Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 479, 2 February 2022

Afghanistan: Oslo talks with Taliban conclude with no substantial agreement
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

In the news
On 23 January, a Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan attended a three-day discussion in Oslo with Western officials and Afghan civil society representatives. These included envoys from the United States, UK, Germany, Italy, Norway, Qatar, the European Union, and representatives of Afghan women's rights and Afghan civil society.
 
On 24 January, the Taliban Foreign Ministry's spokesperson said: "The meeting focused on discussions about the economy, humanitarian aid, security, the central bank, health and other relevant issues," adding, "The discussions are in progress, a full report will follow." Additionally, a Taliban spokesperson stated that the talks with the civil society were "constructive," adding, "The participants of the meeting recognized that understanding and joint cooperation are the only solutions to all the problems of Afghanistan." Meanwhile, a Taliban delegate stated that the meetings with Western officials were "a step to legitimize (the) Afghan government."
 
On 27 January, in a joint statement released by the US Department of State, the Western participants called for urgent action to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. They highlighted necessary measures to help ease the suffering of Afghans. Additionally, the statement read that they "made clear that their meetings with the Taliban in no way implied any sense of official recognition or legitimization of the interim government announced by the Taliban in September 2021."
 
Issues at large
First, the Taliban's quest for recognition amid internal opposition. Since the Taliban took over in August 2021, it has sought to gain recognition from the international community to legitimize its rule. The Taliban has pushed for recognition on all platforms; however, there has been no positive response. Recognizing the Taliban has become an issue; without it, there cannot be an inflow of essential aid and unfreezing of Afghan assets. Meanwhile, the cash strapped Taliban faces internal opposition from civil society and other actors.
 
Second, the dilemma to recognize the Taliban. While there has been engagement with the Taliban, the international community is still hesitant to recognize the Taliban's rule. Although the international community has emphasized dialogue with the Taliban, it is still uncertain about recognizing and accepting its demands.
 
Third, the current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Over twenty million Afghans are on the brink of famine, combined with a severe drought, the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment. While there has been pledges and assistance coming in from several countries, it has not been sufficient to address the humanitarian crisis. In January 2022, the United Nations made one of the "biggest-ever appeal" for humanitarian aid for a single country, stating that it requires USD 4.4 billion to prevent the "world's most rapidly growing humanitarian crisis" from deteriorating further.
 
In perspective
First, the Taliban's demand for financial assistance and political recognition. The Taliban is clear with what it wants - unfreezing assets and recognition. The Taliban has pushed these two demands to strengthen and legitimize its rule. However, both these issues were sidelined during the talks.
 
Second, an unclear international community. The Oslo talks are another example of the international community being unclear on engaging with the Taliban. Until now, there have only been calls for assistance and limited aid. If the international community seeks to assist Afghanistan, it must understand the importance of pushing for a political settlement rather than just addressing the humanitarian challenges.

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