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MONOCHROME

My thoughts are without colour. My memories are monochrome. And those are from the deepest recesses of my mind…the idea of the Indian Army, black and white. Much like the institution itself. There are hardly any greys.

It was June of 1994 and I was with a medium machine gun (MMG) detachment, sitting on a sand dune in the middle of Mahajan Field Firing Ranges. A small ground sheet propped up by four wobbly sticks provided us cover from temperatures that were hovering at 50 degrees centigrade. Subedar Amokh Singh, one NCO and one jawan of 10 Sikh Light Infantry manned the MMG det. I don’t remember why I was there. I am from 17 Kumaon. What in God’s name I was doing with a Sikh Li MMG det…I don’t recall. All I remember was Adjutant 17 Kumaon Major DD Baloni telling me to meet Adjutant 10 Sikh Li Capt. Sachin Mallik. Anyway, I had one star on my shoulder. I was entitled to be “lost” and no one could do a fig about it.

I remember I was carrying a bottle of water. The water was hot and tasted of chlorine. I had an ANPRC 25 radio set and a pair of binoculars. I was in my combat dress, with a helmet perched jauntily on my head, hot as a frying pan.

Far below, 17 Kumaon had assembled in platoon rods at the FUP. The Forming Up Place is a location where troops assemble and launch their assault on an objective. FUP also has an informal full form, which is a truer explanation than its real full form. However, that full form is not for a family audience. If you have a fauji friend, he will tell you. If your fauji friend happens to be in the infantry, he will tell you gleefully. In the army, the same jokes remain funny even after a thousand retellings.

Soon, we started firing small bursts at the objective. The “Umpire” of the exercise was taking his job seriously. The Brigade Commander was engrossed in what was happening. Out of the blue, a full-blown craving for cold Rooh Afza erupted deep in my heart. I looked around. There were four of us, each with an issue-type water bottle. There was a canvas “chaagal” with perhaps five liters of water; all of it hot and chlorine fuelled.

“Are you okay, sahab? Is there anything you want?” asked Subedar Amokh Singh.

“Rooh Afza”, I blurted out, instantly regretting it. Here we were in the middle of attacking an objective and I wanted Rooh Afza. Shame on me.

I raised my binoculars to get a better look. The platoon rods were moving perfectly. 17 Kumaon is a typical highlander unit. “Dastoori” is the word soldiers would use for us. We have always everything by the book. The exercise was going well. My throat was parched and I delayed sipping water. It was chlorine, anyway.

I turned around and found that Subedar Amokh Singh was not there. Strange. He must have gone to relieve himself.

Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. No Amokh Singh.

“Sat Sri Akal Sahab”, said Subedar Amokh Singh, smilingly. Behind him was a soldier of 10 Sikh Li carrying a glass full of Rooh Afza, which had real ice cubes. All this was happening in the middle of nowhere. It must be the sun, I thought. I had heard of thirsty and disoriented travelers seeing mirages in the desert. Maybe this was one.

“What have you brought, Amokh Singh sahab”? I asked him.

“Sahab, you wanted Rooh Afza. Here it is,” he said.

Apparently the Division Commander’s caravan was nearby and the administration was under Sikh Li. The enterprising Subedar not only got Rooh Afza for me, he had two glasses himself and carried it for his entire MMG det.

I thanked him profusely.

“All those stories about Sikh Li…they are true, aren’t they, sahab?” I asked him.

Stories about the road roller being buried at midnight and the Cheetah helicopter “temporarily disappearing” in the middle of Siachen Glacier…those were not just stories, were they? But Subedar Amokh Singh didn’t confirm or deny anything. He just laughed.

When the Unit got its orders to move to Tibri Cantt in Gurdaspur, we heaved a sigh of relief. Seniors who had been-there, done-that told me that Fazilka was the final frontier. They promised green grass after Fazilka. And so it was. Punjab was magic. Miles and miles of green fields rolled by and we visually devoured the landscape. We were like thirsty men at an oasis.

Nine hours later, we were at Gurdaspur. We were welcomed with tea, pakoras and aloo bondas. There was some red substance, which they insisted, was tomato sauce but I wasn’t convinced. I let it go. Soon, the process of settling down began.

Tibri Cantt is on the outskirts of Gurdaspur town. During those days, there were three STD/PCO booths in one straight line, five hundred meters apart, as soon as you entered the town. Young army officers always went to the furthest booth to make calls. This was strange. It remained strange until the day reliable int sources (whatever that meant) informed the Station Commander that a very beautiful young lady called Harjeet Kaur sometimes manned the last phone booth.

Harjeet Kaur was oblivious to her massive fan following. Young Army officers subjected her to a lot of “Yes Ma’am” and “No Ma’am”. Deferential to a fault, they kept a respectful distance. This one sided admiration was soon cut short. An unwritten message was passed. Soon, all STD calls were made from the first and second booth only.

