THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE

Kashmir continues to burn. Kashmiris continue to beat their chests in an unprecedented outpouring of grief over the death of Burhan Wani and the rest of India continues to ask – why this grief over the death of a terrorist?  Was he a hero to Kashmiris?

Well, the truth is that Burhan Muzaffar Wani died on 8 July. And till 7 July, no one outside Kashmir had heard of him. He was known inside Kashmir, but had a niche audience. On 9 July 2016, Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a poster boy for Kashmiri separatists and certain media houses in India. Why and how did this happen?

Burhan Wani was popular amongst the young and radicalised of Kashmir. He was also popular with the security forces. Both wanted to meet him, but for different reasons.

It is important to deconstruct the manufactured myth surrounding him before it solidifies into something tangible. India must know the truth.

On 26 May 2014 Narendra Damodardas Modi took over as the 14th Prime Minister of India. Pakistan had already branded him a Hindutva-RSS man, who they thought would focus specifically on a domestic right-wing agenda like the Ram Mandir and the alienation of Indian Muslims from the mainstream. Pakistan planned its India policy based on these assumptions, and as usual wrapped Kashmir around it.

None of what Pakistan assumed, happened. Instead, Modi surprised everyone and went on a global charm offensive. He did three things very effectively.

1…he reached out to the Indian diaspora in all the countries that he travelled to and was received like a global statesman. 2…he pitched for massive foreign investment in India, and got it. 3…he adopted a constant and consistent policy of isolating Pakistan on the global stage.

As an extension of point…3, Modi started strengthening diplomatic ties with important members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a close-knit body of 57 Muslim majority countries.

It is because of point # 3 that Burhan Muzaffar Wani became a manufactured celebrity overnight.

India considerably improved and cemented its relationship with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel, all at the same time. Those who understand foreign affairs will agree that not only is this truly remarkable, but till it happened, was thought to be entirely impossible.

For the past seven decades, Pakistan has based its foreign policy on 5 parameters only.

1. Its friendship with China. Its role in the 60’s of playing mediator between USA and China cemented this relationship.

2. Its geostrategic location, with land access to Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia (through Afghanistan) and India. It also has two warm water ports; Port Qasim & Karachi Port Trust in Karachi, and Gwadar, a semi-operational port in Balochistan, built and operated by the Chinese.

3. Kashmir and the related UN Resolutions.

4. Being US’s front line ally in the war against terror, and using this handle to get massive foreign aid.

5. Being the only Muslim nuclear weapons state.

As Modi collected frequent flier miles and the position of Mian Mohammad Nawaz Sharif took a beating at home, three things happened in the 2nd week of July 2016.

To the untrained eye, they may seem totally unrelated. But related they are, like conjoined triplets.

On July 9, Burhan Wani was elevated to dead rock-star terrorist status.

On 14 July, huge billboards started appearing in major Pakistani cities urging Gen. Raheel Sharif to take over Pakistan and establish military rule. No one could initially figure out who was responsible for this and what was the motive – http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/16/world/asia/pakistan-raheel-sharif-nawaz-sharif.html?_r=0

On 16 July, Imran Khan, the Chairman of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf said that the people of Pakistan would distribute sweets if the Pakistan Army took over the country https://www.geo.tv/latest/109592-Pakistanis-will-distribute-sweets-if-army-takes-over-Imran

Pakistan has traditionally been an insecure state. Conspiracy theories are a national pastime. For seventy years, it has been teetering on the edge. In the last 14 months, Modi pushed it over that edge. An isolated Pakistan was desperate for a foreign policy win. It had suffered a hiding of hideous proportions very recently in the US Senate. Pakistan has been called a rouge state, compulsive nuclear proliferator, and the Haqqani network a veritable arm of the ISI, all this on the floor of the US Senate, by its number one partner in the war on terror, the United States of America.

When Burhan Wani was killed, the Generals at GHQ Rawalpindi, the purveyors of all foreign policy disasters of the Fortress of Islam, had a brainwave. Why not project Burhan Wani as an image, a representation of how brutal Indian occupation in Kashmir was? Why not shake up the world’s conscience?

So on the evening of 8 July, images of a “young and handsome Burhan Wani” donning a stylish camouflage combat dress surrounded by his followers started going viral. A person, whom very few knew of, suddenly became a celebrity, thanks to the Inter Services Intelligence of the Pakistan Army, and its paid stooges in the Kashmir Valley.

A few days later when the hype had reached critical mass, Pakistan did what it does best. It shot itself in the foot. It declared 19 July a “black day” in honor of Burhan Wani, the leader of a designated terrorist outfit. It then shifted the date to 20 July.

The elevation of a hitherto unknown terrorist to a hero is nothing more than the Pakistani Army trying to reassert itself domestically, using Kashmir. Why Kashmir? Because that is all that aid-dependent Pakistan has ever used in 70 years. It has nothing else to use.

It has denied its own citizens for 70 years, exhorting them to sacrifice at the alter of Kashmir. But it is not Nawaz Sharif, who lives on a 400-acre farmhouse near Lahore, who sacrifices. It is not the Pakistani Army Generals who zealously guard their corner plots in Islamabad and Lahore, who sacrifice. It is the common man on the street that sacrifices, who gives donations to Hafiz Saeed’s Lashkar-e-Toiba and sends his sons to die in Kashmir.

During the Afghan jihad, Gen. Zia ul Haq, President of Pakistan called Lt. Gen. Akhtar Abdur Rehman, the then Director General of the ISI and told him, “The water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature”. Zia wanted to create enough problems for the Russians in Kabul, but without pushing them over the edge. He feared Soviet retaliation. The ISI has now taken a leaf out of Zia’s book. It is trying to boil the water at the right temperature in Kashmir. But  it is faced with two problems.

One, India is not the Soviet Union and we are in Kashmir, which is an integral part of India. Two, Pakistan is an aid-dependent country with ZERO international credibility. The global community does not remember the last time Pakistan spoke the truth.

And these are precisely the reasons why the myth of Burhan Wani, so synthetically created, will crumble.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

TWITTER: @majorgauravarya

#kashmir #indianarmy

LETTERS FROM KASHMIR

The response to my Facebook post “Open Letter to Burhan Wani” has been overwhelming. I received responses from all over the world. And Kashmir.

There were the usual threats of violence, many accused me of glorifying the armed forces and some shared horrifying stories of human rights abuses. Interestingly, there were some very intelligent and well thought through opinions and voices from Kashmir, who while condemning the violence by state agencies, also condemned the violence perpetrated by the Hurriyat and local leaders, including militants.

