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Sikh News 'You Think You Could've Done More'

Jan 7, 2005
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Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
'You think you could've done more'

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'You think you could've done more'
It's not the lives saved but those lost he thinks of
The Province

Friday, November 10, 2006

With the blood of Canadians spilling once more in a far-away land, Remembrance Day this year is different. We are a nation at war, peacekeepers no more. The ghosts from wars past now have much younger company.
Those fallen soldiers who so recently walked among us will inhabit the mind of Maj. Harjit Sajjan as he marches on parade in Vancouver's Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Just back from a perilous, eight-month tour in Afghanistan, the soldier and Vancouver police officer carries memories of some of the Canadians whose lives slipped away in the fight against the Taliban.

"It's not a perfect world," says Sajjan, 36, a B.C. Regiment reservist and Vancouver police detective. "That we couldn't prevent all the deaths, that's something that a lot of us will have to slowly deal with."

This time around, Remembrance Day gives Canadians an opportunity to consider the threads that run from today's soldiers to the veterans of long ago.

"I'm hoping that they don't see it as Canadians in war, but more as Canadians making a difference in another country, working to take the personal risk and make sacrifices in another land, just like Canadians in the past," Sajjan says.
It's impossible to draw direct comparisons between the fighting in the world wars and the battles of Afghanistan, but it's clear that today's soldiers have faced, in southern Afghanistan, conflicts of equivalent ferocity, he says.
"With the amount of sustained fire and bombardment that they were receiving, it was about as intense as it can get," Sajjan says.

Sajjan, too, came under fire numerous times, as he travelled from hot spot to hot spot on behalf of Canada's Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the then brigade commander in southern Afghanistan. As a special projects officer, Sajjan was tasked with using his military training and police expertise, particularly in the area of organized crime, to aid war and development efforts in Kandahar Province.

"The security situation was deteriorating in that area, and we had to figure out why that was so," he says.

Fraser wanted to know what was going on in the village centres, the domestic compounds, the farmers' fields, and in the minds of Afghans.
"He goes, 'Find me the ground truth.' I'd go out and find out the ground truth from the people."

The truth, Sajjan says, was that the people wanted peace and stability.
"They said, 'Will you please go in and kick the Taliban out of our villages. We want to go back to our homes. We want to go back to our fields.' "
As in his police work, Sajjan found that treating people as equals and listening to them drew the information most useful for winning over the populace.

"They'll tell you what security means for them, what they really want in terms of government, what they want from the police. In the end, real security comes from the grassroots level.

"We tried to use every non-combat avenue to fix the problem first. We only used combat when we had to. Security does not come from having a person with a gun there. Security comes from a person who is happily living in a village and does not support the insurgent activity."

Sajjan would take the citizens' responses to Fraser, who would then meet with the provincial governor and raise issues identified by the people.
Fraser was more than happy with Sajjan's work.

"Not only did he display a rare high level of intellect and experience in his analysis, he also demonstrated remarkable personal courage in his collection efforts, often working in the face of the enemy to collect data and confirm his suspicions, and placing himself almost daily in situations of grave personal risk," Fraser says in a letter to Vancouver police Chief Jamie Graham.
"His hard work, personal bravery and dogged determination undoubtedly saved a multitude of Coalition lives."

But it's not lives saved that Sajjan will be thinking of on this Remembrance Day. It's the lives lost, especially during Operation Medusa, when he became involved in the fierce battle for control of the Panjwayi area, and Canadians took heavy casualties.

"It just really made everybody work a lot harder to look out for one another," Sajjan says. "You think you could've done more."

And Sajjan will be thinking of the Canadians who fought and survived in Afghanistan, and those who fight there still.

"Our soldiers are second to none," he says. "How fast and quickly they moved without any regard to their own safety -- you're just in awe. You're just proud to wear the same uniform as them."

With public support faltering for Canada's mission in Afghanistan, Sajjan remains committed to the effort. The words of one man at a meeting of local leaders, in a country tormented by three decades of war, stick in his mind.
"It just comes back to that elderly gentleman saying, 'Don't we deserve a chance for peace?'

"There are many academic reasons why we should or shouldn't be there, but when it comes down to it, I just think about the local people."

ebaron@png.canwest.com

- Reporter Ethan Baron spent five weeks in Afghanistan this summer, reporting on Canadian combat operations, Canadian diplomacy and the Afghan government.


© The Vancouver Province 2006


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