At 10 a.m. on Sunday, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to announce a snap election for September 20, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was plunged into chaos. As Trudeau stepped onto the podium at Rideau Hall, removed his black mask and smiled a shy, youthful smile for the cameras, news broke that President Ashraf Ghani had fled Afghanistan, along with his cabal of advisers and other parasites. in the Presidential Palace. Trudeau began his speech with Afghanistan, assuring whoever was listening that he knew what was going on. “We have been constantly monitoring the evolution of the situation,” he said, “and officials briefed me this morning to get the latest developments on the ground.”

Earlier that morning, which would have been earlier in the afternoon in Kabul, my longtime assistant in Afghanistan sent me video footage of a high-rise building of Taliban prisoners leaving Pul e Charkhi prison, including some of its most inveterate fighters. . A stoic Pashtun from the mountains in eastern Afghanistan, my assistant had never shown much emotion in the decade we had worked together, but this time, his voice wavered. “Adnan, that’s the Pul e Charkhi prison,” he said in the recording, as the camera swept through a line of people over a kilometer long. “Look at all those people.”

My assistant, let’s call him Abdullah, had a particularly acute reason to be concerned: He has been on the Taliban’s target list for years, in part because of the work he did for a variety of foreign outlets, including Maclean’s, and in part because he comes from a prominent pro-government family. Some of the Taliban prisoners who escaped and left Pul e Charkhi were likely taken there by members of their family.

Meanwhile, a world away in Ottawa, Trudeau, standing in front of a group of reporters, was offering a sterile, rote account of what was happening. He spoke about the evacuation of Canadian diplomatic personnel and “Canada’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan, including women and girls and the LGBTQ2 community.” He checked all the boxes and performed well in his role as handsome prime minister.

What was missing, however, was the feeling that he understood the gravity of the moment. He mentioned the emergency resettlement program that Canada had announced on August 13 to bring up to 20,000 Afghans to Canada and said his government “will continue this work for the next several weeks.” What seemed strikingly absent was any understanding that the basic reality had changed since then, and some of the people who would undoubtedly qualify for emergency resettlement could well be dead or incarcerated in the coming weeks.

With a total takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban now virtually complete, the future of people like Abdullah and many others like him has been called into question. The hours and days since the fall of Kabul have been blurry, an endless stream of urgent requests and desperate pleas from people terrified of what comes next. First there was Shahida, a medical student in Kandahar city who had learned English and computer skills at a Canadian-funded school. “Sir. Adnan, please, they are in our neighborhood now,” he told me Sunday afternoon from Kabul, where he was visiting his family. “What can we do. Can we come to Canada? Where we go?”

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Later it was Shazia and Suria, sisters who had also graduated from the Canadian-funded school and are now in their third year at Kandahar University studying computer science. “Sir. Adnan,” Shazia told me over the phone, “we tried to go to class this morning, but the Taliban said that girls can no longer go to university and told us to go home. What should we do? We have listened. that Canada is offering visas to threatened people. Do you think my sister and I can get one? “

And there were others, dozens of them: Yasmina in Canada who married his Afghan girlfriend in a ceremony in Afghanistan last year and is now afraid she will never see him again. There were military interpreters, teachers, NGO workers and human rights activists, artists and musicians, dozens among the tens of thousands of Afghans who did what the international community had asked of them: they were educated and were helping to rebuild their nation.

Many of them are now in hiding.

Efforts to save these people have been intense and widespread. People in Europe and North America have organized campaigns to pressure governments to speed up the pace of evacuations. Networks of people are collecting names of some of the most vulnerable and making sure they are given places on evacuation flights.

As a Canadian, it has been frustrating to see the efforts of friends and colleagues in the United States, France and Germany bear fruit as Canadians wait in limbo. As of Wednesday, the Americans have conducted evacuation flights every hour, while the French have established flights twice a day. Germany attempted a flight on Monday night but was forced to take off due to gunfire after spending just half an hour on the runway and boarding just seven evacuees.

But at least Germany tried, and German officials have been frantically compiling lists of vulnerable Afghans so that when it is safe to send evacuation flights, airport officials are ready and flights do not leave empty again.

Canada, meanwhile, has three planes, including a huge Globemaster military transport, in Kuwait waiting for evacuations. Canadians in Kabul tell me that they have repeatedly asked for details on when those flights might take place only to be told there is no information. And there does not appear to be any emergency effort to prepare to extract vulnerable Afghans.

Global Affairs did not respond to a request for comment. His silence is not surprising but it is deafening. Canadian officials have hinted that they are waiting for the situation outside the airport to be brought under control before sending evacuation flights. The situation there remains dire, according to a source in Kabul, who requested anonymity because his organization does not allow him to speak to the media. “The problem is that there is a large crowd outside the three gates that lead to the airport,” he told me. “There is an initial cordon guarded by the Taliban. If you can get past them, you have to deal with American or British soldiers who don’t want to open the door because they risk letting another flood of people into the airport, who then have to mill around and clean up. “

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But Afghans waiting to see if they can come to Canada complain that it is not the lack of planes that worries them, but the lack of a visible coordination effort. “I don’t want there to be a flight right now,” the daughter of a prominent women’s rights activist who has applied for emergency immigration to Canada told me, requesting anonymity. “I don’t want to go to the airport right now because the situation there is very dangerous. But it would be nice to know at least that they will put us on a flight. Right now, we are in a state of panic because we don’t know what is going to happen. No one from Canada has contacted us. “

Meanwhile, the Taliban claim that people need not worry. At his first official press conference on Tuesday, Zabihullah Mujahid, his longtime spokesman, reiterated the group’s promise that no revenge killings will be carried out or measures taken to punish those who worked with foreigners or with the Afghan government. “I would like to assure the international community, including the United States, that no one will be hurt,” Mujahid said, announcing a general amnesty and telling people at the airport to go home.

But many Afghans are wary. There have been reports of retaliatory killings in other Afghan cities that fell to the Taliban in recent weeks. The Taliban have also broken their promise to respect women’s right to work and education in cities such as Kandahar and Herat, where women arriving at university offices and campuses have been barred from entry and told to be go home.

Most experts worry that the Taliban’s disguise of restraint is just that: a ploy until American forces completely leave. When that happens, and the Kabul airport falls into the hands of the Taliban, many fear that the escape window for vulnerable Afghans will close.

That sense of urgency was what was missing from Trudeau’s speech Sunday. He spoke in general about the “people of Afghanistan”, their women and their girls. But when you disaggregate those categories, what you are left with are individual tragedies: Shahida and the end of her dream of becoming a doctor; Shazia and Suria, locked in their house; Abdullah counting the days until the Taliban knock on his door.

What everyone is asking for is not vague promises that something will happen “in the next few weeks,” but action, now.

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