These young men and women spoke about conflict fatigue and posttraumatic stress of having to spend an entire life in an operational zone. I can only imagine.
I also received letters from the rest of India, some extremely unflattering. Many left leaning opinions pointed out that the Indian Army was an occupation force and was murdering Kashmiris. Karl Marx was dragged out of his grave and made to bear witness.

The vast majority of Indians have been absolutely supportive. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

I wish to share my point of view and in many ways, it is the view of many brother officers of the Indian Army. What I am writing is NOT the official Indian Army line. This is just what many faujis think privately.
It is important for young Kashmiris to know what we think, too. Communication needs to be both ways.

The army is a blunt instrument. Think of it as a broadsword, not a scalpel. It functions on the basic premise of massive disproportionate force. We do not particularly enjoy laying a cordon at 0300 hrs and doing a house-to-house search. It gives us absolutely no pleasure to search cars of civilians or do public pat downs. The army is an armed force of the union and is trained in defense and attack, amongst a million other things. We would rather train, defend the borders and fight wars. Dealing with civilians in the counter insurgency grid is a pain.

Then why is the army there in Kashmir? Well, the answer is fairly simple. The militant dimensions of the entire Kashmir problem are artificially manufactured by Pakistan and its “deep state” agencies. The Kashmir issue was and remains primarily a political problem, but Pakistan has left no stone unturned in making it a military flashpoint. Four wars and two insurgencies have proved beyond doubt that Pakistan is militarily inferior to India. In 1971, they lost half their country. In the next 20 years, they are likely to lose 44% of their landmass. I am referring specifically to Balochistan.

I am sure you would have heard of Pakistan’s Don Quixote-like obsession with strategic depth. That is why Punjab burned when the masters of strategy at Rawalpindi launched the Khalistan movement. And that is why Kashmir still burns. Pakistan is geographically narrow. Too narrow to sustain a lightning armour thrust through Punjab, onwards to Lahore. And too narrow to sustain an infantry assault through Muzzafarabad (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). Hence, the need to create artificial depth so that our fifth columns within India bog down our own forces during war.

You, my Kashmiri brothers and sisters, are part of the strategic depth plan of the Pakistan Army. Pakistan went about this plan in a systematic manner. In the late eighties they introduced armed militancy in Kashmir. Young men were taken to Pakistan to be trained and were then sent back into India. That was not a resounding success because Kashmiris did not fight with the ruthless abandon of the Afghans and they still thought of the Kashmir issue as a political dispute. Look at the history of Pakistan. The army has resolved all political disputes. They do that by simply sending the 111 Brigade stationed at Islamabad to take over the country. Yes, they have a dedicated Infantry Brigade just for this.

As a next step, Pakistan sent in Afghan and Punjabi fighters into Kashmir. These were battle-hardened warriors who had fought the Soviet army during the Afghan jihad and who were unemployed, staying in putrid refugee camps in Peshawar or in non-descript towns of South Punjab (Pakistan). And into this toxic mix Pakistan introduced Islam. Not the gentle Sufi Islam of Kashmir, but the Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia. Those fighting against the Indian Army became Mujahideen (holy warriors) and the fight itself became Jihad (holy war).

A lot of images have been circulated on social media by a few Kashmiris, which have shocked Indians. Images of kids being shot with pellet guns and women being manhandled. These images are not the complete truth. They are meant to convey a message to Indians and tell them, “Look at your forces. They are murdering Kashmiris and killing innocent children”.

Let me tell you the truth.

These protestors and stone throwers never target a large cantonment or large presence of security forces. They pick a BSF or CRPF picket, which may have ten to 15 people or more. Then they get a mob of hundreds of people to surround the picket and start pelting stones. Women and children are placed in front. As the mob advances, the pressure inside the picket grows. Firing starts and in the smoke, sound, pressure and confusion a bullet or rubber pellet hits a child, because the child is placed right in front of the soldiers. The child dies.Why would a mob deliberately take a 5-year-old child to throw stones at a security force picket? Why would they place women in front when the firing starts? Because the dead body of a child makes for a perfect photo op for the Hurriyat leaders and adds fuel to the fire. The Hurriyat is not responsible for law and order, development, roads and electricity, education or any of those things that “leaders” are supposed to do all over the world. They accept money from Pakistan’s ISI to formant trouble in Kashmir. That’s all they do.

With all the moral authority at my disposal, I wish to tell my countrymen one thing – a soldier is also a father and a son. No soldier deliberately shoots at a child. And in the rare case that there is a bad apple amongst us, the Army Act ensures immediate, severe and deliberate action. Hundreds of cases have been disposed off in typical army fashion – “fast and ruthless”. We are not only a powerful army. We are a moral army.

Why do the security forces use rubber pellets to disperse crowds? Why do the “bloodthirsty security forces” not use real bullets? Because the intent is to stop, not kill. Do you really think that Kashmiris would have been out on the road throwing stones if they knew that the BSF had 3 mounted Light Machine Guns in the alley? I think not.
Most of the stone throwers are not political activists. They are daily wage laborers who are paid to do this work.

The Hurriyat is a sickness typical to Kashmir. They do politics on the dead body of children. How are they different from ISIS?

Who funds the lavish lifestyle of the Hurriyat leaders? Who buys the convoys ofSUVs and who pays their office bearers? What is the source of funds of the Hurriyat? Who has elected them? Once you have the answers, you will understand why the Indian Army is involved. And that is why the military solution to the Kashmir problem (otherwise political) lies in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Someone from Kashmir wrote a response to my article and mentioned about how he was slapped by the security forces when he was just ten. This is condemnable and in the strongest possible terms. My article was about Burhan Wani only, and not about security forces violations. And if every ten year old who is slapped, picks up a gun, we are going to have a lot of dead 23 year olds.

Kashmir’s “azaadi” sponsors, Pakistan, have very low international credibility. By extension, the so-called Kashmir issue has very low international credibility. Think about it for a while. The primary (and only) supporter of Kashmir’s secession from India is a nuclear proliferator, a global leader in exporting terrorism and an international migraine. All these fine words from Pakistan’s chief ally in the war on terror, the US of A.
Pakistan wants a referendum in Kashmir. If it weren’t so tragic, it would have been funny. A country that has murdered three of its elected prime ministers (I am including Benazir Bhutto here), had four military coups and recently celebrated its first democratic transfer of power in 70 years (because most of the earlier prime ministers were killed, exiled or both) has a view on democracy and referendum.

Think of Pakistan as an Urdu speaking North Korea.

Are Kashmiris really so naïve as to believe that IF Kashmir achieves this so-called “azaadi”, Pakistan will quietly step back and allow Kashmir to be independent? Has Pakistan crushed the aspirations of Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis, Pashtun, Hazaras and other citizens of Pakistan for 70 years so that Kashmiris can walk into the sunset with music playing in the background? No Sir. For Pakistan,this is the biggest property deal in living memory, Kashmiris be damned.

