Discussions have been held in Norway between the Taliban and Afghan officials, with media reports saying they focused on women's rights. The Taliban has denied the talks signalling any progress on peace negotiations.
The Taliban confirmed talks took place over two days, with a delegation from Afghanistan including several women. "A political delegation from the Islamic Emirate met members of Afghan civil society in Norway - to hear their views and to consult them on ending the occupation of Afghanistan by invading forces," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, referring to his group by its official "Islamic Emirate" name.
On Thursday, media in Norway reported that negotiations were continuing between Taliban officials and members of Afghan society, revolving around women's rights in Afghanistan. The meeting gives hope to ongoing efforts to reopen peace negotiations with the Taliban regime, a suggestion quickly dismissed by Mujahid.
"Such meetings do not imply peace talks," he said.
Several rounds of informal talks held in secret have seen varying results, though a recent series in Qatar saw the Taliban pledge support for educating women, as well as their right to work in "male-dominated professions," according to activists.
This did little to convince Afghan women's groups, who accused the Taliban of giving false assurances. Despite assurances from President Ashraf Ghani that hard-won constitutional protections for women won't be rolled back, they remain vulnerable to Taliban demands. During the regime's five-year rule of Afghanistan, women's rights were severely restricted, including not being allowed out without a male chaperone.
A statement issued by the office of the President of Afghanistan said the talks were "not representing the government of Afghanistan," but that all Afghanis had the right to "work for peace where and whenever they want."
Afghan media confirmed that two members of the country's High Peace Council, Fawzia Koofi and Shukria Barakzai, attended the Oslo session, along with two female lawmakers. An Afghan official told news agency the Associated Press that five female parliamentarians, including Koofi and Barakzai, were at the discussions, though they were "not part of any (Afghan) government initiative, and were invited to an unofficial meeting, not as official delegates."
Authorities in Afghanistan have been working to jump-start talks with the Taliban regime, in hopes of ending a conflict that has lasted for more than a decade. Recently Taliban fighters have stepped up their annual offensive, intensifying attacks on government and foreign targets.
an/msh (AP, AFP)