Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - VII

0605 hours.

Karan is shaking me awake. There are sounds of gunfire from the North West and the radio is crackling.

Contact established?

Good. Which would mean the information was accurate. I offer a silent prayer that we suffer no casualties. In this dirty war, because the enemy is a cowardly rat who hides all the time, generally the first casualty is always ours.

Anyways, I get myself focused and listen in on the radio.

It’s Juliet, one of the nine RR company commanders on the net. He is giving out a sitrep (situation report) to the Brig.

They cordoned village B with 30 odd men and he entered around 0530 hours along with 8 guys. They moved straight to the Muqaddam’s house which is somewhere nearly in the middle of the village. They wanted to talk to him and get the village vacated so that it could be searched.

The company commander went into the house with his buddy, a young Lance Naik (Lance Corporal) while the rest of his team stayed outside. Inside the house, as they were talking to the Muqaddam, something went askance and they were fired upon from within the house from the first floor. The young soldier’s been hit.

Current situation?

The officer has rushed out of the house, dragging his buddy with him. He and his group have deployed around the house and are firing at the first floor windows from where they are drawing fire. The casualty is with them…alive but bleeding profusely. The officer estimates at least three militants inside.

The Brig tells him to maintain contact with the militants, ensure no one slips out of the house and to wait till some reinforcements are sent in. He also tells him that he’s sending in an ambulance into the village for casevac (casualty evacuation).

Cool !! It all seems under control and I guess the officer will carry on the op to its logical end. I just hope we shed no more blood and that once the reinforcements arrive, he’ll be able to wind it all up fast. I also hope the Muqaddam and his family are not trapped inside the house. Because if they are, this guy will not be able to use RLs or flame throwers and then there’s always the ‘human shield’ option available to the bad fellas.

I pipe in and ask that of the company commander. He confirms that all the civilians rushed out along with them and have vanished into the village

Fine!! There’s nothing I can do and the Major will handle it till he finally knocks off those three guys inside.

I wonder what’s happening in the other eight villages. No transmissions on the net from them, though I suppose they’re all carrying out their respective CASOs and are keeping the net clear for the radio traffic from village B.

In village B, the firefight is continuing and I hear on the net that an ambulance is headed for casevac. I hope it gets there in time.

I scan the militant nets on the other radio.

Yesssss. They’re buzzing like bees. A lot of traffic on their frequency. They’re talking about being surrounded by the army. One guy is talking about a firefight. He must be one of the jerks in Village B.

It’s obvious from their talk that there are at least 6 or 7 of them. And they’re all not in village B.

Damn !! I hope all the CASOs are done properly and we bag the whole lot.

I also wonder where Jahangir is. Is he in one these villages? And if so, how will he get out?

Well, the fact that it’s his information, I guess he’s smart enough to have kept himself out of this situation.

“Delta, contact “, goes my radio set. I listen.

Delta is the company in Village G. Seems that their search party was entering the village when they spotted a guy trying to run towards the west. They are chasing him and their cordon is in place to stop him. Poor sod. His time has come.

So, that seemingly accounts for 4 out of 6-7. There are three in Village B in the Muqaddam’s house and won’t get out alive and this guy in Village G won’t last another 30 minutes. But then, where are the others?

Let’s see if the other seven RR companies find them.

I keep monitoring the army and militant nets, trying to piece the situation together.

“Sheep, approaching Juliet’s location”, goes the radio set. Fine! That’s the ambulance near Village B. A few more minutes and then that young lad should be on his way to a hospital. I heave a sigh of relief. He’s been without proper medical help for too long already.

“Sheep, under fire, under fire!! “. Damn!! I can hear gun shots over the radio as Sheep is frantically yelling. The darn ambulance is drawing fire. What the hell !!!

There’s something really bad happening in Village B. The Brig tells the ambulance guy to drive on and then take cover and to evacuate the casualty ASAP. Juliet is told to get some men from his cordon into the village to cover the casevac.

I’m not happy. There seem to be more bad guys inside Village B than Juliet can seemingly handle.

“Khalid, request permission to move to Juliet’s location” , I ask of the Brig.

“Roger Khalid, go ahead” , the Brig acquiesces.

Karan and I take off for Village B which is about 12 klicks away on the other side of the plateau. I don’t like the situation building up there and I move fast with Karan following a few steps behind. We jog through the orchards that abound on the plateau.

We’ve covered about 5 klicks or so, when we come across a nala. I jump in and decide to run along it, rather than climb up to the other side. The nala, as per my map, seems to flow from Village B and is nearly dry, so no problems. It’ll get us there fast and we’ll have cover.

We jog on the sides of the narrow water channel and have done another couple of klicks, when I get a jolt.

Bang in front of us, heading our way, are two guys. Militants obviously. They’ve got AKs in their hands and are in pathan suits and sneakers…the ubiquitous militant uniform.

They spot us the moment we spot them and before I can get my breath back and say Jack, Jane or Jill Robinson, they open fire on the move. Damn and double damn!! My rifles slung over my shoulder and as I try to halt, take cover on the ground and swing the weapon into action, I hear the bullets whizzing past me.

