Heads We Win, Tails You Lose
Heads We Win, Tails You Lose
By Yoginder Kandhari
Amarnathji Yatra has routinely been mired in controversies ever since outbreak of militancy in Kashmir valley. Communal forces in the Valley, separatists and political parties alike, have been in the forefront to conjure up pretexts to oppose smooth conduct of this Yatra. Kashmiri Muslims fully understand the economic benefits of this annual event yet, bread on rabid communal fodder; they oppose this age old Hindu religious activity in Muslim majority Valley for reasons religious. Last year’s uproar in the Valley, over transfer of land to Amarnathji Shrine Board, crossed all limits of reasonableness to manifest extreme religious intolerance. State administration had almost capitulated to the communal demands from the Valley had Jammu not risen in a rare spontaneity against Kashmiri Muslim hegemony to compel State administration see reason and restore a semblance of secular order. It is not that Kashmiri Muslims want Yatra to be discontinued; they love it for commercial gains but hate to allow it as it impinges on their communal mindset.
Much that Kashmiri Muslims may want us to believe that the Holy Cave of Amarnathji was discovered by a Muslim in eighteenth century; the truth is that Amarnathji Tirtha finds mention in Neelmatpurana and Rajtarangnipredating their claim. Due to poor communications, cold climate and lack of facilities, earlier the Yatra was limited in duration and participation. Besides local Kashmiri Pandits, the Yatra was undertaken mostly by Sadhus with a sprinkling of Guajarati and Bengali pilgrims. Yatra would commence fromAkhara Building in Srinagar and move to Durga Nag, at the foot of Shankracharya hill, for performing puja of the holy mace before proceeding to the Holy Cave via Pampur- Awantipur –Bijbihara –Mattan -Pahalgam-Chandanwari- Sheshnag- Panjtarni. It would culminate, as to this date, with the darshan of ice Lingam on Shrawan Purnima. Facilities en-route and at the staging camps were generally provided by voluntary organizations with minimal governmental assistance. However, with improvement in communications and affordability, the number of pilgrims grew year after year. Today, Amarnathji Yatra has assumed the significance of a major Hindu pilgrimage and pilgrims include NRIs in hordes. Increasing numbers necessitated establishment of a statutory body to conduct the Yatra. Accordingly, much to the chagrin of separatists and other Valley based communal parties; Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) was established in 2000 by an Act of Jammu and Kashmir Legislature on lines of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra (J&K). With establishment of SASB, there has been a marked improvement in facilities available to the pilgrims and, more importantly, these are now affordable. Thus, the popularity of the Yatra grew manifold and lakhs started queuing up for darshan compelling SASB to extend the Yatra duration to two months from 2005 onwards. There was a lot of breast beating against this extension by the then Chief Minister, Mufti Mohd Sayeed but indomitable Lt. Gen. (Retd.) S. K. Sinha, the then J&K Governor and Chairman of SASB, stood his ground forcing the Chief Minister to relent.
However, upgrading of the facilities has not kept pace with the grandiose plans for facilities drawn by the SASB and a lot more needs to be done. Upgradation plans are suffering neither for want of willingness on part of the SASB to execute its responsibilities nor for adequacy of funds. Attitude of communal Kashmiri political establishment and bureaucracy is the major stumbling block. Otherwise, how can one explain that the road alignment from Ranga Mor, on Srinagar-Leh Highway, to Domel, on route to the Holy Cave on Baltal axis, has not been blacktopped even though central government has released Rs.20 Cr, about four years back, for the purpose. The sate government would not let it happen. Kashmiri politicians have raised environmental concerns over this issue while the same politicians conveniently ignore the fact that beautiful Gulmarg meadows have been ravaged by a crisscross of blacktop roads. Today, Gulmarg has more concrete cover than the green one. But, there are no compunctions over it for it does not facilitate a Hindu religious activity.
Amarnathji Yatra and Kashmiri Muslims
Kashmiri Muslim business community, local administration, separatists and political parties, though with stakes in the annual Yatra, nurture an ulterior agenda of erasing all Hindu religious and cultural linkages from Kashmir. Each Yatri is valued at Rs.30,000/= by local business and the convention has it that he has to be divested of that amount prior to his departure from the Valley. Last year an estimated 4 lakh Yatris visited the Holy Shrine and the amount of money that was pumped into the Valley’s economy is a matter of simple calculation. This amount was distributed throughout the length and breadth of the Valley from a pithoo, lugging baggage en-route the Holy Cave, to the Shikarawala in the Dal to a ponywala in the meadows of Gulmarg et al. Thus, the business class wants the Yatra to continue but on its own terms and conditions. Yet, Yatris are treated shabbily and even threatened should they not fall in line.
With establishment of SASB, Yatris started enjoying better facilities and that too on affordable rates thus reducing, to some extent, the loot by the locals. Resentment from the locals started brewing. One can not help but quote an instance from 2007 Yatra season when SASB had ‘dared’ to call for labour contract tenders for setting up various facilities along the two routes to the Holy Cave. The contractor who had quoted lowest rates was coerced to stay away and the local contractor, who had the monopoly for labour contract till then, too boycotted the SASB in a show of defiance to latter’s authority. The stalemate ended only when SASB reached an understanding with this local contractor and that too on his terms and conditions. By then the Yatra was already in full swing. With no pre-fabricated huts erected, one can well imagine the harrowing experience the Yatris underwent. Needless to say, all the huts ultimate did come up but only by the end of the Yatra season. Mostly, these huts remained unoccupied since the Yatra had petered off by then. The local contractor had thus sent a strong massage to SASB without in any way impairing his annual revenue.
Further more, that year the housekeeping contract for the prefabricated huts had been awarded to a party from Jammu. This contractor too was boycotted by the locals as no labour was forthcoming for unloading truck loads of bedding meant for the huts until an agreement was reached with the locals at exorbitant rates. Even the basic amenities, like water and electricity, were not restored to the camps resulting in major security and sanitation problems. With no lavatories erected, it was a common sight to find Yatris,including ladies, relieving themselves in the open. It was a sabotage designed to serve every Kashmiri stakeholder’s interest. The local labour proved more than a point to the Shrine Board. Besides causing a lot of inconvenience to the Yatris, it reaffirmed its monopoly over rates and right to the contract and also provided enough fodder to the separatists and political parties to rake up sanitation and environmental concerns. Harassment of the housekeeping contractor from Jammu helped the local business as he, inspite of having been awarded contract up to 2009, opted out.
Local administration openly targets SASB for poor Yatra management thus building-up a case for the local Tourism Department to takeover all the arrangements for the Yatra. That arrangement would suite all for they then can share the booty. Less said about the local police the better. Medical Department too was not to be left behind. Centre allotted Rs. 1.1 Cr. and 1.5 Cr. to the state government for providing medical cover for the Yatra in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Not even 25% of the budget was spent for the right purposes.
Environmental Concerns –A Myth
Mehbooba Mufti often loses her breath while raking up Amarnathji Yatracontroversies. Her major assault on the Yatra has always been via environmental concerns. Mainstay of her argument is poor sanitation in camps and perceived danger Yatra poses to the ecology of the area. As for sanitation, she needs to be educated that the technology being used for treatment of human waste, in various staging camps, is the best available in the world. She would be better advised to take a cue from the Yatraarrangements and replicate the same technology in Hazratbal complex for there is a crying need to block effluents from contaminating the Dal Lake further. She needs to worry more about shrinking circumferences of the Dal and the Wular lakes and unabated concrete invasions overwhelming Sonamarg, Pahalgam and Gulmarg rather than exposing her rabid communal mindset by aimlessly opposing Amarnathji Yatra without any logic or reason. Shrine Board is extremely sensitive to the environmental concerns and has not constructed a single permanent structure in the area. Incidentally, only concrete structures to have come up above the ground level are Jamia masjids at Baltal and Panjtarni. Erecting and dismantling temporary structures, year after year, cost Shrine Board dearly yet the Board does not bemoan that loss; for it’s commitment to ecological preservation is unflinching and unlike rabble-rousing and self-seeking Kashmiri politicians and bureaucrats. Separatists too have nothing different to agitate about. Kashmiri political parties, separatists and bureaucrats are hand-in-glove in raising controversy after controversy about the annual Yatra.
What does SASB need to do now?
Under the prevailing circumstances, SASB has been doing a fair job so far. However, a lot more needs to be done to make the Yatra more affordable and comfortable for all classes of Yatris. SASB should not lose sight of the very objectives of its incorporation. First and foremost, it must not succumb to the communal forces inimical to conduct of Yatra itself by permitting its brazen commercialization by the locals. This could be done by:
Compiling an exhaustive information brochure containing all the details about Yatra including the rates fixed for available facilities and services. Such brochure should be posted on the SASB website and its printed copies also be made available toYatris.
Establishing all the facilities for Yatris, like prefab huts, medical aid posts etc, well before commencement of the Yatra. So far ancillary facilities to the camps, like electricity, water supply, telephone connectivity etc, are provisioned by local authorities much after commencement of the Yatra thus causing a lot of inconvenience to the Yatris. This anomaly needs to be sorted out.
Irrespective of being owned by Shrine Board or by the private operators, SASB should take full commercial control of all services and facilities by:
Fixing rates, well in advance, for all the services provided by the locals and advertising those prominently. Mere fixing of rates, as has been done thus far, is a halfhearted measure to prevent overcharging as the actual realization is then left solely to the integrity of the private operator. That precisely was the reason why, in 2008, pilgrims hiring ponies, on the traditional route, had to dish out amounts upwards of Rs.11,000/= per pony or Dandiwalas , on Baltal route, brazenly fleeced old and infirm Yatris by settling for nothing less than Rs.22,000=00 per trip or privates tent owners charging Rs. 150/= per bucket of hot water from the shivering Yatris. Such is the secular texture of theYatra. As a counter measure, SASB needs to establish counters, to be manned by its staff, for booking of such facilities by the Yatris.
Not outsourcing booking of prefab huts and helicopter tickets to travel agents since they have been utilizing availability of quotas with them as a tool for selling expensive tour packages to the Yatris. SASB should handle such bookings itself. Minimum 75% of the available quota should be set aside for booking on spot by the pilgrims across counters to be established by SASB while balance 25% should be released on Shrine Board website for booking by the Yatris in advance..
Provision of adequate parking space for the vehicles at the staging camps. It is a common knowledge that inadequacy of parking space at Baltal, besides causing acute traffic jam right from Sonamarg to the Camp location, is a source of easy pickings for local cops on duty. Greater the chaos fuller the pockets of the very personnel who have been entrusted with the job of restoring order to traffic. A simple solution is to shift parking to Sonamarg and to run a ferry service there from.
SASB also needs to upgrade medical facilities at every ‘parao’. Evacuation of seriously sick patients by helicopter needs a more deliberate integration of all agencies than the loose arrangement which is in place at present. To make medical cover responsive, the equipment needs to be augmented with volunteer doctors and other paramedical staff rather than by those deputed unwillingly through a duty roster.
