OTTAWA – Afghan women ministers pleaded with Canadian politicians for help – and shared warnings about atrocities and erosion of women’s rights – two months before the Taliban took control of Kabul.
In June, female Afghan ministers begged Canada to “do something for us” as the Taliban advanced, said a Canadian senator who participated in a videoconference between Canadian and Afghan politicians.
The desperate request was made during a Zoom meeting of the Canada-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Group, which was attended by Canadian ministers, lawmakers and senators.
In July, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada briefed the group about the brutality, including targeted killings and moves to torture women, as the Taliban took over much of the country.
Sen Salma Ataullah, co-chair of the parliamentary friendship group, said Ambassador Hassan Sorosh gave a graphic description of the Taliban’s advance, killing women and clerics who did not agree with their interpretation of Islam.
Ataullah said Sorosh also described how the Taliban issued orders to local religious leaders to prepare a list of unmarried girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 so that they could be married to Taliban leaders. Can you
Ataullah, who attended both meetings, described how the Afghan women minister “kept telling us: ‘Do something for us’.”
She said the June meeting – where Canada’s cabinet ministers were present – rang alarm bells, and argued that Canada should have acted sooner to evacuate vulnerable Afghans.
The senator said she plans to make a statement upon her return to parliament and is pressuring the Liberal government to explain why it has not taken more urgent steps.
She says that although the Taliban actions were no surprise, the meetings showed the “urgency” of the situation.
“June 1 was the most important because the women (ministers) were very worried – you can see. There was an urgency. We were hearing that they were worried they would lose everything – all this progress (on women’s rights). He Said ‘Do something for us.’ There was a sense of desperation. I was really, really worried,” the senator said.
“In a meeting with the ambassador in July, we got a very, very comprehensive piece of information. The ambassador outlined the executions to target (people),” he said.
The ambassador was not available for comment.
By June, the Taliban had controlled nearly a third of Afghanistan and was advancing rapidly. It captured the capital Kabul on 15 August. US forces withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30, after two decades.
Canada was criticized for not doing enough to help the Afghans and Canadians living in the country who wanted to leave.
In July, Canada devised a plan to evacuate interpreters assisting the Canadian military. In all, Canadian forces helped evacuate more than 3,700 people from Kabul over a period of weeks before pulling out in late August. The Liberal government has also promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees.
Ataullah, a Pashtun who grew up in Pakistan but used to come to Kabul as a girl, said more should have been done after hearing the warnings.
The friendship group’s June 14 meeting was attended by then-women’s minister Maryam Monsef and then-senior minister Deborah Schulte, as well as lawmakers and senators, according to Ataullahan and her parliamentary assistant, Aya Strache.
At the July 29 meeting – weeks before the Taliban captured Kabul – the Afghan ambassador gave a “terrifying report of what was happening” as the Taliban moved forward, according to Strache. He provided the Canadian press with his notes of the July meeting, and said that the June meeting demonstrated how dire the situation was for Afghans.
“In our Zoom call, the Afghan women minister was telling us that there was going to be a crisis,” she said in an interview.
“They were telling us how bad the situation was. That was a red flag. We knew then that we needed to act quickly. We knew what the Taliban were doing years ago – it was disappointing to hear they did it again. Been doing this since.” “
Global Affairs Canada spokesman John Babcock said Ottawa is “committed to Afghanistan and the Afghan people and we will continue to do everything we can to support them.”
He said Canada had no plans to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
“The Taliban remains a listed terrorist entity under Canadian law. If the Taliban wants to ignore fundamental human rights – the rights of women, girls and minority groups – they should expect international isolation.
“We believe that Afghan women have fought hard to achieve their rights, and they deserve the continued support of the international community.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 4, 2021.