Norway's recent efforts, including mediation secret talks between the former authorities of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and subsequently Norway's hosting of Taliban leaders in January 2022 have raised many questions regarding Norway’s foreign policy and its engagement with the Taliban. In order to answer these questions, the Institute of Strategic Studies of Afghanistan held a webinar "Chasing the Unicorn: Norway’s Taliban diplomacy” on 20 January 2023 to assess Norway’s foreign policy in engagement with the Taliban.
The webinar featured Amb. Youssef Ghaforzai, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Norway, Naseer Ahmed Faiq, Chargé d'Affaires (CDA) of the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations, Dr. Habiba Sarabi, Former Member of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Peace Negotiation Team to Doha, Tabish Forugh, Researcher and Policy Analyst, Dr. Weeda Mehran, Lecturer Department of Politics and the Director of MA in Conflict, Security and Development, University of Exeter, UK, and Elizabeth Eide, Journalist, Writer, and Professor Emerita in Journalism Studies at Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway. This panel was moderated by Mitra Qutb, Researcher and Communication Specialist - Afghan Witness, Centre for Information Resilience.
Speakers discussed Norway’s engagement in peace efforts in Afghanistan and its role as a mediator since the beginning of this country's efforts to facilitate peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan leaders as well as its engagement with the Taliban after august 2021 and why these efforts have not achieved any result so far.
Regarding Norway's efforts in the Afghan peace process, Amb. Ghafoorzai said that despite continuous efforts of Norway at the national and international level to establish peace with the Taliban, the Taliban has not given any positive response. Amb. Ghaforzai added although these efforts have failed, Norway has been the supporter of peace and human rights in Afghanistan. At the same time, Mr. Naseer Ahmad Faiq spoke about Norway's role in defending human rights values and said that "engaging with the Taliban does not mean recognizing them, and Norway evaluates the Taliban based on their action."
However, referring to the failure of Norway and other countries hosting the Afghan peace talks, Mr. Tabish Forugh said that Norway and the countries involved in the Afghan peace talks have acted contrary to their promise which was defending human values. Forugh criticized Norway’s engagement with the Taliban which facilitated the establishment of a political office for the Taliban in Qatar and said: "This action helped the Taliban to have a political base in Qatar.” Mr. Forugh added that if Norway wants to continue engaging with the Taliban, it should not ignore the violation of human rights and crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban.
Dr. Sarabi also raised her concern regarding Norway and Qatar’s engagement with the Taliban. Dr. Sahrabi said, Norway was under the influence of the United State during its engagement with the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha and had to follow the U.S. agenda. She added that Qatar’s extensive engagement with the Taliban and its lobbying gave political legitimacy to the Taliban.
Prof. Eide also criticized Norway’s and other countries’ engagement with the Taliban and said that such an engagement with the group members who are at a low level will not change the Taliban's approach. To make the Taliban accountable and responsive, efforts should be made to engage with the leaders of the first rank, not the lower level.
Dr. Weeda Mehran also criticized the Taliban for not fulfilling their promises of respecting human rights in Afghanistan and forming a comprehensive government. Dr. Mehran added that this group is displaying its power in Afghanistan and misusing its interaction with the world to gain legitimacy. Dr. Mehran added that actors engaged in Afghanistan crises should learn from previous failures and should not allow those failures to help the Taliban to expand their legitimacy further.
At the end of this discussion, the audience also raised their concerns regarding the world's interaction with the Taliban, especially Norway, and shared their concern in the form of questions with the speakers.
The report of the roundtable will be released in due course.