The primary solution of the Kashmir issue is political. The day Kashmiris try to find salvation within the pages of the Constitution of India, they will find true “azaadi”. Over 1.2 billion Indians find solace in those pages, and so will the Kashmiris.

Burhan Wani’s successor has a code name – Mehmood Ghaznavi. They could have named him Changez Khan and he would still have a remarkably short shelf life. A 7.62 mm full metal jacket round does not respect fancy historical names. The 7.9 g (122 gr) projectile flies at 2350 feet per second and destroys whatever it comes into contact with.

Mehmood Ghaznavi, the moment you were declared successor, you were a dead man. They have started hunting you. They will kill you. Soon.

Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

OPEN LETTER TO GEN. RAHEEL SHARIF COAS, PAKISTAN ARMY

Dear General,

I start by accepting that the difference in seniority between us would take a remarkably gifted physicist to fathom. You are a serving general, Chief of the Pakistan Army, no less. And I am an ex-Indian Army officer, a sometime company commander of Charlie Company, 17 Kumaon Regiment. Having tabled the obvious, I must now state what is on my mind.

We are adversaries, not enemies. Your enemies sit beside you. I would expect a soldier of your remarkable caliber and wisdom to understand this. It is not the divisions to your East that threaten you. It is the hordes to your West that will unravel the story of Pakistan. You are the most credible leader that Pakistan has had for a long time. That, Sir, is not much of a compliment but that is all that is factually available. We do not want war with you. Truth be told, the last thing we want is a war with you. But the Indian Army is not ornamental, as you may have noted to your detriment in 1948, 1965, 1971 and Kargil.

I do not know if India supports the secessionist movement in Balochistan. Company commanders in charge of a post and a few bunkers are normally not privy to such information. However, I hope we do. Do we fund the MQM? Not something that a person of my insignificance would know. However, I hope we do.

In the last 72 hours, we have lost our brothers (officers and other ranks) not to the terrorists whom you breed and train to give you strategic depth, but to their own extraordinary heroism. They could have put an 84 mm Carl Gustav HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round into the buildings that were housing the terrorists. God knows, the Israelis and the Americans would have done so gladly. But that would have meant loss of innocent lives; something that our code of honour does not allow. So these brave young men took bullets to their chest. Just like that.

These games of brinksmanship that you think you are so adept at playing have started to backfire. The snakes that you bred in your backyard for biting India are now biting your own. They are killing your children in schools, your young in mosques and your people in their beds. And yet your obsession with India refuses to abate. You still do not realize that your snakes owe you no loyalty. It is in their nature to bite. They eat their own.

The Indian Army is willing and capable of extraordinary violence. We fight and we train. That’s all that we ever do. On 6 December 1971 you lost your elder brother, Maj. Rana Shabbir Sharif, Nishan-e-Haidar to an Indian army tank commander. I grieve for you. You lost half your country on 16 December 1971. I celebrate it.

Balochistan constitutes 44% of Pakistan’s landmass. Karachi contributes 20% to your GDP.

Sir, with the above stated facts reiterated for your kind information, you may want to reconsider and re-evaluate your policies vis-à-vis India.

And if it is really war and martyrdom that you want, fight the good fight…man to man…face to face. Don’t hide behind brainwashed Lashkar terrorists, teenage stone throwers in downtown Srinagar and traitors from JNU.

Maj. Rana Shabbir Sharif, Nishan-e-Haidar died fighting like an officer and a hero. Stop hiding behind facades. Make your brother proud.

We are waiting.

Respectfully,
Maj. Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment
Indian Army

#MajorGauravArya #adgpi

THANK YOU

Many friends have asked me why I write only about matters pertaining to the army and other defence issues. Do I have nothing else to talk about?

Well, for one, I am a fairly uni-dimensional person. I have led a pretty average life. Sometimes, below average. I am, self admittedly, not an achiever in any sense of the word.

The only miracle that has happened to me was OG in colour. And for that I may say “thank you” a million times but it will never be enough.

You taught me many things and this is what I took away, the OLQs that still form the cornerstone of our collective lives.

1. Keep your word.
2. Be loyal, always.
3. Lead by example.
4. India first, every time.
5. Respect women.
6. Be selfless.
7. Take responsibility, not credit.
8. No fear.
9. Do the right thing, and damn the consequences.
10. Stand up for those weaker than you.
11. The regiment is your identity. The paltan is your family.

You taught me that integrity is binary. You taught me that an officer displayed OLQs when no one was looking.

I left you 16 years back and this is perhaps the greatest mistake of my life. We do things that we do not understand. And then we live with regret.

The designation has become fancy, the cabin larger. I have perfected a tone of voice that is very corporate, sophisticated and a total put on. But sometimes, it’s good to remind people that beneath all that nonsense, the OC of Charlie Company 17 Kumaon is alive and kicking. All of a sudden there is sometimes a whiplash of a command, brooking no discussion. It leaves stunned people in its wake. All of us OG types have a “drill square” voice hidden inside. And when it is unleashed, it descends like a Hellfire missile on a soft target.

I want you to know that I am not the epitome of OLQs. I falter. But I also want you to know that I always try my best. I believe in you, and what you taught me.

Whatever I am is because of you. If you ever deem me worthy of your call, I will answer.

You will always have my everlasting gratitude.

Maj. Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
17 Kumaon Regiment
Indian Army

OPEN LETTER TO BURHAN WANI

Dear Departed,

Ever since you were terminated in a forces-led operation in the Valley, 23 people have died. I don’t know why they died. The majority were possibly overcome with grief and fury and wanted to avenge your death. That did not happen, for obvious reasons. A policeman was thrown along with his vehicle into a river and he drowned. I grieve with your family and with the families of all those who lost their lives. Despicable though you may have been, I cannot find it in my heart to blame your family.

You could have been an engineer, a doctor, an archeologist or a software programmer but your fate drew you to the seductive world of social media, with its instant celebrity hood and all encompassing fame. You posted pictures on the internet with your “brothers”, all you fine young Rambos holding assault rifles and radio sets. It was right out of Hollywood. Your rifle’s fire selector switch was set to “safe” and your weapon rested on your shoulder. I know it’s too late to advise you on such matters, but NEVER do that in an operational area.

The day you started with your social media blitzkrieg, you were a dead man. You encouraged young men of Kashmir to kill Indian soldiers, all from behind the safety of your Facebook account. Your female fan following was delirious. You were a social media rage. Unknown to you, there was probably some nerd with a laptop sitting in HQ XV Corps, tracking you 24/7. You died when you were 22. Had you survived this operation, you would have died when you were 23. Just a different date on the calendar, that’s all. The intensity of violence and the result would have been the same.

