Opinion: Taliban meeting in Oslo both a waste of taxpayer money and a PR disaster

Photo: Talibans talsperson / Twitter / NTB

The Taliban’s recent visit to Oslo, for talks with Norwegian, European, and American representatives, was portrayed as a chance to reset relations and to jointly seek solutions for a deteriorating humanitarian crisis that is engulfing Afghanistan. In reality, it was nothing more than NOK 7 million down the drain and a chance for the Taliban to claim some sort of legitimacy and governmental recognition.

Afghanistan saw two decades of progress wiped away in 2021

It has been more than 6 months since the fall of Kabul and the end of a moderate (though heavily corrupt) civil government. Reminiscent of that old saying about history not repeating itself but rhyming, the Taliban – like 3 decades before – swept into power and has assumed control over Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden announced, last April, that the United States would end its “forever war” after two decades of involvement in the country. The intervention had left Afghanistan generally positive societal results. Biden’s withdrawal announcement somewhat caught the United States and its NATO allies off guard – of which Norway is not only a partner but has spent countless resources and lives to help free the Afghanis from the grip of the Taliban.

There was then the heartbreaking and truly sorrowful scenes, not seen perhaps since the fall of Vietnam to the Communists in 1975, of thousands of Afghans, who had picked themselves up and rebuilt a shattered country from ruin in the days since 9/11, rushing to foreign embassies for a chance to leave on the few remaining evacuatory flights left.

Taliban has chipped away at civil gains for women, ethnic, and religious minorities

Since those harrowing August days last year, life in Afghanistan has depressingly spiraled out of control for the general population. The Taliban has been slowly chipping away at the gains that civil society – especially women, ethnic, and religious minorities – have gained since the US and NATO intervened in late 2001.

No foreign government has yet recognized the Taliban as the de facto government of Afghanistan.
Why then would Norway want to fly senior Taliban figures over for a broad-ranging discussion about the deteriorating humanitarian crisis?

Kabul airport
Harrowing scenes of Afghanis trying to escape on foreign flights out of the country. Kabul Airport, 2021. Photo: AP Photo / Shekib Rahmani

Norway says invitation was “essential” for dialogue between international community and Taliban

When the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that they had sent out an invitation to the Taliban to come to Oslo for talks with Norwegian, European, and American representatives this was met with mostly public scorn.

Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister of Foreign Affairs, explained the reasoning behind the visit in a press release. The government’s view was that “it is essential that both the international community and Afghans from various parts of society engage in dialogue with the Taliban. We will be clear about our expectations of the Taliban, particularly as regards girls’ education and human rights, such as women’s right to participate in society.”

Huitfeldt also stressed that these talks would not, in any way, help to legitimize the Taliban regime. Yet when the news broke last week that the Taliban were jet setting their way here, she was forced, by public and political pressure, to cancel her appearance at the talks – though this u-turn was denied by the government. There was an official representative, of sorts, as State Secretary Henrike Thune (AP) was dispatched to the talks to discuss women’s rights, education, and the payment of wages for public employees.

Money down the drain

So what did these talks achieve for Norway? First, we must look at the steep financial cost of the visit. Some NOK 7 million was spent on flying (in a private leased plane) 15 high-ranking members of the Taliban to come for a 3-day visit in Oslo. They stayed at the Soria Moria Hotel, though not the Ritz, this was cozy enough, nestled amongst the forests with some stunning views. Security was paramount meaning a constant police presence. All of this was, of course, paid for by the Norwegian taxpayer.

So, what was the result of the 3-day talks? Did Norway help force the Taliban to improve the role of women in Afghan society? Did Norway help alleviate some of the dire poverty that has become the overarching feature of Taliban rule? Did Norway force written guarantees of protection and safety for ethnic and religious minorities? Sadly, the answer to all of these is no. The only tangible result, of the talks for Norway, was a NOK 7 million price tag and a “thank you for hosting” from the Taliban.

Given the ridiculous cost of electricity in recent months, one wonders whether this NOK 7 million could have been better spent by the Norwegian government on its citizens and not subsidizing a bunch of thugs for a winter vacation.