Suddenly I feel Karan on top of me. As if covering me with his body. I try to push him off so that I can fire but he’s like squashed me below him and is firing at those guys.

I can make out a militants been hit. He crumples and hits the ground, firing into the air and yelling in pain. The other guy has knelt and is firing at us.

I finally manage to push Karan off and fire at that militant, noting with satisfaction that while a kneeling man makes a smaller target, it ain’t THAT small. The jerk whines and groans and rolls over into the water.

I fire off some more rounds into both those guys just to make sure and then get onto my feet.

Only to find that Karan hasn’t got up.

He’s lying on the ground, where I’d pushed him off me. Dead.

I can’t believe my eyes. I never realized he’d been hit. It’s like I’m suddenly in some twilight zone. I feel his pulse, yell at him, shake him.

Nothing.

I’m numb. I feel like I’m dead myself.

One of the finest soldiers I ever had the privilege of serving alongside and one that was with me over years in some of the most hairy situations ever. And he’s no more.

I get my radio out and inform the Brig.

He tells me that the situation in Village B is under control. Reinforcements have reached and the op will get over soon. I should wait where I am. He’ll move some people to my location.

I’m too numb to think or say or do anything.

I sit on the ground, Karans head cradled in my lap. Talking to him, like we talked, over endless hours in the craziest of places and situations.

An officer and a jawan together in that stupid filthy nala. Yet in some manner, the best of friends…in the holiest of places.

I was his superior, by rank. And yet, in the end he proved himself my superior. As an officer, I was supposed to ensure his safety. Instead, he died safeguarding mine.

I don’t know, I don’t remember how long I sat there with Karan. But after a while, some troops landed up and things moved on.

Karan was taken away by two of them and I moved alongside to Village B.

The op there had ended and the Brig was there.

I saw the end result of that fateful day.

Four militants lined up dead. Three from inside the Muqaddam’s house and one from Village G.

They are joined by the two Karan and I knocked off in the nala.

And then, a distance away, lies Karan. And, the young jawan who’d got shot in the morning. The damn casevac had failed.

The Brig hugs me. Wipes my tears away, but they don’t stop. I can see loads of jawans and officers all around. I can feel the euphoria of victory emanating from them.

And yet I feel nothing.

The Brig tells me who all the militants are that’ve been knocked off. I don’t care. I’m not even listening, till one name hits me.

Hits me like a hard punch in the solar plexus.

The guy trying to escape out of Village G was Jahangir.

Bashir Waghey, HM. Abdul Karim, HM. Saifullah, HM. Altaf Mir, HM. Farooq Ahmed, HM

Good bye, enemies of my country ! You deserved to die.

Good bye Jahangir, or should I say Jaanbaaz. You were a militant but you found the guts to change. That requires courage beyond measure and I salute you.

Havaldar Karan Singh, The Parachute Regiment and Lace Naik Sunil Shinde, The Rashtriya Rifes.

Good bye my comrades. Heroes of a proud nation. You didn’t deserve to die.

Till today I feel the loss of Karan like I'd feel the loss of a part of me.

But in the end, I remember something my father said when I was a young boy and he would tell me about the brave comrades he lost while fighting the wars of 1962, 1965 and 1971.

Do not grieve that such a fine, fearless man died. Instead celebrate that such a man lived.”

Monday, March 14, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - VI

Time marches on. The 30 day deadline is drawing to a close….and it sure as hell is going to be ‘deadtime’ for Jahangir. A part of me believes strongly that I was set up by Mr J and his sisters and I’m going to get even. Will make him die real slow. And I’m going to make the ladies squirm too. Enough of being a gentleman.

Day 24 since the deal was struck. Its late evening and I’m lazing around in my hut. Serious decision making is in progress about whether I should eat a proper dinner or make do with Maggi noodles when suddenly, the radio squawks.

Its Zarina.

“Khalid, dhyan se suno”

“Go ahead “ is my response, perking up a bit. Is this gonna be the real Mc Coy or am I going to be taken for a ride?

“ Kal P illaqe mein HM ki meeting hai. Bahut Mujahideen ekattha ho rahe hain. ”

“Roger. Kaunse gaon mein? “ I ask, since P illaqa (area) is essentially a plateau ringed by nine villages. Too large an area and I need specifics.

“ Khalid, illaqa bata diya hai. Baaki aap kar lo jitni aap ki kabliyat hai aur jitni aap mein himmat hai.”

And the lady signs off without even a filmi type ‘over and out’.

Damn !!!

Double damn in fact !!!

How the hell am I supposed to work this one out? A large area, nine villages, more escape routes than wrinkles on an octogenarian’s face and no specific information/intelligence at all.

Triple damn!!!

How come and why do I always get stuck with these sticky situations? I really wish I’d worked hard in school and gone on in life to become some fancy executive somewhere on civilian street with a well heeled job, a well stacked secretary and where the only ‘kills’ were to be effected on Dalal Street , or whatever that lucre-generating lane is called.