I wish we had met and I could have explained to you (before killing you) that the old men of the Hurriyat Conference are like leech. They feed on the blood of men. They send young Kashmiris to face the Indian Army. What sort of a war is this, where lambs are sent to fight lions?

I would have shown you the sheer duplicity of the Hurriyat, with their sons living abroad, pursuing professions other than jihad. Name one relative of Syed Ali Geelani, the head of the Hurriyat Conference, who is fighting the so-called Indian “occupation”? His son Nayeem Geelani is a doctor in Rawalpindi, and lives under the patronage of the Pakistani ISI. Zahoor, his second son, lives in South Delhi. Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s sister Rabia is a doctor in the US. Mariyam Andrabi, sister of head of the radical Dukhtran-e-Millat, Asiya Andrabi, along with her family lives in Malaysia. Every Kashmiri separatist leader’s daughter or son is rich and safe, outside Kashmir. Jihad is for other people’s sons.

And your parent’s son is dead. Dead from a 7.62 mm full metal jacket round to the head.

Kashmir’s young and restless blame the security forces for killing them. But they never question the Hurriyat. No one asks Syed Ali Geelani why Burhan Wani is not from his family.

Pakistani media was ecstatic when Kashmiris celebrated Eid this year along with Pakistan and not with the rest of India. This was reported as a blow to the unity of India. This is the first time in the 1400 year history of Islam that Eid was declared, not by witnessing the Shawwal moon, but by looking towards Pakistan. Well done.

The Hurriyat has nothing to do with Kashmiris. This unrest, this bloodshed is just another business. If not, I would like to see the list of martyrs from the Hurriyat leadership’s families.

The Hurriyat knows too well that Kashmir has fallen off the map of the world’s attention. No one cares and everyone knows that it is an artificially manufactured conflict. The Kashmir dispute exists because it is an inexpensive way for Pakistan to keep Indian forces bogged down in the valley.

You were a terrorist. You chose to wage war against India. Like for all other such perpetrators in the past, it didn’t go too well for you. When you choose to fight against the Indian Army, know this; THEY WILL KILL YOU.

Your supporters now want blood. So be it.

Cheers……!!
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)

TO KILL A PRIEST

When I took my decision, my own calm surprised me. It was as if the fact was always at the back of my mind, unable to come forth. I could not crosscheck the facts with a third party. I could not go to my CO. I could not have another death in the company. My mind was made up. Mentally, I had already passed orders for the execution of Haji Abdullah.

I started preparing for the kill.

THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. HOWEVER, ALL CHARACTERS ARE REAL (EXCEPT RANJAN)

PREFACE

 I have penned down a few thoughts, which passed through my mind when I (and all of us) was trying to so desperately survive in Kashmir. Kashmir is a paradise, a beautiful and bountiful land, peaceful for weeks on end, a peace, which is sometimes suddenly shattered by savage bloodletting. A place which both India and Pakistan will not let go of, India because it is a matter of honor and Pakistan, because it is a matter of survival.

All Indian Army personnel mentioned in this story are real and have served in 17 Kumaon, except Ranjan who is a fictional character.

The locations mentioned in this story are real. Many incidents are dramatised. Some incidents are highly dramatised. Mostly, they took place in my mind.

I left the Indian Army sixteen years back. I have travelled far and wide and have walked with the rich and famous. But never have I seen or come across such bravery, integrity, loyalty and strength of character that was so nonchalantly displayed by the Officers and men of 17 Kumaon. You will forever remain my heroes. I will always tell your stories. You are the Bravest Of The Brave.

Chapter 1: The sophistication of uncomplicated thinking

Day & Date: 0700 hrs, 11 November 1997.

Location: Kala Pathhar (COMMAND BUNKER)

Poonch Sector, Jammu & Kashmir (Operation Rakshak)

Post: Kopra Ridge (Main), Line of Control, 9, 500 ft a.s.l.

It was a misty and cold morning, not that Kashmir had offered me anything else, and I snuggled deeper inside my sleeping bag. I had, just a few minutes back, given an all OK report to Major RK Anuj, the Adjutant of 17 Kumaon. I had told him that all was well. Well, not exactly. The adjutant and I had our little joke going. I would say, “All quiet on the western front” and he would grunt. This morning he insisted on talking and was rather chirpy. Brigade Headquarters was full of paper tigers. The Brigade Commander was biased. Being a Gurkha officer, the GR units never got ROP duty. DSSC should be shut down; it was producing Rommels and Guderians with great powers of hallucination etc etc. I had heard this all before and mumbled a reply in agreement. It never does well to put off your adjutant. The last time had seen me on a 7 day LRP over the Pir Panjal mountain ranges, and a re-play did not seem like a great idea. Suddenly, acute matters of national security demanded his attention; the BM wanted 7 boys for working duty and the Adjutant ran to comply.

Sleep was like a drug and I was drifting back to la-la land. I was back to the ideal world……the canteen was a cafeteria, the hostel was “residence” and even the mere function of asking someone to pass the chapattis was an cool “zap the chaps” or if you were a seventies degenerate, “roll the discs”. Aah…the pleasant burdens of Stephania. Suddenly, a loud rap on the bunker door jolted me back to reality. “Ram, Ram sahib”, Subedar Bhim Singh’s voice rang out and I cursed my luck. This was the last thing I wanted early in the morning. To have such a psycho as a platoon commander was in itself a huge problem. I had to literally beg the commanding officer not to sign Bhim Singh’s AFMSF-10, not once but twice. Bhim was nature’s bad boy. He was an “unfit JCO”. He was in the infantry, thought like a Para Commando and executed like a nurse. Once an NCO “ran amok” in C Company. The NCO was drunk and he chased Bhim Singh all over the unit lines with a khukri, before he was caught, put in QG and charge sheeted. Good friend Bhim returned the favor 2 years later, emulating the act to the T. If there was something called JLQs’ (JCO like qualities), they had certainly given Bhim the go by. 17 Kumaon knew for a fact that in such a sensitive area, only Bhim stood between the CO and a Higher Command nomination. Bhim had the CO a very worried man.

I asked him to sit on a campstool, while Ramesh Chandra, my faithful sahayak of two years, tried to light up the bukhari. He soon got a good fire going and proceeded to pour a cup of tea for both of us.

“Sahib, we have lost 3 jawans in the last 2 months and the morale of the troops is not good”, he said. For the uninitiated, a Kumaoni will never come straight to the point. Whatever it is, it has to sound like a good story.

“Yes, Bhim Sahib. I know that. What are you trying to say?” I asked.

“Sahib, there is a pattern to this whole thing”, he said.