The arrival of the Taliban delegation at Gardermoen Airport. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB

Did these talks help to legitimize the Taliban?

Regardless of the fact that the government stressed, multiple times, that the talks would not legitimize the Taliban regime, this did actually happen. The Taliban’s choice of holding separate talks with several representatives worked to their advantage – they divided and conquered. Norway, as host, should have insisted on the Western delegations showing a united front and holding talks together. Instead, Norway was quite literally left out of the room for the talks between the Taliban and other Western countries.

Though Minister Huitfeldt did not have a meeting with the Taliban, there was a figure that did meet the Taliban. The fact that Norway arranged for their whole trip – from the chartered jet to the security and accommodation – put the Taliban on a par with any other visiting foreign governmental delegation.

Will these talks soil Norway’s foreign policy aims?

Norway has been active, since the turn of the millennium, in pushing a foreign policy based upon gender equality, women’s rights, and strengthening girls’ education worldwide. These foreign policy aims were the foundation of Norway’s successful bid for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Instead, the government has now whisked members of a regime that treat women as almost “subhuman'” to the other side of the world for talks on gender equality, girls’ education, and women’s rights. Not one woman was in the Taliban’s delegations. This spoke of just another bunch of men making decisions about and for women…albeit with a fanatical twist.

How can Norway hope to push its ambitious and worthwhile foreign policy aims regarding women and girls having soiled their reputation by talking to outright misogynists, sexists, and fanatics?

Norway operated a military base in Faryab during the NATO-led military intervention in Afghanistan. Photo: Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix

Talking to terrorists is a betrayal of the local Afghan community

Perhaps the worst result, though, was for the Afghan community here in Norway. There are approximately 11.000 Afghans living here in Norway and the diaspora’s roots in this country stretch back to, at least, the Saur revolution in 1979. Following the fall of Kabul last year, hundreds more resettled in this country. They now live in a society that is underpinned by (near) gender equality, religious tolerance, and total freedom of expression. A multicultural society that is made strong by its many differences – be it peoples, cultures, religions, or ways of life.

Surely the sight of the Taliban landing at Gardermoen Airport would have been a traumatic scenario for many Afghans here, regardless of how long they had been living in the safety of Norway. Women’s rights groups, civil societies, and other non-governmental organizations did have a chance to meet the Taliban but this was little more than lip service. How can you expect to talk about the necessity of education for young girls to a group of thugs who have overseen a gender apartheid, a constant war on women since they first came to national power in 1996?

The Afghan representatives who met the Taliban, especially the women activists, have now placed their own lives and the lives of their families very much in jeopardy. Mahbouba Seraj, from the Afghan Women’s Network, told a press conference on Monday night that “the worst-case scenario is that when I get home [to Afghanistan] they shoot me.” Though she chuckled a little when speaking, one hopes she was not foreseeing her future.

Norway met the group responsible for death and destruction

The talks also represented the group that was directly responsible for the death of 10 members of the Norwegian Armed Services and 26 further casualties arriving on Norwegian soil. Furthermore, Anas Haqqani – a wanted terrorist – somehow made it through the cracks and was part of the delegation. This was only noticed thanks to an Afghan journalist which was surely a damning indictment of the state of Norwegian security and intelligence institutions.

Prime Minister Støre also has a long history with the Taliban. He witness the brutal violence it indiscriminately unleashed during the 2008 Serena Hotel attack which resulted in the death of Norwegian journalist Carsten Thomassen. His first major foreign policy act to make global headlines was to invite this group into Norway.

The whole meeting – though a noble effort to try and alleviate the humanitarian crisis and the suffering of the Afghan people – did little more than present a public relations win for the Taliban. Let us hope that Norway has learned its lessons from this meeting.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

Source : #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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1 Comment on "Opinion: Taliban meeting in Oslo both a waste of taxpayer money and a PR disaster"

  1. Vernon Childers | 26. March 2022 at 16:06 | Reply

    Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important.

    Right on!!!
    Proverbs 18:17 (KJV) He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.

    Proverbs 18:17 (MSG) The first speech in a court case is always convincing – until the cross-examination starts!

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