ISLAMABAD - Norway said Friday that Taliban delegates, Afghan civil society representatives and officials from "a number of allied countries" will gather in Oslo next week for three days of talks on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and human rights.
Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi will lead the Taliban team at the dialogue starting Sunday, his office in Kabul said.
"They are scheduled to hold meetings and discussions on various issues with American diplomats, European Union delegates, and a number of Afghan personalities," said Bilal Karimi, a Taliban spokesman.
Officials from Britain, France, Germany and Italy are reportedly among the participants.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt as stressing the meetings Oslo is hosting will "not represent a legitimization or recognition of the Taliban."
However, she emphasized the need for engaging with the "de facto authorities" in Afghanistan in order to help the civilian population there.
"We are extremely concerned about the grave situation in Afghanistan, where millions of people are facing a full-blown humanitarian disaster," Huitfeldt said. "We cannot allow the political situation to lead to an even worse humanitarian disaster."
"We will be clear about our expectations of the Taliban, particularly as regards girls' education and human rights, such as women's right to participate in society," Norway's foreign minister stressed.
The Taliban military regained power in Afghanistan last August as the Western-backed government collapsed and all remaining U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country later that month after 20 years.
The change in power immediately halted international assistance for aid-dependent Afghanistan and the United States blocked the Taliban's access to roughly $9.5 billion in foreign assets - largely held in the U.S. Federal Reserve - in addition to imposing financial sanctions on Kabul.
International donors have urged the Taliban to form an inclusive government and respect the rights of women as a condition for the release of more aid, which the group has not done.
The punitive actions have plunged the fragile Afghan economy into an unprecedented crisis, worsening an already bad humanitarian crisis in the country. The United Nations says it needs $5 billion this year to bring urgent relief to an estimated 24 million people experiencing acute food insecurity, with 9 million of them threatened with famine.
"Humanitarian assistance, while essential, is not enough. We must prevent a collapse in basic services such as health and education. We must support the livelihoods of families and communities," Huitfeldt said.
The International Labor Organization reported this week that 500,000 jobs have been lost in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover, saying the number could go to as high as 900,000 by the middle of this year because of the economic upheaval.
Critics say despite pledging not to re-introduce harsh Islamic polices of their previous regime in Kabul, the Taliban rulers are cracking down on human rights, particularly those of women.
Most female government employees have been prevented from returning to their jobs and most secondary schools for girls remained shuttered across Afghanistan.
Taliban officials maintain they recognize women's rights to education and work within Sharia or Islamic law but they need funds to pay salaries to teachers and organize a safe environment for female students. The Taliban have pledged to allow all girls to return to schools in March, when the new education year begins in Afghanistan.