God, I thought. There he goes again. He will be gone in minutes, leaving me to nurse a migraine for the whole day.

He continued, “All three men were killed between 0300-0400 hrs. All three belonged to the last patrol of the night. All three were surprised by infiltrating militants.”

I sat up uneasily. Bhim Singh was right. How had I missed this? But, couldn’t it just be co-incidence? What was the proof of a pattern? Not wanting to disturb his flow, I nodded gravely to him. Now he had my full attention.

“Someone is helping them from inside” he delivered his punch line.

“What? Do you mean one of our men………. ” I said.

“No, no Sahib. How can you even think that one of our boys could do something like this? We have given this great army two PVCs and three Chiefs………….” he started. I knew where this monologue was heading. Not wanting another dose of paltan ki izzat, I waved for him to continue.

“I have information that it is none other than Haji Abdullah, the maulvi. He has often requested our 0300 hrs patrol to help him get to the Pir Baba ki mazaar to put a 200 watt bulb. That is the signal to the Pakistani post that all is clear and they should begin infiltration”, he finished.

5 km into Indian territory from the Line of Control is a black out zone at night. No one is allowed to switch on lights inside their homes and if they do, they have to cover the windows with black cloth or paper so that nothing is visible from outside. This is just to make the enemy Arty OP work harder for his salary. What Bhim was trying to say was that the CO had given permission to the 78 year-old Maulvi on religious grounds, to light a bulb at the Pir baba site. This was the only bulb, which was allowed to be lit in the whole area of 5 km. The maulvi, once a week, feigning illness or bad memory, would actually request our jawans to guide/ escort him to the Pir Baba. Then the maulvi would put the bulb in the socket. In the pitch-dark valley, the bulb would shine like a torch. It was the signal to the Pak post that the last Indian patrol of the night had left. Since the patrols only patrolled the gaps between the ambush sites, it was a cakewalk for the militants.

It was certainly a plausible theory. Yes, our boys had died only on the nights the maulvi had requested for our help in putting the bulb on the mazaar. But much of this was conjecture. Who would buy such a fantastic argument? But then, this was Kashmir. The normal rules of engagement, and logic, certainly did not apply.

“How did you come across all this? How could you figure out?” I asked Bhim.

Bhim smiled at me, showing a single row of badly stained and rotting teeth and said, “Ranjan told me”.

Ranjan was our company masalchi (cook’s helper). An avid reader of cheap Bengali pulp fiction, he knew about the vital statistics of film heroines as thoroughly as he knew which Lt. Gen. would become Army Commander. Ranjan was a man in the know of things.

Bhim’s logic had me stumped. How could I go to the CO with this story? And the CO had only last snowfall given the maulvi Rs.10, 000/- from the unit intelligence fund, to repair the masjid wall which had fallen due to heavy snow. The CO had obviously planned it as a brilliant “hearts and minds” campaign.

I dismissed Bhim and set thinking. What were the loopholes in Bhim’s logic? The facts certainly seemed to jell. But without the CO’s sanction, what could I do? What should I do? I was itching to get the person who had killed my men. Was I over-reacting? A million thoughts passed through my head. My mind was in turmoil and I felt lost. Ranjan would talk. My men would know that I was given the information and failed to act; infantrymen always thought in black and white. You were either “Dost” or “Dushman”. You were to be either embraced or killed. And, my men would not judge the maulvi worthy of embracing.

What stopped me from contemplating any action was the credibility Bhim had in the unit. He was a shifty eyed, 5’4 ft guy with kohl lined eyes. He was an alcoholic. He had a few black ink entries against his name. When he spoke in anger, he frothed at the mouth and his eyes spun in their sockets. He was right out of a comic book. And, he was a Services boxer.

Lt. Thomas, my company 2-i-C was a youngster with 4 months of service. He literally lived with the men. I had seen him translating “Platoon Leader” for the men, though his regimental spirit took a nosedive when he was requested by the CHM to translate a Playboy story. Could I trust Thomas? No, I decided. He was much too young for paltan politics. One call from the Adjutant would have him on his knees.

When I took my decision, my own calm surprised me. It was as if the fact was always at the back of my mind, unable to come forth. I could not crosscheck the facts with a third party. I could not go to my CO. I could not have another death in the company. My mind was made up. Mentally, I had already passed orders for the execution of Haji Abdullah.

I started preparing for the kill.

Chapter 2: To Stalk a Whisper

Day & Date: 2300 hrs, 19 November 1997

Location: MMG bunker, Charlie Company, LoC

Poonch & Rajouri Sector, Jammu & Kashmir

It is fascinating; the amount of detailing the Indian Army is capable of. When they set out to collect information you can’t stop the flow. In a week’s time I had enough information about Haji Abdullah to write a book. I had his bank account number, the records of the extent of property in his name, the names of his three wives, the newspaper he read, the source of the cardamom he liked in his morning tea, the names of his relatives across the border and details about his habit of keeping a dog in his house.

The Haji had three credits of over Rs.70, 000/- each in the local bank. He had just purchased a house in Jammu’s Talab Tillon area for Rs.12,00,000/- and he had an alternate career going, as the local Shylock. Someone was giving the maulvi huge amounts of money. I remembered the first line of the first page of Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” in which the author quotes Balzac, “Behind every great fortune, there is a crime”. What was the maulvi’s secret?

Bhim and I sat staring at the fire in the bukhari as the silence engulfed us. The intermittent sound of small arms fire could be heard in the night…some Pakistani soldier trying to drive away the loneliness, which only the nights in Kashmir can give you.

“I agree. The Haji must die”, Bhim said, interrupting my thoughts.

“Who will kill him? How? He is a revered figure in the whole area. His death will spark a riot”, I added, looking towards Bhim.

“Sahib, the maulvi is a HM (Hizb-ul-Mujahideen) man and definitely on their payroll. His daughter is married to one of their cadres. We can kill him with a sniper rifle and somehow blame it on Lashkar-e-Toiba” said Bhim. If Sidney Sheldon had started writing in Hindi, I did not know about it. I looked at Bhim incredulously.

“The militants are constantly warring with each other for turf in Kashmir. And sahib, what is the value of a human life here? If the cover up is good, no one will even investigate. The army has no time and there is almost no police in Kashmir. We will go and cry over his dead body and even the CO Sahib will not raise a fuss because of the Higher Command issue”, Bhim said.

The COs Higher Command ambitions were the most discussed subject in the unit. My CO was a highflier, Staff College type career officer. And here I was, trying to desperately clear my Part B Military Law paper and planning the murder of an old priest, in cahoots with a deranged imbecile. My regimental forefathers would turn in their graves if they heard something as sacrilegious as an officer planning a very un-officer like operation based on the theories of a delusional cook’s helper.

