of Afghanistan,” said Rokhsaneh Rezaei, an Afghan rights activist.
“[The world must] make a wise decision about the political destiny of Afghanistan.”
Amin, the analyst, warned that while both the Afghan Taliban and world powers currently had leverage in talks, the Taliban in the form of control of the country and foreign countries in the form of the need for financial and other aid, that the current deadlock was harming regular Afghans.
“I think both the Taliban and the US are misusing the perceived leverages and punishing the Afghan people,” he said.
“Stubbornness from both sides is harmful.”