Shrine Board must also consider the option of sponsoring an alternative route to the Holy Cave via Manali- Leh- Sonamarg. After all, a number of groups did take this route to reach Baltal after the agitators had choked all the roads in Kashmir during last year’s Yatra season and these Yatrishad nothing to complain about. Besides obvious economic benefits accruing to remote Ladakh region which has been starved of adequate developmental funds till now, it shall puncture communal arrogance of a section of Kashmiri Muslims’ claim to monopoly over the conduct of thisYatra. This route also offers an ideal site at Gumri for operation of an affordable helicopter service since flying time to the Holy Cave would be drastically reduced to just three minutes. Handicap of severe cold conditions at some places, along this route, could well be taken care of by erecting better facilities for the pilgrims for then there shall be none to raise the bogey of environmental degradation. Plans to construct rail link to Leh along this axis may ultimately prove to be a boon for theYatris and the people of Ladakh region.
Lastly, SASB needs to revamp its organizational structure. It needs capable managers at the helm rather than retired government servants. It needs to shrug itself off bureaucratic inertia and galvanize into a dynamic organization capable not only of efficient management but also be able to visualize and stimulate long term planning. But, that is not as great a challenge as the one posed by concerted affront intended at the Hindu heritage in Kashmir and on its linkage to mainland India by communal forces in the Valley. SASB needs to discern machinations unleashed by the forces hell bent to paint Kashmir completely green. Shrine Board must decipher last year’s Amarnathji land agitation, in Kashmir, as yet another dimension of the ongoing war to dislodge India from the Valley. Amarnathji Yatra is not merely a pilgrimage; it is one of the many manifestations of the very concept of India.
Kashmiris Muslims of all hues want the Yatra to go on till eternity but on their own terms. On one hand, they regard it as a pure economic activity while on the other they show scant regard to the religious sensitivity of the very people who constitute it. It is Kashmiri Muslim hegemony at its best, conveying ‘heads we win, tails you lose’.
From Dignibal to Afghanistan - Making of an Afghan Trained Militant
By Yoginder Kandhari
Ghulam Mohammad Mir, 29 years old now, hails from a sleepy village in North Kashmir. Besides owning huge tracts of agricultural land, Mir's family also runs a flourishing Kashmiri Shawl business. Leading a fairly comfortable life in the village, lure for Mir to join militancy obviously came from some where else. So called Kashmir experts may like people to believe that insurgency in the Kashmir Valley is a direct result of past mistakes of Indian Government and economic deprivation of people, Mir’s story makes such claims appear hollow.
The Backdrop: Ghulam Mohammad Mir partook of the elixir of religious extremism, in 1989-90, in the then newly established madrasa in his native village. Sustained religious indoctrination of the village youth was carried out by a molvi, who had travelled all the way to Kashmir Valley from western UP. Molvi's discourses were full of venom against Hindus, India and her rulers in Delhi. That jihad was the only way to save Islam in Kashmir was the common refrain during such sessions. Entire village population, young and old alike, were swayed by these emotive lectures and an infectious undercurrent gripped the entire village in frenzy. Prominent Pakistan returned militant leaders would frequent the village, brandishing newly acquired AK-47 rifles as an act of defiance against Indian establishment, to entice young boys to join their ranks. Songs eulogizing mujahedeen would rent the air till late in the night. There was an all-round feeling that the golden era of freedom was just round the corner. Whole atmosphere presented a festive look which is normally associated with a nation's independence eve. Young and the middle aged would go overboard whenever an invitation was extended to them to join militant ranks. Ghulam Mohammad Mir was no exception. He too was excited at the prospect of becoming a mujahid and a chance to visit Pakistan-his ‘dreamland’. When local militant commander, Basharat, made an offer, Mir seized the opportunity with both his hands.
The Initiation: Besides the Molvi, village elderly and the respected folks took upon themselves the responsibility of motivating youngsters to join militant ranks for waging a ‘holy war’ against the 'infidels'. Ghulam Hassan Shah and Mushtaq War, both well past their 60s, discharged this responsibility efficiently and with total dedication. The duo formed the village screening committee and wielded enough influence in the final selection as well. Mir considered himself to be fortunate enough to get the final nod and was thrilled at his selection. He was ordered to report to mujahideen camp at Dignibal. Surprisingly, there was nothing secretive about these recruitment rallies or camp locations and such activities were a common knowledge with local administration preferring to be a mute spectator.
At Dignibal camp, twenty young men congregated with a common purpose of crossing over to Pakistan. Here the boys were given briefings about type of clothing and other equipment to be carried. Proper master rolls were prepared and records were maintained by the camp organizers. Women folk, to include mothers and sisters of the prospective mujahedeen, made a beeline to the camp carrying warm clothing and hard variety of rations for their dear ones and to wish them good luck for their ultimate mission. In this entire bustle, Mir was fully convinced that he had achieved his dream of becoming a mujahid and he eagerly awaited marching orders to cross over to his ‘dreamland’.
Exfiltration: On 15th May 1990, the group finally left Dignibal camp for the launching pad located at Shalkhud. This camp was tucked in a re-entrant and was better organized than the one at Dignibal. Two other groups of youth, twenty each in number, simultaneously joined the camp. Here the boys had the first feel of a regimented routine. Immediately on arrival, each individual was allotted a code name and Ghulam Mohammad Mir was re-christened Moshin Khan. These boys knew each other by these code names only and enquiring real particulars was prohibited. Sixty young mujahedeen in the camp were divided into squads of six boys each and most vocal ones were made the squad leaders. Everyone was given a choice to select a buddy-a la army recruitment centre.
During their stay in the camp, these prospective mujahedeen were issued sports shoes, warm clothing, walking sticks, camp kits, rucksacks and hard variety of rations. Conversation in Urdu was encouraged. Detailed briefings were also carried out about the route for exfiltration, likely problems and sustenance en-route, measures to avoid detection by the security forces etc. Latif and Mongru were introduced to the group as their guides for exfiltration. Their antecedents were neither revealed nor enquired. A whisper went around that the guides had been paid a hefty amount, some said Rupees twenty five thousand each, for the high risk job. Basharat accompanied the group as its leader.
From Shalkhud the entire group was lead over mountain tracks overlooking Kangan, Mamer and picturesque Telel in Gurez. Enroute the party encountered all the impediments except the security forces. They had to negotiate snowbound peaks, circumvent frozen lakes and cross fast moving Kishen Ganga River using ropes. Training at Shalkhud camp came in handy in ensuring smooth exfiltration across the LoC. Exfiltration took its toll when Ashfaq slipped and rolled down Kaw Bal. No serious effort was made to trace this boy and he was presumed to have met his snowy grave. After a fortnight's trek, the group reached a Pakistani post in Gilgit. As soon as they stepped inside the post, the entire group knelt to kiss the ‘holy-land’. Pakistanis accorded them a warm welcome. Within an hour two helicopters arrived to ferry the boys to Gultari. This long and arduous journey did not end here. Local buses had been pressed into service to transport these boys to a training camp at Gaddi Habibullah. Bus journey took about four hours and the boys were totally exhausted and hungry by the time they landed in the camp which camp was commanded by Colonel Riyaz of Pakistan Army. Khajur were served to the group, more as a token of welcome than to satiate their intense hunger. Immediately thereafter, each individual was put through a medical examination to confirm whether all the members were circumcised, probably to establish that no Indian agent had sneaked into the group. It is believed that Bashrat had been given an option to train mujahedeen either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan but he opted for the first course. Training commenced on 01 June 1990 with all the seriousness.
Routine at Training Camp: Training curriculum was well thought out and carefully structured to contain all the essentials elements of military training. Psychological toughening was done through sustained religious indoctrination and anti-India propaganda. A three month training schedule was drawn for the boys in order to make them expert insurgents. (See Table 1 below)
(Number of training days)
1. Field craft and minor tactics.
2. Physical endurance training which include regular ten km run.
3. Skill at arms i.e. stripping & assembling of weapons, removal of stoppages and live firing @ 5 rds per day.
4. Handling of explosives to include fabricating and planting IEDs.
5. Training on support weapons i.e. LMG, RL etc including live firing.
By the time training finished, all the boys grew confident of taking on the might of Indian security forces so as to liberate Kashmir from the clutches ofkafirs. Based on their performance during training, five mujahedeen were selected for advanced training in Afghanistan. The lucky ones were Moshin Khan, Molvi, Sher Khan, Commando and Bilal. Thrilled at the prospect of training in Afghanistan, they eagerly awaited orders for onward journey while the rest packed up to return to the Valley under watchful eyes of Basharat.
Training in Afghanistan: The chosen five were airlifted to an unknown destination in Afghanistan. Location of the new camp was neither divulged to the trainees nor did they dare to ask. Regime in the camp’ under Captain Nurul Rehman, a Pakistani instructor, was very tough. The broad out-line of five month advanced training capsule is given in Table 2 below.
(Number of training days)
1. Advanced tactical training with emphasis on map reading, raid, ambush, roadblock, fighting in built-up area etc.
2. Training in martial arts.
3. Weapon training @10 rds per head per day and training on RL, LMG, MMG, RCL etc.
4. Communication training.
5. Training in handling explosives and fabricating IEDs.
Besides military training, religious indoctrination continued unabated. Instructors at the camp were ruthless and severe with punishment. However, the group was so possessed that the rigors seemed to be minor irritants to them.
Return to Pakistan: On completion of training in Afghanistan, five fully firedmujahedeen returned to Pakistan but this time to a different training camp. Return journey from Afghanistan was not smooth at all. A short airlift was followed by six days of continuous route march to a road-head before they took a bus ride to land in a camp called Jungle Mangal. Routine in this camp was bereft of any military content. It was confined to observance of religious rituals like offering nimaz five times a day and reciting Koranic verse. Since winter had already set in, the group waited for the passes to open. Finally, in first week of May 1991, three guides appeared in the camp to lead the mujahedeen back to Kashmir Valley for the ‘holy mission’. As the group readied for return journey each individual was handed over an AK-47 rifle, four magazines, 500 rounds of ammunition, two hand grenades, a new pair of sports shoes, two sets of shilwar kameez, a walking stick and Rupees three thousand in Indian currency.
Infiltration: A warm send off was accorded to the departing mujahedeen.This group was instructed to restrict movement to night for obvious reasons. Infiltration too took its toll. Bilal suffered frost bite and was proving to be a drag. He was abandoned enroute and nothing is known about him since then. After crossing LoC, they were received at Bandipur by Zaffar of Al Barq outfit. Further in the hinterland, they moved from bound to bound without much of a problem and halted at Shalbug before reaching Malbag. At Malbag, the foursome was received by Basharat and stayed in the house of Idris. People thronged this house in droves to have a glimpse of their Pakistan returned heroes. Boys were instructed to shed their weapons and equipment at Malbag and were granted a month's ‘leave’ to meet their families.
On expiry of their ‘leave’, the mujahedeen quartet reported to their commander for further assignments to carry out their mission. But then that is another story.
Of Fake Killlings and Gallantry Awards
By Yoginder Kandhari
ENQUIRY into the fake killings in Siachen is getting murkier by the day. Everyday there are allegations and counter allegations in the enquiry proceedings and these are widely covered by the media. This open enquiry has tarnished the image of Indian Army no end. In recent times it is second major blow to its reputation after the infamous Tehalkaexpose. That a soldier can stoop so low as to fake enemy killings In order to get decorated is indicative of the fact that the moral fiber in army is already tattered beyond repair. Sadly, such exposes rob the sheen out of legitimate acts of bravery and false the luster of medals awarded in recognition.
