Has The Nation Forgotten Kashmir?

Between the multiplying rainbows of Shaheen Baghs all over the country and new waves of mass non-violent protests, the resounding defeat of hate politics and the victory of AAP’s s welfare agenda of health, education, bijli and paani in Delhi, and new videos of unprecedented police brutality on students in Jamia right inside the reading rooms the library, has the nation forgotten Kashmir, under a military and communication lockdown since August 5, 2019?

Has the world too chosen to allow the BJP regime get away with the total violation of the Indian Constitution in Kashmir, the denial of fundamental rights, and the continued detention under draconian laws of three former chief ministers, and scores of others, on flimsy and bizzare grounds?

Surely, all indications are there that in the frozen white expanse of the Valley, with the snow still refusing to melt, the simmering angst and anger at the grave injustice done to its 8 million people remain etched like a dark and relentless memory in infinite bad faith. And this memory moves in a circle of tragedy, outrage and despair, beyond the ruling regime’s rhetoric of ‘national security and terrorism’, troubling the democratic conscience of the nation and the world. The undiplomatic behavior of the current regime has not helped matters.

This has been starkly reflected in the rejection of visa to British Labour Party MP Debbie Abrahams. She was allegedly denied entry into India and was “deported” at the Delhi airport on Monday after landing there. Her e-visa, surprisingly, was rejected. Chairperson of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Kashmir, the British MP has alleged that she was indeed “treated like a criminal”. She said the immigration officer was rude and aggressive, and shouted at her — “come with me”.

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She had apparently written a letter as a chair of the British group on Kashmir, to the Indian envoy, expressing serious concern on the abrogation of Article 370 in Kashmir. If that be the reason for her ‘deportation’ in such humiliating conditions, then it only reflects, yet again, the insecure foreign policy initiatives marking this government.

Earlier, New Delhi had botched up badly by inviting a group of Rightwing and Far-Right politicians from abroad, organised by an unknown and shadowy organization, for a sponsored sojourn to Kashmir, with doctored meetings with planted pro-BJP loyalists, and officials. The entire exercise turned out to be a big disaster.

Besides, despite the best efforts of the external affairs ministry, Kashmir did become ‘internationalised’ even while top media organisations in the West, like the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, The Guardian etc., blasted the Delhi government for human rights violations in Kashmir. The media trend seemed to have continued in the recent past, despite the best efforts in lobbying by the external affairs ministry.

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Recently, 25 foreign envoys were taken to Jammu and Kashmir for yet another diplomatic foray to mark a paradigm shift in global opinion.  The French Ambassador, Emmaneul Lenain, made a loaded but crypic statement. He said that while the government was making “significant efforts” to “normalise the situation”, the remaining restrictions should be removed “as soon as possible”. 

One day earlier, EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Virginie Battu-Henriksson had categorically stated: “Some restrictions remain, notably on Internet access and mobile services, and some political leaders are still in detention. While we recognise the serious security concerns, it is important that the remaining restrictions are lifted swiftly,” she said.

The fact is that India’s relation with a big chunk of the powerful EU has been marked with a certain pronounced bad faith since August 5, which has only been aggravated by the massive protests all over the country against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. In January last, as many as 626 of the 751 members of the EU Parliament took up six resolutions concerning  Kashmir and discriminatory laws for discussion creating much concern in the Indian ruling establishment. It has postponed a vote on the resolution, but the discomfort is for the whole world to see.  Indeed, most top university campuses in the West have stood up in support of the protests against the CAA/NRC in India.

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Earlier, despite Donald Trump’s big brotherly affection for the Indian prime minister, several top leaders in American politics, especially among the democrats, have taken up the issue of Kashmir and the willful discrimination against the minorities in India under the current regime.  With the United Nations taking it up after more than 70 years, and China upping the ante, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, brought back bad memories of fascism under Adolf Hitler in Europe while talking about the Indian situation vis-à-vis Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the imposition of the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) on two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, without an iota of evidence to prove the charges, has been widely criticised in India. The allegations in the dossier against them are bizarre and smacks of mindless vendetta, and does not really add up to the moral high ground around the prime minister or his best buddy, the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah, who also led the botched-up Delhi elections with a daily cacophony of lies, crude hate politics and muscle flexing.

