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Canada to start negotiations with Taliban to bring citizens, Afghans back: Garneau

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan Crisis: Canada to enter negotiations with Taliban, Garneau says' Afghanistan Crisis: Canada to enter negotiations with Taliban, Garneau says
WATCH: Canada to enter negotiations with Taliban, Garneau says – Aug 29, 2021

Canada is set to start negotiations with the Taliban to secure a safe exit for Canadian citizens and Afghan refugees trying to leave Kabul, according to Canada’s foreign affairs minister.

Marc Garneau confirmed such negotiations were set to take place during an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson on Sunday.

The dialogue would be happening multilaterally with “many” countries and in the coming days, said Garneau. According to him, the main “priority demand” in the negotiations would be to allow the safe passage of Afghans out of the country.

Read more: What’s happening now in Afghanistan? Here’s a timeline of major events

“That is something that everybody agrees with and that we will be establishing as a demand on the Taliban as we move forward,” said Garneau.

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“We don’t know how they’re going to react to that, but that is a primary focus in the days to come in speaking with the Taliban.”

The second priority in the negotiations, which would involve help from Qatar and Turkey, would be to keep Kabul’s airport open and to restore it as a functioning commercial one after military evacuations are completed.

The negotiations come as the country’s diplomats scramble to get the remaining Canadian citizens, permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans — including interpreters and their families — back to Canada.

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Canada officially ended its evacuation flights from Afghanistan on Thursday after bringing back roughly 3,700 people, though it left behind some Canadian nationals and Afghan refugees it had promised to bring back.

The federal government would later secure 500 seats on an American plane, though the current figure of evacuees is a far cry from the total 21,000 Afghans Canada had promised to resettle.

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News of the potential Taliban negotiations comes after weeks of chaos in the country that staged America’s, and Canada’s, longest war.

Taliban forces had moved rapidly to conquer large parts of the country after the U.S. began its final wind-down of troops. Within days, the insurgent group would emerge from hiding to conquer large swathes of land, sometimes without a fight, and eventually target the capital, Kabul.

Read more: U.S. winding down Afghanistan evacuation as Taliban set take charge of airport: officials

Aug. 15 saw the Islamic militants finally enter the capital, prompting Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani to flee despite expressing confidence in the country’s security forces to repel the encroaching Taliban force.

Thousands more Afghans would begin to seek refuge with governments abroad over fear of reprisal from the Taliban. Coalition forces had made use of local interpreters during the attempt to push the Taliban out of their brutal reign.

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Even for those seeking to leave, U.S. President Joe Biden’s rapidly approaching withdrawal date of Aug. 31 saw chaotic evacuation efforts ensue at Kabul’s airport — made even more frenzied by a deadly suicide bombing on Thursday that left more than 180 people dead, including 13 American troops.

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Canadian officials have faced waves of criticism over the slow pace of the evacuations, oftentimes plagued by technical difficulties and a lack of communication from the government.

Read more: Taliban deploy more forces to seal off Kabul airport after suicide attack kills 182

When asked why Canada had closed its Afghanistan embassy weeks prior to the Taliban’s takeover — possibly hampering evacuation efforts in the coming days — Garneau said that he had an obligation to accept the ambassador’s request to leave when faced with a serious security concern.

“They recommended that evacuation take place, and that is exactly the decision that was taken by myself and my deputy minister to evacuate them at the time,” said Garneau.

“Remember, at that time, the Taliban were rushing and imminently coming into Kabul and nobody knew exactly what was going to happen.”

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Other nations’ embassies, including that of the U.S. and the U.K., had remained open in order to help facilitate getting citizens and Afghan refugees out — an advantage Canada did not have until much later in the evacuation process.

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The minister said that about 70 Canadian personnel were brought back to Afghanistan to aid in the evacuation process, including members of the Canadian military and his staff.

The unstable situation in Afghanistan also comes amid an uncertain time in politics for Canada as Canadians prepare to head to polls on Sept. 20.

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When asked whether Canada had been more passive in its evacuation efforts because of fear of political risk should something happen on the ground during an election, Garneau said he wanted to “put that myth to bed.”

The minister said that Canadian special forces were present in country and were operating outside the airport during the evacuation effort, and that he and all the ministers involved in the process have been focusing on Afghanistan as the “main issue,” despite the election.

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Read more: Here’s what we know about ISIS-K, the group behind the deadly Kabul bombings

Garneau, alongside Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, are all running for re-election.

“I can assure you that all of my department has been working completely nonstop on this particular issue,” said Garneau.

“For us, this election is completely secondary to our main responsibility, and I’m very proud as foreign minister that I had been able to focus entirely on Afghanistan.”

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