It needs to be understood that gallantry awards have often left a trail of doubt about them. One need not dig deep into history to substantiate this. Instances are galore in none too distant past when gallantry awards were dished out on narrow parochial considerations or as cover ups. Citations for awards are often jugglery of words to conjure up battle situations and superimpose those with imaginary acts of bravery.
In this context one can not help but cite an instance from Indian Army's sojourn in Sri Lanka. An operation was launched by a Gorkha battalion inNitikaikulam to clear the town of terrorists. A fierce encounter ensued in which more than a dozen soldiers were killed and many times more injured, forcing the battalion to withdraw leaving the dead and injured behind. The injured included their commanding officer (CO). Unit authorities had the audacity to declare the CO to be dead. This infuriated the then force commander of Indian Army in Sri Lanka, who incidentally was from the same battalion, so much so that unit was forced to launch another operation in the same area to retrieve the dead and the injured as also the honour of the unit. Hell was let loose when the CO's wife found out that the urn handed over to her did not, in fact, contain her husband's ashes. After a lot of hue and cry, as a compromise settlement with the family, a gallantry award was itched to the commanding officer posthumously.
One can keep on citing instances to substantiate the issue in point but the moot point, as to what motivates army brass to resort to such dishonest practices, remains unaddressed. Given the restricted promotional avenues on offer in army, it is but natural for the people to trick the system to gain fair/unfair advantage in the selection process and manipulating gallantry awards is one such way.
Besides gallantry awards, there is a middle course as well to circumvent the system to one's advantage. Rather than going the risky way of at least having to 'qualify' for the a gallantry award by way of risk prone postings like those in insurgency infested areas, at times, towards end of command tenures commanding officers manage move of units to Siachen to just 'earn' one battle report and move out of the area leaving the troops to rough out the balance of tenure. Needless to say such battle reports carry more weightage in promotion boards than the peacetime ones. The intent in all such cases is too obvious and message is carried loud and clear to the subordinates. In fact it is a quid pro quo between the superiors and the juniors and in Siachen fake killing issue too same equation seems to have prevailed till the CO and Major Surinder Singh fell apart. Thereafter operation 'cover up' seems to have been let loose to save respective skins. If Major Surinder is guilty of fake killings equally guilty are the superiors at all levels as also the system which breeds such a culture.
Outcome of Siachen enquiry can easily be foretold. All enquiries in army follow a preordained script just like a typical Hindi movie. Lesser mortals will be punished severely while others with clout and position will walk away with mere admonitions and then there will be an interlude till one fine morning we wake up to another expose. This vicious cycle will continue unless basic issues involved are addressed. It is a sorry situation where one finds a fine organization going astray. Army as an institution needs professional interventions to set it in order if we do not want numerous supreme sacrifices by the real soldiers to go waste.
Source: Daily Excelsior, July 27th, 2004
Insurgency in J&K - A Review of Our Response
By Yoginder Kandhari
Insurgency in the State of J&K is a decade old now and appears to have firmed in fully for a protracted combat with the security forces. Day by day we are being pushed into an Afghanistan like crisis with frightening consequences. Why we failed to bring the situation under control? Answer to this question lies in proper analysis of our response, both political and military, to the challenge of militancy.
Counter insurgency operations are fought on two fronts simultaneously, political and military. On political front, our response has throughout remained confused. Our political leaders are unable to comprehend the basic causes of the problem thus have failed to evolve a consensus on this strategic issue of national importance. Ever since eruption of militancy in Kashmir, successive governments at the Centre appeared bereft of ideas to counter this menace, so much so that the problem now appears to have slipped out of our hands. There hardly has ever been any substance in our political response which would merit a review or re-appraisal.
There is no doubt that our security forces have risen to the challenge of insurgency in the state in a wonderful way. Where else in the world does one find foot soldiers covering hundreds of miles day in and day out, just to keep road networks sanitized for safe vehicular movement. Hundreds of soldiers have been lost in last ten years and many times more maimed. Yet, the security forces have stuck to their job without a whimper. One justifiably feels proud of having been a member of such an organization, unmatched the world over.
Indian security forces, especially the Army, have enough counter insurgency experience. Yet, they have not been able to control the situation in J&K for last ten years. Surely, we have faltered somewhere in our military response. In retrospect, one finds that a lot of issues were either lost sight of or not addressed at all while formulating the military response.
Current Security Scenario
In present day context, insurgency in the state has graduated from hit- and-run and stand-off strikes to full-fledged pitched battles with the security forces. Of late, we have seen insurgents launching daring pre-dawn attacks on security forces’ camps which were unheard of till now. Recent encounters have revealed mature military planning and execution.
Adding a deadly dimension to the current security scenario is continued smuggling in of latest weaponry. Militants appear to have eased pressure in the Valley with a two fold aim in mind. Firstly, their continued presence would not have permitted revival of economic activity there which is essential to retain sympathy of the local public. Secondly, they have drawn our security forces to the ground of their own choosing where-in the difficult terrain acts as a force multiplier for them to offset their numerical inferiority. Their planning follows a carefully thought out design and they seem fully set to retain the initiative they have gained thus far. Needless to say, combat in insurgency situations is mostly battle of wits and retention of initiative is half the battle won.
Gap in Strategic Vision
A yawning gap in our strategic vision was evident when we failed to appreciate possible options available to Pakistan to keep Kashmir pot boiling. Fomenting insurgency in the Valley always lurked as a distinct possibility especially in the context of a similar attempt made by her in 1965 and in light of more recent experience of Indian response gained by ISI in sponsoring urban insurgency in Punjab. While we were thickly involved in Punjab, ISI dumped arms and ammunition, in heaps, in the Valley with impunity for their ultimate mission. We failed to pickup the threads and were caught off guard in our own backyard in 1989. Blame for this fiasco should equally be shared by the politicians and strategic planners.
Inadequate Initial Response
Since our security forces were just not prepared for such an eventuality, our initial response was inadequate to the task. True, there was an acute lack of will and direction at political level, especially so, in the initial stages. Our military leaders should have known that the buck ultimately would be passed on to them alone. Such a realization would have compelled the military planners to evolve an effective counter strategy, best suited to the local pattern and psyche. Instead, army think tank was found laid back in their approach to the problem just wishing away the worst. This delay forced the security forces to use age old concept of Cordon and Search Operations (CASO) every where without any results.
Thus our military response was ab initio cast in a predictive and essentially a reactive mould. A chance to gain military and moral ascendency over the militants was lost in the initial stages itself. It was the time when militant rank and file mainly consisted of home grown and ill trained youth who hardly understood nuances of actual combat. Whatever might have been the extraneous constraints, evolution of an effective counter strategy was security forces’ sole domain and none would have dared interfere. Alas, we procrastinated and let the golden opportunity slip away.
Failure to Read Design
Insurgency in J&K did not show any innovativeness per se. Its course was as predictable as it could be. As is common the world over, it started with isolated blasts to herald its arrival. This stage was followed by killings of prominent public figures by specially designated militant squads to strike terror. Thereafter, we had a longish period of five to six years when militants upgraded their operations to take on security forces, albeit standoff ones, with the primary aim to stay in the news. Hazratbal and Chrar Sharief episodes were essentially part of this phase. Simultaneously, militants ensured that their writ ran through the entire administrative and social fabric through frequent calls for strikes and ‘bandhs’. Next logical stage was to shift the battle ground to inhospitable terrain as obtained in Rajouri, Doda and Kupwara. Had we read through their design we would have snatched the initiative by being proactive to keep them on the run. But, we waited for things to happen rather than preventing them.
Failure of Intelligence Setup
It is an open secret that huge quantity of arms and ammunition was brought in from across the Line of Control (LoC). Similarly, truck loads of youth were carried onto the other side from various towns of the Valley in full view of the administration. What were intelligence agencies doing in the Valley? We had a handful of them working there even before militancy erupted. It is just not enough to explain away intelligence failure to elimination of intelligence officials. Such contingencies should have been thought of in advance and alternate channels created to keep information flowing out to avoid information black-out that we witnessed in the Valley from 1990-1993. Even after intelligence agencies regained their poise, hardly any real time/actionable intelligence was forthcoming.
Lack of Tactical Planning
All tactical plans evolve out of clear understanding of adversary’s intentions. We failed to read the design of insurgency and our tactical planning suffered as a consequence. Had we initially dominated the difficult terrain, which militants are holding now, we would have denied these safe sanctuaries to them and upset their planning. We, of course, pumped in two more divisions into these difficult areas but only after militants had established bases. We seem to have fallen into their trap by committing a large number of troops, as if on militants’ command.
Lack of Appropriate Equipment
It is a common sight to find Generals cribbing about non-availability of proper equipment to fight insurgency. This cry has been there for long within the security forces but was never heeded to. Even genuine requirements were never projected to the appropriate authorities. We now hear that procurement is underway of ground sensors to check infiltration, of direction finders to hone on to militant command setups and of state of art weaponry. These items have been in the international market for a long time. We only woke up too late in the day to their requirement. Most of our counter insurgency operations have been fought with semi-automatic rifles, obsolete radio sets and opaque night vision devices.
Most senior officers wanted their tenures to pass off as quickly as possible leaving the dirty work to troops at execution levels. In 1993-94, troops
received some bullet proof jackets but most refused to wear them. These jackets consisted of two crude steel plates, weighing 10 kg each, put in cloth sacks to be bridled on to the human body. Imagine a soldier making tactical maneuvers, under battle conditions, with such ill fitting equipment. These bullet proof jackets were cause more of casualties than of protection.
Setting of Unrealistic Targets
As soon as higher commanders were under pressure to perform they set strange targets for their subordinates. Weekly Key Result Areas (KRAs) were set in terms of number of weapon recovered. Thereafter, the troops just went after weapons. A militant could move around freely provided he had hidden his weapon discreetly. Recoveries were stage managed in order to please the bosses. One is reminded of an instance when recoveries were stage managed to appease a divisional commander on visit to a brigade headquarter. An operation was planned for the occasion and recoveries, made much earlier, were announced in stages coinciding with each course being served to the General in the officers’ Mess. Thus, there was a general loss of directions in our counter insurgency effort and we lost sight of the real objective.
Interference from top
Troops in actual combat were not allowed freedom of execution by the top echelons. In such an exacting environment, it is very difficult to maintain morale of troops at battalion/company levels if orders are not clear-cut/self explanatory and tactically feasible. One has to guard against psychological fatigue setting in the troops. Curtailment of leave, mundane routines and over eagerness to show results, are factors contributing to such malice. Of late, psychological fatigue has started showing in the form of frequent shooting incidents within security forces camps.
Lack of Resources
Any number of mine blasts could have been averted and many more lives saved only if adequate resources, in terms of expertise and specialized equipment, were released by various headquarters to the troops in ‘action’. A strange bureaucratic attitude had set in and staff at various headquarters were too miser to even release whatever was available with them, leave alone requisition from other sources. Even basic equipment like mine detectors, prodders, radio sets etc were at premium and none bothered to rationalize these even within the same formation. Such callousness was manifest almost everywhere. Military intelligence fund never percolated down to execution level troops. How could it have? It was a means to procure exquisite wood carvings and ‘Pashmina’ shawls by those who were at the helm.
