Vas Shenoy

Capitulation: “Oslo Accords” with the Taliban?

The Taliban delegation in Oslo, source Twitter

The Taliban delegation’s visit to Oslo, continues with a dangerous precedent of legitimising terrorists. What in Norway is perceived as a pragmatic opportunity to provide aid, is perceived in Pakistan and Afghanistan as capitulation.

Norway took over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the 1st of January 2022. The Kingdom has always been the flag bearer of peace, progress, equality and inclusion and is also home to the Nobel Peace Prize which is considered the foremost global recognition for peace efforts.

In this context, the Norwegians convening a formal meeting with a Taliban delegation while underlining that such a meeting does not signify recognition is a confusing move with mixed signals. Norway has convened this meeting in Oslo, with all major western powers represented, with the objective of discussing humanitarian aid to Afghans with a terrorist group, which is focused on repressing minorities, women and destroying the basic cultural fabric of Afghan society.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt stressed that the visit was “not a legitimation or recognition of the Taliban. But we must talk to those who in practice govern the country today.” The statement in itself is contradictory. By accepting that the Taliban govern the country, the Foreign Minister has already provided tacit recognition.

Norway is no stranger to sensitive diplomacy. One of its most famous efforts is the Oslo accords between Israel and Palestine, which ended up with Fatah, a terrorist group, finally recognising Israel, and creating a governance mechanism for a future Palestinian state. The Oslo accords, then the beacon of hope, since have been controversial on both sides and have been eventually responsible for the painful stalemate between Israel and Palestine. The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006 and now Palestine is split between the Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation organisation (PLO), further complicating the spiral of violence after almost 30 years. Meanwhile the Abraham accords have brought an end to the Arab embargo of Israel and created strong new relationships in the middle east.

One of the first acts of the Norwegian Presidency was to elevate the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the ministerial level and declare the convening of a “mini-Oslo” for security council members on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad Malki, using this platform at the UNSC, accused Israel of violence and announced the death of the two state solution. While old Oslo hand Ambassador Mona Juul, is the current Norwegian envoy to the UN, the revival of Oslo for a month will neither solve the Palestinian nor the same principals can be applied to the Afghan issue, different problem, different players, different century.

The approach taken by the Norwegian government with the Taliban, seems to draw from the experience of the Oslo accords. While the approach is in good faith, the situations are poles apart. The Taliban is a terrorist organisation, backed and controlled by Pakistan, which has no intention of making any obvious concessions.

Their only objective is to achieve acceptance from western countries such that funds blocked by the US and other western powers are released. Unlike the PLO, they have nothing to gain territorially or politically. The visit to Oslo to meet with representatives from United States, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and the European Union, for them, is akin to recognition.

Last month, Iran hosted a meeting between Ahmed Massoud of the Northern Alliance, Ismail Khan and a Taliban Delegation, where it was clear that the Haqqani controlled Loya Paktiya faction of the Taliban would never agree to a national unity government which engaged all ethnicities and Afghan factions in a power sharing mechanism. The Haqqani’s are backed by Pakistan and controlled, financed and support by Pakistan’s intelligence Services, the ISI. There is no reason to believe the Oslo meeting will yield something better.

Norway is home to a large Pakistani diaspora community. Pakistani immigrants and Norwegians of Pakistani origin account for the third largest immigrant community in Norway after Poles and Swedes, out numbering the Iraqis and Somalis. Many Norwegians of Pakistani origin are involved in the political spectrum at the national as well as local level, in a cross section of parties in Norwegian politics. This provides a fertile lobby for the Pakistani narrative on Afghanistan and could be a reason to why Norway, at this juncture, has tried to engage itself on the issue.

There are no preconditions for this visit that the Taliban needed to agree to. There is no representation from other members of Afghan society, political or civil, no members of the Ashraf Ghani government or any other Afghan leaders in exile have been invited. This is another conference on Afghanistan where the only missing group are the Afghans themselves tough various media articles state that “The Taliban delegation is also expected to meet Afghans from civil society, including women leaders and journalists, at a time when the freedoms of those living in Afghanistan are being increasingly curtailed.”, not specifying who would be representing the interests of the Afghan people.

The Taliban delegation’s tone is rather triumphant as this is a public relations coup for them. Even if they were to return empty handed, they are now recognised by the west as Afghanistan’s de-facto rulers.  With the reopening of the EU Embassy in Kabul, this meeting is seen by the Taliban and their allies as the capitulation of the west to their Islamic victory. If there was any hope of laying down pre-conditions as a road-map to aid, it has now been destroyed.

In the words of Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Norway: “It does not in any way imply any recognition of the coup that took place. We will make strong demands on the Taliban, but we do not know if they will implement them afterwards.”

Even Pakistan’s civil society understands the danger of the Pakistan’s government pandering to the Taliban. “The more Pakistan favours the Afghan Taliban, the more strengthened the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and other such groups become and Pakistan’s support to the Kabul regime does not help the Afghan people in any way.” This was the conclusion at a conference on “Chaos in Afghanis­tan and Talking to Banned Organisations” at the Asma Jahangir Conference in Lahore on Saturday.

This visit will only hasten the institutionalisation of terrorist organisations and embolden the Haqqani network. For Norway to maintain its position as a neutral arbiter, it was essential for pre-conditions to be laid down even for this meeting. For aid and assistance to reach the Afghan people and not fund the Taliban’s future jihad, it is essential that Norway set some basic conditions, one of which could be a monitoring mechanism which consists of eminent Afghans who represent all ethnicities. Without a firm position, this visit of the Taliban to Oslo will end up destroying any hope for a peaceful future for Afghanistan and end up serving as propaganda for Taliban’s “victory”.

The failure of the Oslo accords should have been a learning experience for Norway in its quest to play global peacemaker. Obviously even after almost 30 years, some lessons haven’t been learnt.

About the Author
Vas is a political researcher, consultant and entrepreneur who has worked in Europe, Middle East and Africa for two decades. He has had the privilege to interact with leaders, decision makers and work closely with people from all walks of life, all over the middle east.
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