Since the Taliban usurped control of virtually all of Afghanistan in August 2021, the governments of Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Qatar, and Turkmenistan have hosted representatives of the Islamic Emirate. So far, only one western country, Norway, has done so.
On January 23, the Taliban sent a delegation to three-day talks held in a hotel outside Oslo, which Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere described as “serious” and “genuine”. Participants included the Taliban delegation, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, various individuals from Afghanistan’s civil society, diplomats from a host of western governments, and United Nations officials.
Two days before the talks kicked off, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry put out the following statement. “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.”
Norway’s government has received ample criticism from various activists who accuse Oslo of partly legitimizing the Taliban. Considering that the Taliban recently reversed a decision that would allow girls to attend secondary school, any western efforts to diplomatically engage the de facto Afghan government will likely continue receiving such criticisms. Especially since the Taliban continuously fails to make good on its commitments to govern in a softer and more inclusive ways than it did during its previous time in power (1996-2001).
But the hard truth is that such dialogue is still necessary for saving Afghan lives. While ignoring the realities of Taliban rule in post-US Afghanistan and not engaging the Islamic Emirate may seem principled, that approach will only exacerbate the war-torn country’s humanitarian crises.
Norway is in no way signaling a desire to formalize relations with the Taliban.
Norway is in no way signaling a desire to formalize relations with the Taliban, nor is it urging other governments to take such steps by hosting these talks. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt even stressed that the talks were “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban.” In sum, the Norwegian leadership is simply trying to alleviate the Afghan people’s suffering.
Norwegian officials deserve praise – not scorn – for such efforts. Last month, the UNICEF World Food Program stated that nine million Afghans are nearly famished and over 23 million others are facing acute hunger. According to their estimates, 97 percent of the Afghan population will “plunge” into poverty by the middle of this year.
The unfortunate reality that critics are unwilling to accept is that in order to reverse this disturbing trend, countries around the world will need to assist Afghanistan in ways that require engaging the Taliban. “There [are] no other alternative structures that exist in Afghanistan… [that] would allow the international community to land in Afghanistan, set up office, [and] manage their deliverables without engaging the government of the Taliban,” explained Dr. Rabia Akhtar, Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy, and Policy Research at the University of Lahore, in an interview with Inside Arabia.
“Recognition of the Taliban government is not and should not be a prerequisite for providing humanitarian assistance. At least the officials of Norway are going the extra mile to recognize their responsibility, unlike others, who have played a part in [the] destruction of Afghanistan and [are] now laying conditions on providing humanitarian assistance,” added Dr Akhtar. “Instead of lamenting this act, [the] government of Norway should be applauded for rising above the politics and thinking about the people of Afghanistan.”
“[The] government of Norway should be applauded for rising above the politics and thinking about the people of Afghanistan.”
At a time when the West is focused on the war in Ukraine, Afghanistan risks falling off the radar. And, with the Biden administration continuing to heavily sanction Afghanistan after it inhumanely seized billions of dollars of the country’s sovereign wealth in February, Washington’s approach to dealing with the Taliban takeover will likely result in worsening humanitarian disasters in the country.
It is in the best interest of the US and other western powers to change course and avoid actions that will only embolden extremist groups such as Islamic State – Khorasan Province (aka ISIS-K), which will undoubtedly exploit the ensuing chaos and widespread famine in the country to increase recruitment and challenge the Taliban-led government.
That’s not to say that the US or other western powers should formally recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government. However, it would behoove western policymakers to support possible future efforts by Oslo to engage with the new rulers in Kabul to facilitate more humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. Such engagement could even afford western powers valuable leverage over the Taliban government in the future.
Supporting future efforts by Oslo to engage with the Taliban will facilitate more humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Although it is understandably controversial that Norway hosted Taliban officials, the Afghan people need the international community to begin dealing with the dire issues at hand in their country in practical ways. Unfortunately, this means coming to terms with the depressing realities of Taliban governance in post-US Afghanistan.
“Had there been an alternative structure or system available – other than the Taliban – things would have been different,” said Dr. Akhtar to Inside Arabia. “It is about time that the world wakes up to this reality… [The] Taliban have formed a government and if you want to provide humanitarian or development assistance to help the people of Afghanistan, you cannot enter the country without legal permission which will be granted by the government of the time, irrespective of its de jure recognition. It all boils down to how much is the life of an Afghan worth. Is it worth saving?”
Yes. Indeed, Afghan lives are worth saving.