I could not smell alcohol on Bhim’s breath and that was a good omen. Not enough of a good omen to start a crazy covert operation, but it was something.

“Pratap Singh is the best choice for the operation, Sahib. He is our ace marksman and sniper”, Bhim continued.

Pratap was indeed very good, though another weird character. Charlie Company seemed to be infested with them. Pratap was the silent type and few had heard him speak. The rumor was that Pratap had the same expression on his face the day he heard the news of his father’s demise, as the day he was informed that he had been blessed with a son. His face was blank. Originally from 9 SF, he was posted to 17 Kumaon after he suffered an injury in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka.

“I was thinking of him, too. He is the perfect person. He can keep his mouth shut and is very competent”, I said.

Now the problem before us was the cover-up operation. Firstly, how do we ensure that the hit does not have Indian Army written all over it and secondly, how do we pin it on Lashkar.

As usual, Bhim came up with a crazy scheme. It was decided that the maulvi would be shot from at least 1300 mtrs, using a 7.62 mm Draganov sniper rifle. That was the maximum effective range of that weapon and would give us ample time to flee.

We knew that after the morning namaz, the maulvi sat on the masjid courtyard in a rocking chair, sipping cardamom tea and reading “Inquilaab”, an Urdu daily published in Poonch. This was a daily ritual. Lt. Thomas would go with a morning patrol and scout the village for nothing in particular. While the maulvi had tea, Thomas would be around the masjid area, speaking to the locals and distributing toffees to the village children and would generally be seen as non-intimidating. Suddenly, a rifle shot would be heard and the maulvi would be dead. Thomas would return fire and launch a manhunt and would provide security to the maulvi’s immediate family. No one would suspect the army, as the army would be there in full view of the public, who would naturally vouch for the army’s innocence. There was only one hitch, though. Thomas was not to be told about the operation. He would participate, unsuspectingly.

We were working under the assumption that Pratap would be game. No, we are not talking about a soldier willfully disobeying orders of a superior officer. We were talking about the Adjutant, perhaps even the CO asking questions. The cultural structure of the infantry being what it is, Pratap would sing like a canary. Unless he believed that the orders came from above. Bhim said that it was the only thing to do. I put my foot down. Lying to the CO was ok. Lying to my men was not. With infantry soldiers, it’s always about face. Once you lose face, no course grading or promotion can wipe the slur. It’s like the legendry Betaal. You can tell it any story, but it will, in the end, always ride your back.

And what if the secret was leaked before we got started? We could always deny it and claim that words were said in anger. It could be written off as a whiff of josh; not too bad for an infantryman. But what if it became known after the act? There would be hell to pay. It would begin by me losing my job, and probably getting Court Martialled. It would also result in Bhim losing his. Pratap would be exonerated, being too junior to refuse illegal orders. As I saw it, Bhim did not have much of a career. He was always “about to get Court Martialled” on one pretext or the other. But I was fixated on a permanent commission. I would one day Command 17 Kumaon. What the devil should I do?

I told Bhim that I needed to sleep. He saluted and trotted off as I made my way through the meandering fire trenches. The permanent defenses looked as innocuous as mud pies in the shadows of the night. I saw my troops huddled in the cold, as a steady drizzle started to drench the landscape. I pulled the hood of my issue-type coat parka over my head and buried my hands in its pockets. A soft staccato of automatic fire from the Pakistani post across the LOC echoed against the mountain walls, as if to affirm that there was still life worth taking in this desolate landscape.

“Ram, Ram Sahib”, the voice was a soft grunt and could have belonged to none other.

“Ram, Ram Pratap. Kaise ho?” I asked.

“By the grace of Kalika Mata, I am fine sir”, he replied. Pratap was staring at me and I wondered what it was. It seemed that he wanted to say something. He shuffled around and his thumb played with the safety catch of his Draganov. It was an eerie click sound, the kind that makes the hair on the nape of your neck stand on end. He mumbled something, as I strained to catch his flow.

I could not hear him, and so moved closer to him.

“The Haji is like my father in age, and I would under normal circumstances never think of harming a single strand of hair on his head. But then, Sahib, my father would never plot the killing of people who are his children’s age”, Pratap said.

He continued, “This man is evil. He is greedy and like a leech, feeds on the blood of men. I do not think it is wrong to kill such a man. It is a soldier’s duty to kill such a man. In combat, if possible, or in stealth, by deception, if the need so dictates. To kill him is not murder, but a slaying”. Pratap used the Sanskrit word “vadh”, which I have loosely translated here.

Pratap had never spoken so much, in anyone’s memory. Indian army jawans are not known for Bhagwat Gita quotes and this speech was unusual as it was disturbing. I sniffed for traces of alcohol and found none.

Then it dawned on me. Pratap had sensed my hesitation in ordering this mission. This was his way of telling me that he was willing to pull the trigger on his own. That the consequences, if any, were his to bear. And that he truly believed that the maulvi should die.

I kept my hand on Pratap’s shoulder and said, “I will let you know”.

Pratap nodded and grunted as he stood stiffly to attention. Then he trotted off into the night. I made my way back to my bunker. Ramesh Chandra was waiting with a curious expression on his face. I asked him what it was, and he smiled uncomfortably, as only a highlander can.

“Sleep, sahib. You need it,” said Ramesh and shut the door of my bunker as he made his way out. With a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach I realized that even Ramesh knew about the operation. Charlie Company wanted the killing. They had committed me to the kill.

That night, I did not sleep.

 

Chapter 3: The Measure of The Shift

Time and date: 0100 hrs, November 23, 1997

Place: Chand Bibi slope a.k.a. Checkpoint Charlie, LoC

Poonch & Rajouri Sector, Jammu & Kashmir

I hated the name of the place were we lay. About 2 km downhill, on the southern slopes of the feature occupied by us, was a hill slope called Chand Bibi. What a medieval South Indian queen had to do with Kashmir foxed me. But the name was used, and there on the map as well. With the latitude only wielded by 25 year old acting Majors in Kashmir, I approved military history’s grandest sex-change operation. Chand Bibi became Checkpoint Charlie. The troops knew nothing about the legendary checkpoint between East and West Germany, naturally assuming that it had everything to do with Charlie Company.

Bhim lay to my left and Pratap to my right. From Checkpoint Charlie, we could see the masjid and it’s courtyard clearly in the bright moonlight. For some reason, Bhim tried to use a PNVD. Annoyed that it did not work, he set about playing with pine needles. Pratap was watching the courtyard with rapt attention, through the scope of his Draganov. He obviously could see nothing, but that did not deter him. He seemed deep in meditation, his lips moving silently in some primeval incantation. They say that hill folk can talk with the jungle spirits and Pratap was beginning to spook me. He would mumble something and then every few moments, he would let out a low “hrrrr”. I tapped Bhim on his shoulder and motioned for him to get up. Pratap lowered his rifle and we crawled back a few paces, careful not to let out silhouette show against the moonlit skyline.