As a young 2nd Lt, I owned a Kawasaki Bajaj. I was doing YOs (Young Officers Course) in MHOW in 1994. I remember going on a cold evening to Indore with 2nd Lt Amardeep Singh Bali (now a serving Colonel) to take delivery of the bike. We drove it back to MHOW, Bali more apprehensive than I. He was riding pillion, and with a driver like me, his apprehension was not difficult to fathom. After the YOs course, I soon sold my bike and bought an LML Vespa. This was in 1995.

It was the same time that Tibri Cantt was undergoing what can be best described as withdrawal symptoms due to Harjeet Kaur. The young officers of the brigade requisitioned my new LML Vespa. There was a Raj Rif unit, a Gorkha unit and 17 Kumaon. Seven youngsters of the brigade gathered and called the Gorkha Unit painter who painted the words “HARJEET KAUR” on the fuel tank of my scooter. A bottle of Old Monk was brought. With great solemnity, liquor was liberally sprinkled on the scooter. In the LML Vespa, you have to lift the seat to access the fuel tank. Our collective infatuation was hence both kept a secret and immortalized.

Little did our seniors know that when we said we were taking Harjeet Kaur out for coffee, it simply meant taking my scooter from 17 Kumaon bachelor’s accommodation to the Gorkha Rifles Officers Mess. We would sit in the mess; have coffee and fall back after 2 hours, with no one the wiser. It was a scam and it worked.

Havildar Dharam Singh of 17 Kumaon was the center of our existence. When we went hungry on dinner nights, it was he who kept food for us. He was our Mess Havildar. Dinner Nights are boring, formal affairs. You dress up in 6 Bravos (don’t ask me what that is), there is a layout of the dinner table, which you adhere to, and you are served meals in courses. You keep one eye on your food and another on the “old man”, as the Commanding Officer is affectionately called. The problem with dinner nights is that the food is often bland and the strict formality of forks, knives and spoons take away much of the pleasure of dining.

We had dinner nights at least twice a month. And after dinner, when we bid the Old Man “good evening” and never “good night” (that is again a long story), many of us remained hungry. It was then that Dharam Singh came to our rescue. Platefuls of biryani and dessert were always kept ready. Dharam Singh may have looked like a halwai but to us, he was Superman.

Our Superman was actually given the name Samay Singh at birth, an odd name by any standard. Youngsters of 17 Kumaon had a habit of Anglicizing names, so they started calling him Time Lion behind his back. One fine morning, fed up with what was happening, the CO changed his name. With the powers invested in him by the President of India, the Old Man changed his name to Dharam Singh. This happened much before I was commissioned. I don’t know if Samay Singh was asked or given a choice of names. But it happened.

Old habits are hard to shed. Time Lion became Religious Lion. And so our little world revolved ceaselessly around the altar of the Paltan. Time passed, as time is wont to.

One fine day, we were told that the Unit is moving to Pooh. I had never heard of the place. Apparently it was also called “Sugar Sector”. And 36 Sector. And we had adventures there. Oh yes, we had adventures. But that is for another day.

Some day I will tell you about how we got orders to lay landmines on the Line of Actual Control, to stop a possible Chinese “attack”. Two months later I fell 400 feet into snow. The Kumaoni ‘bhullas’ saved me and then turned the place into a 17 Kumaon “tourist spot”. Everyone who visited was told “Gaurav sahab yahaan pe gire thhe”. This was usually accompanied by much laughter and backslapping. The thought that I had almost died that day seemed to have escaped everyone. In the dark and frigid desert of Shipki La, every laugh was precious.

But as I said…lets leave that for another day.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

#IndianArmy

#Monochrome #adgpi #17Kumaon #MajorGauravArya

26/11: TEN YEARS LATER

Today in 2008, Pakistan’s ISI launched a diabolical plot to bring Mumbai to its knees. Ten terrorists owing loyalty to the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s chief Hafiz Saeed were sent by boat to cause mayhem in India’s commercial capital.

From 26 November to 29 November, 166 innocent people were butchered and more than 300 were wounded. Iconic landmarks were attacked, chief amongst them Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, Taj Hotel, Oberoi & Trident Hotels, Cama Hospital, Nariman House and Leopold Café.

The reason I am writing this is that the tragedy did not end on 29 November. It continues to this day. Yes, we are safer. Manpower and technology has been put in place so that infiltration from land, sea and air becomes extremely difficult to carry out. Cross-border terrorism, for most part, remains confined to sporadic attacks in the Kashmir Valley. We have spent billions of dollars to ensure that Indians are safe. But is there a hundred percent guarantee that the attacks will not happen again? Well, USA has an annual defence budget of over USD 700 billion and yet, nineteen hijackers stunned the world’s only superpower. On 9/11, terrorists killed 2996 people and over 6000 were injured.

