The snow-covered peaks behind the Soria Moria Hotel in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, many not have been the ideal setting for meeting the Taliban but they served a purpose.
The Norwegians are good at playing the role of interlocutors.
This was evident during the three-day conclave on January 23-25 in Oslo.
The Norwegians brought diplomats from the US, UK, Germany, France and Italy as well as the European Union to meet Taliban officials led by their Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
If Oslo’s frosty temperatures were somewhat disconcerting for the Taliban, their reception was warmer.
The Norwegians even sent a private plane to bring the Taliban delegation from Kabul.
The Americans maintain sanctions on Afghanistan as well as a number of Taliban officials yet they were quite eager to talk to them.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), was also present at the meeting.
He made some telling points about the humanitarian disaster-in-the-making in Afghanistan.
Egeland said: “The sanctions are holding us back. We cannot save lives without lifting the sanctions. They are harming the same people that NATO spent billions of dollars defending until August.”
He went on: “We must talk to those who have control in countries where people are in need [of help]. We talk to those who make it possible for us to save lives, we do that everywhere. They are the actual authorities in the country. And they see how the economy is now about to collapse and the enormous need to bring in aid from western countries.”
This is precisely what the Taliban have been saying and wanted to repeat in Oslo.
Egeland who described the talks with the Taliban “a step in the right direction,” did them a huge favour.
Muttaqi appeared quite pleased: “Norway providing us this opportunity is an achievement in itself because we shared the stage with the world.”
He could have added that what we wanted to say to the Americans and the world, could not have been said any better than what Egeland said.
Ever since taking over Kabul last August, the Taliban’s twin-objectives have been the recognition of their government and removal of western sanctions against their leaders.
Naturally, they also want their frozen money, amounting to some $9.5 billion released.
There have been loud demands from the West about girls’ education and an “inclusive government”.
The Taliban have promised to open girls’ schools by March, provided of course they have the money to pay teachers’ salaries.
It is quite hypocritical of the West to demand the opening of girls’ schools while withholding funds that belong to Afghanistan.
Similarly, the call for an “inclusive government” is a buzz-word for including US agents in a Taliban-led government.
There is no such animal as an inclusive government anywhere in the world; not in the US, not in Europe or anywhere else.
This is simply a tactic to exert pressure on the Taliban to submit to US demands despite the fact that the Americans lost the war in Afghanistan.
It must be the first in history that the vanquished are dictating to the victors.
There must have detailed discussions about the release of Afghanistan’s frozen funds between Muttaqi and the US special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West.
What the Taliban promised in return appeared some days later when they announced the opening of girls’ schools in March.
How many Afghans must starve to death during the harsh winter months before the US realizes it is holding innocent people hostage for their criminal policies?