We walked uphill to our post, expertly negotiating the trip wires, flares and M-16 anti-personal mines, which dotted the approach to our company location. Bhim whistled to the sentry on duty who, had I not been there would have waved us in. In my presence, he wanted to know the password. We satisfied his security needs and entered the camp. It was very difficult to let go of established procedures. Sentries challenging visitors is not a practice they encourage in Kashmir. Here they breed trigger-happy fingers. Any movement is replied to with fire. That is the law of Kashmir. And here we were, on the Line of Control, which has been so often described as the most dangerous place on earth, trying to do inane nonsense.

I walked to my bunker and took off my shoes and socks. I hung my parka on the wooden hook by the door and stepped out of my trousers. The thermal long johns clung to my legs and I sat down tiredly on my bed. Instinctively, I reached for the bottle of Old Monk and poured a long shot into my glass tumbler. Unthinkingly, I did a “bottoms up”. It must have been at least 3 or 4 large pegs, which burned down my throat and punched my guts. I was breathless as my eyes began to water. I looked at the calendar. 13 months without leave, and every single day spent trying to motivate my men, survive and drive away loneliness. 13 months of operational emergencies and postponed leave plans. 13 months of trying to stop the infiltration of fanatic Mujahideen, who just kept coming. I walked to the bunker door and looked outside. It was snowing.

I touched my cheek and found it was wet. Maybe I was crying. I do not know. Then the alcohol hit me and falling on my bed, I passed out.

 

Chapter 4: The Calm Calculus of Reason

 Time and date: 27 November, 1997/ 1900 hrs

Place: Command Bunker, Point Kala Pathhar, LoC

I sat on the campstool rubbing my throbbing temples, trying to remember what I was supposed to do. I have always believed that for the men it’s always easier to bear loneliness. They are many and they live together. They laugh and share. Many of them (in pure regiments) are related or even neighbours. Officers have loneliness to contend with. They live alone for months on end without company. How much does one talk with his sahayak? How many meetings can you have with the JCOs? How many times can you brief the CHM? In the end, it’s you with your thoughts. If you can manage that, you can manage operations. If you cannot, you slowly start going mad.

Bhim sat a few feet away. He was digging his nose like he had found religion. His eyes were spinning in their sockets and spittle was dribbling down the side of his mouth. He looked like the villain’s chief sidekick in a Faustian drama and worried me more than the Mujahideen.

Pratap stood at ease in the corner, under the Battalion deployment map. His face was blank as always. He did not speak at all, and seemed to have become a little quieter, though no one would have believed the possibility existed.

Lest anyone attribute noble thoughts to us, let me make clear that we were worried men. A bunch of scared men planning the murder of a priest, that’s what we really were, and nothing more. There is no glory in killing unarmed people in cold blood. Irrespective of what a low-life the maulvi was, we would all carry the burden of our act to our graves and if we decided to go ahead with this, we must live with our shadows. Bhim had no conscience and he lived in the “super-present”, a euphemism for a person who did not allow the psychological after-effects of an act go beyond the now. He believed that he was not responsible for what he did; a stark antithesis to my Don Vito Corleone. I did not know Pratap well since he had been in Charlie Company for just 3 months. Well, his company commander of 5 years, Major DS Rawat did not know him either. Either Pratap had a developed super-consciousness or was an un-evolved dolt. Both types scared me. At least, with a dolt you knew where you stood; if that’s a consolation.

I was dying to swallow my pride and call off this damned tamasha. The maulvi could be implicated in some act and arrested and the police told to take him to Jammu. In Kashmir, these things are easily arranged. But that would be seen as conniving and low; a dishonorable enterprise. Troops often spoke of bold officers who had gone as far as issuing weapons to their jawans to sort out their personal affairs in their villages and then swore before a GCM that the jawan was on parade. That was the expectation here and this officer was way too low on delivery, an honest appraisal.

What could help me? A posting out of Charlie Company or going on leave for two months? Was killing the maulvi easier?

“Sahib, the troops would be very happy with this kill”, said Bhim with the same nonchalance with which anyone else would demand an extra ration of rum.

I suddenly felt very tired. I did not want to kill the maulvi and was very amenable to the idea of getting him implicated in a “padded up” case. I would just place a few detonators and maybe an AK-47 in his house and get a “turned” militant to give witness. That should see the maulvi booked under TADA. And dead of old age, I thought comfortably.

“Sahib, I am calling off this whole operation. It’s in direct violation of the Army Act and as an officer, I cannot and will not allow it”, I said in one single breath.

Bhim’s face fell like that of a groom who has been denied his conjugal rights. His lips moved like the fish one sees in an aquarium and he seemed sorely distressed.

“The morale of the troops is already low. Your decision will kill them,” Bhim implored.

“I cannot disregard the Army Act to raise the morale of the troops, Bhim Sahib”, I said, raising my voice. Bhim did not know that this whole Army Act thing was totally hollow, coming from a person who had flunked the Military Law paper 3 years in a row. What made it spectacular was that in this paper, you could actually take reference books inside the examination hall.

It was the wrong thing to say. An officer was supposed to walk with his troops and lead them to the very gates of hell. If he was worth his salt, his men would follow him down the throat of the devil. That was Indian Army teaching and our bread and butter. But all said and done, even the Regimental spirit would quail at defending murder. Kill in fair combat and you could expect praise, but this maulvi thing smelt of a contract kill.

I got up. Military etiquette demands that when a superior officer gets up, his juniors get up with him, without delay. Bhim got up after a time lag of 5 seconds. The insult was intended and stung like a rebuke. I ignored it and walked outside. There was a chill in the air and the air smelt of pine. I felt like singing. There was no burden on me and I could sleep an easy man. I would still sort out the maulvi, but differently. There was no point in leading a Kamikaze attack and getting your backside kicked. There were smarter ways of fighting a war and all you needed was an idea.

I asked the company runner to inform Thomas that I wanted to meet him and then walked towards my bunker. I was in a mood to celebrate and Thomas would join in. As I climbed the stairs of my bunker, a hearty “Good evening, Sir” greeted my arrival. There was Thomas, all five-and-a-half feet of him, grinning like a good-natured Afghan hound. He had a copy of “Ops of War (Volume-1)” in his hand. He was determined to crack Part B in one shot. Today was his off day, as in it was no-ambush-day for him. Today, he would drink foul masala tea, read Ops of War and sing crazy Malyalee songs of longing and separation. To dissuade me from consuming alcohol in vast quantities, he always (concocted, I suspect) had stories of relatives who had died of unimaginable suffering by cirrhosis of the liver. He was trying to scare me into quitting booze. I, on the other hand, never drank rum unless I was scared witless; a common enough phenomenon on the Line of Control. I preferred whiskey on the rocks. But ice was hard to find in Kashmir (we had no electricity), and during winters, it would have been sheer death to put ice cubes in your drink.