For instance, Omar Abdullah, who has also been part of the BJP-led NDA regime in Delhi under Atal Behari Vajpayee, has been accused of subversive activities. “The capacity of the subject to influence people for any cause can be gauged from the fact that he was able to convince his electorate to come out and vote in huge numbers even during peak of militancy and poll boycotts,” reads the alleged government dossier, accessed by NDTV.

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Apparently, his last tweet hours before the imposition of the communication and military lockdown, while being arrested, said: “Violence will only play into the hands of those who do not have the best interests of the state in mind. This wasn’t the India Jammu and Kashmir acceded to, but I’m not quite ready to give up hope yet. Let calm heads prevail. God be with you all.”

Journalists in Kashmir are up in arms against the hounding and harassment of mediapersons by the authorities. Some journalists were asked to disclose their sources, even as the internet lockdown and the military clampdown restricted freedom of press to a minimal in the Valley. Journalists say that theirs is overt and tacit censorship at all levels.

Locals say tourism in the Valley has touched an all-time low, unemployment is at an unprecedented high while all educational institutions are closed. And with regards to detention, the focus has become concentrated on the politicians. There is little mention of scores of others, including youngsters, who are lodged in jails outside the state (now Union Territory)! There is a widespread belief in the valley that several youngsters and other innocents are still imprisoned in various jails, especially in UP, with mothers and relatives just not able to track them.

The Supreme Court has given notice to the Centre and the J&K administration, on a petition filed by Omar’s sister, Sara Abdullah Pilot who had petitioned that the exercise of powers by authorities under the CrPC to detain individuals, including political leaders, was “clearly mala fide to ensure that the opposition to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution is silenced”.

The petition said that “similar orders of detention have been issued by respondents (authorities of the union territory of J&K) over the last seven months in a wholly mechanical manner to other detinues, which suggest that there has been a consistent and concerted effort to muzzle all political rivals”.

Her petition pointed out there is no new evidence or material available available to detain a person who has already been under detention for six months and the “grounds for the detention order are wholly lacking any material facts or particulars which are imperative for an order of detention.”

In the same manner, the dossier against Mehbooba Mufti, who was the last chief minister in the state in an alliance with the BJP, is full of absurd allegations.  “In new India, dossier on an ex-chief minister slapped with draconian PSA mentions insidious machinations & being a ‘Daddy’s girl’ as charges,” her daughter Iltija Mufti had tweeted.

“Not unusual that she adored, respected & loved her father. They had an unshakeable bond & were each other’s closest confidante. Which is why she honoured Mufti sahab’s commitment after his sudden death in 2016. Didn’t know loving your parent constitutes a crime,” she wrote. This is a question that needs to be answered if current regime wishes to honour the legacy of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who spoke about insaniyat (humanity), jamhooriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat.

Life along the LoC Part II: Bunker Bravado

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

There’s a constant struggle for positional supremacy along the LoC. The Pakistanis try their best to destroy or disable our frontline bunkers and sometimes even try to take possession of one. We repay them in kind, shell for shell, bullet for bullet. One such incident in a northern district of Kashmir near the close of the last millennium threatened to spiral out of control and cause a larger conflagration.

This is the story of how we did not let that happen. One of the strategic posts manned by a detachment of 10 soldiers led by a Junior Commissioned Officer was practically on the LoC. It had a splendid view of the Pakistani side and enabled suppressive fire, meaning a rain of bullets on attempted infiltration. One day, the Pakistanis cut loose with all they had on these bunkers—sub-machine guns, rockets, mortars.

Wireless communication with this team went cold as soon as the firing began. We feared the worst even as return fire commenced. Later, when the firing calmed down, we got a radio message from one of our jawans. Their team leader had very wisely decided to relocate his men from the bunker to a temporary position as soon as the overwhelming Pakistani fire assault began.