An enraged America went to war. While fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia, the US attacked Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and yet that nation was destroyed and President Saddam Hussain hanged. Iraq is still imploding. In Afghanistan, the Taliban played willing hosts to al-Qaeda and faced the unmitigated rage of the American war machine. Libya and its psychotic dictator Colonel Muammar Gadhafi were brought to their knees. Gadhafi always thought of terrorism as an attractive hobby. The world is better off without Saddam and Gadhafi. Or is it? Vicious and cruel they may have been, they served a purpose. They kept the Pandora’s box closed. They kept radical Islamist outfits at bay. They spoke the language of the terrorists. If someone committed a terrorist act, his family paid. Torture chambers, death squads and kangaroo courts were their weapons. But both Gadhafi and Saddam maintained the peace. When they died, they took peace with them. Their deaths gave rise to the superstardom of al-Qaeda and the birth of ISIS.

Israel has a remarkable track record for a nation surrounded by mortal enemies. It has kept terror largely out of its borders. The Israeli defence establishment is effective for many reasons, the chief being unity of purpose. The Jews know that they are fighting an existential battle and there are many nations who would want nothing better that to “drive the Jews into the sea”. Israel knows all too well that to do it harm, the enemy must have both intent and capability. There is no dearth of intent. What the Israelis do really well is to deny capability to their enemies. Through Mossad, their intelligence wing and Sayeret Matkal, their legendary Special Forces, Israel has proved time and again that it has both intent and capability, something its enemies lack.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, is a former Sayeret Matkal operative. While conscription is mandatory under law, it is interesting to note that many Israeli Prime Ministers are from Special Forces. That nation has a strategic culture. That is why it is safe.

India has great capability but no intent. It has no strategic culture. It has ambitions to sit on the high table of the United Nations Security Council but does not have the iron in its soul that is needed to sit at that high table. We are a nation without fangs and claws, content to soft-peddle and spout homilies about yoga and world peace.

As today drew closer, may people asked me if we are safer than we were on those fateful November days of 2008. My answer is this. Yes, we have put systems and equipment in place. Yes, we have deployed manpower far greater than we had, ten years ago. But what we have not done is punished the perpetrators of 26/11. Hafiz Saeed still lives. He still runs training camps that send terrorists into Kashmir. He still collects funds; all this under the benign gaze of the Pakistan Army, whose prime strategic asset he is.

If we want to prevent another 26/11, being defensive is a small part of the solution. We can put more manpower and equipment on the ground, but they will serve only a limited purpose.

After the 1984 Brighton bombing narrowly failed to kill Margaret Thatcher, the perpetrators of the act, the Provisional IRA said, “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always”.

This is the distilled essence of a terrorist’s mind.

While we have significantly improved our capabilities, we have not been able to degrade the enemy’s capacity to wage war. We have not been able to look beyond our borders.

There are two kinds of evil men in this world. Some are stopped by court cases, some by a 7.62 mm full metal jacket bullet to the head. Hafiz Saeed clearly belongs to the latter category.

We are wasting our time petitioning the world and the International Court of Justice. We debase ourselves as a nation when we plead with Pakistan to bring Hafiz Saeed to justice.

The time for candlelight marches and petitions is past. If we want justice for the unfortunate 166 who were brutally killed ten years back in Mumbai, we will have to get that justice ourselves. Then the world will respect and fear us. There is no respect without fear.

It is time to unleash the hounds.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

Indian Army

THE QUEEN

“She’s the Queen of the battlefield, son”, the Old Man would tell me, with barely concealed pride.

Whenever the Old Man spoke, I would listen…fascinated. The Commanding Officer is affectionately referred to as the Old Man. In my time, most COs were grouchy, yet paternal figures. Their stories were never without an anti-climax. And here it was.

“ Poor Bloody Infantry! Yes, that’s what she is. PBI.”, he ended with a chuckle and a flourish.

PBI. Yes, I remember.

The nation is busy buying weapons…billions and billions of dollars worth of some of the most sophisticated military hardware this world has ever seen. Notwithstanding the political firestorm surrounding it, the Rafale is a great fighter jet. Thirty-four ships, from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines, are being built for the Indian Navy under the Make in India program. The Indian Army is on the verge of receiving Ultra Light Howitzers and the K9 Vajra. Apache helicopter gunships are around the corner. Missiles, airlift capabilities, anti-aircraft/missile shields, armed drones…the Defence Ministry is buying weapons systems like never before. There is a tremendous gap between what we need and what we have. And yes, without doubt, we need all that we are buying. These weapons systems are crucial and critical. I cannot over-emphasise how much we need these platforms. They are our final insurance policy.

But here is something you need to know about war. When the ships have sailed and the aircraft have flown, when the big guns have stopped booming the tanks have had their day, it is the infantryman who wades ankle-deep in blood, his rubber-soled shoes making those peculiar, squelching sounds. It is the infantryman who fights the last twenty-five yards and plunges his bayonet into the chest of the enemy. It is he who charges into machine gun fire. From Saragarhi to Rezang La, from the frozen trenches of Europe to the burning deserts of North Africa, from the dizzying heights of Siachen Glacier to the blood splattered rocks of Tololing, the guttural screams of the dying belong to that unknown infantryman. The Line of Control is marked with his blood.

Who is it that kicks open the door to charge inside a house full of Jihadis, each drug-crazed mind seeking heaven? Over ninety percent of fatalities that happen during combat in CI/CT are from the infantry…those coffins you see on television, which come back wrapped in the tricolor, contain infantrymen. Not all, but mostly.

