The speedy collapse of the Western-backed Afghan government following the US-led coalition’s withdrawal has surprised NATO. Its Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg admitted that the return of the Taliban* was anticipated, but not as quickly. According to a Norwegian negotiator, a dialogue with moderate Taliban should have been started much earlier.
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.
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…