International special representatives and Taliban representatives are seated ahead of a meeting in Oslo, Norway. AP
In their first visit to Europe since returning to power, the Taliban began landmark talks with Western diplomats in Oslo on Monday to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
The closed-door meetings were taking place at a hotel in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital. Taliban representatives will be certain to press their demand that nearly $10 billion frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released as Afghanistan faces a precarious humanitarian situation.
The international community has however insisted the Taliban must respect human rights before aid can resume to the country.
Nigel Casey (right) shakes hands with Taliban representative Amir Khan Muttaqi in Oslo, Norway. AP
The Taliban delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, began talks just after 0930 GMT with representatives of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, the European Union and Norway.
Afghanistan's humanitarian situation has deteriorated drastically since last August when the fundamentalists stormed back to power 20 years after being toppled.
Ahead of the talks, western diplomats met with Afghan women’s rights activists and human rights defenders to hear from civil society in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora about their demands and assessment of the current situation on the ground. The meeting was attended by representatives of the EU, the US, Britain, France, Italy and hosts Norway.
US Special Envoy to Afghanistan Thomas West (left) speaks to Sayed Ishaq Gailani in Oslo, Norway, on Monday. AP
The three-day talks opened on Sunday with direct meetings between the Taliban and civil society representatives.
A joint statement tweeted overnight by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Afghan deputy culture and information minister, following the talks reads that "participants of the meeting recognized that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions to all the problems of Afghanistan,” and emphasized that "all Afghans need to work together for better political, economic and security outcomes in the country.”
International aid came to a halt, worsening the plight of millions of people already suffering from hunger after several severe droughts.
Taliban representative Anas Haqqani sits ahead of a meeting, in Oslo, Norway, Monday. AP
Thomas West, the US special representative for Afghanistan, tweeted on Sunday: "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."
No country has yet recognised the Taliban government.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s beleaguered rights groups, as well as journalists, detaining and sometimes beating television crews covering demonstrations.
The move, days after US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned meeting with Taliban leaders at his Camp David retreat, came as the movement looks to bolster regional support, with visits also planned for China, Iran and Central Asian states.
President Ghani met US special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul during the past week to discuss ways to inject momentum in the stalled peace negotiations with Taliban representatives being held in Qatar. After his talks in Kabul, Khalilzad went to Qatar.
The flurry of activity — including Taliban visits to Iran and Moscow, and a planned trip to Turkey — comes as the Afghan government’s negotiating team warned this week that if the Taliban fail to resume the talks, the government could recall its team from Doha.
Even as China opened to the outside, Jiang’s government stamped out dissent at home. It jailed human rights, labor and pro-democracy activists and banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement, which it viewed as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.
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