This jawan had snaked back to retrieve the radio set and inform us of their situation. There was no casualty on our side; the boys were okay. The bunkers were, however, being shot to pieces and the first thing to do was smash them back. The troops reorganised themselves and occupied firing positions behind boulders. We opened up with all we had, a blizzard of bullets and rockets on the opposite Pakistani positions.

After the fire assault, the enemy fire continued to cover the bunker and the wide slope leading up to it which hampered our supply of ration, water and basic amenities to men who were cut off from the rest of the location. A possible Pakistani seizure of this post would have lit up the LoC up and down, but it had been averted for the time being by our massive return fire.

This meant we had to shift focus on the next, and most important, mission:  sustaining this post administratively and operationally, for we could not hope to sustain fire from the Pakistanis on open positions without casualties. We had a plan, a crazy plan. To our surprise, senior officers agreed immediately. We decided to create an ‘overhead tunnel’ all the way to the ravaged post, repair it stronger and occupy it again.

The track would be covered overhead with the hard composite U-shaped sheets that we use to make bunkers and fortified with sandbags on its sides and top. These composite readymades can withstand small arms fire and shrapnel from artillery shells; with the sandbags they would be impregnable to what the Pakistanis were laying down on us non-stop.

Every day after last light, a team of junior commissioned officers and I would analyse the pattern of persistent Pakistani fire and continue to build the ‘overhead tunnel’, working till first light. This task took us four weeks to accomplish. In keeping with Indian Army traditions, we leaders didn’t ask our men to do anything we wouldn’t do. We would be first into the exposed section of the growing tunnel.

We filled sandbags and sewed them close as Pakistani bullets whistled and ricocheted all around us. Over four weeks, the tunnel grew from isolated sections across the field of Pakistani fire into a giant dotted line till it finally coalesced into one bulletproof route to the bunkers. The task was completed without any injury to men and damage to property.

During the entire duration of operation, jawans were tasked on rotational basis whereas same set of leaders involved in operation continued to lead without any rest, operating through the night and preparing the next day for the coming night operation. Finally, we were in! We had braved the fire the Pakistanis thought we couldn’t, and pulled off the impossible. All the bunkers were fortified afresh and occupied again. Another Pakistani mischief along the LoC had been thwarted.

More Action from the LoC

Part I: Fire and Fury

Part III: Taking Them Out

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

LoC Part I

Life along the LoC Part I: Fire and Fury

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

The Line of Control runs through mostly mountainous terrain, following natural features where it can. All that is good on a map, but on the ground it’s a living line over and around slivers of land—a ridge, a spur, a valley, a stream bed—where sudden death is a constant possibility. Indian and Pakistani troops face each other from crude but hardened sandbagged bunkers; somewhere they have the advantage of a superior firing position, and in other places it is us.

On the whole, it balances out.   Among the kind of battles fought on the LoC is what we men in Olive Green call a fire assault. A fire assault means bringing great firepower to bear for a pre-ordained span of time on a particular target to attain dominance. This story is about one such operation. I commanded a company somewhere in the northern part of the LoC in the late 90s.

A company of any infantry battalion of the Indian Army usually has a hundred-odd fighting men divided into sub-units. The usual rank of a company commander is Major. My company was in charge of a handful of bunkers at an average elevation of 10,000 feet. Opposite, about 800 to 1000 yards away and slightly higher than us were Pakistani bunkers and an adjacent supply dump, a situation that allowed them to shoot down on us, including a devastating cone of fire from company-level weapons like medium machine guns.

This would not do, so we devised a plan to launch a fire assault on the Pakistani position which we believed held up to a sizable number of troops. To cause maximum damage a 75 mm heavy gun, an old faithful, was the weapon of choice. Using this gun for such operations was a unique concept; this had never done before at such a high altitude. For this requirement, this gun can be broken down into parts and re-assembled quickly.

