However, some Canadian foreign affairs experts are skeptical — especially around the safety of Afghans wanting Canada’s help after Aug. 31.
David Perry, vice-president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, told Global News he feels Canada could offer some safety assurances to Canadians still in Afghanistan, but that’s about it.
“If they’re Afghan nationals and they’re left there once we leave, I think it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult, probably impossible for Canada to make any realistic assurance of a safety guarantee,” he said.
With Canadian military personnel in Kabul scrambling to get Canadians and Afghan refugees out before American troops leave on Aug. 31, government officials vying for re-election made promises on Wednesday that they will continue to support Afghans who want to leave.
For his part, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the government will do “absolutely everything we can” to rescue as many people as possible before that deadline.
“But once this evacuation phase is done, we’re not stopping our work,” he told reporters in Surrey, B.C.
“We’re going to continue with the international community to put pressure on the Taliban to ensure that people can leave the country. We will continue to work with neighbours and partners in the region to get more and more people to safety.”
Perry added he thinks Canada will focus its efforts on helping Afghans who find their own way out.
“It’s going to be a circumstance that I don’t think has been all that dissimilar to what’s been happening previously, which … has effectively been we will help you if you can get to the airport,” he said.
“So I think the circumstances will be that if you can get yourself out, we will extend these provisions to help try and get you resettled,” he said. “But I think it’s looking very clear that we’re not going to have Canadian people on the ground being able to offer any kind of really substantive assistance in that type of effort.”
'Maintaining communication' with Afghans
At an official government update on Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau told reporters Canada will be “maintaining communication” with those who want to leave the country.
“As you heard yesterday, the G7 met and they will be pressing their No. 1 point to the Taliban that they must allow those who wish to leave the country to be able to do so in security and peacefully,” he said.
“Having said that, there will also be those who may choose to leave the country by other means and will end up in other countries. Our Canadian embassies and consulates will be there, fully primed to deal with their requests for the special immigration measures. We are going to continue to be there for all of those who seek to leave the country in the coming months.”
However, there is a lot of uncertainty on what will happen in Afghanistan once Western forces leave. Thousands of Afghans have been trying to flee the country in fear the Taliban will reinstate harsh Islamic law like they did when they previously ruled between 1996 and 2001.
Back then, the Islamist group cut off the hands of thieves, stoned adulterers and banned women from attending school or working outside the home, among other things.
But they’re promising now to be a more moderate ruler, and vowed “amnesty” to Afghans who worked with Western forces during the U.S.-led War on Terror, and claimed to want women in government.
Many Afghans are skeptical of their promises as the Taliban have shown to crack down on dissidents.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the UN human rights chief had received credible reports of brutality by the Taliban, including “summary executions” of civilians and Afghan security forces who had surrendered. The group has promised to investigate reports of atrocities.
Meanwhile, the Taliban want all foreign evacuations completed by Aug. 31, and asked the U.S. to stop urging talented Afghans to leave; they’re also persuading people at the Kabul airport to go home, assuring them that they have nothing to fear.
Stephen Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network, told Global News it’s unclear what the Taliban wants to do once in government, and what they’re capable of doing right now.
“I think that the only presence Canada could have after Aug. 31 if the Americans leave is at the embassy,” he said.
“If the Taliban choose to let that happen, and if the Canadian government is willing to have representation in Afghanistan with the Taliban government, and thus far nobody’s said that they’re willing to do that.”
For Perry, he feels Canada should have gotten Afghans out a lot sooner, but added the Taliban’s takeover “took a lot of people by surprise.”
“But the Americans leaving really shouldn’t have if anybody was seriously listening to them,” he continued.
“I think they’ve been very clear for a while that getting out has meant getting everyone out, and so that kind of leaves me scratching my head a little bit about how we ended up in the situation that we’re in.”
–With files from Reuters