Revealed: Norway Held Secret Negotiations With Taliban as Early as 2003

Revealed: Norway Held Secret Negotiations With Taliban as Early as 2003

In attempts held secret until now, Norwegian diplomats tried to get the Taliban’s one-eyed founder Mulla Omar involved in a peace process already in 2003, barely two years after the war in Afghanistan started, national broadcaster NRK reported.

“The UN special envoy had captured that there was a certain willingness to establish dialogue with moderate Taliban elements. So we started,” negotiator Vidar Helgesen, who at the time was heavily involved in the peace process in Sri Lanka, told NRK.

To this end, Vidar Helgesen was commissioned by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during their meeting in Kabul in January 2002. Helgesen also led the informal donor group for Afghanistan.

When the car with Norwegian diplomats was on its way to the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan the following year, the Taliban was weakened, on the run, and about to split into several armed wings.

At the agreed-upon location, Helgesen met with a religious leader who was seen as a messenger from Mulla Omar’s inner circle. At that time, the Taliban’s founder Mulla Omar was wanted by the UN and the US, and the FBI promised bounty for information that led to his arrest.

Helgesen described his interlocutor as “completely different to warlike” and “very mild and soft-spoken”, but noted that he lacked understanding of the international situation, which he ascribed to living in isolation.

This was seen as the first secret attempt to weave the fundamentalist movement into the future of Afghanistan. However, in 2003 the first meeting proved to be the last one. The militants apparently saw themselves better served by combat resistance. The Western side showed no appetite for further dialogue either. According to NRK, the Americans in particular had strong faith in military solutions and discarded dialogue.

In subsequent years, several countries and organisations have sounded out the willingness of the actors to negotiate. Norway has repeatedly tried to facilitate a peaceful solution in Afghanistan. In 2013 and 2015, secret Taliban meetings were held in Norway, not least to discuss peace and women’s rights.

“One should have started a political dialogue with moderate Taliban much earlier. Preferably from the very beginning, I have no doubt about that,” Helgesen, formerly a State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry and today the director of the Nobel Foundation, maintained.

He pointed out that despite discussions, the Taliban were not invited to the first peace conference on Afghanistan in Bonn in 2001.

The rapid collapse of the West-backed Afghan government over the course of less than two weeks, including the ignominious flight of the president and his circle, surprised NATO.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted to NRK that the return of the Taliban was anticipated, but not as quickly.

Helgesen suggested that the Taliban has been working politically across Afghan provinces following the announcement of the US-led Western coalition’s withdrawal, calling it “political manoeuvring”.

*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other countries

Sputnik / Stringer

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