Inapt Media Handling
In all counter insurgency operations consummate handling of media is essential for success. Our senior officers, too keen to show themselves off on TV screens, were found wanting in this skill. During Chrar Sharief operations, we saw a General live on the national hookup declaring that his troops were fully poised to catch ‘Major Mast Gul’ alive. To the General’s bad luck Mast Gul did not oblige him. Just by one amateurish comment on electronic media, Mast Gul attained an instant ‘hero’ status. Escape of Mast Gul was celebrated through-out the Valley as an outright victory over Indian Army by the militants.
Security forces have to search appropriate answers to the militants’ threats soonest before costs of our involvement in the battle rise further. A stock taking of our responses thus far is necessary to plan appropriate interventions if situation is to be redeemed before it is too late.
Yoginder Kaudhari was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in 1976. He served, participated in counter insurgency operations in Assam, Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir before seeking premature retirement.
Pakistan's Real Intentions Behind Such an Adventure - Kargil War
By Yoginder Kandhari
IN the haze of victory in Kargil that has enveloped us, not many have yet analyzed India’s response. It would be incorrect to term Pakistani intrusions into Kargil sector a total fiasco. Pakistan’s leadership, both political and military, would have taken limited sustainability of such intrusions into account while planning Kargil operation. Pakistani aim, therefore, would not have been solely to annex territory but also to achieve larger politico-military objectives. On political plane, possible objectives were, firstly, to bring Kashmir back into sharp international focus, secondly, to expand area of conflict to Ladakh region, which thus far had remained untouched and lastly, to silence Nawaz Sharif’s domestic critics and Islamic fundamentalists. For any operation to be successful, it is imperative that there is goal congruence at political and military levels. This principle would surely have been followed by the Pakistani military planners. Moreover, this operation offered military planners certain strategic spin offs like tying down additional Indian Army formations and in the bargain restricting their alternate strategic employment, pushing in more battled hardened militants into Jammu and Kashmir and attempting a subtle psychological war against Indian security forces by engineering telling acts of sabotage in their rear. Pakistan achieved her political and military objectives to a great extent and that in no way is a mean achievement.
Now let us examine Indian response to Pakistani intrusions into Kargil. Firstly, our intelligence agencies failed to gather any information about the impending operation by Pakistan. This was a multidimensional failure. Not only did the agencies fail to gather any information, there was a huge failure on part of highest in the army hierarchy for it did not asses such an eventuality in Kargil Sector. It will be pertinent to mention here that intelligence activity is not limited merely to collection of hard information, it’s most important aspect is to carry out a balanced assessment of options available to the enemy commander given his strengths and constraints. It is here that our military leadership failed miserably. It failed to pick enemy intentions from loud and clear battle indications. Firstly, it was no secret that we had considerably thinned Kargil sector of troops, during 1991-1992, when armed insurgency raised its ugly head in Kashmir Valley. An infantry division, less a brigade, was pulled out from Kargil sector to Kupwara for counter infiltration duty. Barely brigade strength of troops was left there to guard 150 km of Line of Control (LC). Did it not occur to the military generals then that such a massive de-induction of troops amounted to exposing own rear to unchecked intrusions/infiltrations by the enemy? Furthermore, Kargil has two strategic connotations to it. One, it is flanked by Siachen, a permanent battlefield between two the countries, two; a strategically important highway runs through it. This highway has constantly been interdicted by Pakistani artillery for last four years. These two strategic aspects should have been reason enough for our military planners to focus far more tactical attention to this area. On the contrary, we procrastinated and paid a heavy price in terms of loss of about 400 gallant soldiers.
Reports that Pakistani intruders purchased cement from Kargil town for construction of their bunkers in our area and about their frequent visits to Kargil town, probably on out-passes, add insult to injury. One wonders where those were highly paid and jet-set intelligence sleuths when all these enemy activities were going on, for almost a year, in our territory. May heads will have to roll in case we are serious to arrest increasing trend of criminal negligence to national security by those very people who have been entrusted to protect it. Even militarily, we failed to carryout our basic tactical routine in an LC environment. It is just not acceptable to shift blame to non availability of latest surveillance equipment. Had we been professionally honest with accepted practice of sending long range patrols, especially during winter months, we would have been able to detect this intrusion much before first week of May. Removing a brigade commander and a unit commander would not be enough. Every one up the chain has to accept a portion of blame for management of LC continues to be a joint responsibility of commanders at all levels. How can one otherwise explain Northern Army Commander’s assertion, in third week of May, that intruders’ strength being just 150-200 when in actual fact 2000 plus were already parked in our territory.
Failure of intelligence agencies to forewarn military commanders of an impending hostile move by the enemy puts a fresh spanner into our mobilization planning for war. Essentially, all mobilization planning is based on the premise that two to three weeks advance warning about enemy’s belligerent moves would be given by intelligence agencies to the defence forces. Obviously, military planners will have to look outside the realms of sand model discussions for there is no guarantee that even satellites can be depended upon fully, especially when even USA could be fooled by our own men during Pokhran-II. This shows human brain cannot be replaced by an artificial intelligence gadget.
Kargil intrusions also caught us on wrong foot as regards actual execution of our defence plans. Our build-up for counter offensive took longer than permitted by a fluid operational time-frame. One could find artillery build-up taking place till as late as mid June and wonders if such a luxury would have been available if whole of Indo-Pak border had been activated. Our initial response was quite strange. A mountain division, thickly involved in counter-insurgency operations in the Valley, was pulled out and moved to Kargil as a kneejerk reaction to the intrusion. This left a gaping tactical void in militancy infested Kashmir Valley. No sooner was this division moved out than militant activities rose to alarming levels. In a ridiculous move, Director General Rashtriya Rifles was directed to take charge of counter-insurgency operations in the Valley, thus compounding the confusion. For a long time now there has been a talk about reorientation of our combat effort in the Valley by establishing a counter-insurgency grid by Rashtriya Rifle battalions thus relieving Army formation for conventional role. But nothing has moved on ground and we were caught napping. This necessitates a fresh tactical appraisal and reassessment of our equipment requirement.
Shortage and inadequacy of basic warlike equipment in our armed forces too has been exposed during Kargil conflict. Here the blame lies mainly with the narrow vision of our political leadership. Concept of perspective planning has sadly been missing from our political monitors. It, surely, can not be given due attention if we have political leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav at the helm of national defence establishment. Such leaders, other than favouring a few from their own state or cast, can do precious little in casting a durable defence policy. Arming of defence forces can not be done overnight. Typical facet of Indian defence planning is that General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQRs) get obsolete by the time equipment is introduced into service. Kargil episode exposed our soft under belly in this respect too. We were found wanting in basic warlike equipment like LMGs, radio sets etc. Certainly, this shortage has not been created by our political masters. Army has been living in austerity for three decades as far as critical equipment is concerned. Commanders have been wary of declaring units unfit for war on account of equipment deficiencies. In such an organizational environment better results would appear to be distant dreams.
Kargil intrusions have put paid to our claims that insurgency is waning in the Valley and that normalcy was just round the corner. Pakistan by one clever maneuver injected a life booster to insurgency in the state. Pakistan has extended the conflict zone in Jammu and Kashmir to hitherto untouched Ladakh region, thus projecting entire state of J&K as disputed area. By pulling security forces’ combat attention to Kargil, it is estimated, that Pakistan has succeeded in pushing additional 2000 militants into the state out of whom 500 have specifically been tasked to take on security forces and their camps. Even militant engagements have shown qualitative improvement. From ‘stand-off’ engagements, militants’ activities have graduated to ‘pitched battles’. Recent militant attacks have shown signs of mature military acumen thus portending protracted combat in future. All these daring actions by militants are likely to be a psychological tonic for local Kashmiris to resist the Indian state further. In fact, Pakistan is fighting Indian Army on psychological plane in order to render her weak for a conventional engagement. With Kargil heights now likely to house a division plus troops permanently, Indian Army’s commitment in the Valley has tremendously increased thus restricting our strategic option elsewhere. Notwithstanding Indian political leadership’s statements to the contrary, Pakistan has been able to bring international focus back on Kashmir. Whole Kargil operation thus requires a fresh appraisal by our defence thinkers.
Of Camp Killings and Suicides in Army
By Yoginder Kandhari
WE are witnessing an alarming increase in the incidents of killings and suicides by soldiers inside security forces' camps. Such a scenario does not augur well for overall health of the security forces especially so for the armed forces of the country. Recent cases of suicide by Capt Kohli, an incident made murkier by doubts raised about the veracity of official version of the cause of her death, and that by a woman officer reinforce the belief that there definitely is more amiss in the army than what meets the eye. Instead of diagnosing the problem, the political masters, army top brass and the media have deflected the core issues by debating and harping upon problems which are mundane and do not portray the real causes leading to such tragic incidents. Day in and day out, we hear about incidents of soldiers gunning down their superiors and colleagues in arms. The fact that this malaise within the army is not restricted only to combat zones should indeed raise heckles in the top echelons. Unfortunately, all inquiries into such incidents follow a doctored course leading to foretold conclusions. The core issues always remain unaddressed thus leading to more such tragic incidents with an uncanny regularity.
Army has been working under conditions of extreme stress for too long a period now. There is a mismatch between civilian perception of organizational stress and the actual implications such a condition has on army as an organization. Terms and conditions of army service steeped in autocratic mindset and backed by archaic rules and regulations are not at all in tune with the realities of social order obtaining now. Political masters do not wish to change anything within the army for fear of losing this 'magic' wand to exploit internal disorders, like insurgency situations, communal or class conflicts, to their own political advantage. Even bureaucrats manage to ensure that armed forces remain stifled under their toes to please their political bosses and at the same time satiate their exalted egos by commandeering generals to report.
Most army chiefs have been too eager to please their political masters and retain powerful bureaucrats on their side to gain plum post retirement assignments at the expense of organizational good. For about two decades now, almost seventy percent of the army is perpetually engaged in internal security duties. Nothing worthwhile has so for been done to improve conditions of service except for implementing General A.V. Singh Commission recommendations which have, in fact, only caused army to bloat around its waist, of course with attendant professional procrastination.
Such a situation is of Army's own making. It has not made any efforts to bring in changes in keeping with the demands of time. That precisely is the reason why army continues to limp with a shortage of about thirty thousand officers till date. These days, it is quite common to find officers perpetually employed in counter insurgency operations since their posting tenures alternate between their parent units and Rashtriya Rifles battalions in the same internal conflict zones. When the concept of raising Rashtriya Rifles was initially mooted by the central government, in wake of outbreak of insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, the then Army Chief is believed to have given an assurance to the government that the proposal would be put into shape within fifteen days from within the army's own resources. One can grant him that such a stand then was in national interest and Army Chief could have acted no differently than what he did, yet, one fails to understand why even subsequently no thought has been given to provide for additional manpower, especially in officers' cadre, for this force. Shortage of officers thus got compounded thereby increasing the dissatisfaction within this cadre. In this backdrop why should youth join army especially when numerous other lucrative career options are available? Opening the doors of army to women was one good option to offset this shortage. Unfortunately, such an option has been poorly planned and messed up as a consequence .Not- with-standing the apology tendered by the Vice Chief of Army, of course under immense pressure from women's groups, his comments about desirability of having women in the armed forces reveals the actual bias prevalent in the Army. Rather than concretizing it as option to reduce the shortage of officers and consequent reduction in stress levels within this cadre, such irresponsible statements only complicate the issue further. In such a situation work pressures are bound to increase which in turn trigger a steep drop in efficiency. Since operational matters get precedence over all other issues in army, effective man management is the first causality of any drop in efficiency. All these killings and suicides inside army camps are a manifestation of this neglect.
