Canada was not invited to attend meetings earlier this week with a Taliban delegation in Norway, where Western diplomats from several allied countries joined in a discussion about human rights and Afghanistan’s worsening humanitarian crisis.
The closed-door meetings, which began on Sunday, spanned three days and marked the first official talks with the Taliban in Europe since the extremist group took control of Afghanistan in August. Representatives from the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, Norway and the European Union attended. Independent humanitarian organizations were also included.
Christelle Chartrand, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the invitation list was limited to a small group of countries that have met periodically to discuss the Afghanistan peace process over the past three years. Ms. Chartrand said the Canadian government has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
Norway’s Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, told the United Nations at a briefing on the meetings on Wednesday that the Taliban had heard serious concerns shared by a united international community and representative Afghan civil society members. “The visit did not bestow international recognition on the de facto regime. It provided an opportunity to talk, exchange and formulate clear expectations on the way ahead,” he said.
Ms. Chartrand said David Sproule, Canada’s senior official for Afghanistan, has conveyed Canada’s conditions for official engagement with the Taliban. Those conditions include that the group allow safe passage for Canadians and Afghans trying to travel to Canada, that it permit full and free access for delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans, that it meet international human-rights obligations, that its government be inclusive and that it not shelter terrorist groups.
Mr. Sproule met with a top-ranking Taliban official in Doha in August to discuss Kabul’s airport. And CTV News has reported that he also met with Taliban officials in October.
Retired major-general David Fraser, who commanded troops in Afghanistan, said given Canada’s strong reputation for supporting international coalitions and advocating for human rights it is disappointing that a Canadian representative was not at the table during the recent meetings.
“The fact that Canada was not invited is indicative of our standing on the global stage. And secondly, for a nation like Canada, which espouses human rights and diversity – again, that is indicative of what we may or may not be achieving because we weren’t invited,” he said.
Mr. Fraser said none of the countries that met with the Taliban have recognized them as the official government of Afghanistan. The meetings show, he said, that those countries intend to help Afghans who are in dire need because of the humanitarian crisis.
Canada having a representative at the table, he added, might have helped efforts to resettle Afghans here. “How do you do that when we’re not even invited to the talks?” he said.
Fen Hampson, Chancellor’s professor and professor of international affairs at Carleton University, said a generous interpretation of Canada being left out would be that it was an oversight. A less generous read of the situation, he added, would be that Canada is not seen as being terribly relevant.
“We all think of good reasons why we’re not invited to the party, and we try to make ourselves feel good about it. But given the fact that we’re one of the few countries that have actually set a major target for taking and resettling Afghan refugees, as a courtesy that invitation should have been extended by our European and Norwegian friends who consider us allies and partners in crime.”
As the talks wrapped up on Tuesday, Taliban acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told the Associated Press: “It was a very good trip. Such trips will bring us closer to the world.”
The Taliban had urged Western diplomats to release $10-billion in Afghan government assets that the U.S. and other Western countries have frozen. The parties had not reached an agreement on what to do about the money by the end of the meetings.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, one of the humanitarian groups that took part in the talks, told reporters that Western sanctions are creating a liquidity crisis that is preventing aid funding from getting into Afghanistan. “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.
Western leaders have continued to demand rights for Afghan women and girls, and for the Taliban to share power with the country’s ethnic and religious minority groups.
Taliban rulers told the Associated Press last week that they are aiming to open schools for women and girls in late March, a promise Mr. Egeland said the group’s representatives repeated in the talks.
With reports from Associated Press
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.