Beyond the multi-billion dollar arms deals, it is the raw courage of the infantryman that keeps India safe. The blood, guts and the bare knuckled fight…that is all infantry. And this hero fights with the most sub-standard equipment known to any modern army.

Lets start from the top.

The helmet he wears is a “modification”. This means that the pathetic helmet he gets from the OFD is suitably modified using Unit funds. Then there is the patka, that “thing” that RR and infantry units in Counter Insurgency wear on their heads. Yes, it saves lives but it is still, for want of a better word, a modified ‘arrangement’.

The BP jacket is heavy. During my time, it was heavier. Soldiers would wear it on pain of punishment. I too am guilty of having discarded it for better mobility. Maybe I set a bad example. But try running with iron strapped to your chest. You will understand my point of view.

The combat dress (disruptive), which is worn across the army, is of inferior quality and doesn’t match. Get a platoon in combat dress and I can bet you will find three different shades.

The backpack, rucksack and the pouches have improved over the years but compared to even developing countries, they are of inferior quality.

Boots (DMS) that are supplied by the Ordnance Factory are sub-standard. Soldiers often buy shoes with their own money. The socks…oh, forget about the socks. The list is endless.

INSAS 5.56 mm is such a disaster that the Nepalese Army refused to take it for free. The 7.62 mm MMG is older than me. The other weapons systems are either sub-standard, vintage or don’t function as they should. Take for example the fancy 9mm MP9, four of which have been issued, with silencers, to infantry battalions. Training ammunition is at a premium, mostly in two digits. First line and second line ammunition cannot be touched without written permission from someone in the stratosphere…yes, that high up.

So, infantry, the Queen of Battle and the mainstay of the Indian Amy goes to war with equipment that is not worthy of the soldier who uses it, and in a few cases with weapons he has not trained with, adequately.

The sad part is not the equipment quality and the obvious lack of availability. The bitter truth is that we have the money. Had we been a poor nation, I would have understood. The problem is that we have hundreds of billions of dollars and our priorities are misplaced.

Let us buy all the weapons that we need for our Armed Forces; the fighter jets, the ships, the drones and the big guns. The truth is that we may never use these weapons. The last time we used fighter jets was in Kargil in 1999. But the infantryman fires his weapon each day at the enemy. He bleeds each day. For him, each day is war.

Finally, let us not forget that it is that infantryman who will give you the news that the nation wants to hear.

After killing and dying for days on end, hungry, bleeding, exhausted but not broken, it is he who will say, “Sir, the tricolor flies atop Tiger Hill”.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

#MajorGauravArya #IndianArmy #TheQueen #adgpi

DISCLAIMER: All the three Services suffer from acute equipment & ammunition shortage, which is being made up post-haste. I have written this with a focus on infantry only. Old loyalties. Soldiers, veterans and serving, will understand.

UNFORGIVEN

Officers Training Academy, Madras.

December 1993

Actually, I don’t remember date clearly.

As I walked past the notice board of Jessami Company, with its sundry instructions and timetables, I chanced upon what seemed like poetry. Gentlemen Cadets write poems on two subjects’…soldiers and girl friends. I read on…it was a quote from a poem.

We the unforgiven

Led by the unknown

Have done the impossible

For the ungrateful

I always wondered what those lines meant.

July 2018

Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir

Jammu & Kashmir governor, NN Vohra meets Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Northern Command of the Indian Army. His message is simple. The army must be restrained even in face of grave and extreme provocation. In simple terms, the Indian Army can be pelted with stones, acid bottles, Molotov Cocktails…it can be shot at by terrorists hiding between stone pelters, but the army must not shoot back.

It is okay for a soldier to die, and for that he is paid. But a stone pelter, a criminal under any civilized country’s law, is a victim. Catch 22. The criminal is also a victim. This is the Stockholm Syndrome in reverse.

I don’t know what the good General said to the Governor, but one thing is certain. Lt Gen Ranbir Singh is an infantryman, a soldier’s soldier. When push comes to shove, he will stand by his men.

I too am a soldier. I left the Indian Army in 1999, but I am a soldier. Present tense. Soldiering is more than just about a uniform. It is a state of mind. And, this state of mind is binary; zero or one.

What business does the army have in Kashmir and the North East? Well, truth be told…none.

The soldier did not create the Kashmir issue. He did not create the situation in North East. He knew nothing about the Red Corridor before it happened. The elite who were elected by the people of India to lead them, created these festering wounds.

So, the soldier shed his blood to cover up greed, aspiration and incompetence.

There were times in the early 90s when terrorists would walk on the streets of Kashmir, waving AK 47s, unchallenged. There were thousands upon thousands of them…Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Sudanese…‘mujahedeen’ of various nationalities. They raped, killed, pillaged and committed arson at will. They said that this was the price of “azaadi” that Kashmiris must pay. They set up courts to dispense their brand of “justice”. We had almost lost Kashmir, simply because the writ of the Indian state did not run in the Valley.

