Canada has 'no plans' to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan gov't: Trudeau

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the government has “no plans” to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, hours after the Conservatives released a statement with the same declaration.

Speaking to reporters on day three of the federal election campaign, Trudeau reminded Canadians that 20 years ago, Canada also didn’t recognize the terrorist organization as a government when they took over.

“They have taken over and replaced a duly elected democratic government by force…they are a recognized terrorist organization under Canadian law. Our focus right now is on getting people out of Afghanistan and the Taliban need to ensure free access to people to get to the airport,” he said.

Yesterday evening, a number of Canadians who worked in Afghanistan returned home on an Air Senegal flight.

The flight, which departed from Cologne, Germany, became the fifth known flight to repatriate Canadian citizens and Afghans who helped the Canadian Armed Forces and Canadian Embassy since the federal government started emergency flights on Aug. 4.

One official at the Ottawa airport told CTV News that no Afghans were on this flight.

Another flight landed in Toronto last night carrying Afghans who have come to Canada under Special Immigration Measures, according to Global Affairs Canada.

The Conservative Party issued a statement on Monday evening blaming Trudeau for “abandoning” Afghans and stating that a government under Erin O’Toole wold not recognize the Taliban as the country’s government.

"The use of force by the Taliban is completely unacceptable and that's why today I am announcing that a Conservative government will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. A Conservative government will also commit to ensuring that aid provided to the Afghan people does not end up in the hands of the Taliban regime," the statement reads.

After images and videos of desperate Afghans climbing and cramming onto planes to flee Taliban rule flooded the internet, Trudeau said early Tuesday morning he had another briefing with officials about the dire situation, and is working closely with the U.S. and other allies on steps to evacuate more Afghans.

“We’re working with our allies on what Canada as part of the international community can do to stabilize the situation, protect civilians, and put an end to the violence. This includes taking leadership by bringing Afghans to safety in Canada,” Trudeau said, adding that he’s especially concerned about the status of women and girls.

The Taliban have committed to an “Afghan inclusive Islamic government,” and have encouraged women to join the movement but it’s unclear what that entails.

Trudeau said he also spoke with former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton about the situation.

“[Clinton] shares our concern for Afghan women and girls. She welcomed our efforts and urged Canada to continue our work. Governments, international organizations and civil society must continue to work together to support women and girls in Afghanistan,” he said.

Reflecting on whether the 20-year mission in Afghanistan was all for nothing given the state of affairs there, Retired Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who once led Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday that the rights of women and girls are “worth fighting for.”

“In terms of failure, where we are now is failure, there’s no doubt about it. Will there be a lasting echo of the good work that was done over the last 20 years to get women to run for office, or to become police officers, to become professors or school teachers, yes but it’s going to diminish quickly,” he said.

“The Taliban has no centralized command and control, they don’t have a professional service to regulate individual behaviours. They’re a loose coalition of tribal groups founded by ideology and we’ve seen the proof of what that ideology directs towards women and girls.”

The head of NATO didn’t mince words on Tuesday when he criticized the Afghan government and military for retreating so quickly and leaving its citizens to face the blow of Taliban force alone.

“Why didn’t the forces we trained and equipped and supported over so many years, why were they not able to stand up against the Taliban in a stronger and better way than they did? We were always aware of the risk that the Taliban could regain control, that was stated clearly when we made the decision to end our military presence, but it was a surprise the speed of the collapse,” said Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Conservative candidates Alex Ruff, James Bezan, John Brassard, Pierre Paul-Hus, and Michelle Rempel Garner held a press conference on Tuesday to share their responses to the crisis and their key demands of the government.

“We are calling on the Trudeau Liberals to do the following: by the end of the day, communicate details of their resettlement announcement to the Canadian public, this should include application process details, process for security screening and more; establish a hotline for Canadians with family members in Afghanistan to call to get information on the government’s resettlement process; prioritize highly vulnerable persons who are at risk of death and torture from the Taliban for resettlement in the first instance,” Rempel Garner said.

Ruff, a former veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, said he’s heard a sentiment of “disgust and embarrassment” from other veterans.

“[They’re] ashamed at the lack of action Canada’s been taking in the current government to deal with this ongoing situation, humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. We lost 158 Canadians in Afghanistan and one of the questions a lot of them are now asking themselves is ‘Was it worth it?’ the answer is yes it was, but only if we do the right thing now,” he said.

O’Toole later in the day said he’s pleased Trudeau is following the lead of Conservatives in committing to not recognize the terrorist group as a legitimate government and should have done the same in previous attempts to extract workers who helped Canadian military.

“I wish he would have followed our lead years ago when we tried to get our interpreters and contractors out. We got one out and then Mr. Trudeau decided to leave many of them behind for years. For the last six months, when we knew the pull out was coming, the Trudeau government did nothing until a few days before an election,” he said.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed Trudeau’s remarks on Tuesday, stating that the Taliban is “clearly a terrorist organization” and should not be formally recognized as a government.

“I have to take a moment to express how horrifying what’s going on in Afghanistan is, we’ve seen just incredibly scary images coming out, people in desperation trying to flee what they know is likely death or severe persecution,” he said.

With files from CTV News' Mackenzie Gray.