The Taliban kicked off their first meeting with Western officials since taking over Afghanistan last August by demanding the release of $10 billion in assets frozen by the United States and European countries.
Meetings aimed at stemming the rising humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan began Sunday behind closed doors in a hotel in Oslo, Norway.
“Because of the starvation, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support Afghans, not punish them because of their political disputes,” he added.
Azam, part of the Taliban’s all-male delegation, said the three days of meetings with officials from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the European Union and Norway were “a step to legitimize [the] Afghan government.”
The ruthless Islamist group took over the government of Afghanistan after marching into the capital, Kabul, on Aug. 15 as the Biden administration scrambled to evacuate US citizens and their Afghan allies.
At the height of the debacle, thousands of Afghans streamed to the Hamid Karzai International Airport to escape their brutal new masters. The chaos turned deadly when an ISIS-K terrorist detonated a suicide bomb outside the airport’s Abbey Gate Aug. 26, killing 13 US service members and more than 180 Afghans.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt insisted the talks were “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban.”
”As we seek to address humanitarian crisis together with allies, partners, and relief orgs, we will continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban regarding our concerns and our abiding interest in a stable, rights-respecting and inclusive Afghanistan,” Tom West, the special representative for Afghanistan who is leading the US contingent, said on Twitter.
Leading up to the talks, Western officials met with Afghan women’s rights activists and human rights groups about current conditions in the war-torn country.
As meeting attendees gathered, women’s rights activist and Kabul resident Heda Khamoush silently held up photos of Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel.
The two women were arrested last week by the Taliban after protesting against the compulsory Islamic headscarf, or hijab, and for the right to education and work.
They haven’t been seen since.
Azam said he was “not aware of that,” and suggested activists may be at the talks to seek asylum.
A group of about 200 protesters gathered on Sunday near the Norwegian foreign ministry in Oslo to condemn the meetings.
“The Taliban has not changed, as some in the international community like to say,” said Ahman Yasir, an Afghan who has lived in Norway for about 20 years. “They are as brutal as they were in 2001 and before.”
After sweeping into power, the Taliban instituted restrictions mainly aimed at women, banning them from many jobs outside the fields of education and health and cutting off education after the sixth grade.
The militants also established an all-male interim cabinet made up solely of Taliban members.
The international community has urged the Taliban to include non-Taliban in the government and support the rights of ethnic and religious minorities and women.
Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, said Monday that many of Afghanistan’s civil servants who returned to work are from the former government and claimed roughly 15,000 are women working health and education jobs.
“We have not dismissed anyone,” he said. “This is progress, but of course it is not enough.”
Muttaqi also addressed Afghans and the international community.
“Our message is that after 40 years of war Afghans are in peace. War is ended and now is the time for progress and economic activity … We want Afghans to be happy after all those years of suffering. We want good relations with the world, with our neighboring countries, with the European countries. … We have had good results and progress in our meetings,” he said.
Aid groups estimate that about 23 million people — about half of Afghanistan’s population — face severe hunger this winter, and that close to 9 million are on the verge of starvation following the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government.
They say Afghans desperate for food are selling possessions — even their children — and are burning furniture to ward off the freezing temperatures.
The Biden administration has provided about $782 million since October to help Afghans struggling with food and water shortages, economic collapse, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taliban rule and the harsh winter.
With Post wires