Anyways, no time for day dreaming and regrets of the past. Time to swing into action. Grab the moment by the nose before it grabs you by the tail…..kind of thing.

I immediately call up the Brig on the radio and give him a run down. Times at a premium and there’s lots and lots of coordination involved. And sadly, there’s no way we can go the usual route of a detailed meeting/discussion/briefing.

Luckily, the Brig gets the picture fast and for once, gets more into ‘listening‘ mode. I spell out my plan to him.

Nine villages…..each to be addressed simultaneously by a company column (40 odd personnel) doing a CASO. He has nine RR companies within operational time and space so those can be easily employed. In addition, two BSF companies, to act as reserves and also to be deployed as ‘stops’, i.e. to stop egress out of the area, by anyone using the undulating ground in the plateau.

The Brig agrees and says he will control the op from his HQ. Suits me. Don’t want brass up my ass in the fun zone.

He gets his staff cracking to issue the necessary orders and get the cogs moving, while I sign off….and get into weapon cleaning and checking mode…while my little brain tries to think up exactly how the operation will proceed and what are the various contingencies that may arise. Luckily, theres not much time, so I’ll just play it all by the ear. Faith in God, my country, the Indian Army, my mind, my muscles and above all…in Uncle Kalashnikov’s gizmo of the 47 variety …should take me through this one.

I call Karan and go over the whole issue with him. I see his eyes light up as they always do…mirroring my own…as we talk of the impending ops and the hours that lie ahead. I always trust his instincts and intuition and when he says “Saab, abki baar tagda op hoga, bahut kill milenge” , I’m happy and excited.

Its 2300 hours by now and I’d better get moving towards Area P. Karan and I don uniforms this time, too many soldiers are going to be around for us to take the risk of being fratricide victims.

I plan to hang around Village L, which is a smallish place on one edge of the plateau. I really visualize no action personally for Karan and I, so might as well just sit someplace nice and listen in on the radio to the progress of ops. I’m also carrying a second Kenwood for monitoring HM frequencies, because if the information is correct, the jerks are sure gonna get whining once they know the army’s squeezing their vitals.

A walk through the countryside and by around 0100 hours, Karan and I are comfortably plonked in a little orchard near Vill L. Theres radio silence in force so I don’t know what the rest of the ‘fauj’ is doing….though by looking at my watch, I know they all must be getting into place for the respective cordons.

Yes, I’m right….because within half an hour, I can spot the boys of the company tasked to CASO Village L. We are well outside the village, so no sweat. We ain’t getting stuck inside any trigger happy cordon. No thank you, Sir !

0300 hours. The radio buzzes.

“Alpha, in position.”

“Bravo, in position.”

“Echo, moving in, another 20 minutes for getting into position.”

“One Nine, stops deployed.”

And so on.

And the Brigs deep voice going “Roger”, every time a company commander gives his report.

0400 hours. Silence again.

Which means all cordons and stops are in place and now they’ll wait for first light before going in to search the villages.

I might as well grab some shut eye.

Its time for the final step in Jahangirs journey and hopefully it shall be a victorious journey….for Jahangir, for Zarina and Zubeida….and for Karan and I. Might as well be fresh for taking that final step.


TO BE CONTINUED…………..

Friday, January 28, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - V

I’m livid. More angry with myself than with Jahangir. How did I allow myself to be duped this way? How easily he fed me a few crumbs and snared my neck into a noose. Fine, no gain without pain and all that but to be made a fool of in this manner?

I get back to my cubby hole and think of ways and means of getting my revenge.

It’s not going to be easy tracking him down. As far as that goes, I’m back to square one. And this time he’s not going to be cuddled up in some bed in Srinagar with a screwed up leg.

But I need to get him ASAP.

Therefore, I decide to do something I’ve never done in my 12 years of CT ops in Nagaland, Kashmir, Sri Lanka or with the SAG.

I decide to pick up his sister(s) and thereby snare his neck into my noose.

It’s a very risky proposition and it can get me into very serious trouble but I’m beyond caring.

However, I’ll need to plan things out very, very carefully. I’m sure his sisters are going to be expecting trouble from me and will be taking prophylactic action. So, I’ll have to move fast and move well.

I call for Karan to brainstorm my plans with him and as we’re talking post dinner, working out various contingencies, Man Friday pops his head in and says, “Saab, ladies aayee hain aapse mine.”

F*** ! What’s this now? And who’s this now? And at this time????

I step out and find that this time Man F got his grammar right. My visitors are in the plural, as in there are two of them.

I also find that they are Zarina and Zubeida – beloved sisters of Mr J.

Jeez….think of the devil or rather, plan about lifting the devil’s sisters and here they are.

I’m totally nonplussed.

Before I can compose myself and ask them what they want, they enquire of me as to how I am.

“I’m alive” I growl “No thanks to that SOB you call a brother.”

“Thanks to him, you mean” pipes in Zubeida.

Huh ?

I ask her what she means.

And thence starts the story.

It seems, IF they are to be believed, that after my recent successes with the kills and caches and OGWs, the local HM cadre got suspicious and began sniffing around each butts, looking for a leak.

