Barnett Rubin mentioned a Canadian Army Intel Major who served in Kandahar as a reservist in a recent blog entry. His “real” job is as a Vancouver police detective in British Columbia.

Harjit Sajjan, a police detective from Vancouver, British Columbia, served in military intelligence with the Canadian Land Forces in Kandahar. His work with the local population was key to halting the Taliban offensive in the summer of 2006.

Harjit Sajjan is Sikh name. This made me curious so I googled the name a found more references to the man. This is a pic of Sajjan along with a Brigadier-General in a Sikh temple in Canada (story here).

OK, fascinating. So? I just wanted to use this story as a segue into mentioning that Afghanistan has a native Sikh community, and has had one for it’s entire modern history. This BBC article says that they arrived with the Brits in the 19th century. However, I believe there was already a Sikh merchant presence in Kabul (I’m not 100% on this). The BBC article mentions all the problems Sikhs are facing today in Afghanistan, and as refugees (who isn’t?), and gives some background to Sikh society in Afghanistan. What is important to note is that a non-Muslim population has lived in Afghanistan for at least 150 years now and has, especially under the rule of Zahir Shah, been accorded a reasonable level of religious freedom. This obviously doesn’t do much to support the stereotype of the xenophobic Afghan Muslim zealot society that is offended by the mere presence of non-Muslims.

Though I don’t wish to whitewash the history entirely. In the early 1990s there were still 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan. This is now down to about 1,000. Most fled in 1992 after after Hindu extremists destroyed the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, in India. There were retaliatory attacks across India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But what is important to mention is that the attacks in Afghanistan were centered in Kabul, while Sikhs and Hindus in Kandahar and Jalalabad were not affected to the same degree. So; Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. Which of these three is the least “conservative?” I say the attacks had more to do with the opportunism presented to the “mujahideen” in the then anarchic Kabul who attacked, robbed, raped and murdered for any or no reason whatsoever. Less religious motivation, more basic opportunism.

Old Steve McCurry pic: Afghan Sikh students.

More info on Afghan Sikhs: