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Former Afghan interpreter for Canadian Armed Forces arrested by the Taliban, family says

A former Canadian Armed Forces military interpreter has been arrested by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, CBC News has learned. 

“One morning I went to the [gym] with my father,” said Basir Ahmad Azizi, the son of Bashir Ahmad Azizi, who worked as a CAF interpreter until at least 2007 at Kandahar Airfield when the Canadian military was posted there with other western coalition forces.

Azizi says Taliban gunmen showed up while his father was taking a break and handcuffed him. 

The son fled to a nearby canteen and waited for fifteen minutes to make sure they were gone before he emerged, he told CBC News through an interpreter. That was more than a week ago. 

Family in hiding for 2 years

He said his father did not like to talk about his work for the military too much, but was always proud of his service.

The family had been in hiding for two years, ever since they were unable to board flights that left Kabul in August 2021 when NATO forces fled Afghanistan following its takeover by the Taliban. 

It is also the second piece of misfortune the Azizis have dealt with in the last month.

Azizi’s son in law, Sanaullah Azizi, and his pregnant wife had made it to neighbouring Pakistan several months ago, to be in a safer place while they waited for final approval from Immigration Canada to fly here.

But they were deported by police in Islamabad, as that country stepped up mass deportation of undocumented Afghan migrants in November.

WATCH | Pakistan begins mass deportation of Afghans: 

former afghan interpreter for canadian armed forces arrested by the taliban family says

Pakistan moves to expel hundreds of thousands of Afghan migrants

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Featured VideoPakistan has begun rounding up and detaining undocumented foreign nationals in a nationwide crackdown that mainly impacts Afghans who have been there for decades. Many Afghans say they have no life to return to in Afghanistan and fear life under Taliban rule.

“We are very cautious, I’m not going outside, never,” Sanaullah Azizi said, also speaking through an interpreter.

He showed CBC News a note he had written to Canada’s Embassy in Abu Dhabi, which oversees some of the immigration processing for Afghan migrants, alerting staff to Bashir Ahmad Azizi’s abduction by the Taliban.

He received a response from the embassy that simply noted his own application is still in process, and said: “our office understands that you are eagerly awaiting more information about the processing of your application and we wish to extend our appreciation for your ongoing patience.” 

As for Bashir Ahmad Azizi, nobody has heard from him since he was taken by the Taliban.

His son, Basir, the eldest of five children, says they’ve decided not to tell the youngest, who is only 10, what has happened to their father.

“We’ve told him our dad is just on an errand,” he said.

Uniformed police officers in Karachi, Pakistan, meet with Afghan men in traditional dress.
Police officers and workers from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), check the identity cards of Afghan citizens in Karachi, Pakistan, during a door-to-door search and verification drive for undocumented Afghan nationals, in an Afghan Camp on the outskirts of the city, on Nov. 21, 2023. (Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

‘It can happen to each and everybody,’ migrant says

The news of the interpreter being taken by the Taliban is reverberating among other Afghans who are still waiting to come to Canada, including those who have managed to stay in Islamabad, avoiding the police forces that are still rounding up migrants. 

“It can happen to each and everybody,” said Mohammad Younas Nasimi, a former military contractor with the CAF who’s been waiting for more than two years to find out if he and his family will be approved to come to Canada. 

WATCH | Canada warns Afghans to stay inside in Pakistan:

former afghan interpreter for canadian armed forces arrested by the taliban family says 2

Canada warns would-be Afghan migrants in Pakistan to stay inside

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Featured VideoThe Canadian government is warning any would-be Afghan migrants to Canada waiting in Pakistan for their applications to be approved to stay inside and to reach out if they are detained. Pakistan ordered all undocumented Afghan migrants to leave by Nov. 1 under threat of deportation or arrest.

“Each one of us, we are facing the same threat right here because any day now, if police catches us in Pakistan they will deport us and we have to face those consequences back in Afghanistan.” 

Some observers believe one way for Canada to help people like Azizi is to talk to the Taliban through diplomatic channels, about Afghanistan’s financial needs — in exchange for human rights guarantees. 

Nipa Banerjee is a professional in residence at the University of Ottawa School of International Development and Global Studies, as well as a former Canadian diplomat who served in Kabul. 

Nipa Banerjee sits looking away from the camera is a green jacket.
University of Ottawa professor Nipa Banerjee says the Canadian government should consider engaging the Taliban through diplomatic channels in order to help people like Azizi. (Toni Choueiri/CBC)

“The removal of sanctions [by western countries such as Canada] is one thing that could be done,” she said as an example of a gesture the Canadian government could pose.

Something else Ottawa could do, she says is to “provide some programming options for womens’ rights.” 

WATCH | Fear for women and girls in Afghanistan:

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Some Afghans still arriving from Pakistan

The Canadian government does have a Special Representative to Afghanistan, David Sproule, who is posted in Doha, Qatar, where he engages with the de-facto Taliban government of Afghanistan.

Documents obtained by CBC News through an access to information request last year show he has met with the Taliban more than a dozen times, and he has written to his colleagues about asking the regime for safe passage for Afghans wishing to leave Afghanistan. 

Canada's Special Representative to Afghanistan, David Sproule, stands to the right of CAF troops in his days as ambassador to Afghanistan.
From left, Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, U.S. Maj.-Gen. Benjamin Freakley and David Sproule, then the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, speak with reporters after a ceremony on Feb. 28, 2006, that put Fraser in charge of coalition troops on the ground in southern Afghanistan. Sproule is currently Ottawa’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, though he is based in Doha, Qatar. (The Canadian Press)

However, reached for comment on this story, the Canadian government would not provide an interview with either him or any ministers of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it sympathizes with the plights of Afghans in danger but cannot provide comment on individual cases. 

It also did not disclose how many former employees of the Canadian government or Armed Forces are currently detained by the Taliban, or its general protocol for dealing with such issues. 

The department said it continues to communicate with clients about any changes in circumstances. “We are treating each case with a great sense of urgency,” it said, and “exploring various options for deported clients,” including arranging travel onward to Canada where possible.

Since Nov. 1, six chartered flights carrying Afghans have arrived from Pakistan to Canada.

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