Inability of Army's top brass to stand up to political pressure often translates into awkward operational demands of the field commanders especially in insurgency situations. This pressure percolates down the line as illogical operational diktats which one can question only to one's peril. One is reminded of numerous instances wherein such diktats, bereft of tactical logic, cost the amy dearly in terms of cold murder of young and enthusiastic officers and men at the hands of militants. Without going into the details, one is compelled to allude to the killing of two young and dedicated officers and three other soldiers in cold blood by militants in Rajawar area of North Kashmir in 1994. They were launched on an operation which was tactically untenable and doomed to fail ab intio. Here the field commander was keen to show results to his superiors. These young heroes died unsung. This incident was hushed up with connivance of all up the channel. Such instances often lead to a psychology of desperation in a regimented routine. It only rubs further salt into wounds when people with such heinous attitudes are let free.
Camp shootings are mostly resorted to by other ranks who normally feel done in by poor management in units. JCO rank was designed to be an important cog in unit management. Unfortunately, present day JCOs do not measure up to this task. It may be pertinent to mention here that authorization of JCOs in units was doubled as a consequence of cadre review of persons below officers' ranks which was implemented about two decades back. Due thought was not given to this exercise before recommending it for implementation. In fact, it was a classic case of knee jerk reaction by Army in wake of nationwide police agitation then. Increase in authorization of JCOs in units lead to inexperienced men joining this cadre and such a situation continues till date. JCOs are intended to be problem solvers and not to be mere messengers between officers and men- a role they are increasingly performing these days. Hence the distance between men and officers is ever increasing which creates barriers to effective communication. Camp killings are a result of this gap in communication between officers and men. Recruitment of capable young men directly into JCO cadre could well be an answer to this problem. Army seems to dither on this proposal. This step would not only help in improving unit management to desirable levels and relive officers of routine administrative burden thereby reducing their stress level but would also provide a pool of trained manpower to make up the deficiency in officer cadre to some extent.
There is a general drop in moral standards in Army. Corruption, both moral and material, is rampant. Exposes highlighting issues like fake killings for gallantry awards, acts of espionage involving soldiers, illegal sale of petroleum products & canteen stores etc. are beamed on electronic media day in and day out. This disillusions the rank and file no end. Mostly only senior officers are caught in such scams, whether by coincidence or for greed, thus reducing the esteem of this echelon in the eyes of men in uniform. Army needs to spare a thought for its men burdened with domestic problems and working in exacting conditions of combat in an atmosphere vitiated by indifferent man managers and with only corrupt superiors to look up to. Such a situation is bound to drive anyone to despair and camp killings or suicides are compulsive consequences thereof. Army needs to refrain from justifying such a trend by drawing parallels with civil society. Army as an organization is a different ball game all together. Unchecked deterioration in moral standards in army, especially in face of a saturated internal conflict scenario, would cost the nation dearly in none too distant a future. Army has to put in a lot of effort to repair the damage caused to it. Killing sand suicides inside its camps are symptoms of a sick organization. These incidents should serve as a wake up call to all those who matter lest it may be too late to retrieve the situation.
Source: Kashmir Times, June 30th, 2006
Porous Indo-Pak Border - A Flawed Concept
A Flawed Concept
By Yoginder Kandhari
OF late, there has been a lot of talk about making Indo-Pak border porous. One fails to pick a precedent to this concept from history. Obtaining reality points to only two situations - one when a border exists between two countries and the other when none exists. In the context of international law and relations, border between two nations is sacrosanct and it is the designated limit of a country's sovereignty and its civil jurisdiction. Any attempt to alter its status often sparks off a war. Furthermore, no cross border activity is permitted except with established legal authority like passport, visa etc. As a counter argument one could be tempted to cite examples of the status of America's border with Canada and Mexico. But such a comparison would be unfair since there is no recent history of territorial disputes between these countries and, more importantly, there is a convergence of views on issues of strategic interests, both at global and regional levels. Moreover, travel restrictions have been eased consequent to mutual understanding and these relaxations do not in any way impinge upon the territorial integrity of these countries. Situation in case of Indo-Pak relations is entirely different. There is a fifty seven year old history of territorial disputes between these two countries and their strategic interests too are divergent. Pakistan has waged a covert war in Jammu & Kashmir and the Indian state has been bleeding for last fifteen years. Floating concept of porous borders in such a security scenario defies logic, more so when such a proposal comes from India.
It is difficult to understand how this concept of porous Indo-Pak border has gained currency of late. One recollects a faint noise raised about it by a non-resident Kashmiri Muslim towards close of Narasimha Rao government. But nothing more was heard thereafter till Mufti Sayeed took over the reigns of Jammu & Kashmir state and the BJP at the centre went along with him on the issue. Talks are on between India and Pakistan to work out modalities for re-establishing rail link across Rajasthan border, starting a ferry service to Pakistan off Gujarat coast and most importantly easing travel restriction across Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir, which includes re-establishing Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. Notwithstanding the merits or otherwise of restoring such links at other places along Indo-Pak border, any attempt to ease movement across the LoC would have serious long term consequences for Indian strategic interests in the Valley and one can easily discern distinct strands of deep rooted subversion in this concept.
Indian Illusions. The think-tanks in New Delhi are hopeful that easing travel restrictions along LoC and re-opening Muzaffarabad road will be a win-win situation for India in Kashmir. Their assessment is based on four main assumptions; firstly, it would reaffirm Indian sovereignty over Kashmir; secondly, it would erode ceasefire status of the LoC since movement across would be permitted only through legal documents such as passport & visa; thirdly, Kashmiris would travel to Pakistan as Indian citizens; lastly, throttled democratic institutions and economic backwardness of POK would disillusion our Kashmiri Muslims about greener pastures across. These assumptions, however, betray ground realities.
Illusions Defined. Pakistan must have chuckled when India proposed opening of Uri- Muzaffarabad road as a CBM to better bilateral relations. That Pakistan refused to believe that India could commit such a diplomatic faux pas is clear from their reluctant initial response to this proposal. Only after being convinced that India really meant what she proposed did they respond with modalities of implementing such a measure. A critical assessment of the proposal would reveal that it is bereft of political and strategic sagacity. In fact, this retrograde step would impair Indian interests in the Valley in the long run. American connection is evident in this proposal for one can safely assume it to be her first step to gain an independent strategic foothold in the area. Porous Indo-Pak border in Jammu & Kashmir is part of cartographic subversion carefully crafted by the Americans. Other instruments of this design include institutionalizing dual identity or citizenship and establishing trade links between two parts of Kashmir.
Political Implications. Such a measure would have serious political implications both at national and state levels. In Indian context, such a step would sanctify the LoC as de facto international border thus negating the resolution passed, not long ago, by the Indian Parliament that POK is under illegal occupation of Pakistan. It would send signals of political fatigue both to Pakistan and insurgents in Jammu and Kashmir and would be a moral victory for them. For the mainstream Kashmiri politicians, it would be a welcome measure since it brings them closer to fundamentalist Muslim elite who long to usher in an Islamic dispensation in Kashmir. That precisely is the reason why some politicians have been pressing the centre for early opening of Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. No sooner was this CBM proposed by India than PDP-led Jammu & Kashmir Government put up hoardings throughout the Valley announcing opening of Uri-Muzaffarabad road, thus drawing immense political mileage. Creation of euphoria on the issue would impression the gullible that thousands were separated from their near and dear ones by the erstwhile ceasefire line. But the truth of the matter is that cease fire line, or now the LoC, separated mainly the Pahari Muslims from the mainland ones and not many hearts were broken with this divide. It is a recorded fact that not more than a hundred Muslim families migrated to Pakistan or POK at the time of partition or immediately thereafter. This migration was mainly restricted to political rivals of Sheikh Abdullah, like Molvi Yusuf Shah, for fear of reprisals. For the Muslim elite too such a measure would be a boon for it would reaffirm Muslim identity and Islamic consciousness in the Valley. Thus the logic that restoration of Uri-Muzarrabad link would unite the long separated cousins and that peace would prevail in the Valley is unfounded.
Sheikh Abdullah used emotional blackmail of Kashmiri Muslims as a tool to firm his grip on Kashmir politics. He was clever enough to personally remain away from this deft stratagem by using Plebiscite Front to brandish Kashmiri separatist symbols of 'green flag', 'rock salt' and 'opening of Muzaffarabad road'. Thus he retained political options. For an average Kashmiri, fed on Islamic fundamentalism, these symbols remain sanctified even today. Any attempt to re-open Uri-Muzaffarabad road link would be interpreted as advantage Kashmiri Muslims in their 'struggle' against Indian nation and that suites Pakistan's long-term designs.
Indian establishment's reasoning that allowing Kashmiris to travel to Pakistan would expose them to under-development in PoK and economic backwardness of people there is not based on sound appraisal of the ground realities. Much that Kashmir experts want us to believe that under-development and unemployment are the main reason for the current upheaval in the Valley, one needs to understand that this postulation is far from truth. In pure economic terms, average Kashmiri's lot is much better than that of an average Indian. If feeling of economic deprivation is the sole reason for all the ills in the Kashmiri society today, then why should we allow Kashmiri Muslims to seek a reference frame in POK and not in Bihar where people are steeped in abject poverty? If economic well-being is the main criteria to develop liberal outlook in people then Muslims settled in France for long would not have agitated over an order banning headscarves in French schools. We must be candid enough to accept that Islamic society is a closed system wherein intra community socialization is easier irrespective of obtaining economic dispensation. The issues at stake are not as simple as these appear to be. Proponents of porous border in Jammu & Kashmir need to understand that almost every family in Muzaffarabad and Mirpur has a member staying in Europe or America and huge remittances by them have immensely raised the living standards in these areas. How such an economic scenario disillusions Indian Kashmiri Muslims remains a moot point. Mirpur's non-resident Pakistanis wield considerable influence in power corridors of their adopted countries and have been in the forefront fomenting and financing militancy in Kashmir valley. They have largely been responsible to bring the Kashmir issue into international focus, especially so after eruption of insurgency in the Valley.
Implications on Trade & Commerce. Intriguingly, subversive lobbies have started raking up that Kashmiri Muslim traders are being discriminated against in Indian markets. Point to note here is that this issue has been raised at a time when India is seriously considering opening Uri-Muzaffarabad road link. The intent in this case is quite clear. Once this road link is established Kashmir's trade route will be diverted through Jhelum valley thus starving Jammu region of the benefits of trade transit worth 600 cr. annually. Pakistani government is likely to provide all possible assistance to Kashmiris to promote this trade route in order to gradually increase latter's economic and commercial dependence on her. Needless to emphasize that commercial dependence often leads to greater socialization and consequences of such a scenario can well be imagined.
Strategic Implications. Strategic foresight has never been the forte of Indian establishment. One shudders to imagine strategic consequences of making LoC porous. How can the establishment think of porous borders in present security scenario wherein insurgency shows no signs of abating? India has been fighting a low intensity conflict in the Valley for the last fifteen years which is assisted by Pakistan and foreign mercenaries who infiltrate through the very LoC, at present heavily manned by the Indian Army, which India proposes to perforate. Indian strategists appear to have run out of ideas and are desperate to change their policies no matter what the consequences are.