It was the Indian soldier that pulled back Kashmir from the brink of anarchy and chaos. Yes, our methods were violent. Desperate times call for desperate measures. We did what had to be done. We shed blood. Lots of it was ours. Today if Kashmir belongs to India, it is because of the soldier. Not because we have only killed, but because we have also died. And by the sheer finality of this act of martyrdom, we have kept alive our collective right to the inviolable sovereignty of India.

Peace is a relative word. So relatively, there is peace. But there is no solution in sight. There is no roadmap. We stumble from one initiative to another; a ‘ceasefire’ here, a ‘soft-touch’ policy there. We look unsure, tentative and uncertain. Like a vicious street dog, the enemy smells our fear hormones.

The only good terrorist is a dead terrorist. We have forgotten this time-honored adage and paid the price. Repeatedly.

Who did the ceasefire in Kashmir benefit? Did it bring peace and respite to the common Kashmiri? Did it stop terror attacks? How many security forces personnel were martyred because of the ceasefire? Who is answerable to their families?

And the biggest question of all…do we, as a nation, have any solution to these problems that does not involve the death of a soldier?

Remove the Indian Army from Jammu & Kashmir and the state will be swallowed up by China and Pakistan in less than 24 hours. The blood of the Indian soldier defends Kashmir. The blood of the Indian soldier protects India. There are many who question the manner in which this protection is given. You must have heard that India is the world’s largest democracy. Freedom of expression is sacred here, more sacred than the life of a soldier. A terrorist gets legal aid faster than a soldier gets first aid.

And the joke is on the soldier. He, the soldier, gives his life to protect the very freedom of expression that people use, to abuse him.

Today, the soldier stands cornered for no fault of his own.

India asked, “Who will shed blood for me? My honour is at stake”.

The soldier stepped forward and said, “Send me. I will die for you”.

Over seven hundred serving soldiers have approached the Supreme Court for justice. They are called human rights violators and are accused of using excessive force. The soldier is confused. What is excessive force? Can quantum of force be decided from the air-conditioned environs of a room in New Delhi?

Many soldiers involved in those operations in the North East, have since retired. Cases of more than two decades back are being pulled out. Actions of soldiers twenty years back, when Manipur was besieged by terror, are being judged by the saner environment of today.

It’s a never changing story. The sameness is constant.

“Why did they call us, if they didn’t want us, Sir?” asks an officer, bewildered. He is a typical fauji…idealistic and believing in all that is good. As I said, typical. “There is no greater honour than dying for the motherland”. Yes, that kind of soldier.

I try to explain to him. I tell him that its only a very few who insult his sacrifice. Most people honour his devotion to duty. He looks at me. He wants to believe. He desperately wants to believe. But I sense cracks in this massive edifice of trust. He does not believe so unhesitatingly any more. They have irrevocably violated the purity of his soul.

In those dark, violent and desperate days when the nation craved a glimmer of light, the soldier burned everything he possessed. And when he had nothing left to burn, he set himself on fire.

I think this is a song. Or a quote. I don’t know. But I am witness to this burning. To this burning, I testify. I was there. A part of me also burned.

Today, that soldier is questioned and a chosen few sit in moral judgment. The air-conditioning is set at 24 degrees. The heat, dust, noise, humidity and inconvenience are trapped outside. As they sip their favourite beverage, they want to know what rules he broke in the festering jungles of the North East when he was carrying the dead body of his buddy, and had not eaten in days. They want to know why the correct protocols were not followed when the soldier was under fire in Kashmir, three bullets in his chest. “He should not have fired,” they say, all wise and knowing. He tries to tell them that he fired because they were trying to lynch and burn his buddy alive. Then, he stops trying. There is no point in telling them. They come from a different universe, a universe he has never inhabited.

It couldn’t be more perfect. Let the inquisition begin, followed by death by public humiliation. What does the soldier know, anyway? How can we trust him…this man who would die for a piece of colored ribbon? Or a flag? Or a song that is just 52 seconds long? He doesn’t fit in. He doesn’t belong here.

This is a true story. I wish it were not.

But at least now I know what those lines on the notice board of Jessami Company at OTA meant. I know how many of my brothers paid the price.

And so the soldier remains today, as he has always been…

Unknown. Unsung. Unwept. Unforgiven.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment

#Unforgiven #MajorGauravArya #IndianArmy #adgpi

RED SNOW

70 years. 3 generations. This is a microcosm of the loss Kashmir has suffered since 15 August 1947. It started with nothing…just the greed of a few men who wanted power at any cost.

The word in Sanskrit which describes the power struggle in Kashmir perfectly is Varchasva. This is the fight for overall suzerainty and ultimate power, whatever the cost. This power cannot be shared. It’s very nature is that is is unquestioned and unquestionable.

The old, vile men of Kashmir…those powerful few…found resonance with another set of old vile men. But this other group of old vile men were not from Kashmir. Far towards the west of Srinagar is city called Rawalpindi. They were from Pindi. They wore Khaki. They were far better organised and funded.

