COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- A Taliban delegation plans to travel to Norway next week for talks with the Norwegian government and several allied countries, as well as meetings with civil society activists and human rights defenders from Afghanistan.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it has invited representatives of the Taliban to Oslo from Jan. 23 to Jan. 25. Norwegian newspaper VG said special representatives from the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and the European Union were expected to take part.
The ministry did not comment on the newspaper's report.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed 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.
The acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, will lead the Taliban delegation to Norway. The trip would be the first time since the Taliban took over the country in August that their representatives have held official meetings in Europe. Earlier, they traveled to Russia, Iran, Qatar, Pakistan, China and Turkmenistan.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the Afghan deputy culture and information minister, said Muttaqi expects to hold separate meetings with the U.S. delegation and bilateral talks with European representatives.
The rights of women and girls in Afghanistan are likely to feature prominently in the talks, along with the West's recurring demand for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan's minority ethnic and religious groups.
Muttaqi told The Associated Press in a rare interview in December that his government was committed to education for girls and women.
Deputy culture minister Mujahid told the AP on Saturday that the new Afghan rulers aimed to have schools open for girls and women in late March, after the Afghan new year.
Education for girls currently is restricted beyond seventh grade in all but 10 provinces. In the capital, Kabul, private universities and high schools have continued to operate uninterrupted. Most are small, and the classes have always been segregated.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said the Taliban delegation’s meetings with Afghans in Norway would include “women leaders, journalists and people who work with, among other things, human rights and humanitarian, economic, social and political issues.”
Muttaqi is certain to press the Taliban's demand that nearly $10 billion frozen by the United States and other western countries be released. The United Nations has managed to provide for some liquidity and allowed the new administration to pay for imports, including electricity.
The U.N. has warned that as many as 1 million Afghan children are in danger of starving, and most of the country's 38 million people are living below the poverty line. Even before the Taliban took power, Afghanistan was desperately poor, with more than 54% living on $1.90 a day or less.
Earlier this week, a Norwegian delegation visited Kabul for talks on the precarious humanitarian situation in the country, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.
Norwegian news agency NTB said the Taliban took part in secret talks in Norway when the current prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, served as foreign minister, which was from 2005 to 2012. The Foreign Ministry said Norway “for years has had a dialogue with the Taliban.”
Norway also was the country that opened secret talks between the U.S. and the Taliban as America began to press for national reconciliation, hinting as early as 2013 that the conflict could not be won militarily. This led to the opening of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, where in 2018 Washington launched negotiations for the final withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan culminating in the chaotic end to the war in August.
The Foreign Ministry in Oslo said that Afghanistan is experiencing drought, pandemics, economic collapse and the effects of years of conflict. According to them, some 24 million people experience acute food insecurity and are unsure of how to obtain enough food. It is reported that 1 million children may die of starvation.
It added that the U.N. estimates that famine will affect more than half of the population this winter and that 97% of the population may fall below the poverty line this year.
“Norway continues to engage in dialogue with the Taliban to promote human rights, women’s participation in society, and to strengthen humanitarian and economic efforts in Afghanistan in support of the Afghan people,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
According to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, the Scandinavian country that is 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, the Philippines, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Syria, Myanmar, Somalia, Sri Lanka and South Sudan.
——— Gannon reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Associated Press Writer Tameem Akhgar in Islamabad contributed to this report.