At Oslo talks, West presses Taliban on rights, girls education

Western diplomats have told the Taliban that humanitarian aid to Afghanistan will be tied to an improvement in human rights, according to reports emerging as meetings with a Taliban delegation wound up in Oslo, Norway.

Closed-door meetings were held during the Taliban’s first official trip to Europe since returning to power in August. Following the talks, the Taliban delegation left Norway late on Tuesday without making any final statements.

The Taliban is seeking international recognition and release of billions of dollars in Afghan central bank assets frozen by the US following the group’s return to power on August 15, 2021.

The country also found itself cut off from international financial institutions after the group’s return, triggering a banking crisis and fears the war-battered economy will collapse.

Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated since then, worsening the plight of millions of people already suffering hunger after severe droughts after decades of war and occupation.

Aid also dried up after the US reinstated sanctions in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Secretary-General Jan Egeland, who took part in the talks, called for the lifting of sanctions, telling AFP: “We cannot save lives unless all the sanctions are lifted.”

Freezing aid is “hurting the same civilians that the NATO countries spent hundreds of billions on defending until August”, he said.

Some 55 percent of the Afghan population is now suffering from hunger, according to the United Nations.

Western diplomats outline the asks

The Taliban delegation, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, met senior French foreign ministry official Bertrand Lotholary, Britain’s special envoy Nigel Casey, and members of the Norwegian foreign ministry.

The Western diplomats laid out what they expected from the Taliban during the talks.

European Union special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, wrote on Twitter that he had “also underlined the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible for boys and girls throughout the country when the school year starts in March”.

He was responding to a tweet from a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry hailing the EU’s commitment to “continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan”.

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