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Canada: Former Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan ordered troops to rescue Afghan Sikhs during 2021 Taliban takeover of Kabul

“Mr. Sajjan also relayed location information and other details about the Sikhs to the military as special operation forces worked to meet up with the group. The information was passed to him from a Canadian Sikh group that was in contact with these Afghan Sikhs,” the report reads.

In a startling exposé published on the 27th of June by the Canadian daily The Globe and Mail, it has emerged that former defence minister Harjit Sajjan instructed Canadian special forces to rescue approximately 225 Afghan Sikhs after the Taliban took power in 2021. This allegedly resulted in resources being misdirected from assisting Canadian nationals and Afghans with ties to Canada.

The report highlighted that Sajjan used his influence to ensure that Afghan Sikhs were given special attention during the chaotic and urgent evacuation operation which was botched up and the Indian government had to come to the rescue.

The Globe and Mail report on Harjit Sajjan

According to the report, Sajjan’s actions included direct communications with government officials, urging them to expedite the evacuation process for this vulnerable group. The report suggested that Sajjan’s advocacy might have influenced the allocation of resources and efforts, potentially diverting attention from other at-risk groups also in need of evacuation. This involvement has raised questions about whether his actions were aligned with the broader, equitable evacuation strategy that the Canadian government should have implemented during the crisis.

“Mr. Sajjan also relayed location information and other details about the Sikhs to the military as special operation forces worked to meet up with the group. The information was passed to him from a Canadian Sikh group that was in contact with these Afghan Sikhs,” the report reads.

Harjit Sajjan ordered Canadian forces to focus on rescuing Afghan Sikhs instead of Canadian nationals stranded in Afghanistan

During the violent takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the situation in Kabul was chaotic, with evacuation flights ending and Canada and other Western countries rushing to get their citizens out of Afghanistan.

While Sajjan desperately sought to rescue Afghan Sikhs, the military sources indicated that they were not a priority for the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) because they had no connection to Canada. They accused him of compromising the interests of Canadians and Afghans, whom they believed he should have prioritised.

“The way it was presented to us at first was: If we can do this and pay attention to it, great, but not stopping doing everything else. But a day or so later, it came back to us as a firm order,” a source told The Globe and Mail

Due to the immense pressure built by Minister Harjit Sajjan, the CAF for the last 24 hours of the rescue operation focused solely on rescuing Sikhs. However, they were unsuccessful.

“There was such furious anger that the last 24 hours were solely dedicated to getting the Sikhs out. We were unsuccessful. They were just one group that we were asked to do” a source said.

Harjit Sajjan admits to giving information to CAF about Afghan Sikhs with no Canada connection for rescue

Amidst CAF’s rescue operation in Afghanistan, Minister Harjit Sajjan spoke to Canadian Sikhs, who told him about three busloads of Afghan Sikhs waiting for troops near the airport. They were concerned and departed before the soldiers arrived, however they were asked to stay. The report says that Sajjan confirmed communicating with the CAF about the circumstances on the ground after communicating with the Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation, which agreed to fund the Afghan Sikhs.

“I relayed whatever information that the NGO provided about the location and status of these Sikhs to the chain of command for it to use as it saw fit, in line with its operational plan on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sajjan said.

While Sajjan has defended his actions saying that his instructions were “acceptable”, the shift in mission to rescue these Sikhs proved a “logistical nightmare” while “we are still trying to hurry and process people through who have Canadian passports,” a military source said.

In a recent statement, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) stated that evacuation operations in Kabul were carried out “in accordance with direction by the Government of Canada and the Minister of National Defence.” It also stated that General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), and his officers issued orders to the on-the-ground forces. However, a senior commander in Ottawa opined that a directive or even a suggestion from the defence minister is practically an order.

Harjit Sajjan resorts to playing victim card after failing to offer a rational explanation for his alleged favouritism even in a crisis

Amidst severe backlash over The Globe’s report, Harjit Sajjan called the allegations made against him as “utter BS”. Sajjan further asserted that he is being ‘targeted’ because of his Sikh identity. “I can only surmise that if I did not wear a turban no one would question whether my actions were appropriate… when it was clear Sikhs and other minorities were part of government policy to support and assist vulnerable Afghans,” the Labour Party leader and current Emergency Preparedness Minister said.

