The difficulty of getting humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, where half the population needs it, topped the agenda Tuesday on the final day of talks in Norway involving Western diplomats, aid groups and the Taliban.
The closed-door meetings taking place at a hotel in the snow-capped mountains above the Norwegian capital of Oslo come at a crucial time for Afghanistan, as freezing temperatures are compounding misery from the downward economic spiral that has come with the fall of the U.S.-backed government and the Taliban takeover last summer.
Aid groups and international agencies estimate that about 23 million people, more than half the country, face severe hunger and nearly 9 million are on the brink of starvation. People have resorted to selling possessions to buy food, burning furniture for warmth and even selling their children.
The Taliban are demanding that $10 billion frozen by the United States and other Western countries be released, but there is no agreement on that so far. The United Nations has managed to provide some liquidity and allowed the Taliban administration to pay for imports, including electricity.
“The No. 1 problem now is that Western sanctions are creating a liquidity crisis, which means we cannot get aid funding into the country,” said Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the humanitarian organizations taking part in the talks.
“We cannot save lives as we should. So the West and the Taliban need to talk. And we need to have an end to sanctions hurting civilians,” he said.
But before they will agree to relax sanctions, Western powers are demanding increased rights for Afghan women and girls, along with the West’s recurring demand for the Taliban administration to share power with Afghanistan’s minority ethnic and religious groups.
The new Afghan rulers told The Associated Press last week they aim to have schools open for girls and women in late March, after the Afghan new year. They repeated that promise in Oslo, according to Egeland, who met with the Taliban delegation led by acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
The three days of talks ” the first in Europe since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August ” opened on Sunday with talks between the Taliban and members of Afghan civil society. The following day they held multilateral talks involving Western diplomats from the EU, the U.S., Britain, France, Italy and host Norway.
Tuesday’s talks were bilateral, involving all parties including independent humanitarian organizations.
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