Trudeau Walks Back Minister’s Indication That Canada May Recognize Taliban as Afghan Rulers

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Canada's Foreign Minister Marc Garneau talks with the Icelandic Foreign Minister (unseen) at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 19, 2021, on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit. While on the campaign trail on August 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked back comments Garneau made a day earlier which stated Canada may recognize the Taliban terrorist organization as the government of Afghanistan, depending on how it behaves.
Canada's Foreign Minister Marc Garneau talks with the Icelandic Foreign Minister (unseen) at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, on May 19, 2021, on the sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial summit. While on the campaign trail on August 17, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked back comments Garneau made a day earlier which stated Canada may recognize the Taliban terrorist organization as the government of Afghanistan, depending on how it behaves. (Image: HALLDOR KOLBEINS/AFP via Getty Images)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walked back comments made by his Foreign Affairs Minister a day earlier that said the ruling Liberal Party is open to recognizing the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, but would “have to see how they behave” as a Sept. 20 federal election looms large. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau made the comments to state-run broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corporation during an August 16 episode of Power & Politics after being asked if Canada would refuse to recognize the Taliban, “I would say to you that it’s early days. Right now we want to see what happens. The country has essentially surrendered to the Taliban, the Taliban is saying that it wants to run this government but we’re going to wait and see, it’s too early to answer that question.”

“We have to see how they behave since they have taken over the country. Certainly, their behaviour was totally unacceptable for the short time that they were in charge as the Russians left about 20 years ago, so we will wait and see.”

The Taliban is listed on the Public Safety Canada (PSC) website as an officially recognized terrorist organization, added in 2013. The government’s description of the Taliban states, “The Taliban’s main objectives are the removal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, and the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan through the overthrow of the current government.”

PSC also says the Taliban, “Is known to attack civilian targets, government compounds, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)/Afghan bases, military targets in built-up urban areas, as well as infrastructure projects…[and] was responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and have been known to carry out a number of attacks on girls’ schools in particular.”

A day later on August 17, Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, told a press conference on the campaign trail in Markham, Ontario where he promised federal disbursements for childcare that “Canada has no plans to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.”

The about-face comes after Trudeau’s primary challenger, Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole, issued a press release firmly stating his administration, if elected, would not recognize the Taliban.

“The use of force by the Taliban is completely unacceptable and that’s why today I’m announcing that a Conservative government will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan,” read the release, which added it would ensure Afghanistan aid is not disbursed to the Taliban.

Civilian staff in crisis

In mid-July, CTV News, while reporting on “rapid territorial gains” the Taliban were making in Afghanistan in advance of Joe Biden’s ill-planned withdrawal from the region, published an audio clip from a linguistic interpreter that served the Canada mission in 2010-2011, pleading with the Prime Minister for help. 

“Mr. Trudeau, I am a father. My daughter is a year-and-a-half old. From one father to another, I beg you to please help me and my family to get out of Afghanistan before the Taliban find us.”

The statement continued, “If Canada does not act immediately, me and my wife, my daughter, and my brothers will be captured by the Taliban. They will hang me, shoot me and cut my head off. They will kill my wife and daughter. They will kill my brothers…you promised me my family would one day come to Canada [and] enjoy the peace that your family enjoy every day.”

According to an Aug. 17 Canadian Press wire report, Trudeau has mostly evacuated Canada’s diplomats, bringing home a total of nine planes over the last two weeks. 

“The Department of National Defence has confirmed one of those planes carrying Canadian diplomats and special forces troops landed in Ottawa while a second plane arrived in Toronto carrying Afghans who previously helped Canada in Afghanistan,” read the article, noting the aircraft were civilian planes and not military. 

The article also states Trudeau announced, “More than 800 former interpreters, cultural advisers, cleaners, drivers and other Afghans who supported Canada as well as their families have been resettled under a special program launched last month,” but that the move only came after “significant pressure” from Canadian veterans. 

On July 28, The Toronto Star, a Postmedia affiliate, published an article revealing a difficult bureaucratic processing requirement for civilian staff wishing to flee the country. The same day, interpreters received a 19-page document that gave them only 72 hours to complete and return the application, “If you do not provide a completed application package within the next three days, we will conclude that you are not interested in participating in this Public Policy.”

The article revealed identification documents required in the application process were substantial, including, “Birth and marriage certificates, as well as Afghan military records, plus new and expired passports, for themselves and spouses and children.”

“IDs they don’t carry in order to avoid the Taliban’s detection,” noted The Star, who also pointed out applicants would need access to a scanner, desktop computer, and reliable Internet access, all luxuries in short supply amidst a terrorist siege. 

Government officials walked back the 72-hour timeline after facing critical inquiries from reporters.

Trudeau told the Markham press conference further evacuations would be difficult due to the current state of affairs in Afghanistan, “The Taliban has, has taken control of approaches to the airport, which is making it extremely difficult for people to get to the airport in order to get out. And that is something that we continue to work on.”

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.