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Taliban urges countries to ‘not punish’ Afghans, release aid in diplomatic talks

Taliban representatives and Western diplomats have begun their first formal talks behind closed doors, meeting in Norway to discuss Taliban demands amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis facing the country.

The Associated Press reported that a Taliban demand would unfreeze nearly $10 billion that the United States and Western countries have frozen as Afghans face starvation.

“We ask them to unfreeze Afghan assets and not punish ordinary Afghans because of political rhetoric,” Taliban envoy Shafiullah Azam told the AP on Sunday night. “Because of the famine, because of the deadly winter, I think it’s time for the international community to support the Afghans, not punish them for their political disputes.”

The push for financial aid comes as aid groups and international agencies estimate that nearly 9 million Afghans are close to starvation. People started selling their children and possessions for food and burning their furniture for warmth.

The United Nations estimates that most of the country currently lives below the poverty line and has provided cash for the Taliban to pay for imports like electricity.

According to The Local, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said it would be a mistake to punish the Afghan people for the behavior of their de facto government.

NBC News reported that ahead of the meeting in Norway, Taliban Deputy Culture and Information Minister Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted a joint statement hoping for a “good journey full of achievements” that would become “a gateway to a positive relationship with Europe”.

Since coming to power in August 2021, the Taliban have instituted numerous restrictions, mainly aimed at women. Women were ordered to wear the hijab, banned from careers outside of education and health, and had their access to education cut off.

The Taliban and Western diplomats have started talks focused on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, where millions of people are going hungry. Above, Taliban representative Amir Khan Muttaqi, left, makes a statement outside the Soria Moria hotel, the site of a meeting of international special representatives and the Taliban on January 24 in Oslo, Norway.
Terje Pedersen/Getty Images

The talks will also include Western diplomats pressing the Taliban on women’s rights. Prior to the talks with Norway, diplomats from the United States and other European countries met with women’s rights activists to learn about the current situation in Afghanistan.

Women’s rights activist Heda Khamoush showed photos of Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel, who the Taliban arrested last week after a protest against the compulsory wearing of the hijab. The two women have not been seen since the arrest.

However, the AP reported that Azam denied the charge, suggesting the activists were using the event to seek asylum.

Western powers are likely to negotiate women’s rights and power-sharing with Afghan minority groups as compensation for the money thaw.

A US delegation, led by the State Department‘s special representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, plans to discuss “the formation of a representative political system; responses to urgent humanitarian and economic crises; security and counter-terrorism issues; and human rights, especially the education of girls and women,” according to a statement from the US State Department.