As a consequence of rendering the border porous, Pakistan is bound to launch demographic subversion all along LoC, especially in Jammu and Ladakh regions and along Chenab valley. This would ensure that population in these strategically sensitive regions turns hostile to Indian interests. Demand for establishing ‘Chenab Hill Council’ is already gaining ground and nefarious convergence in the emerging scenario can easily be discerned if events are perceived in totality. It is no secret that a large number of Molvies from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have already settled in Kashmir valley, Jammu city and border districts. Most of them have obtained permanent resident certificates, while the rest have purchased huge benami assets. Role of these Molvis in spreading Islamic fundamentalism in Kashmir valley can not be ignored in context of current armed uprising there. What stops Pakistan in sneaking in such elements in large numbers through porous border to facilitate her design of wresting Kashmir from India? Insurgent movement is bound to gain immense initiative against security forces and India would thus be forced on to the backfoot. Covert domination of Chenab valley by Pakistan would render India's defences untenable even in Jammu region thus paving the way for ultimate secession of entire state of Jammu and Kashmir from Indian union.
Conclusion. Porous border as a concept, unfortunately, has the backing of a section of Indian elite who continue to wield considerable influence in corridors of power in New Delhi. This lobby, to force Indian government to commit such a strategic mistake, is drumming up that insistence of GoI on proper travel documents is 'untenable'. Pakistan is fully aware of it and is likely to exploit this Indian dilemma to her advantage. This concept, if implemented, is a perfect recipe for strategic hara-kiri by India for it is full of flaws and contradictions.
Kashmir Insurgency - Indian State Ignored Prodromal Symptoms
By Yoginder Kandhari
MUCH before the armed Islamic fundamentalists took on the might of Indian security forces in Kashmir, in the winter of 1989; broad hints of impending catastrophe were lurking ominously in the Valley's firmament. While analyzing reasons leading to the outbreak of insurgency in Kashmir; experts have often been myopic to restrict the scope of their study to trends and events emerging from 1987 onwards. Most analysts hold the line that large scale rigging during elections in 1987 was the main reason for the Valley to plunge into an era of darkness and destruction. Not many have tried to unwind intricacies of a continuous process of subversion, which has been in place in the Valley, right since the time J&K state acceded to India.
Background: Contrary to common belief that insurgency was a spontaneous consequence of rigged elections of 1987, one needs to understand that an insurgency of the magnitude which India has been contending in the Valley could not have been launched in a matter of just a couple of years. It, surely, needs more than a decade to conceive, propagate, plan and execute an armed struggle of the scale as has been unleashed in the Valley. To do justice to the subject, it is essential to trace history of Kashmir back to pre-partition days when Sheikh Abdullah's Muslim Conference took on the last of Dogra rulers. This confrontation was an unambiguous reassertion of Muslim identity. That the Sheikh opted for accession to India than to Pakistan was as much a matter of political expediency as a first firm step of a greater design of gradual secession of the State from Indian Union on his own terms. Thus, the seed of secessionism was sown right at the dawn of India's independence. It would be naive to de-link events thereafter from those responsible for eruption of current insurgency in the Valley. The two time-periods are extremes of the same continuum. In the interim period process of Islamisation of the polity and, more importantly, the bureaucracy continued unhindered. During this period subversive mechanisms got institutionalized and, in hind sight, it can safely be inferred to have been an important link in their scheme of things.
Return of the Sheikh: Sheikh Abdullah's return to the helm of the State in 1975 was held out to be his political rehabilitation. It, in fact, turned into an opportunity for him to culminate the process of subversion he had initiated in his first tenure. This is borne out by a number of events which unfolded immediately after his second coronation. Few commentators have highlighted the fact that Sheikh was too lenient in his disposition towards Jammat-e-Islami during his second innings, particularly after 1979-80. It was not as if he admired the Islamist organization but it suited his larger game-plan. It may be pertinent to mention here that hectic parleys were held by some international Muslim players to broker an agreement between Jamaat and the Sheikh. In 1980, Rabita, an international Muslim fundamentalist organization with its headquarters in Saudi Arabia, intervened in Kashmir to arrive at an agreement wherein Sheikh was allowed to retain hegemony in Kashmir politics provided he shunned his hostility towards Jamaat and gave it a free hand in pursuit of its larger designs. This explains why anti-Zia-ul-Haq sentiment, which had swept the Valley immediately after Z.A. Bhutto's hanging, dramatically changed into pro- Zia euphoria.
It is surprising why visits by Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief and Madina University's Rector to the Valley, during 1980, did not raise hackles in New Delhi's intelligence circles. Obviously, these emissaries from the Muslim world were on a serious mission to give direction to pan-Islamic game-plan of wresting 'Muslim' Kashmir from India. During this period, Saudi King's sister is also believed to have stayed in Rajbag, Srinagar, as guest of a leading Kashmiri businessman, for a year to ensure that new found rapprochement between the Sheikh and the Jamaat was not derailed by Indian intelligence agencies. Saudi dinars are believed to have flooded the Valley during early eighties to finance a fundamentalist dispensation which was to rear its head in its ugliest form a decade later. During the same period, neither the visit of Amanullah Khan to Pahalgam and Srinagar nor those of Mr. Nelson Rockfeller, followed by Charlton Heston, famous actor doubling up as roving ambassador of Ronald Reagon, were mere coincidences. Amanullah Khan provided the Pakistani content to the nefarious negotiations, while Rockfeller and Heston completed the American arm of the pincer intended to dismember India. Thus, Sheikh's return to seat of power in J&K ushered in an era of overt subversion and sabotage of Indian interests in the Valley.
Janta Party Government: Janta Government's role needs to be put under scanner for callous omissions in its Kashmir policy. Janta Party leaders, keen to settle political scores, dismantled India's intelligence network in Pakistan built over decades through meticulous planning and political vision by the redoubtable Pandit Ram Nath Kao. This was convenient both to Pakistan and to Sheikh's larger game plan. It remains a mystery as to what prompted Janta Government to discontinue practice of regular feedbacks from the Kashmir Divisional Commissioner directly to the centre, thus leaving field open for anti India conspiracies. Ram Nath Kao, founder of RAW, was denigrated by Janta regime, thus demoralizing the cadres of this premier intelligence agency. Consequently RAW's grip on Kashmir affair weakened much to the comfort of subversive forces in the Valley.
In 1979, again under Janta dispensation, Sheikh Tajam-ul- Islam formed Jamaat-e-Tulba. It is no secret that this outfit played a critical role in building a firm infrastructure for Islamist uprising, witnessed a decade later in Kashmir. Thus, it is not difficult to figure out why Pakistan's highest civilian award, 'Nishan-e-Pakistan’, was conferred on Morarji Desai.
Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan: Erstwhile Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan, in 1979 shortened the run up of Islamist forces to unleash insurgency in Kashmir. Indira Gandhi, to her credit, had cautioned the then Soviet leadership of the consequences of such misadventure. But destiny willed it otherwise and Pakistan reemerged as a frontline state in American scheme of things. Afghan pipeline inundated Pakistan with arms and funds. It was a God sent opportunity for Pakistan to put its diabolical Kashmir policy in place and who else could script it better than Zia-ul-Haq, a master strategist. If Soviet Union had not involved itself in Afghanistan militarily, it can safely be assumed that armed uprising in Kashmir, though inevitable, would have been delayed at least by a decade.
Militancy in Punjab: In keeping with his shrewd tactical acumen, Zia-ul-Haq did not want to reveal his Kashmir cards until the ground was fertile enough in the Valley for launch of a successful insurgency. Rise and sway of fundamentalist forces was increasing and Zia chose to wait for the opportune moment. As a deception he chose to destabilize Punjab. His game-plan succeeded as Indian government got embroiled in Punjab while ISI dumped arms and ammunition in vale of Kashmir with impunity. "Punjab was just a diversion while Kashmir remains the main objective of Pakistan" was a prophetic observation made by Late Girilal Jain, a noted journalist, as early as in 1984.
Islamisation of Administration & Obliterating Hindu Linkages in Kashmir:The process of Islamisation of all instruments of the state continued unabated. In a carefully calculated policy Hindus were denied employment and promotions in state administration thus purging the system of Indian ‘moles’. It is no secret that Allahwale, a fundamentalist outfit, spread its reach to corridors of power in Kashmir with its ideology seeping deep into the roots of state administration. Establishing a mosque within the secretariat premises, in Srinagar, was its first manifestation. Jamaat and Allahwaleideology permeated into the police force as well, weaving an extensive grid of subversive cells in this important arm of state administration. This network later worked hand in glove with terrorists thus frustrating efforts of security forces to decimate their influence in initial stages of militancy. Even cultural subversion continued unhindered under the Sheikh regime. Citing administrative reasons, old historical names of 682 villages in Kashmir were changed to Islamic ones. This was done to please the new found ally,Jammat-e-Islami, which was hell bent upon severing all Hindu linkages of Kashmir to India. In mid-eighties, hardcore fundamentalist cadres were brazenly absorbed in state administration to facilitate subversion. During G. M. Shah's tenure two armed police battalions were raised mainly from people owing allegiance to Jamaat-e-Islami. Besides, the premature removal of M. M. Khajuria, DG State Police, some believe at the behest of pro-Jamaatelements in administration, hastened subversion of the police setup. Why Jagmohan, the then Governor of the state, remained a mute spectator to unabashed Islamisation and subversion of the state setup remains a moot point till date. All the more baffling was his decision to recall Peer Ghulam Hassan Shah, who as DG state police was the architect of Islamizing the police force in 1984, as his advisor when the former was brought back, in 1990, as Governor of the troubled State.
Battle Indications Neglected: Credible information was available with intelligence agencies that an armed uprising in the Valley was in the offing. Way back in 1983, intelligence operatives in Kupwara had alerted their bosses about a batch of twenty youth having crossed over to Pakistan for arms training. Similarly in 1984, a journalist reported crossing over of a group of Kashmiri students from Poonch to Pakistan. This journalist was almost fired from his job by the national news agency, for which he worked, for filing this report. When a local journalist, of a vernacular daily, filed a story about subversive activities going on in the Valley in 1983, a leading English daily dubbed the journalist as 'terrorist in media'. Why the intelligence mandarins and those in corridors of power in New Delhi chose to turn a blind eye to these battle indications defies logic.
Conclusion: Indian state failed to read the writing on the wall. The tragedy with all our institutional apparatuses, whether state or otherwise, is that these refuse to believe what they see and wallow in a make believe world of their own. That basically is the reason why preparations for the insurgency in the Valley did not invite state action. This strategic lethargy has been exploited to the hilt by our enemy, both without and within, and unfortunately such an approach continues even today. That is why policies formulated by GoI to contain terrorism end up strengthening subversion itself. Cost of this neglect of prodromal symptoms of insurgency by the Indian state is being paid by the frontline victims and Indian security personnel.
The Mice Trap
By Yoginder Kandhari
As usual, Kashmir Valley was in a grip of a freezing cold wave in January 1995 too. Since any major success against militants had eluded us for quite a long time it made matters colder for us. Pressure to ‘perform’ was increasing from the higher echelons. In fact, troops took time to adjust to the new role of mounting sustained counter-insurgency (CI) operations after a period of protected employment on road opening duties on Srinagar-Leh road. Road opening has always been an extracting routine, physically as well as psychologically, affording very little freedom of action to rejuvenate the morale. Whole of the preceding month had been consumed in familiarizing with own area of responsibility. This area included Ganderbal town which has, till date, retained its notoriety as a hot bed of militancy. Since it was the first time troops stayed on in the Ganderbal area after road closure, intelligence compendium of the area was conspicuous by its absence. Our operational imperatives were thus self defining and establishing a responsive intelligence network was priority one task for us no matter how much pressure was built on us to ‘perform’.