Finding none, they did a deeper internal audit and found out that Zarina had come to meet me. The finger of suspicion wheeled onto Jahangir but since he refuted it all, Zarina was picked up and tortured by them. She told them she’d come to meet me because I was threatening her and her sister. I had even gone to their school with the regular Army guys. So, she came to tell me not to bother their family.

Somehow, the HM swallowed it but were still looking a bit askance at Jahangir.

And therefore, to kill this issue once and for all, Jahangir engineered the plot to ‘kill’ me.

“You think if he wanted to kill you today, he couldn’t have?” asks Zarina. “The IED could have been detonated under the front of the bus. And you could have been shot while you were lying in the open.”

“Balls” was my response, though in Kashmiri, it comes out as something else.

“That’s the absolute truth” say both the sisters in unison, “And now we want you to keep your side of the bargain and help Jahangir to re-locate outside Kashmir. And we want the money.”

At the risk of sounding like a stuck gramophone record, “Balls” is my response to this too.

“You’ve got to believe us and you’ve got to help us” pleads Zarina.

I tell her that I do not believe their story and there’s no way I’m not going to kill their brother. Being taken for a ride once is all that I can handle.

Our arguments go on and on. They cry, yell, shriek, rave, rant, plead, beg.

That deaf adder fellow in the scriptures would have turned green with envy if he could see how oblivious I was to all their drama.

Realising a while later that this is going nowhere, the sisters reach into their hats and pull out a new deal.

“You give him 30 days. Within these 30 days, he will give you some mujahideen. You kill them. And after that, you give us the money and help us to move out of here.”

A guy called Janwillem Van De Wettring once said that greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it is never enough.

I never knew the guy and never thought much about what he said. But now I realize he’s partially right and partially wrong. Greed does have an insatiable tum tum but it doesn’t have a small mouth. I can say that out of personal experience cos all 184 centimetres of me slipped through that orifice the moment I heard the proposition from the ladies.

“What do I have to lose?” I ask myself. “I give the 30 days lease of life and in case I get nothing, I can always put my plan into effect .” after that period.”

“What the f***?” another part of me pops up, “ What if they missed you the first time and are setting you up for a confirmed kill now? What if they are buying time to disappear? “

Jeez ! I hate these little fellows in my head when they’re not in consonance with each other.

Anyways, I go with Little Fellow A.

“It’s a deal.” I inform the femmes and they buzz off.

TO BE CONTINUED ......

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - IV

Time ticks on. Things happen – some of which I’ve told you about in the days gone by and some, which I will in the days to come.

I live my life – XYZee of the Indian Army and Khalid of the twilight zone.

Jahangir lives his life – Jahangir of the Hizbul Mujahideen and Jaanbaaz of Khalid’s private army.

I do my thing and he does his.

But courtesy Zarina, our paths cross intermittently, though never in person.

He’s a man of his word, whatever be his motivations, and over the next three months, I keep getting information from him off and on.

Some of it is good and leads to success. Some is dated and leads nowhere. Some is good but I botch up.

Whatever, it’s still turning out to be a very profitable relationship.

I get three caches, two relatively minor and one which is huge and amazingly includes, under the ground, a second hand Maruti 800 registered in Delhi. Loads of arms, ammunition, explosives, radio sets are also picked up. Money too, some of which I pocket to inject into the local economy.

Two important OGWs and a few minor ones. One of the big fish, when fried to a crisp brown (not literally, I’m not THAT bad), leads me to a suitcase with Rs 52 lakhs. I get visions of deserting and fulfilling my life long dream of buying a small shack by the sea and becoming a beach bum. But it’s all counterfeit and after making the big fish eat some of it, I set the rest aflame.

But no more kills.

I pester Zarina but with no luck.

Then one night, or rather early morn, around 0430 hours, as I recline deep in the arms of Morpheus, my radio buzzes.

“Jaanbaaz for Shikari.” Its Jahangir, communicating directly with me. Wow !!

“Aaj subah, National Highway par bomb phatega. Milestone 27 ke kareeb.” The radio goes quiet.

F*** !! In fact, double f*** !!!!!! There’s very little time to react. Traffic on the NH starts off early and a bomb/IED going off there may cause very major damage.

I get on the other radio. But the Brigadier is not responding. Neither is his Staff Officer.

I don’t even know whose area that falls in and who’s responsible for the ROP (Road Opening Patrol…the guys who sanitise and protect the road) in that sector.

No choice but to rush myself. It’s far away and I don’t know if I can reach in time. Karan and I take off, running as fast as we can, to the village next to where I live. Luckily, there’s a mini bus standing on the road.

Wowiee!!! It’s even got the key in place. My God is surely with me. We zip off, Karan driving. All the while I’m trying to get the Brig on the air but with no luck.

0515 hours. I’m standing by the passenger’s wala door, working my radio. Finally I get through to the Brig. I apprise him of the situation and the fact that I’m en route. I also inform him that I’m basically in Don Quixote mode, because without any bomb disposal thingummies, I can do sweet f*** all even if I get to the site in time and find the explosive device.