Together, these old, vile men…of Kashmir and Rawalpindi…burned Kashmir to the ground. Khusrau’s paradise was no more.

But life finds a way. This video hopes that the silent majority of Kashmir will find their voice and speak out against the tyranny of a few old, vile men.

For too long, blood has been shed. For too long, Kashmir has seen RED SNOW.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

Watch video here 👇

EXPENDABLE

This story is about India, the largest democracy in the world in which the cheapest commodity is the blood of the Indian soldier. This story is about Kashmir.

In the aftermath of the killing of Burhan Wani, more than 3500 CRPF jawans were seriously injured in the stone pelting that ensued. No one knows how many were martyred. The nation does not care. The nation does not want to know.

The nation does not know why CRPF and Jammu & Kashmir Police jawans who are injured or unwell cannot be treated at civil hospitals in Srinagar and South Kashmir. There have been cases in the past wherein jawans of these forces who were admitted in civil hospitals, have been assaulted by mobs inside ICUs and OTs. Now, they are treated in Indian Army’s 92 Base Hospital at Badami Bagh Cantt. Kalashnikov wielding men guard 92 Base Hospital. Under the shadow of the gun, our boys are safe.

Every country, without exception, uses disproportionate force to counter terror. The United States of America invades. Russia launches air strikes on foreign soil. China “reeducates” the entire population of Uighurs. France and England send their armies to fight wars abroad, using all weapons of war.

When Army Public School, Peshawar was attacked on 16 December 2014, Pakistan reacted violently. F-16s took off from air bases and entire villages in North Waziristan and tribal areas were razed to the ground. Heavy and medium artillery was brought out, as were helicopter gunships. Civilian areas were pounded to dust. Military courts were set up overnight and terror accused were dragged out of jails and hanged. No judge, no witness, no appeal; just hundreds of blindfolded men swinging by their necks in cold, dingy cells. Visiting terror upon the doorstep of hapless civilians and use of massive disproportionate force on innocents is a time-honored tradition in the Pakistan Army.

The Indian Army is a moral army. We fight fights terrorists using the same weapons that the terrorists use; AKs, rocket launchers, machine guns, carbines, and grenades. Collateral damage is kept to a minimum. We are extremely proud of this morality. We live by this code. We die by it. Why? Because we are operating inside India. I understand that. All soldiers understand that.

But the nation must also know that this morality exacts a very heavy price. This morality costs fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. And there is nothing heavier than the body of a martyr. I have carried martyrs on my shoulders. It breaks the spirit. It is this weight of our morality that we must carry.

The Indian Army soldier can face the enemy without fear, but ask him to face the guttural scream of a widow and confusion on the face of orphans…he will do the unthinkable. This battle-scarred warrior of a hundred firefights will hesitate and take a step back. This is the price of our freedom.

So, we soldier on.

It is time we took a stand. The poison in Kashmir must be countered. The enemy must be defanged. For too long it has been fashionable to describe Kashmir as a political problem. It was, many years back. It is now radical Wahhabi Islamism that has taken firm root. If we do not act now to purge India of this poison, it will be too late.

Ideologies, especially poisonous ones, know no geographical frontiers. If our masters think that the ideology of the Islamic State will stop short of the Banihal, they are lying to themselves. Suicide bombings and public hangings are signature tunes of this new Jihad. IEDs have been re-introduced into Kashmir. It’s only a matter of time.

Lets make up our minds as to what we really wish to do in Kashmir. Should we put our minds to it, it is fairly simple. Don’t touch the innocent. Don’t spare the guilty. Period. Solutions to vexing problems are often simple, staring at us in the face. We deliberately look for complicated cures, trying to foolishly satiate the maddening urge to justify a higher level of intellectualism.

When a political leader releases stone pelters for votes, the result is Sameer Bhat. This gives a sense of inflated importance to a petty criminal, and he starts calling himself Sameer Tiger. How many J&K Police and CRPF jawans must have been injured…how many would have been martyred…in arresting those 4000 stone pelters. No one knows or cares. Votes are important. Security personnel are expendable.

As I walked into my favorite bakery in Srinagar last week, the owner stepped out to greet me. He had grown a beard, as is the fashion in Srinagar these days.

“Assalam-o-Aleikum, Mudassir* bhai. I must call you Maulana saheb now” I greeted him, with a smile. Well, he certainly looked the part, beard in full flow.

“Waleikum Assalam, Major saheb”, he responded, warmly embracing me.

“One day they will kill me if they find out that I am your friend. The things you say on TV…”, he said, rolling his eyes in mock disapproval.

“They should anyway kill you because of your baking skills. You are a public hazard,” I laughed, punching him in the arm.

“Things are changing fast, Major Saheb. There is evil in the air. For too long we have stared at the abyss that did not exist. Now that abyss is staring back at us. It has become real,” my friend said sadly. It must be all about living in downtown. There can be no other reason for a Kashmiri baker, or any other baker for that matter, to quote Nietzsche, even if the quote is absolutely mangled.

There was nothing to say. So, I said nothing.

