By 5th April, most people had packed their woolens. The sun shone brightly, and the air in Srinagar had a nip, with a hint of pine. I tucked myself in for a well-deserved sleep. The last 24-hours had been hectic and my body is not what it used to be. I crave rest, and a slight change in temperature wakes up broken bones, brutally. I again, by sheer force of habit, turned to Chapter XXII, “Of the Last Fight and the Death of Hector”. Iliad has always fascinated me; Zeus, Agamemnon, Paris, Priam, Hector and Achilles, especially Achilles who was immortal. Or so he thought.
I again grieved for noble Hector and kept down the book, with a silent prayer of thanks to Homer. They say I live in the past. Maybe.
It was at 3 am that I started shivering. I got up and put another blanket on top of the one I had been using, and convinced myself to go back to sleep. I rarely have dreams. That night was no different. But for some reason I was uneasy. I tossed and turned, resisting the desire to resurrect Hector at an unearthly hour. Sleep won, and I drifted back to those dark and smoky depths, which are much of what I see when I sleep.
I woke up to snow. Kashmir has always been an unreliable friend.
Srinagar is an urban mess, accentuated by decades of neglect. Kashmir’s rulers have always abused their state, in the worst ways possible. And what they have nurtured is strife, victimhood, alienation that has little basis in fact, and a second-generation of stone pelters who know no other trade. Kashmir no longer produces poets, philosophers, artists and civil servants. It just produces progressively regressive iterations of Farooq Abdullah and Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
I spoke to everyday Kashmiris, weary of strife and terrorism, who wanted nothing more than to secure a future for their children. They said that sometimes, the simple act of children going to school or a son coming back from college becomes an excuse for celebration.
I spoke to Jawans of Central Police Organizations (Indian Army is not operationally deployed in Srinagar), and could sense a deep pain. They are routinely humiliated by two-penny stone pelters and not permitted to retaliate. I asked a Jawan why criminal elements continued to pelt stones on them, and not the Army. His answer was straightforward. “The last time they pelted stones on Army and tried to interfere in an operation, the Army shot three of them dead. We don’t have that luxury. Unshackle us for a few hours, just a few hours, and that will be the last day of stone pelting in Srinagar,” he said, with suppressed anger.
And then there were those CRPF officers, huddled together in front of the TV on the cold evening of 6 April, eagerly waiting for some anchor to pay respects to their 75 brothers who were martyred in Dantewada. At 11:45 pm, the senior officer got up telling his juniors, “Lets go, guys. You know its not going to happen”.
He looked at me sadly and said, “We were wrong to hope. Soldiers are expendable.”
The visit to 92 Base Hospital at Badami Bagh Cantt was flooded with memories. It was here that I was brought to, evacuated actually, from HAWS (High Altitude Warfare School) in 1996 when my breathing almost stopped. The army doctors here are miracle workers, past masters of dragging back war wounded soldiers from the brink of certain death. They performed a miracle and saved Comdt. Chetan Kumar Cheetah. “He is a soldier. Yes, he is a soldier”, said a senior army medico, repeating it so that I understood. He was giving the ultimate compliment that one Fauji can give another.
My worst fears were confirmed when I was told that Maj. Satish Dahiya breathed his last here. “Stone pelters delayed the evacuation. We could not save him”, said an army medico, fury simmering just beneath the surface. “These stone pelters need to be sorted out, nice and proper”, the good doctor said. In Indian Army parlance, “sorting out” is a wide-ranging term. It can mean any measure of pain inflicted, including death. I was not surprised. The doctors here are lifesavers. But they are also soldiers. As we stood quietly inside the ICU, I realized that all doctors were wearing combat uniform (jungle camouflage) with ranks.
One OPD ward was full of CRPF and Jammu & Kashmir police personnel. Normally, you do not see personnel from other forces in army hospitals (except Navy and Air Force), since all CPOs and police organizations have their own tie ups outside. On asking the reason, I was told that in the past, when locals found out that a CRPF jawan or a policeman was admitted in a civil hospital, they would assault him inside the hospital. There have been cases of locals assaulting jawans inside ICUs.
92 Base Hospital is an Indian Army hospital. There are serious looking men with Kalashnikovs outside. The injured are safe here.
Farooq Abdullah says that we are losing Kashmir. I don’t know if we are losing Kashmir but we are certainly losing our patience. While our soldiers are shedding blood, the Kashmiri separatists and politicians are selling whatever bits and pieces of Kashmir they can find.
Kashmir does not need a healing touch. That bus has left long back. What it requires is immediate surgery. I am not a doctor but I understand that surgery requires the spilling of blood. So be it.
As a first step, the Hurriyat must be made irrelevant, immediately. No one elected them to power. India is a democracy and the only way to power is through the people. If the Hurriyat do not represent the people, whom do they represent? Let the Central Government cut of all their funding and security. Let them roam the streets of Srinagar like normal people. Let them buy their own medicines and their own flight tickets. We spend about INR 100 crores a year on the Hurriyat and other separatists. Lets stop this now. The Central Government must also immediately stop speaking to the Hurriyat. There must be massive outreach to the common man on the street. Some of the alienation is real, while a large part of it is synthetically manufactured. Nonetheless, it must be addressed. And it must be addressed without the Hurriyat.