The Brig tells me that he’ll handle it and I should just get there ASAP and contact the ROP commander on the spot. In the meantime, he’ll organize the sniffer dogs and bomb disposal guys.

Whew !! I move and sit on the seat in front, just behind and to the right of Karan, who seems to have taken on a Michael Schumacher avatar.

0417 hours. We’re moving as fast as a battered old mini bus possibly can over a lousy dirt track. 30-40 klicks per hour maybe?

It’s a bone jarring ride and I sure will be glad to get onto a road and then finally get off this damn vehicle.

BANG !!!!!!!!!!!!

F*** !!! Now I know what bone jarring really is.

The vehicles careened off the track and come to a grinding halt. Not a burst tire. That’s for sure. Because burst tires don’t give out the smell of RDX and they don’t result in the back of buses, however mini they may be, getting mangled out of shape.

We’ve gone over an IED.

I look at Karan. He’s bleeding from the head, having banged it against the windscreen, but appears reasonably okay. My knees are hurting like hell…I’ve slid off and fallen forward….and my knees have made a very violent and totally undesirable contact with the back of what’s supposed to be the conductors seat or whatever.

I help Karan out of the driver’s station and push open the door to get out.

Bang!Bang!Bang!

Or should it be …ratatatatat ???

I don’t know how to articulate the sound here, but what I do know is that what’s coming at us is a large number of AK 47 bullets in bursts of 3-4 each.

We hit the ground hard and hug it as close as we can. Look around. Can’t see a thing, but can definitely hear the firing. And it sure is aimed at us, because we can hear the bullets striking the bus.

Damn !! What do I fire back at? I’d hate to be found dead with four fully loaded magazines on me.

We crawl around, hoping to see something and fire back. But there’s nothing. Even the firings stopped.

Sudden silence. And if it wasn’t for the bus off the road and Karan’s bleeding head and my aching bones, I’d think it was all a bad dream.

Oh f*** !!! What about the IED on the NH?

I pull out my radio, only to find that it’s already well on it’s way to the after world and subsequent rebirth as a cell phone or whatever. Smashed beyond any kind of recognition.

We pick ourselves up gingerly and look around. Spotting and hearing nothing and receiving no missiles of any nature penetrating our skin, we head off towards the next village.

Sadly, it’s 12 klicks away and both Karan and I are not in a position to even jog. We kind of limp our way to it and by the time we get there, it’s nearly 0630 hours.

We commandeer a jeep with a driver and head off for KM stone 27.

We get onto the NH and I’m happy to see traffic flowing normally. Good !! That means there’s been no explosion. Which implies that the IED has been found and defused. Yiipppppeeee !!!

F*** !! It could also imply that it’s there, hasn’t been found and hasn’t been detonated yet.

I damn the pessimist within me and tell the driver to get a move on.

We reach KM 27 and I find it choc a bloc full of army guys, including the Brig who’s very keen to know what took me so long.

I give him the short story in even shorter form and ask him about the IED.

It emerges that they’ve searched n re-searched and re-searched every possible inch of the highway from KM 26 to KM 28 and found zilch. So either I got a false alarm or I heard the location wrong or it’s someplace else. Anyways, every ROP guy has been asked to be on high alert and the search is continuing all along the highway. The rest is up to God and we can only wait.

We do so, making use of the time to get a doctor to do the needful with our battered bodies.

The day goes by and nothing explodes. So, it WAS a false alarm.

Which means, Mr Jahangir is playing games with me.

No wonder the mini bus was conveniently parked where it was and no wonder the key was even more conveniently available where it was.

Time for you to die, buddy.

TO BE CONTINUED.....

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - III

We talk details. Loads and loads of things to be tied up.

No one, not even in my organization, to know about him. Just Karan and me.

He will leave forthwith, before the HM get suspicious and re-establish contact with them, stating that he’s back from Srinager, post recovery.

All communication will be through Zarina. Towards this end, I will give her a radio set. But I also give the same frequency to Jahangir, for direct communication in an emergent situation.

No face to face meetings.

All this is ok. But I need a mortgage. What f he vanishes?

“If I betray you, you can kill my sisters”, is his answer.

Easier said than done, but I really have no choice. It’s a gamble, with very exciting possibilities.

At worst, I’ll lose him and a radio set, if Zarina also vanishes.

If things work, he should provide us with a lot. Kills, caches, OGWs.

The co-ord carries on and finally, the bro-sis duo leave.

Time goes by.

I get to know from Zarina that J is back with his group.

Fingers and toes crossed, I bide my time.

9 days later, I get buzzed by Zarina, passing on a message from Jahangir.

“Kal subah, S gaon ke bahar, kuch mujahideen milenge. Agar aap school mein ambush lagaen to faida ho sakta hai.”

That’s it.

I know S Village. A medium sized village with hills to the north. The school is on the northern edge of the village.

Does that mean that the bad guys will be coming down the hill? Or going uphill to move across the ridge line? How many will there be? Can Karan and I handle them on our own?