I poured a stiff shot of rum, and under the disapproving glare of my Coy 2-i-C, I sighed deeply in contentment. I was like a man who had married of all his daughters and was absolved of all responsibility. Thomas wanted to know if I had seen the “Titanic”. I told him that I hated romantic tragedies. Thomas, never good at taking a hint, proceeded to tell me the story. He had seen the movie with his girlfriend and it was a sentimental issue for him. He babbled on and on, and seemed to be determined to take me through each frame of the epic. By the time I had downed my fourth large, I could not have cared if the damned ship floated or sank. Well, it did sink in the end and it seems lots of people died. Thomas had a sad puppy-dog expression on his face.

“It’s really sad when people die, Sir”, he said. Thomas had never said anything this profound and Titanic must have really moved him.

“Yes. It’s sad. But then someone has to kill the bad guys because if they are not stopped, they will kill the good guys”, I tried, by way of explanation.

“But Sir, for the bad guys, we must be the bad guys”, Thomas probed.

This was getting nowhere. So, I asked him about his Part B preparations and his plans for the YO course.

“I will do my best not to let you and the company down, Sir”, said Thomas with no mean degree of passion. Three years in the NDA had addled his brains and he salivated at the thought of getting an AXI. I, his current idol, on the other hand, had never been tried or convicted of any crime remotely resembling good course performance. A series of Charlie’s and Bravo’s dotted my professional knowledge landscape. I was the black sheep in every course, and only a deep sense of Kumaoni brotherhood in a few instructors had helped me avoid an RTU.

But I knew the lay of the land better than anyone else. I knew the rocks, the streams and the hiding places of the mountain deer during the mating season. I had the best int sources in the brigade and Charlie Company ran on remote control, even with the most number of black and red ink entries in the history of the unit. I was a good company commander (forgive the modesty); but the way I was going, picking up the next rank would have been a killer.

Thomas had started singing in his language, which to my tone-deaf North Indian ears sounded like guttural bushman sounds. He had a full-throated voice; out of place in a church choir but very much at home on the drill square. Suddenly, he hit a high note…his voice cracked and fell all over the bunker. Jesus, he was possibly our best company support weapon. Thomas was, in all probability, scaring the Pakistanis more than our AGLs.

As if to acknowledge my appreciation of Thomas’s operatic skills, a burst of small arms fire sounded across the LOC. The same lonely enemy soldier trying to drive away loneliness, I thought. I remembered the poem I had read when I was in school.

I know I shall meet my fate,

At some disputed barricade….

“Sir, missing home?” Thomas asked.

“No, yaar. Just feeling relaxed after a long time,” I replied.

I wanted to share so much with Thomas but the youngster had just joined the unit. I did not know him well enough. Anyway, how well do you need to know a person to tell him that you were planning to kill a priest?

Thomas left immediately after dinner. No youngster wants to spend his free evening in the company of his Company Commander, more so in the infantry. He would rather talk to the pine trees.

I turned off the bedside lamp and, pulling my sleeping bag over my head, tried very hard to sleep.

Chapter 5: The Fist of God

Day & Date: 0400 hrs, 1 December 1997.

Location: Kala Pathhar/ Command Bunker

Post: Kopra Ridge (Main), Line of Control, 9, 500 ft a.s.l.

An urgent knock jolted me out of my dreamless sleep and I reached for my AK-47.

“Ram Ram Sahib”, CHM Shamsher Singh Rautela said.

I asked him in and he saluted.

“Sahib, please step outside. It’s very urgent”, he said.

I swung my legs over the camp-cot and grabbed my jacket. As I stepped out of my bunker, I saw a group of Charlie Company jawans standing in a group. There was a cloth bundle at their feet. I stuck my hands deeper inside my jacket and looked at the cloth bundle closely. Shamsher handed a torch to me and I flashed it at the bundle. It was a young boy of no more than 19 years. My eyes fell on the epaulets on the boys shoulder. “KUMAON” stared at me and I looked back at the face. It was covered in blood, and the jaw was supported by a bandage. He had been shot in the mouth. I did not even remember his name.

“Who…” I began.

“Sepoy Mohan Bhatt, 2nd platoon, Sir. The maulvi had again requested for our help today”, said Shamsher.

I stared at the young body. Who was responsible for this death? Waves of anger and shame swept over me. I gritted my teeth so hard I thought they would snap.

I motioned to Shamsher to take the body away.

I closed the door of my bunker and sat down on my cot. Was there any point in crying and lamenting? What kind of a sick world did I live in? What Army made a 24 ½ year old take such life and death decisions? It was so bloody unfair.

But it was time I grew from a boy into a man. If I was unwilling, Kashmir and God’s own Indian Army would do it for me. Less than 25 years and I was already a father figure to 130 men. My resolve gave me strength. I no longer envied my Delhi friends who were zooming around on their bikes with their girlfriends. I had a country to protect. I had men to command. I had made an oath to choose “death before dishonor” and I would not be found wanting.

I prayed to God to forgive me and give me the courage to face Mohan’s parents. They would tell his fiancé in a few days time. She would be a widow before marriage, because hundreds of miles away a man had refused to be an officer when it mattered the most.

I picked up the 5A and cranked the handle.

“Pratap ko bhejo”, I said into the mouthpiece.

I would pass an irrevocable death sentence on Maulvi Haji Abdullah. He had Kumaoni blood on his hands. Charlie Company would not rest till he was killed and buried. This time, there would be no comebacks.

 

Chapter 6: The End

Poonch & Rajouri Sector, Jammu & Kashmir (Line of Control)

25 Infantry Division, XV Corps, Northern Command

Indian Army

In the next 2 months, three attempts were made to kill Haji Abdullah. He managed to escape every time.

Thomas’s attachment with 17 Kumaon ended in March 1998. He went back to AOC. Capt. Pawan Rawat was posted as Company 2-i-C of Charlie Company.

In April 1998 a loud explosion was heard from the Maulvi’s porch, an hour before sunrise. A part of his house had caved in. When villagers cleared the rubble, they found the maulvi in two pieces; his lower body totally separated from the upper half. He was lying over the body of his dog.

A year later, 17th Battalion, The Kumaon Regiment was de-inducted from Op Rakshak.