Economic aid is Canada's leverage against Taliban: Garneau

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says Canada will use economic aid as leverage with the Taliban to ensure safe passage for those trying to flee Afghanistan.

Agreement reached with Taliban on safe passage, according to joint statement

Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 23. (U.S. Marine Corps/Reuters)

Canada will use economic aid as leverage to help ensure the safe passage of those hoping to flee Afghanistan,  Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said as an agreement with the Taliban was announced Sunday.

"We're working through various channels, along with many other countries, to speak to the Taliban and to get them to agree to a very fundamental demand, which is that all Afghans who wish to leave the country should be able to do so," Garneau told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live Sunday.

Minutes after that interview, a joint statement by 98 countries, including Canada, said an agreement had been reached with the Taliban ensuring that departures from the country could continue.

"We have received assurances from the Taliban that all foreign nationals and any Afghan citizen with travel authorization from our countries will be allowed to proceed in a safe and orderly manner to points of departure and travel outside the country," the statement said.

The statement noted that countries "have the clear expectation of and commitment from the Taliban that they can travel to our respective countries," but departures would rely on the Taliban's holding to that agreement. The statement did not include any mention of consequences for breaking the agreement.

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Asked earlier Sunday about how Canada could exert leverage on the group — which this country considers a terrorist entity — to ensure safe passage, Garneau said it was "primarily economic," citing recently announced humanitarian aid and development aid already committed to Afghanistan.

"There's all sorts of leverage with respect to the Taliban, who are now confronting the fact they're in charge and they're going to have to make the country work," Garneau said.

Garneau said Canada is not in direct contact with the group that now controls Afghanistan, but is working through allies like the United States and France.

There are still thousands of people with links to Canada, including citizens and permanent residents, still in Afghanistan, Garneau said, although he did not provide precise figures.

Canadian evacuation missions from the Kabul airport ended Thursday, and U.S. President Joe Biden said he will stick to his Aug. 31 deadline for the end of U.S. operations.

CBC News learned Sunday that more people destined for Canada have been able to leave Afghanistan since Friday, according to a government source not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Two planes originating from third countries also carrying people from Afghanistan were set to land in Toronto by the end of the day Sunday.

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Current situation "very volatile": Garneau

Garneau said Canada is working with regional partners to help ease the way to Canada for those who might be able to leave Afghanistan for neighbouring third countries, such as Pakistan.

The government has told those hoping to leave Afghanistan and travel to Canada to stay in place and not attempt to reach the Kabul airport.

In an interview that aired Saturday on CBC's The House,  a man who worked as a contractor with Canada in Kandahar said it was unsafe to stay in place.

The House speaks with a former CAF contractor stranded in Afghanistan; Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau answers some tough questions on how we got here and what happens now.

"So at the moment, we're telling people because of the very, very volatile nature of the current situation ... to stay in place at the moment," Garneau said Saturday.

"We're asking people to stay calm and we are going to get them out and be there to help them."

Reverberations on the campaign trail

The situation in Afghanistan has cast a shadow over a federal election campaign in Canada, with opposition parties criticizing the Liberal party for calling an election during the period in which the Taliban were taking control of the country. Taliban forces entered Kabul on Aug. 15, the same day the federal election was called.

While international negotiations are continuing between other parties, "we have a prime minister and foreign minister who are on the campaign trail in an election that they triggered. So leadership is lacking on this," Conservative candidate Michael Barrett  said Sunday.

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Asked on The House if the ensuing crisis had affected Canada's reputation abroad, Garneau replied, "I don't think it does anything to our reputation abroad, because I can tell you that all of the resources that are necessary, whether we're in an election or not, are being applied to this very urgent situation." Garneau said the relevant ministers are "focused completely" on the crisis.

Speaking Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live, Garneau accepted some criticisms of the government's handling of the situation but said that the speed of the Taliban takeover had surprised Canada and other countries attempting to evacuate people.

"Even the Taliban, I think, were surprised at how quickly they took over the country and how quickly the Afghan army essentially folded."

With files from Rosemary Barton, Tyler Buist, Susan Treen and Ashley Burke