And other thoughts creep up too? What if it’s a trap? An ambush in the school, ready to hit us when we get there?

Damn ! And I don’t have much time. It’s nearly noon. Tomorrow morning isn’t too far away.

I buzz Charlie and tell him to get his butt over. Pronto. Along with his QRT .

He reacts fast, and by 1600 hours, Charlie is in my location with 8 guys.

I have a rough sketch of S village ready by then. A quick briefing follows.

The plan is that we all will carry out a seemingly routine patrol through S village at last light. On our way out of the village, we will go by the school, checking it out. However, Charlie, Karan and I will stay back within the school while the rest of the guys move away and go locate themselves about 1-2 klicks away in a suitable desolated spot, ready to come to us at short notice. It’ll be dark by then, so no one will be able to count how many guys went into the school and how many emerged. And therefore, the three of us will be securely in place to knock off the bad guys, without anyone knowing we’re there.

If it’s a scenario where Jahangir has planned a trap for me inside the school, our getting there early should beat his plans. And even if he/his cronies are there before us, we’ve got enough numbers and firepower to handle it.

So, all seems okay and around 1730, we set off for Village S.

An hour later, just as it’s getting dark, we enter the village. A walk through and we’re at the school. An L-shaped building, with an office at one end and four class rooms. A play field and a fence all around. That’s it.

We check out the building and finding nothing and nobody, the rest of the guys toodle off, leaving the three of us to settle down in Std II. It has two windows, but it’s dark to see anything. We put a couple of desks against the door and settle down on the floor.

20 minutes later, Charlie is informed by his QRT that they’ve got into an orchard and are lying doggo there. Good.

Now to wait it out and see what the morrow has in store for us.

The night passes by without any incident and we’re up at 0530. Soon, it’s daylight and slowly, we spot some villagers moving around. The two windows of the classroom give us a clear field of observation and fire right from the edge of the village to the lower slopes of the hills. Just as I’d remembered it from an earlier visit.

Weapons cleaned and checked. In addition to out AKs, Karan’s carrying an LMG and I’ve got a Dragunov (a sniper rifle).

God willing, in a little while, we should be able to use them to good effect.

0800 hours. Nothing of interest so far. Only, the number of villagers floating around keeps increasing.

0805 hours. F*** !!!!

A couple of kids has come into the school compound. From what I can spot through the gap in the door, it has all the makings of a cricket match because Std I is opened and two desks pulled out and placed 20 odd metres apart in the playfield.

Damn !! I hope the match, or whatever, doesn’t begin before we finish what we’re here for. I don’t want kids milling around all over the place.

0822 hours. A signal from Karan. I look out of the window.

A man’s come and stood under a tree. This is about 400 metres from us, between the hills and the village. Whats he doing there, all by himself? . Seems like a normal Kilo, in a salwar suit and a jacket of sorts. No weapon in sight. And no suspicious bulges under his jacket.

0850 hours. I observe this guy waving a handkerchief or some kind of cloth towards the hills. I pick up my binos and look in that direction. About a klik away, two persons walking down. Armed. I can clearly see AKs slung over their shoulders.

Cool.

Karan pushes a desk against the window, unlocks the LMGs bipod (a two legged foldable stand) and places it on the desk. I hoist the Dragunov onto my shoulder and get the Kilo’s head into my telescopic sight in order to work out the exact range and adjust my sight. Charlie keeps an eye out for any trouble from an unexpected direction.

“I’ll fire first. The militant on the right” I inform Karan “You take the other two.”

“Ok saab” is his reassuring whisper.

800 metres. 700 metres. 600 metres. C’mon lads. Walk fast !!!

I’m now tracking one of the militants through my sight.

The two get to the tree. As they are shaking hands I fire.

One guys lost his head and before the other two can respond, Karans let loose with the LMG. Down they go.


We rush out. The kids that were outside have scampered off. We can spot people running towards us from the village. Karan moves off to stop them at a distance while Charlie and I go check out the three guys on the ground.

Checked and found dead. RIP !

The cops are called and the corpses taken away.

Ghulam Hassan Mir of Village S, HM. The guy that had come to meet them. He had a pistol on him under his jacket.

Salamat Khan and Altaf Ahmed of Pakistan. Al Badr.

A silent prayer to God, a silent thank you to Jahangir, and we head back. Mission accomplished.

TO BE CONTINUED ......

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Jahangirs Journey - II

A lazy bath and breakfast, a few minutes to ponder over how to deal with Mr J and then I’m all set to open the can of worms or, in this case, his head.

Easier said than done, it turns out. I spend a better part of the day with him (the proceedings are not being recounted here for obvious reasons), but at the end of the day he’s given me sweet f*** all.

One, he’s tough. But then every guy breaks after a while, so that’s a non issue.

Two, he knows that I’m not going to kill him.

Three, he believes that since I won’t kill him and will eventually turn him over to the cops, I won’t damage him in any manner that’ll show up on his body.

Four, and essentially the prime reason, his leg still isn’t okay and even a heartless, ruthless guy like me can only go to a point when dealing with a wounded guy.

