Oslo (Reuters) – The Taliban’s first official talks with the West on European soil since seizing power in Afghanistan will help to “transform the atmosphere of war” after a two-decade insurgency against NATO forces, the group’s top spokesman told AFP Saturday.
The hardline Islamists stormed back to power in August as US and foreign troops began their final withdrawal from the country following a stalemate on the battlefield.
No country has yet recognised the Taliban’s government — notorious for human rights abuses during a first stint in power between 1996 and 2001 when they were ousted by a US-led invasion.
“The Islamic Emirate has taken steps for meeting the demands of the Western world and we hope to strengthen our relations through diplomacy with all the countries, including European countries and the West in general,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP on Saturday.
The Taliban want to “transform the atmosphere of war… into a peaceful situation.”
Talks between the Taliban and Western officials will open in Oslo on Sunday on human rights and humanitarian aid as a poverty crisis deepens.
The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated drastically since the Taliban’s takeover. International aid came to a sudden halt and the United States has frozen $9.5 billion (8.4 billion euros) in Afghan central bank assets held overseas.
Hunger now threatens 23 million Afghans, or 55 percent of the population, according to the United Nations, which says it needs $5 billion from donor countries this year to address the humanitarian crisis in the country.
The visit from Sunday to Tuesday will see meetings between the hardline Islamists, Norwegian authorities and officials from a number of allied countries including Britain, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, the Norwegian foreign ministry statement said.
The Taliban delegation is also expected to meet Afghans from civil society, including women leaders and journalists, at a time when the freedoms of those living in Afghanistan are being increasingly curtailed.
“These meetings do not represent a legitimisation or recognition of the Taliban” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said Friday.
“But we must talk to the de facto authorities in the country. We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster.”
The Taliban delegation, led by foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, was due to leave for Oslo on Saturday.
Ali Maisam Nazary, the foreign relations chief for the National Resistance Front (NRF) — an opposition group that bills itself as the last bastion against total Taliban control — condemned Norway over the talks.
“We all must raise our voices and prevent any country from normalizing a terrorist group as the representative of Afghanistan,” Nazary, who is based in Paris, tweeted on Friday.