The shell it fires is of large calibre and causes great damage—it can easily blow up an ordinary house with a few well-placed shots. Besides, we had High Explosive (HE) shells. The heavy gun was broken down by a couple of engineering technicians commandeered specifically for this operation. Special mules that the Indian army uses for exactly this kind of work were not used in order to keep things quiet and maintain surprise.

We got the non-combatants from our rear administrative location—cooks, laundrymen and assorted others—to carry the pieces of the gun during dark hours to a ridge at 13,000 feet that looked down on the Pakistani position. Big gun assembled, HE ammo stacked, we waited for dusk because that’s when there was a lull in the Pakistani fire and because it would be difficult for them to pinpoint us and retaliate.

We pointed the gun straight at the Pakistani bunkers rather than using the conventional mode of firing the shells in a lobbing arc, making it like a giant pistol rather than the light artillery piece it is meant to be. Fire! I ordered, and the shells began to smash into the Pakistani bunkers. We fired 30-odd big rounds into them in a matter of minutes.

That group of bunkers took a lot of punishment; a dead silence reigned through the night. The silence lasted two weeks; the Pakistanis didn’t fire at us. Our fire assault had worked: devastating firepower had cowed them down into a temporary peace.

More Action from the LoC

Part II: Bunker Bravado

Part III: Taking Them Out

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg

LoC Part III

Life along the LoC Part III: Taking Them Out

. Some operational details have been withheld to maintain anonymity.

Infiltration by terrorists is a fact of life on the LoC. Most of those who cross over to execute specific terror missions are hardened, trained and ready to die. This makes them deadly opponents indeed. Infantrymen along or near the LoC are often tasked to hunt down and eliminate such infiltrators. This is one such story, an operation I led almost two decades ago close to the LoC in the Valley, and was later honoured with a gallantry award for.

One of our informers told us of a group of four Lashkar-e-Toiba men holed up in a small village in our operational area. These men had moved from village to village deeper into Indian territory every night since infiltrating three or four days ago, we were reliably told. Despite what one hears on the TV, the Indian Army takes all the care it can to keep civilians out of such encounters.

We cordoned off the house and its adjacent dwelling units first with a small number of soldiers. I was leading and had with me a Quick Reaction Team, or QRT, lightly armed—assault rifles and grenades—and highly mobile troops. The entire village, some 300 people living in 70-odd houses were moved out of the area.

An outer wider cordon of the rest of the company was then put in place to intercept any terrorist if the first cordon was breached. By then the four fidayeen in the target house had realised they were surrounded and they began pouring fire at us from the windows. The way they controlled their fire indicated they were no amateurs.

Most of these Pakistan-trained terrorists don’t use flash eliminators on their AKs, and their firing has a distinctly different sound that every soldier who has experienced their fire can tell. First, we ‘softened’ them up with a barrage of small arms fire and shoulder-fired rockets. Their firing continued, though it had become markedly sporadic, indicating one or more of the terrorists had been wounded or, hopefully, got ‘taken out’.

We seized the opportunity during one such lull in the firing from the house and ran quickly the few open yards to one of the windows that appeared to be the source of much fire. Time seemed to have slowed as I along with my buddy reached the window unscathed even though I could hear firing continue. Without a moment’s delay I broke the window pane with the butt of my rifle and lobbed in a couple of grenades.

Seconds later the house shook with twin explosions. Both of us stood up and our eyes focussed on two moving shapes in the gloomy interior of the house. Our reaction was immediate: We blazed away at the terrorists, spraying them both with long bursts from our AK-47s, whose rounds cause much damage to the human body from short ranges because they tend to splinter on impact.

Before remaining terrorists could react, I reorganised my group and charged into the house. My team members were very quick; our hearts were calm and our feet pounding on the floor, and both fidayeens were flushed out and eliminated with crisp action.

Killing these terrorists saved an incalculable number of lives as they were planning to carry out multiple attacks on security forces which we discovered from documents recovered in the house. The mission was completed in 12 hours without any casualty in my troops or the civilian population.

More Action from the LoC

Part I: Fire and Fury

Part II: Bunker Bravado

-With editorial assistance from Lokmarg