OSLO, Norway -- Three days of talks between the Taliban, Western diplomats and other delegates on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and human rights were wrapping up Tuesday in Norway, with acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi praising the discussions, which he said “went very well."
The closed-door meetings in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital of Oslo came at a crucial time for Afghanistan, as freezing temperatures are compounding the misery from the country's downward economic spiral after the fall of the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban takeover last summer.
“It was a very good trip. Such trips will bring us closer to the world,” Muttaqi told The Associated Press.
Aid groups and international agencies estimate that about 23 million people, more than half the country, face severe hunger and nearly 9 million are on the brink of starvation. People have resorted to selling possessions to buy food, burning furniture for warmth and even selling their children.
Muttaqi said the Taliban government will do "its best to protect Afghanistan form any sorts of problems, attract more assistance, seeking solutions for the economic problems."
The Taliban are demanding that $10 billion frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released, but there is no agreement on that so far. The United Nations has managed to provide some liquidity and allowed the Taliban administration to pay for imports, including electricity.
“The No. 1 problem now is that Western sanctions are creating a liquidity crisis, which means we cannot get aid funding into the country,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the humanitarian organizations taking part in the talks.
“We cannot save lives as we should. So the West and the Taliban need to talk. And we need to have an end to sanctions hurting civilians,” he said.
But before they will agree to relax sanctions, Western powers are demanding increased rights for Afghan women and girls, along with the West’s recurring demand for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan’s minority ethnic and religious groups.
The new Afghan rulers told The Associated Press last week they aim to have schools open for girls and women in late March, after the Afghan new year. They repeated that promise in Oslo, according to Egeland, who met with the Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
The visit — the first in Europe since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August — opened on Sunday with talks between the Taliban and members of Afghan civil society. The following day they held multilateral talks involving Western diplomats from the EU, the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and host Norway.
Tuesday's talks were bilateral, involving all parties including independent humanitarian organizations.