Nova Scotia

Heartbreak, uncertainty as loved ones in Canada watch Taliban takeover from afar

People living in Canada with ties to Afghanistan describe feeling heartbroken and helpless as they watch Taliban insurgents sweep through the country.

Taliban insurgents 'don't care about the Afghan people," says Afghan woman living in Halifax

Massive crowds of people mobbed the Kabul airport on Aug. 16, 2021 in a desperate scramble to leave the country after the collapse of the Afghan government. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

Images coming out of Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents advance across the country and desperate citizens attempt to flee are heartbreaking to see, said the founder of the Afghan Society of Halifax on Tuesday.

Gulmakai Muhammad Sarvar, who is from Kabul but now lives in Halifax, said she worries for her family members who remain in Afghanistan.

"I can't sleep at night," Sarvar told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon. "And the daytime, the only thing that I can do is ... write a message on the social media."

On Tuesday, two days after taking Kabul, the Taliban declared an "amnesty" across Afghanistan and urged women to join its government. 

They have said women's rights will be respected, but within the limits of Islamic law. They have also vowed not to go after Afghans who co-operated with the former government or foreign governments.

Gulmakai Muhammad Sarvar, left, founded the Afghan Society of Halifax nearly 10 years ago. She's originally from Kabul. (Gulmakai Muhammad Sarvar)

But Sarvar, 52, said she is not comforted by the Taliban's efforts to appear more moderate. She said the Taliban, which continues to be listed as a terrorist organization by Canada and its allies, does not respect human rights.

"They don't care about the Afghan people," said Sarvar, who is hopeful the Canadian government will bring her family to Canada.

The Canadian government recently expanded its resettlement program for Afghan refugees to include women leaders, journalists and members of minorities targeted by the Taliban.

Pat Atkinson, a former NDP MLA from Saskatoon, spent two years training Afghan women to work in politics. She fears what will happen to women's education as the Taliban takes over. 

She said a major hurdle preventing people from fleeing the country is the inability to process documents.

"In order to leave the country, the passport offices need to be open and they're not," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Tuesday. "Some don't have passports for their brand new babies." 

She said Canada will "have to be a little flexibile, bureaucratically, in order to get these women out."

At least four Canadian evacuation flights have gotten 807 Afghans out of Kabul over the last several weeks, with about 500 arriving in Canada so far.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada is prepared to send military transports back to Kabul to continue evacuating Afghans in the coming weeks.

Ariel Nasr grew up in Halifax but moved to Afghanistan to make documentaries in 2008. He has been in Montreal since 2013. (Kiana Hayeri)

Ariel Nasr, an Afghan-Canadian filmmaker who was born and raised in Halifax, said he has friends, colleagues and family members in Afghanistan "who want to get out."

"There's a lot of uncertainty," said Nasr, who directed the documentaries The Boxing Girls of Kabul and The Forbidden Reel.

Nasr lived in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2013 before moving to his current home of Montreal. He told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Monday that a friend living in Afghanistan told him there's a lot of fear.

"There is really no way of knowing ... whether [Kabul] will erupt in violent opposition, creating civil war conditions that may be similar to 1992 when the mujahedeen fought against each other for control of Kabul," he said.

"This is a possibility."

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet, Maritime Noon and Information Morning