The men in this photo (right) taken on the rooftop of our office in Kabul recently are the Nepali Gurkhas who keep me safe, and who allow me to get my work done every day here in Afghanistan. They guard our UN compound around the clock, always heavily armed and prepared for any potential attack.
New reports from Afghanistan rarely mention the role played by Gurkhas, focusing instead on members of the
50-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). But for most UN agencies and many embassies and consulates across the country Gurkhas are relied on and admired.
Nepali soldiers are credited with saving the lives of employees at the British Council in Kabul when it endured a fierce assault by the Taliban in August 2011 that lasted more than nine hours and resulted in at least 12 fatalities, including eight Afghan policemen and a member of New Zealand's elite SAS forces.
While the Gurkhas held off insurgents who were armed with AK-47's and rocket propelled grenades, British Council employees were able to make their way to safety in an underground bunker. According to local police reports the attackers had packed enough weapons and ammunition for a full day of combat. One insurgent exploded his suicide vest while pressing up against the bunker door, which withstood the blast.
On 1 April 2011, four Nepali soldiers and three international staff members of the United Nations were killed in an attack by an angry mob of more than 1,500 people on the UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif that was sparked by reports of the burning of the Holy Quran in the United States, orchestrated by the American pastor Terry Jones. It was the deadliest attack ever experienced by the UN in Afghanistan.
The Nepali Gurkhas who lost their lives were Dil Prasad Gurung, Chhabilal Purja Pun, Min Bahadur Thapa, and Narayan Bahadur Thapa Magar. One of the men killed that day was Buddhist, and so I arranged for a khata that a child in Kathmandu had given me for my own protection when I departed for Kabul several months earlier to be wrapped around his body just before it was returned to his family in Pokhara.
From our rooftop the snowcapped mountains stretching along the northern horizon appear tantalisingly close when caught in the day's last light, prompting our Gurkha commander to speculate that if it were possible for the two of us to trek along their base we would eventually reach his village in Kaski district.
But hearing the constant chatter coming across his walkie-talkie and with the very building under our feet shaking from the reverberation of a pair of ISAF Apache helicopters flying low overhead his beloved homeland to me seems as if it's a million miles away.
Peter Dalglish is a Canadian lawyer who serves as the Senior Adviser for UN-Habitat in Afghanistan.