Six strawberry rolls. Six walnut cakes. Packed neatly in a large paper box. I started to reach for my wallet. He refused firmly. Typical. So, I did what I have always done. I put the entire amount in a donation box, which has been on his counter for ages. I know my friend. The money will go to the right place, every rupee accounted for.

We exchanged jokes, my friend and I. The same old jokes about each other. Kashmiris don’t know how to make biryani, I said. Lucknow is not Lucknow any longer, he said.

As we walked outside, my friend observed, “Have you seen those Zombie movies? Stone pelters are like that. They take drugs and keep throwing stones.”

We embraced. I left for BB Cantt.

Politics is tearing the Kashmir Valley apart. Each Kashmiri political party uses these zombies for their own agenda. Stone pelters will throw stones for anyone; anyone who can sponsor the next fix. It has become a respectable day job. Some will throw stones for entertainment, because there is nothing else to do. Its fun to see someone else bleed. And if you are hit in return, there is always sympathy and money. God forbid, should you die, you are a celebrity. Thousands of people will attend your funeral. Why? Same reason. There is nothing else to do.

Its time the government took a firm stand. Who are we afraid of? Why this typical Indian obsession with “What will people say?” The world will say nothing. Our civilization has not survived thousands of years because of the world’s approval.

I have spoken to stone pelters. They have a very healthy respect for Rashtriya Rifles. CRPF and J&K Police are under orders to deal with stone pelters with limited force. If that caveat is removed, stone pelters will soon develop a very healthy respect for CRPF and J&K Police. It’s a matter of 7 working days.

Lets stop this tamasha of tear gas and pellet guns. Lets stop this litany of “misled youth”, Kashmiriyat and Insaniyat. Our guns are not for the Republic Day Parade.

Stone pelters are murderers. They kill. They intend to kill each time they pick up a stone. They only understand the language of the heel of the soldier’s boot. That is the language we must speak to them in.

They are not mislead youth. They are not young men who have been given a bad deal by life. They are traitors and must get the “azaadi” of the grave. When stone pelters defile the uniform of a soldier, they are not just insulting the soldier and his uniform. They are insulting what that uniform stands for. They are insulting India. Such an insult cannot be left unanswered.

I have said it before and I will say it again. A nation does not live on its knees. It is time for all of us to rise together and roar in one voice…

My soldier is not expendable.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment
Indian Army

*PS: Mudassir is a common Kashmiri name. My friend’s name is not Mudassir. And though I tease him, he is an excellent baker.

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THE SHARK AND THE GOLDFISH

When India became independent, the overriding feeling amongst our leaders was that the Indian Army was a remnant of our colonial past, and best forgotten. Since “Ahimsa” was to be the nation’s guiding principle, the army was really not required. The police would be sufficient to handle minor disturbances. For nine weeks, that was the over-riding emotion. Then, Pakistan attacked. The 1947-48 war was the longest post-Independence war we have fought.

Between 1948 and 1962, even when war clouds loomed in the horizon, we were the proverbial ostrich. After the humiliation of 1962, realisation dawned that war and strife wanted us, even if we didn’t want them. Pakistan again attacked us in 1965. Wars and insurgencies came and went. An insurgency morphed into militancy and is now full-blown terrorism. Nothing has changed. Everything has changed.

This entire image of India as a nation not seeking war and taking pride in not having an expeditionary army is true. We have never gone looking for war. But wars have often come looking for us. I don’t have to tell fellow Indians that we live in a very rough neighbourhood. And yet, the sheer necessity of a strong military escapes us. Platitudes cannot replace weapons. But the real issue is vastly different.

Our thinking is strategically stunted.

Think of national security as a horse with four legs. All four legs must be strong, for us to gallop. Economy, diplomacy, intelligence and armed forces are the power profile of any nation. Except that in our case, we are one leg short.

I am not an economist and I don’t understand money too well, but I am told that independent institutions say we are the fastest growing economy in the world. People also say that we are doing very well diplomatically. I don’t know. These are not my areas of expertise. What I state is hearsay. About intelligence, I know even lesser than what I know about the economy or diplomacy. And anyway my “spook” friends sip coffee and talk about football. They don’t talk shop…ever.

Our fourth leg is broken. I deeply apologise for being blunt and making this transactional, but a nation gets the army it pays for, and payment is not about money alone. It is many things. Money is just one part of it.

Bravery alone does not win wars. An MQ9 Reaper stationed in Afghanistan can receive an input from a US Air Force desert base in Arizona, USA. It can hover at 50,000 feet above sea level for 36 hours and can put a AGM-114 Hellfire missile inside a 2×2 window, whenever the operator in Arizona so desires. Sounds like science fiction? Well, this technology is more than a decade old.

China is developing/stealing this technology, and since the Chinese focus only on work and don’t have to bother with red tape and babus, they are going to clone this weapons system and get it operational this year.

This is less than 1% of what is happening in our neighbourhood. If I were to mention just 10% of what China is doing, it would take several pages to simply state facts.