Declare President’s Rule in Jammu & Kashmir. The Governor will call the shots. We need someone who is ruthless, yet balanced, someone whom the people respect. He has to be a former General of the Indian Army and also someone with vast knowledge of Kashmir and its people; perhaps an ex-GOC of XV Corps. It is beyond my pay grade to recommend names. The distance between Company Commanders and Corps Commanders is as large as that between Earth and Jupiter. I will keep my peace. But those who are plugged into Kashmir know what I am speaking about.
Give back the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) its honor. They must have the right to defend themselves. This force needs urgent respite. It is forever in operations. Kashmir to Naxal Operations, North East to Election Duty, Counter Insurgency Operations to Disaster Relief there is a never-ending cycle of extreme pressure.
Hand over Srinagar to Indian Army immediately and put the entire Kashmir Valley under AFSPA. For 10 days, cut off the Valley completely – no Internet, no mobile or landline connectivity, no flights, no TV or radio, no road traffic (incoming or outgoing) and no postal service/ couriers. Then start “housekeeping”. Don’t touch the innocent. Don’t spare the guilty. You have the names and addresses of all those who waved the Pakistani flag and pelted stones. Get the boys to pay them a visit.
Send arrested stone pelters to prison for a year, but never within the state. Nagaland has 11 prisons. Send one stone pelter to each prison. In that entire prison, he will be the only Kashmiri. The language, food, climate; everything that helps identify him, as a person will be absent. Select states that have absolutely no similarity with Kashmir in any manner, where even Hindi is not frequently spoken. States like Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar must be chosen. A hundred prisons must be chosen and a hundred stone pelters must be imprisoned there, just one prisoner for one prison. They will have all the human rights they want – food, rest, recreation etc. No one will be mistreated or even touched. But a Kashmiri in a Nagaland prison may as well be on Mars.
The Kashmiri youth who humiliate soldiers do so because we permit it. They know that the CRPF will not retaliate, unless the provocation is extreme. There is also the matter of the Supreme Court ruling that make it mandatory for filing of FIRs for encounter deaths by armed forces, even in disturbed areas under AFSPA. The Central Government must somehow prevail upon the Supreme Court to overturn this ruling. You cannot fight enemies of the state constantly worrying about how you will have to stand in court, as the accused.
While the Special Operations Group of the Jammu & Kashmir police is doing a stellar job, the regular police have their own challenges. There are regular charges of harassment and fleecing of the populace. Police also stand compromised because they live in the same neighborhood as the stone thrower and the terrorist. They live in constant fear of their lives and that of their families.
India must have an “Enemy of the State Act”, that ensures, among other provisions, that once a person is declared enemy of the state, the property in the person’s name belongs to the government. Using this act, the properties of all leaders of Hurriyat Conference must be attached and then auctioned, the funds used for welfare of soldiers.
There have been talks of trifurcation of J&K into Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh. This is something that must be pursued with vigor. About Article 370, there are disparate views, each more extreme than the other. Those in defence of the article know even less about it, than those who would abrogate it. The government must put its best legal brains to come up with a solution. Pakistan has already initiated the process of declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth state, all this due to Chinese pressure and CPEC.
The point I am making is elementary. If we want to be a super power, now is the time to start acting like one. Let’s be practical. Soft states are not invited to sit at the high table of the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights are important, but they are not the reason that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. Lets not make these rights the cornerstone of our national philosophy. The five permanent members of the UNSC are perhaps the worst human rights violators on earth. And they are the ones who get to point fingers at India’s so-called “excesses” in Kashmir. Russia and China have murdered millions of their own citizens and sent many more to death camps. America has waged more wars than all the other nations on earth combined. England and France have the worst colonial records, marred by plunder and slavery.
To fight terrorists in Kashmir and elsewhere, we use platoon weapons. We use AK47’s, Rocket Launchers (84 mm Carl Gustaf) and Light Machine Guns. We do this so that collateral damage can be restricted. This is our ethos.
When Pakistan carried out Operation Zarb-e-Azb to eliminate terror in North Waziristan and its tribal areas, this is what Pakistani forces used – F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopter gunships, 203 mm & 155 mm artillery guns and cannon-mounted armored personnel carriers.
And Pakistan brazenly accuses us of using disproportionate force in Kashmir.
We must support Balochistan. Let our embassies have annual seminars on 27 March across the world. This day, Pakistan invaded and occupied a free country and made a proud people slaves. We must educate the world on how Pakistan is indulging in genocide, mostly prodded on by China. The Indian Government must also fund infrastructure for Baloch identity, internationally. Let there be a Balochistan House in twenty major world cities, manned and operated by Baloch people. The responsibility of these Baloch “embassies” will be to educate the country’s government and local population about Pakistan’s shenanigans.
Balochistan must have a Government in Exile in New Delhi, all paid for and protected by the Indian Government. We should divert our funding of Kashmiri separatists to the Baloch. Our largesse is for our friends, and not for traitors. Once this is done, Kashmir will no longer be the raison d’etre of Pakistan’s existence. It will have just too much on its plate.
Kashmir will not find peace because we want it to. It will find peace when we start respecting ourselves.
Kashmiri separatist youth slapping and kicking a soldier is not just demeaning to the uniform. It speaks of a greater malaise, that of a nation unsure of itself. It is not important that we are right. What is important is that we act. Act with finality, precision and when required, with the heel of the soldier’s boot.
Those Kashmiri youth were not insulting our soldier. They were insulting our country. They were committing treason. And we were unable to safeguard the honor of our soldier. This is the soldier we expect will die for us. We have failed him. Let this be the last time. Let us speak together as a nation, loud and proud. Let us roar with all our might.
The punishment for treason is death.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
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