Saturday, May 21

Over 20 meetings in three days. This came out of the Taliban’s visit to Norway.

The meetings at Soria Moria may open the door to more aid to Afghanistan. The Taliban won a PR victory, but it can quickly fade away.

The Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi (right) answered questions from the press outside the Soria Moria hotel on Monday.

The Taliban visit is over. The delegates are back in Kabul, delivered with a private jet financed by Norway.

This is how the visit is summed up by a State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Secretary General of an aid organization and a researcher.

– The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is realistic, but satisfied, says State Secretary Henrik Thune. – The sum of the meetings is the most important.

  • This is the first time there have been talks between civil society and the Taliban.
  • It will be somewhat easier for the international community to have ongoing contact with the Taliban. It is crucial to limit the acute humanitarian situation.
  • The Taliban have been told what concrete things they must accomplish in order for the outside world to be willing to move forward with cooperation with them. An example is that girls over the age of 12 will also be allowed to start school in March.
  • They discussed with the Taliban what technical solutions must be in place for it to be possible to get significantly more money into humanitarian aid, health and schools. Money that will be channeled in via the World Bank’s fund, the UN system and aid organizations (NGOs).

This is necessary for continued “forward-looking contact”

Thune says he met with the acting Afghan foreign minister and the acting Afghan justice minister was clear on what the Taliban had to do for Norway to be willing to continue “forward-looking contact”.

  • Decide that all schools for girls over seventh grade in all provinces of Afghanistan will be opened.
  • Contact and talks with civil society and the opposition must continue in Afghanistan.
  • Release of human rights activists. The Taliban were named after people who must be accounted for and released if they are in Taliban custody.

Thune does not believe in any rapid change of the Taliban.

– We are realistic and do not believe in any quick solutions to the situation in Afghanistan. But it is a beginning, he says.

– No recognition of the Taliban

– Has the Taliban through this visit to Oslo received recognition from Norway and other western countries?

– No, and they realize that themselves. They use the opportunity to get a scene. They think so, and they certainly thrive on it. But it has also been a platform for critical mention of the Taliban, Thune answers.

On Monday, State Secretary Henrik Thune (Labor Party) met with representatives of Afghan civil society.

He says steps towards normalization are far in the future.

– They know that. The ball for progress is now placed on their side.

The Secretary of State says they knew it would be controversial to take the Taliban to Norway, that it could be seen as a certain legitimacy of the Taliban, and that it would create a great deal of attention. The pictures of the Taliban in a private jet created a lot of furore. But due to security concerns, there was no alternative, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains.

What Thune is sorry about is that people who have lost someone in Afghanistan were not informed in advance. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had a standing agreement that they should inform the widow of Dagbladet journalist Carsten Thomassen, but this was not done.

– There is nothing else to say but that it was a blunder. We have to go through our routines afterwards and make sure it works next time.

– Friendly tone, but not always clear answers

Liv Kjølseth, Secretary General of the Afghanistan Committee, represented one of several humanitarian organizations that met with the Taliban delegation on Tuesday.

– It was a friendly tone, but it was not always the Taliban could give clear answers, she sums up.

The Taliban have long said that girls should be allowed to go to school, but that it has not been safe for them.

– We asked them what it took for it to be safe for girls to go to school. They could not answer that. But they insisted that the schools are not permanently closed, and that they will reopen in the spring. We had hoped for a more concrete answer than that, says Kjølseth.

The Taliban delegation was guarded by Norwegian police.

The most important thing, she thinks, has been that there was a dialogue between civil society and the Taliban.

– There is a hope that that dialogue can get into a track and last, says Kjølseth.

– Was it a PR victory for the Taliban?

– Yes, it may be a PR victory internally, but to the Afghan people it will not last very long if they can not deliver anything to improve the situation in the country.

– The West spoke to the Taliban with one voice

Afghanistan expert Kristian Berg Harpviken believes that the most important thing at the Soria Moria meetings was that a coherent dialogue was established between Western states and the Taliban.

– One largely speaks with one voice and manages to send clear signals to the Taliban about what is expected of them, says the researcher at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO).

– Good diplomatic craftsmanship

Harpviken believes the meeting between the Taliban and representatives of Afghan civil society was important. The Taliban were directly confronted with abuses taking place on their watch, and clear demands were made on freedom of expression, the rule of law and political participation.

– That the Taliban entered into these discussions, in full public, testifies to good diplomatic craftsmanship from the Norwegian side, he believes.

Harpviken believes that there may have been a closer agreement on how to get money into health and education.

– You have to find technical solutions on how to make private banks work, so that you can get the money paid out. You have to get the Taliban to cooperate so that you know who to pay to, without the money going through the Taliban, he says.

– Implicit an acknowledgment

– Has the Taliban received recognition?

– It is clear that there is an implicit recognition that they are invited to a capital in the West and get to meet special representatives from a number of the world’s most important countries, including three of the members of the Security Council and the EU, says Harpviken.

He thinks it’s something the Taliban are embracing and using for what it’s worth.

– Then they have probably at the same time received a very clear message that formal recognition as Afghanistan’s legitimate state power, will require a lot and will at best be a long way ahead.

Many reacted to Norway bringing in the Taliban with a chartered private jet, which cost 3.5 million kroner. For security reasons, it was the only possible way to do it, says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

– What has Norway gained from being a host?

– This is noticed among Norway’s allies. It will also be a feather in the cap for Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre that he, as mayor of the Security Council, can report directly from what has happened in Oslo.

But the Taliban visit has been controversial in Norway.

– The reactions would have been there anyway, says Harpviken, who thinks one might have gotten the reactions in advance by informing a little earlier. He says one should especially prepare those who have suffered personal losses from the Taliban.

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