We were located at Zakura and our area of responsibility extended much beyond Ganderbal. Ganderbal town and area beyond was dominated by the Hizbul Majahideen(HM) cadres. However, area south of Ganderbal had a fair representation of almost all militant groups including the then newly surfaced Harkat- ul- Ansar. Al Umar was the dominant group in the villages located at the foot hills east of Srinagar-Leh road while HM dominated the area west of it.
Intelligence Inputs: Local connections helped us to establish an effective intelligence gathering mechanism. In retrospect, one feels satisfied that this network provided us real time and actionable intelligence many a times that lead us to a number of recoveries and successes during our stay in the area. It was on 20th January 95, while on a routine visit through the area, a young boy passed on a crumpled ball of paper to me. I immediately sensed that information channels had started opening up no matter what the status of the information would be. This piece of paper turned out to be a latter, written in Urdu, giving a detailed account about the militant group operative in village Bakra. It was written by a girl who appeared to be a victim of this very militant group. Surprisingly, drafting of the letter was so deliberate that it could match an intelligence summary produced by any competent combat headquarters. Details in the letter provided a wealth of information that helped us to plan and execute the intended operation in Bakra with precision.
Planning: A tactical lull was observed on 21st and 22nd January. This period was utilized to corroborate available information and to plan the operation in detail. During the planning stage, emphasis was laid on retention of surprise and rehearsals so as to ensure meticulous execution of the plan. A deception was also planned to outwit the militants. A source was tasked to create a hoax about a cordon operation, on 22 January, in a village adjacent to the targeted one. A young boy made an announcement from the public address system, of the village mosque, urging people to congregate as was the routine during all cordon and search operations. The trick, while passing off as a childish prank, had the intended effect of setting in required complacency in the people in general and the militant in particular.
Execution: Cordon and search of Bakra was planned for 23rd January. At sharp 4 a.m., I along with three JCOs and just 24 men moved out of camp stealthy to approach the village cross-country, carefully avoiding populated areas enroute. Moon lit up the whole area which appeared to be covered with a snow white blanket. With white rooftops, Bakra stood out in the horizon. Establishing cordon was comparatively easy in the moon lit night. Wide gaps between the stops could easily be covered visually and by fire. There always lurked the danger of own movement being detected and consequent loss of surprise. Cordon was effectively established within an hour and we all waited for the day break. At about 7.30 a.m., an announcement was made from the village mosque telling people to congregate in the village school compound. To our surprise, people started trooping in quickly at the appointed place. I could feel the glitter in the eyes of our spotter who kept a close watch on people passing by him. He segregated five young men and whispered to me that all of them were confirmed militants. The deception plan seemed to have worked for militants had not expected an actual cordon operation just a day after the hoax.
As soon as these segregated people were taken for questioning, one out of them walked upto me. He identified himself as Moshin Khan and admitted that he was an Afghanistan trained militant. Fearing rough treatment, he was quick to bear his back to show us torches marks inflicted upon him by his local militant commander (now a very prominent counter insurgent). He was quick to handover his pistol and two magazines with 16 rounds of ammunition. He further confirmed that all the other four men, spotted by our spotter, were active and dreaded militants. Taking Moshin Khan away from the flock, all the four were questioned individually. First to break was Nikka. He led us inside the village mosque from where we recovered one hand grenade and a radio set. Nikka, barely sixteen year old, had participated in a number of actions against security forces. He bore a six inches long post- surgery scar on his abdomen. Nikka had been shot in the abdomen during an inter-militant group clash.
Gula was next to a break. He took us to a hut located on the periphery of the village. On his instance, we dug up the floor inside to recover an 84 mm motor shell, an IED activator, batteries, camping kit etc. This shell was possibly to be used as an IED at a later date. Thereafter, we concentrated on the fourth member of the gang, namely Hassan Raida. After a great deal of resistance he finally broke down to hand over his AK-47 Rifle, two magazines and 60 rounds of ammunition. He had hidden his weapon inside hay stacked in the mosque premises. The weapon had a round loaded in the chamber and was ready to be fired. He appeared to have held back his fire at the eleventh hour and strangely deciding to join the villagers for the identification parade.
Babloo, the last of the group, was the most difficult nut to crack. It took us quite a bit of effort to obtain his weapon. Finally, he too gave up and led us to a shop adjacent to the village mosque. We managed to recover two AK-47 rifles, 4 magazines and 164 rounds of ammunition from him.
This operation led us to recovery of three AK -47 rifles with six magazines and 224 rounds of ammunition, one pistol with two magazines and sixteen rounds of ammunition, one live 84 mm motor shell one hand grenade one radio set other IED detention kit and camping equipment etc. It was huge haul by any estimates. Complete tactical group of five militants, of Al Umar outfit, was rounded up without a bullet being fired. This operation was hailed by all and sundry including the locals of the area. Suddenly, pressure to perform vanished and an era of successes ushered in. Intelligence network, built so assiduously, started paying dividends.
As we were pulling out of Bakra, I could see all the five militants hurdled together in a vehicle like mice inside a trap. As these militants were driven past the village womenfolk they were showered mouths-full of abuses. In no time, these heroes were relegated to the status of petting criminals.
Operation Darind - A Lightening Raid - Counter-Insurgency Operations in Kashmir
By Yoginder Kandhari
Militants in Kashmir Valley always framed their own rules of the combat game. Their activities often subsided during winter months as much for closure of passes as for severity of cold. Unfortunately, security forces never exploited this combat procrastination, on the part of militants, so as to seize tactical initiative which mostly sides with the later in low intensity combat situations. Winter months often gave one an impression of an undeclared truce between the two sides, militants, on one hand, staying away from combat out of tactical compulsion of conserving manpower and material, while, on the other hand, there would be a virtual cessation of operations by security forces with their higher echelons conspicuous by their absence on ‘winter‘leave, almost en mass. During winter months, combat management was left to the wisdom of junior commanders who were unwilling to take any chances since their initiatives had been blunted by confused higher commanders who refused to stand by their subordinates in crisis situations conjured up by the third dimension of insurgency, the human rights bogey. It may be pertinent to mention here that security forces often reaped handsome dividends whenever they kept up momentum of counter-insurgency operation through the winter months. But such instances were very few to come by and the raid launched by our troops in village Darind is one such instance to substantiate this observation.
The month of February in year 1995 was no different since both climatic temperature and militant activities had frozen. Even intelligence inputs, through formal channels, had dried up. One could keep oneself abreast of only localized militant activities and that too through local contacts. Our column of troops was located at Zakura on Srinagar-Leh road. Right from the onset of militancy in 1990 and upto 1994, Zakura was only a summer location for troops tasked to keep Srinagar-Leh road open for winter stocking in Leh sector. However, in 1994 we were ordered to stay back in the area even after closure of Srinagar-Leh road and were tasked to dominate the area during winter months. Our area of responsibility included the highway stretch from Zakura to Nunar in the North and the area to the east of this road stretch. Area to the west of the road was under operational responsibility of Border Security Force. Our area included notorious places like Ganderbal, Malshahi Bagh, Darind, Rangil and the mountainous range to the east of the highway. In fact, domination of Ganderbal was strategically vital since most infiltration routes passed through it and militants were free to wander any where in the Valley provided they managed to screen off their movement through this area. Quite naturally, Ganderbal, and the areas around it, had a large presence of militants who would stage-manage smooth transiting of militants by engaging security forces in frequent fire fights. Needless to say that security forces would often party over a militant killed or a weapon captured but would be blissfully ignorant of groups of heavily armed militants sneaking past just under their very nose. Hence, it was essential to neutralize the local cadres of militants if we were to upset their larger design. Having been ordered to stay back in Zakura and with our combat responsibilities defined, one got down to establishing a reliable intelligence network in order to gain real time information about the militants.
Adjacent to our location, in Zakura, was another column of troops whose area of responsibility was to south of Zakura astride the highway. Commander of this column, a gentle man from south India, faced enormous difficulties in cultivating local sources for obvious reasons. That this column had no success to show was no aspersion on its professional ability or sincerity. One could not help but empathize with column commander’s dilemma and to assist him in all possible ways. Initially, he was skeptical about my offers for combat leaders in the Valley mostly wanted to ride on others’ shoulders to corner glory. One must admit, to his credit, that he was quickly to discern sincerity in my offers and readily agreed to coordinate our efforts in the larger interest. Initially, our joint efforts did not yield results. In fact, militants would often get prior information about our plans and pre-empt our raids or cordon operations. It did not take us long to find out that a JCO of the neighboring column was a bit too loud with our operational secrets. This compelled us to withhold operational plans till the very last moment and the results started pouring in.
Intelligence inputs: One had been getting inputs from locals about presence of section strength of Hizb -ul- Mujahideen (HM) militants comprising of their commander and five others. Starved of funds from across the border during winter months, this section had been on rampage to raise funds for Jihad. Locals were fed up because of their persistent demands for cash. This precisely was the reason why locals shared information with us. Ghulam Nabi, alias Sahib Dandana, the section commander, belonged to a village atop the mountain range over looking Rangil, Dardind and Malshahi Bagh. Sufi saint Baba Dariyadin’s Ziyarat is located in this village. The village itself is known as Baba Dariyadin. Though this village had a number of hideouts, yet these Jihadis would come down to the foot hills in search of food and funds. They would normally enjoy the morning sun in Rangil Water Works Complex (see sketch). Located on a high ground, this Complex provided them domination, by observation, over the area. A number of attempts by us to apprehend or eliminate these militants failed because of this tactical advantage to militants. As soon as the troops would peel off the highway on road to Rangil or Malshant Bagh, militants, forewarned of our intentions, would melt into nearby villages. Naturally, we had to plan with ingenuity to offset this tactical disadvantage.
Plan: The plan envisaged a swift vehicle based movement by the sister column through Rangil to raid the Water Works Complex. In conjunction with this operation, my column was to undertake routine patrolling of the highway towards Ganderbal and then turn back to launch a lightening raid in village Dardind, hoping to catch fleeing militants unawares. In order to increase chances of militants being channelized into village Darind consequent to raid on Water Works Complex, a deception plan was conceived. Prior to actual operations our two columns jointly dominated Rangil and Malshahi Bagh by raiding all known militant hideouts therein and deliberately leaving village Darind untouched. A local militant, belonging to Malshahi bagh, helped us in locating the hideouts and he was to be used as ‘spotter’ during the intended operations. In order to ensure that plan was not leaked out by overenthusiastic troops, I decided to keep the plan to myself till the very last
Execution: February 4th, 1995 was selected as D-day. I called the neighbouring commander a day before and requested him to launch a swift raid on Rangil Water Work Complex the next day. In interest of secrecy, I withheld all other operational details from him. At the appointed time, both the columns moved out of their locations on respective missions. I retained radio control of the joint mission. As planned, my columns moved towards Ganderbal area. To my surprise, I found that another battalion had launched a cordon and search operation in Ganderbal. That we had no prior information about this operation in itself speaks volumes about poor coordination between various troops of same organization; leave aside total absence of coordination between different security agencies.
