Afghan Taliban say informal talks took place in Norway
By ZUBAIR BABAKARKHAIL AND SLOBODAN LEKIC | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2015
KABUL, Afghanistan — A Taliban spokesman confirmed Friday that representatives of the insurgents have met with a delegation of Afghan women for informal talks in Norway.
But spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that the unprecedented meeting with a women’s group implied the start of a peace process with the government. He said the goal of the two-day meeting was to obtain the views of Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups as well as women’s groups regarding “issues facing the nation.”
“The Taliban want to listen to the thoughts and recommendation of every Afghan,” Mujahid said in a telephone call. “But at the same time, the Taliban also want to pass on their Sharia point of view and policy to different political personalities,” he said, referring to the strict Islamic law the Taliban enforced when they were in power.
Although the government of President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly expressed a willingness to restart stalled peace talks with the guerrilla group, such efforts don’t appear to have yielded tangible results. There have been several informal meetings between the insurgents and influential Afghan individuals, but the current talks appear to have been the highest-profile contacts so far.
Media reports in Kabul said the women who took part in the meeting in Norway’s capital Oslo included Hawa Alam Nooristani and Siddiqa Balkhi, both from the government’s High Peace Council — a body charged with ending the 14-year war through peace negotiations — as well as members of parliament Shukria Barakzai and Fauzia Koufi.
The Associated Press reported that Norway’s Foreign Ministry had confirmed the discussions had taken place between “Afghans of different political backgrounds ... expressing their personal views.”
Ghani’s office issued a statement saying the participants in the talks were not representing the Afghan government, the AP reported.
The Taliban, who were notorious for their fundamentalist Islamic policies regarding women’s rights during their rule in the 1990s, have recently toned down their extreme message and expressed more nuanced views, including support for women’s education and the rights of women to work alongside men.
Shahla Farid, a professor of law and political science at Kabul University, said on Friday that the meeting in Oslo — the first time the Taliban sat down for talks with a women’s delegation — represented a major breakthrough for Afghan women.
“Women faced a lot of restrictions during the Taliban rule, but now the Taliban accepted to meet them,” she said. “This is a very big news ... now Afghan women can directly pass their concerns to the Taliban.”