Notably, while Sajjan asserted that it was a part of the PM Justin Trudeau-led government’s policy to rescue “vulnerable Afghans” insinuating that a Canada connection was not essential, the government documents state otherwise.

According to an official document, the military’s top priority during the evacuation was to aid Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members, as well as vulnerable Afghans who had assisted Canada during its military campaign in the country.

Even in its resettlement program, the Canadian government said that it would implement a special immigration program for Afghans who contributed to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan as well as persecuted minorities. However, its policy was not to prioritise Afghan Sikhs alone over people who had more claim to Canadian support.

Notably, beginning from October 2001 as a part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Canadian forces were engaged in combat operations against Taliban terrorists, counter-terrorism missions etc. However, as the mission was costly both financially and in terms of lives lost, in 2011, Canada officially ceased its combat operations, transitioning to a training mission for Afghan security forces. By 2014, all Canadian military personnel had withdrawn from Afghanistan, marking the end of its 13-year presence. It was during these military operations that many local Afghans helped the Canadian troops.

While Sajjan asserted that his action was rooted in ‘humanitarian concern’, the situation raises important questions about the balance between advocacy and impartiality in governmental decisions. Prioritising one religious group with no connection with Canada over Canadian nationals in a crisis scenario is a deviation from standard procedures, and undermines the principles of equity and fairness. The decision-making process during the evacuation was already fraught with complexity, and Sajjan’s preferential treatment for his co-religionists could be perceived as favouritism.

Meanwhile, conservative leaders in Canada have already started demanding a parliamentary hearing into the allegations made against Harjit Sajjan. On Thursday, Former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and the Bloc Québécois demanded a parliamentary hearing on the matter and said that the House of Commons hearings should look into why Afghan Sikhs were given preference over Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and Afghans who assisted Canada’s troops during its 12-year military campaign in Afghanistan.

Khalistan sympathising NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calls Canada rescue ops in Afghanistan a massive failure, refuses to condemn Sajjan’s Sikh favouritism

When asked to comment on Sajjan’s involvement in the rescue of Afghan Sikhs, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the Liberal government’s Kabul rescue attempts “a failure”. “Canada has a responsibility to provide some relief to folks and didn’t do a good job,” Singh claimed.

However, he declined to condemn Sajjan or even comment on whether it was right for Harjit Sajjan to liaise with the military on how to rescue a specific group of Sikhs, claiming that he does not know enough about what the minister did.

World Sikh Organisation of Canada (WSO) defends Harjit Sajjan

Amidst the controversy, the World Sikh Organisation has come to Harjit Sajjan’s defence alleging that The Globe’s report is influenced by a “bias” against the Sikh community. “These evacuation efforts were driven by the dire humanitarian need to protect the highly vulnerable Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. Allegations that Minister Harjit Sajjan acted inappropriately are unfounded and appear to be influenced by bias against his Sikh identity,” the WSO statement reads. Notably, Harjit Sajjan’s father, Kundan Sajjan, was an executive board member of the WSO.

Sajjan himself is notorious for being a Khalistan sympathiser. Back in April 2017, the then Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had refused to meet Sajjan over his connection to the Sikh separatist movement. Sajjan’s Sikh favouritism, however, is not shocking given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself and his government have been appeasing the Sikh community for electoral gains. Trudeau government has openly been mollycoddling Khalistani terrorists like Hardeep Singh Nijjar and allowing anti-India protests, farcical ‘referendums’ and perpetual disrespect of the Indian flag, and defacing of Hindu temples on Canadian soil. All at the cost of straining diplomatic ties with India.

How the Modi government undertook Operation Devi Shakti to rescue Afghan Sikhs

It is worth recalling that during the 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, India launched an extensive rescue operation named “Operation Devi Shakti” to evacuate its nationals and vulnerable Afghan citizens, including Sikhs and Hindus. The operation involved several evacuation flights, coordinated by the Indian government, military, and diplomatic missions. India successfully evacuated approximately 565 individuals, including several Afghan Sikhs, amid the chaotic and dangerous conditions in Kabul. While Khalistanis often attack PM Modi calling him a ‘terrorist’ and somehow “anti-Sikh”, however, it was under his government that 110 Afghan Sikhs were rescued. Before this, Afghan Sikhs had brought three hand-written Swaroop of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji from Afghanistan to India. India also rescued Afghanistan Member of Parliament Narender Singh Khalsa including 20 other Sikhs.

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