We, who often claim a permanent seat at the United Nation Security Council, have not been able to give our soldier a decent rifle. Was I talking about MQ9 Reaper? I am sorry…I do get ahead of myself, sometimes.

The issue is not so much with the budget. We are a growing economy and as we grow, so will the budget. The issue is that the things that can be done with minimal expenditure are not being done. Many reasons…envy, jealousy, rivalry…name it and its at play. We don’t need the Chinese and Pakistanis to harm us. We are doing a fantastic job of it ourselves.

Lets play a little game. Go to www.mod.gov.in and then click on Menu. In the drop down menu, click on Who’s Who. Finally, click on Department of Defence. Study the list carefully. Then click on Department of Defence Production. Then click on Department of Ex Servicemen Welfare. Finally, click on Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO).

Once you have gone through the names on all lists, you would have understood the problem. More than 95% of the people, who are actually in-charge of India’s defence and national security at the Defence Ministry’s policymaking level, have not spent a day in uniform. Ditto for the DRDO list in which names are not mentioned.

The people who make policies don’t know the people they make them for.

The production people don’t involve the end user.

The people who look after ex-servicemen welfare have no clue about veterans.

The DRDO designs with little end-user input, giving us eggs like Tejas and INSAS.

These are the people who give orders to the Army, Navy and Air Force without having served a day in either service. And their orders are followed in letter and spirit. India is a democracy and civilian supremacy cannot be questioned. It must not be questioned. But would you agree to undergo a bypass surgery, by a person who is not a cardiac surgeon? And if your answer is NO, then why don’t you, the people of India, protest when the security of YOUR nation is entrusted to people who don’t have the expertise to do that?

The Defence Minister must be someone elected by the people, and of that, there can be no doubt. Power in a democracy flows from the people. Many people have been clamouring for a military man to be made Defence Minister. While politics will decide that, the problem is clearly elsewhere. It is in the lists you read earlier. You can make a former general the Defence Minister of India but unless structural changes are made in that list, nothing will help.

The four legs of India’s national security work in silos. In any nation, the military forms an integral part of diplomacy because it is the military that is a nation’s final insurance against diplomatic failure. If you want to be derogatory, you can call this gunboat diplomacy. But it mostly works, mind you.

Posting a middle level officer as a Defence Attaché to an Embassy or High Commission is simply not enough. When the Prime Minister of India sits down to negotiate with another nation’s leader, both heads of state must know that somewhere in the background lurk INS Vikramaditya and INS Arihant. Subtlety is the key, but 1.2 million soldiers is a compelling argument.

For too long we have shunned projection of hard power. There has been the odd success like Operation Cactus in Maldives in 1988 when Brig. Farouk Bulsara entered Maldives with 1600 Indian Army paratroopers. The enemy was spooked witless. Then there have been gigantic foreign policy failures like Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. In Op Pawan, the army was consulted only when it became difficult for the political dispensation to distinguish soldier from cannon fodder.

The economist and the diplomat alone are not enough to catapult a nation to superpower status. Somewhere in the background, a soldier underwrites all the ebbs and flows. We may like to look at the world through the prism of justice and morality, but there is nothing just and moral about the way the world does business. The United States Marines are humorously referred to as the last hundred yards of US foreign policy. It’s both funny and true.

Lets not shy away from projection of hard power. China did not withdraw from Dokalam because India gave the world Yoga and Kamasutra. They withdrew because we were strategically and tactically far stronger in that particular area. They are building a road in general area Dokalam, but it’s not the same place that we defended. The army Chief said that if we can defend Siachen for more than three decades, we could defend Dokalam indefinitely. He was just stating the obvious. Anyone who has been posted to Dokalam will tell you this. This is hard power projection.

Our national power profile is skewed. The Indian Armed Forces must have their say, as subject matter experts. They must be involved in policy at the highest levels. Administrators are generalists. We need specialists advising the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister. The Chief of Defence Staff position is years away, if at all. The low hanging fruit is immediate restructuring of the Defence Ministry.

Percentage of GDP committed to the budget is one way of looking at defence preparedness. India has other equally important priorities. Education, health, infrastructure and human resource development are as critical as defence. But everything is not about budget allocations. How smartly we spend that money is up to us. For that, we need soldiers to lead policy making. And that does not cost money.

When we have our policy imperatives sorted, we will start acting the part of an emerging super-power. It is then that the people of India will see global projection of hard power, and not just tableaus of missiles on Republic Day. Parades are an important part of military culture, but there is far more to the armed forces than shiny uniforms and marching to a drumbeat.

A shark is a predator of the deep seas. It is in the nature of sharks to hunt and kill. For too long, the armed forces have been sharks masquerading as goldfish. It goes against the DNA of soldiering. One day India will find its rightful place in the comity of nations, and the soldier will be an important part of that journey.

To our East and West we have two nuclear powers, and both have waged war on us. We are swimming in very dangerous waters. India must choose whom it wants defending its flanks, in these murky waters.

In the dark depths of the ocean, a shark is the final argument.

 

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment (Bhaduria)

#IndianArmy

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