Anyways, to sum it up, by the end of the day I’m tired but have nothing to show for it.

A good nights sleep and I wake up having decided to raise the ante and get a bit rougher. Humanitarian feelings be damned.

Around noon, by which time some progress has been made and Mr J has given out some tit bits, I get a radio call from Charlie.

He wants to know if anyones come looking for Jahangir, cos surprisingly, nobody has come to him either.

Very surprising, indeed.

Anyways, this gives me some more time with the militant. What he’s given me so far is okayish but nothing very exciting. Some caches, a few organizational details, names of a couple of OGWs, etc. But now that I have time, I’ll let him chill on his own and worry himself to death in solitude and then hit him hard.

I spend the rest of the day pottering around and after dinner, set off with Karan and Jahangir. We are headed for one of the caches he’s told us about. Time for a credibility check in respect of Jahangir Khan, HIzbul Mujahideen.

A 7 klik walk and we’re near Village G. Jahangir leads the way and takes us to a field. At one precise spot, which looks no different from anywhere else in that field, he stops and tells me that this is it.

Karan hands him a little shovel and asks him to dig. He does so and after about 10 minutes, pulls out a steel box from the hole he’s dug. We open it and flash a torch inside.

One grenade, older than my sainted aunt, rusted beyond recognition. Period.

Karan speaks up before I can, stating that we should dig the hole a wee bit deeper, longer and wider and dump this jerk in it.

Exactly my sentiments.

I don’t think Mr Jahangir has got the general idea. So, I make him sit down and I explain.

I tell him that no one in the whole wide world knows where he is. His sister tried her bit with the support of the villagers but achieved zilch. I also tell him that I’ve had enough and that I don’t want anything from him. We are going back and on the morrow, he dies.

All my tough talk still doesn’t seem to have any effect, so I get a bit artistic, using my shiny dagger to do so (details left out for obvious reasons again). He finally seems to get the ‘point’ that I’m serious. Starts yelling and crying and pleading. Says he’ll give me whatever I want. Militants, high value caches, important OGWs, the works.

I couldn’t care a flying f***.

We walk back and I leave him for the night, to suffer his wounds and to worry about the coming day.
Another day dawns. I call Charlie and give him whatever Jahangir has talked so far, asking him to check it out as he deems fit.

The day progresses. It’s afternoon and I’m sitting in my hut, reading Lawrence Sanders and listening to Neil Diamond wax lyrically eloquent about Sweet Caroline. Ah ! The pleasures of a simple, peaceful uncomplicated life.

Man Friday walks in. “Saab, ek Ladies aayi hai.”

Ek Ladies? I have no idea why, but that’s the way our jawans say it. Always in the plural.

Anyways, be that as it may, let me see who this is and what she wants.

Aha ! Who else but Zarina?

“Wheres my brother?” is her opening salvo.

“How do I know?” is mine.

‘Cut out the crap’ is what her expression seems to say. ‘I agree’ is what my expression replies.

She sits down, totally composed and collected. Asks me what I intend doing with her brother.

I tell her that I’ve decided. to kill him.

She says I won’t. I say I will.

She wants to meet him. I tell her she’s got a hope in hell.

She asks me what kind of information I would consider important enough to let him live.

Tell her I’d need him to get me militants, OGWs and caches – big time.

She tells me that’s not possible. He doesn’t know all caches, just the ones he’s used. And they won’t have much in them. He knows the other militants in the area and can give me names but how would he know where to nab them? They don’t live in camps like the army. OGWs. Yeah. He can provide the names of one or two guys, but they’re very low level.

Sigh!! Actually, she’s got a point.

“Fine!” I tell her “You’ve got a point. He’s abs worthless, so I might as well kill him.”

She’s not too happy with that and calls me all sorts of names. Ah well ! I never was a ladies man. So I listen to her without feeling bad about it.

But seriously, I think Jahangir is more of a dead weight rather than being useful. I decide to hand him over to the cops.

It’s almost as if Zarina can read my mind. “No, don’t hand him over to the JKP.”

“Why not?” I’m genuinely surprised.

A bit of silence, a deep breath and I get my answer. “He killed 3 policemen some years ago. They won’t let him live.”

Aha ! That accounts for why there’s been no hue and cry. Jahangir and his sisters are the ones stuck in a tight spot.

“So what do you expect of me? I ask Zarina.

“Allow me to meet with and talk to my brother and then I’ll tell you” comes the reply.

Hmmm !! I might as well see where this goes.

Karan is hovering in the background and I ask him to arrange the family get together.

Four hours later, Karan is back.

“Saab, dono aapse milna chahte hain.”

I roger that, they troop in and lay their cards on the table. All 52 face up.

“If Jahangir ‘turns’, works for you and gets you some results, will you let him go and pay him in order to re start a new life in Jammu?”.

Wow !! I didn’t expect that at all.

TO BE CONTINUED.......

Jahangirs Journey - I

As we are rushing back from Srinagar, Jahangir and his sister Zarina safely ensconced in the back of Charlie’s gypsy, we discuss his future.

