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Norway-Taliban Ties Date Back to Years Ago, Former Afghan Diplomats

Norway-Taliban Ties Date Back to Years Ago, Former Afghan Diplomats

Thursday, 27 January, 2022 - 06:15

Norway is known as an international mediator and has long been in contact with various war parties in countries around the world. Amongst these groups is Taliban which has had contacts with Norwegian politicians ever since 2005, when they regrouped following their fall from power in 2001. The summit on January 23, 2022 is not the first trip of Taliban to Norway. In the last 15 years, the heads of the group have been repeatedly invited to Norway on secret trips and have spoken to officials there.

Norway has long tried to solve conflicts in various countries. Now, with its open and official invitation of Taliban officials, it has kickstarted the official political presence of Taliban in Europe. Taliban were refused ordinary diplomatic protocol but were given the opportunity to speak to European and US officials and also representatives of Afghan civil society. But why did Norway lead this process and what makes Oslo interested in Taliban and their interactions with Afghan society?

Manizha Bakhtari, a former ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway, spoke to Independent Persian about the Taliban-Norway relationship which goes back at least 15 years. According to her, because the Norwegian governments have long been interested in bringing about peace and solving of conflicts in various countries around the world, it has also been in contact with Taliban, at least since 2005, i.e. when the group started its resurgence in Afghanistan.

Bakhtari, who was the Afghan top diplomat in Norway from 2009 to 2015, told me: “During my mission, the Norwegian government repeatedly invited Taliban leaders to visit that country secretly and to meet with Norwegian politicians. But these meetings were kept from people, media and even the Afghan embassy and were held in secret locations.”

Another former Afghan diplomat, who spoke to Independent Persian on the condition of anonymity, said official invites to Taliban are nothing new for Norway.

“In 2013, as Taliban prisoners were freed from Guantanamo and stationed in Doha, the Norwegian government issued diplomatic passport for some Taliban leaders and invited them to talks in Norway,” the diplomat said. “This is while the Afghan government refused to issue passports to these people at the time.”

The recent Taliban trip to Oslo led to a lot of controversy. Especially jarring to many human rights activists was the presence of Annas Haqqani on the delegation. A leading member of the Haqqani network, he has been in charge of a number of deadly terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. Responding to criticisms of his government, Norway’s Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said he didn’t know anything about an invitation to Haqqani.

The former Afghan diplomat said Store’s claim, that he didn’t know anything about Haqqani’s trip, was unreasonable. Even if he had come under a different name, his passport has his picture which shouldn’t have evaded the Norwegian immigration authorities who issued him a visa.

It’s not the first time that Taliban are invited to European capitals, who are committed to all human rights standards, to speak with the political officials there.

Speaking to Independent Persian, Shukria Barakzai, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Norway from 2015 to 2019, also confirmed the long-standing relations between Taliban and Oslo. She said the official ties date back to 2013, when Taliban opened their Doha offices. Norwegians had a direct role in writing the US-Taliban agreement in Doha, Barakzai added.

“Norway acts as a soft pressure actor for the US,” Barakzai told me. “Norway intervenes in the affairs of countries that are important to the US; those it has plots for.”

Both former Afghan envoys to Norway insisted that the Oslo meeting on January 23 might be seen as the first official and open meeting between Norway and the Taliban delegation but there are long-standing ties between the two. Norway also had a key role in the Doha agreement of 2020 which, many believe, led to the collapse of the former Afghan government. Norway is thus amongst the key actors in recent developments in Afghanistan. Hosting Taliban in Oslo can bring about a change in Taliban’s standing and its relations with other countries.

What will result from the Oslo summit?

Norway’s invitation of Taliban led to contrasting reactions from politicians and Afghan human rights community. Some consider the Oslo summit a step towards the recognition of Taliban and their normalization as the government. Some others see this as an opportunity for direct dialogue between human rights and women’s activists with Taliban officials, in the presence of international observers.

For Shukria Barakzai, this summit is mostly important because representatives of Afghan women got to sit at a table with Taliban and foreign officials and put forward human rights demands.

“No group will get to a final conclusion based on this meeting,” Barakzai says. “Taliban will not get recognition out of it and no attack order against them will be issued either. But what matters is globalizing of the struggle and resistance of women of Afghanistan against extremism and anti-human rights orders.”

Every opportunity to share the demands of Afghan women with the world should be used, she added.

For Manizha Bakhtari, the Oslo summit is a step towards Taliban’s introduction to the international community as a political group. Based on her experiences in Europe, she believes other European countries will now follow suit.

“More talks in Europe will mean, at least, a de facto recognition of Taliban,” Bakhtari said. “This has already happened but will be more normalized now.”

Taliban are a terrorist group and Norway was wrong to treat them as political guests, Bakhtari added. According to her, this was a major mistake by Norway and against its human rights values. She only hopes that the meeting could have helped humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

The meeting did offer a chance for direct dialogue between Taliban and representatives of Afghan women, Barakzai insisted.

“If it was a meeting only with Taliban and without representatives of Afghan civil society, Norway would have been seriously criticized by its own citizens and other human rights defenders,” the former diplomat said.

Complaining about political dealings ignoring human rights, Barakzai said: “It seems to me that human rights values are gradually losing their place in political dealings. Governments that claim to support human rights, usually support these rights in their own territory but, beyond it, the political dealings supersede human rights for them.”

Can Taliban’s behavior change?

Is Taliban changing from a violent and extremist group to one with reasonable political positions? According to Bakhtari, the group has always tried to show a young and soft face to Europe but they haven’t actually changed.

“Norway has been in touch with Taliban for a long time,” she says. “All this while, Taliban shows a new and soft face to Norwegians. That’s why there is some trust between them and European countries like Norway. But Taliban is the same Taliban.”

Shukria Barakzai agrees that there is no hope for Taliban changing their behavior. The group is led by extremist clerics who are uneducated and without understanding of politics or governance and so long as they are in power, you can’t hope for any change.

“Taliban currently violates civic freedoms and human rights,” Barakzai said. “It has denied women the right to education, labor, social interaction and even freedom of clothing. Taliban’s domination over Afghanistan is declining because people are fighting against such extremism and violation of human rights.”

Taliban’s treatment of Afghan people, and especially Afghan women, was in contradiction with the culture of Afghan society and even Islamic rules, Barakzai said. Taliban is a unique group with its own behavior which isn’t in line with Afghan or Islamic culture.

The Taliban delegation’s meeting with envoys from Europe, US and Afghan civil society in Oslo happened following five months of the rule by the group. During this time, it has committed dozens of murders, arrests, torture and kidnapping of civilians and soldiers of the previous government, reporters and protesting women. The latest case that made the news was arresting of protesting girls in Kabul and Balkh. Hoda Khamoosh, representing Afghan women in Oslo, spoke about them.

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