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Aid tops agenda as Taliban meet Western officials

Published : Sunday, 23 January, 2022 at 8:34 PM  Count : 978

Taliban representatives arrive in Gardermoen, Norway, on 22 January

Taliban representatives arrive in Gardermoen, Norway, on 22 January


Human rights and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where hunger threatens millions, will be in focus at today in Oslo between the Taliban, the West and members of Afghan civil society, reports AFP.

In their first visit to Europe since returning to power in August, the Taliban will meet Norwegian officials as well as representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and the European Union.

The Taliban delegation will be led by foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.

On the agenda will be "the formation of a representative political system, responses to the urgent humanitarian and economic crises, security and counter-terrorism concerns, and human rights, especially education for girls and women," a US State Department official said.

The hardline Islamists were toppled in 2001 but swiftly stormed back to power in August as international troops began their final withdrawal.

The Taliban hope the talks will help "transform the atmosphere of war... into a peaceful situation", government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

No country has yet recognised the Taliban government, and Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the talks would "not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban".

"But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster," Ms Huitfeldt said.

'Have to involve the government'

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since August.

International aid, which financed around 80% of the Afghan budget, came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion in assets in the Afghan central bank.

Unemployment has skyrocketed and civil servants' salaries have not been paid for months in the country, already ravaged by several severe droughts.

Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55% of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $4.4 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis.

"It would be a mistake to submit the people of Afghanistan to a collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated Friday.

A former UN representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told AFP: "We can't keep distributing aid circumventing the Taliban."

"If you want to be efficient, you have to involve the government in one way or another."

The international community is waiting to see how the Islamic fundamentalists intend to govern Afghanistan, after having largely trampled on human rights during their first stint in power between 1996 and 2001.

While the Taliban claim to have modernised, women are still largely excluded from public sector employment and secondary schools for girls remain largely closed.

AFP/SZA
 



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