On confirmation that other column had reached the target area, I requested him to stay put in the Complex till further instructions. I turned back and wanted to head straight for village Darind. On my way back, I was stopped by the troops who had launched operation in Ganderbal. They requested assistance of my ‘spotter’. Reluctantly, I agreed to loan him for half an hour. In hindsight, this delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
For the final execution of the raid, I took on the wheels. Besides the ‘spotter’ my personal security guard and driver were traveling in my vehicle. We were followed by a heavier vehicle carrying a JCO and seven other ranks, all ready to jump to action. As soon as I reached Darind junction, I speedily turned my vehicle onto the track leading to Draind. I managed to speed through the muddy village track. At the dead end of the village we spotted two militants, barely five meters away from us, basking in the sun. Our delay at Ganderbal had helped us by lulling these two Jihadis into a tactical complacency. Startled, both took position behind an electric pole, aiming at us point blank. I accelerated my vehicle and sped menacingly towards them in a bid to unnerve them and, hoping like hell, to disturb their aim. This bold action worked. Instead of firing at us they took to their heels. Before we could manage ourselves out of the vehicle, one of them threw his weapon and vanished out of our sight. My driver chased him leaving me stranded and unarmed in this hostile area. He had picked my AK rifle from the vehicle in a flash. Later, it was revealed that my driver had not collected his weapon before leaving the camp. Soon enough, I saw other vehicle struggling up the slushy track. Subedar Sohan Lal, always an asset in a combat situation, swiftly swung into action. He picked up the abandoned weapon and fanned his troops to look for the second militant. Interestingly, inside a house he discovered an innocent looking man panting heavily and engaged in embroidery work. This aroused his suspicious. Spot frisking and snap interrogation revealed him to be much sought after Gulam Nabi, the selection commander. Besides apprehending him we also recovered two AK47 rifles, six AK magazines, 162 live rounds and eight hand grenades. We launched a thorough search for the second militant in the area but all in vain. He probably managed to sneak out of our sight through numerous undulations in the ground. Having abandoned his weapon, he in any case was a liability for his Tanzim. We gave up the search. Sure enough, this militant was summarily executed by his own colleagues for sowing timidity and for failure to pay up a huge amount for losing his weapon.
With Ghulam Nabi in our custody, we had a lot more to achieve which we did but I reserve those details for some other time.
Omar's rehabilitation Policy - Firming Up Insurgency and Separatism
By Yoginder Kandhari
Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, has announced that his government intends to bring back ‘misguided’ Kashmiri youth who have crossed over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Pakistan, obviously for arms training, during two decades of insurgency in the Valley. He attempts to score a political brownie point over the Mufti father-daughter duo, his vociferous political opponents in the Kashmir Valley. It may be recalled that a proposal to bring ‘disillusioned’ Kashmiri youth back to their homes had earlier been mooted by the senior Mufti but then, rightly so, there were no takers in the Union government for this largesse to those who were waging a war against the nation. However, this time both Omar and Chidambaram claim to be on the same page albeit the wrong one. What strategic foresight has prompted centre to bite the Omar bait, especially in the current surcharged security scenario in the region, is anyone’s guess. Interestingly, Nasir.A. Wani, a close friend of the Chief Minister and also a minister in his cabinet, has come out in support of Omar’s rehabilitation policy by drawing a bizarre analogy between the rehabilitation policy for militants and that for the Kashmiri Pandits who were forced into exile at gun point by these very Omar’s ‘misguided’ boys.
In an attempt to steal some sheen out of Omar’s latest move, separatists were quick to reject ‘surrender’ component of his proposal since it would paint their cohorts as losers in the ongoing Jihad to liberate Kashmir. Strangely, Omar did a u-turn to re-christen his dice as ‘rehabilitation only’ policy. One wonders how insurgents can be rehabilitated without handing over their arms and, more importantly, abjuring cult of violence and religious intolerance which they espouse. It all points to a very disturbing scenario wherein Omar, unwittingly, appears to be furthering separatists’ agenda. Such a proposal, if implemented, would adversely impact security, political and social context in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the nation as a whole.
Current Security Scenario. Of late, there has been a steep increase in the number of encounters between militants and the security forces in the State, stand off grenade attacks and militancy related deaths. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), this year up, to 7th March, there already have been 64 fatalities which include 43 terrorists, 14 security personnel and seven civilians. After a gap of almost two years a fidayeen attack took place at Lal Chowk, the heart of the summer capital of the State. Infiltration by terrorists from across the International Border (IB) and Line of Control (LoC) in J&K is also on the rise. According to official sources, year 2009 recorded 485 incidents of infiltration as against 342 in 2008 thus registering an increase of 30% while security agencies estimate that more than 300 terrorists have crossed over to this side. During first two months of this year, militants made 25 attempts to infiltrate into our side in conjunction with five ceasefire violations by Pakistani forces, ostensibly to cover infiltrations by some important militants groups. As per available official data (up to November 2009) 273 terrorists sneaked back to Pakistan, 93 were killed during infiltration attempts while 152 of them were neutralized across the state. State government estimates that about 600-800 terrorists are currently operating in the State. These figures present a gory scenario. To complicate the matters further, in 2009, UPA government pulled out 30,000 troops from twin border districts of Rajouri and Poonch leaving majority of 50 identified infiltration routes thinly guarded. All these events do not foretell a rosy summer for our security forces. At this juncture, talking about the return of the youth, whose faculties would sure have been Talibanized to the last strand, from across the border will be suicidal for our national interests.
A spate of public protests and repeated incidents of stone pelting indicate that the insurgency in the Valley has graduated into a more complex phase manifesting comprehensive assaults against the state authority and mass mobilization campaigns, aptly termed as ‘Agitational Terrorism’ by Lt. Gen. B. S. Jamwal, General Officer Commanding- in- Chief of Army’s Northern Command. Recently, Mr. N. K.Tripathi, Special Director CRPF, Jammu & Kashmir Zone, on February 2010, revealed how terrorist regimes were crafting public demonstrations and protests in conjunction with focused violence. He added that Pakistan’s covert agencies were hiring Kashmiris to pelt stones on security forces. Ajaat Jamwal, in his essay ‘From Terrorism to Agitational Terrorism in Kashmir’ published in South Asia Intelligence Review, says “Agitational terrorism is a far more sophisticated phenomenon than is currently being recognized by the authorities. Over ground support structures of terrorism including separatist and religious extremist political formations, civil rights NGOs, media organizations, subversive elements within the Government, international organizations operating from various countries in the West, have all been cast into roles in this campaign. Public protests andhertals (strikes) have been transformed into an assault on the credibility and symbols of the state.”
Impediments. From the security stand point, challenges to implement this policy would be manifold. Firstly, database of the persons who have crossed over to the other side of the border is not available with any state agency. Even the figures projected by the State government are vague and its estimate ranges anything from 4,000 to 10,000. In such a situation what stops ISI and Jihadists from sending across battle ready terrorist via this route especially since, in the words of M.J. Akbar, a noted columnist, “….who has identified the proposed prodigals as authentic? They did not leave their names and address with the Intelligence Bureau in Srinagar when they went off to prepare for their holy war. There are no special genetic traits that differentiate Kashmiris on either side of LoC. The Pakistani government did not control this lot directly. They were outsourced to outfits like the Jamaat-e-Islami and Lashkar-e-Toiba, so only people who would know a genuine cross-border warrior from a home grown one would be Jamaat or LeT. Would Delhi honour certificates handed out by LeT?” It, indeed, is a valid argument.
Secondly, it is difficult to imagine the type of mechanism that would be put in place to ascertain whether there has been a genuine change of heart among those craving to return home. A mere plea by some of them to Omar Abdullah, during his recent Pakistan visit, does not certify their genuineness. Surrendering of arms alone is not a guarantee that they would not relapse into armed rebellion against the state.
Thirdly, one can well imagine fatal consequences of housing a pool of 4000 to 10000 fully trained and indoctrinated people amongst our middle. We need to learn our lessons well from recent history. Post independence, first attempt to militarize separatist sentiment in Kashmir was emergence ofAl Fatah immediately after the Sacred Relic Agitation in 1963 when massive protests were witnessed in the Valley. It was for the first time that the separatists in the Valley realized that there existed a military option too to achieve their goal. Pakistan launched its second mission in 1965 to annex Kashmir and she was banking on the local support orchestrated by Al Fatah to achieve her goal. As is history now, this misadventure failed and Al Fatah had to lie low for a long time. Subsequently, its cadre was rehabilitated in the mainstream by the successive governments in the State under the pretext that it had abjured violence and the separatist ideology. Some of its members were absorbed in state apparatus thus enabling separatists to institutionalize their struggle. Their strategy was to join the system to wreck it from within to achieve the ultimate goal. It needs to be understood that the strong foundations for the current armed insurgency was laid by Al Fatah cadre entrenched within the State establishment itself.
Consequences. One needs to place the proposed rehabilitation policy in context of current security situation in the Valley. With an alarming rise in incidents of infiltration, increase in militant encounters and agitational terrorism gaining popular support, rehabilitation of Omar’s boys may prove to a be the catalyst to foment another massive upheaval in the Valley leading to a powerful civil struggle, as witnessed in early 1990s in Eastern Europe, which would ultimately culminate in secession of Kashmir from Indian Union. One only hopes the political class and security think tanks in New Delhi have factored in all these possibilities before conceding to Omar’s move unless some larger consensus has already been arrived at.
Political & Social Implications
It is an established fact that revival of the political process in the State was greatly helped by the militants who voluntarily surrendered to the security forces and joined the mainstream. Despite severe reprisal against their families and relatives by militant organizations these genuinely reformed militants remained steadfast in their commitment to Indian nation and helped her re-establishing its authority in the State. Unfortunately, such people have been forsaken both by the Sate and the Central governments. Without any patronage from the very state that they helped re-establish its authority, a large number of them and their kith and kin were killed or threatened with dire consequences so much so that most of them had to shift their families out of the Valley and in many cases out of the State. One fails to understand why Omar Abdullah or Chidambaram have not cared to rehabilitate them before seeking amnesty for those who are still in Pakistan and whose credentials are yet to be established. Obviously, there is a compulsion to fast track rehabilitation of those who are still armed and discard those who abjured violence long back and proved beyond any doubt their loyalty to the nation.
Equating latest rehabilitation policy with the rehabilitation schemes drawn for Kashmiri Pandits is a weird justification. Mr. Wani must remember that Kashmiri Pandits did not take up arms against the state nor did they go to Pakistan for any training. He is trivializing a human tragedy caused by the very people whose case he is pleading. Such a comparison has serious undertones and should not be considered as political naivety. Given Wani’s proximity to the Chief Minister, it appears that the Sate government wants to project Omar’s boys as victims of militancy- they could have suffered only at the hands of security forces- and internationally displaced people as a consequence. It is an attempt to internationalize this issue and that can have serious ramifications.
Return of Omar’s prodigals is bound to reignite secessionist urge within the Valley. They would constitute a viable force to reinforce mass uprising in conjunction with a vigorous armed struggle for Kashmir to wither from India. It would be a sure-shot recipe to firm up insurgency and the separatist sentiment in the Valley. May be it is time for people who matter in New Delhi to wake up.