The old man in Srinagar has been politely, albeit very firmly, told to stay dad and keep mum. I’m pretty sure he and his family will do that. In any case, they have no clue about who we are. All they can say is that some faujis came and took away a militant. Big deal !!

So, in effect, nobody knows where Jahangir is. Therefore, we can either hand him over to the police or kill him. The latter is a no go, because you don’t kill a guy just like that. But giving him up to the cops has no use either. They’ll dump him in a cell and a year or two down the line; he’ll be out. Then, if he decides to go straight, the HM will kill him and if he gets back to his old tricks, we will.

Sigh ! Wish the guy had fought. We’d have knocked him off and wouldn’t have to worry like we’re doing now. The hassle essentially is Charlie’s. He went way out of line carrying out an op in Srinagar and regardless of the fact that he nabbed a militant, he’ll get his b*** chewed up by his CO and the Brigadier.

Anyways, I tell Charlie that we’ll keep Jahangir under wraps for a while. In any case, we need to squeeze information out of him. Hopefully, he’ll come clean ASAP. Else, we’ll need to make him talk.

Charlie asks me to keep him since he’s worried his CO will find out. But he also wants that he gets to act on all the actionable int that Jahangir spews out.

That’s understandable and acceptable.

But there’s still the biggest hassle : Zarina.

We can’t keep her. And the moment we leave her, she’ll raise a hue and cry with the cops and the press and the politicos that her brothers been illegally detained. She knows Charlie and therefore, he’ll be in thick s***.

Damn !!!! The guy did have a pistol on him. Why the f*** didn’t he use it when we barged in???????

Too many problems.

I make up my mind.

I ask Charlie to stop the Gypsy. It’s about 0330 hours and we’re about 40 klix outside Srinagar. An abs desolate stretch of road.

The vehicle stops. I jump out. Open the tail gate and yank Jahangir out.

I drag him off the road and getting him on his knees, I put my Beretta against his temple.

“Noooooooooooooo” yells Zarina.

I pull the trigger.

Zarina yells louder, as does Jahangir. I’ve fired a round into the ground.

I go back to the vehicle and sit at the back, opposite Zarina.

I tell her that I’ll have to kill her brother because he’s too dangerous to be left alive.

She’s a smart gal. I think she understood my predicament. But she isn’t sure whether I will kill him or not. It’s poker time.

I lay my cards on the table.

“Look. He attacked an army camp. Just for that, he cannot be allowed to live. But if he talks and gives me good information, I’ll let him live and hand him over to the cops. However, if he doesn’t talk, he vanishes.”

Her turn to play.

“You can’t hold him. It’s illegal.”

I laugh, hoping like hell that it sounds normal. “As if I care” I tell her “Nobody knows he’s with me. And who’ll believe you?”

She keeps quiet.

Round 1 is a draw. At least I think so.

We continue our journey and Charlie drops me off near my hidey hole. Zarina struggles to get off with her brother but Charlie drives off with her.

Karan and the Ikhwan take our guest and show him his lodgings – my good old cattle shed.

I’m not happy. I think Zarina is going to talk. I don’t have much time to make Mr Jahangir open his beak. Might as well get cracking on it.

But tea and breakfast first.

“Charlie for Khalid.”

Now what?

“Go ahead.”

“Charlie for Khalid, Zulu dropped off near the village. Am heading home.”

“Roger, out.”

The count down has begun.

TO BE CONTINUED ......

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Combing the Capital - III

07 March

I call Charlie over and we discuss and finalise plans.

2000 hours. We set off for Srinagar. Even Karan and I are in regular uniform. Too many trigger happy security forces guys in the capital, of all hues and types, to take any chances. I leave instructions with Man Friday to take Rashid out at midnight, walk him a couple of klicks, remove his blindfold, untie his hands and grant him freedom.

Later in the night, we’re there. Charlie with 7 jawans, Karan, the Ikhwan and me.

We park the vehicles near a CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) post and walk into a locality of downtown Srinagar called Habba Kadal.

Combing the capital commences

Habba Kadal is a congested locality. Loads of houses/apartments cramped together with narrow alleys running through the area. Essentially, a lower middle class/middle class residential area.

I ain’t very comfortable in these environs. Can get ambushed from anywhere, anytime. But then this isn’t Sarajevo. I don’t think there are going to be snipers perched on the rooftops waiting to get my head in their cross hairs. Nonetheless, I’ll be happy to get out of here.

The CRPF guide I’ve picked up from their post leads us to the address I’ve provided him. After taking us through one narrow alley through another, he deposits us outside a double storied block and makes a hurried retrograde move back to safety.

The neighbouring blocks are much the same and theres no place at all to deploy the men. I’ll just have to leave them out in the alley. In any case, I’m neither expecting an attack on them from anywhere nor do I think Jahangir will be physically in a position to come out with guns blazing.

Anyways, the idea is to nab him peacefully inside.

Towards this end, Charlie, Karan, the Ikhwan and I move to the door and address it with a rap of my knuckles. Oops ! I’ve forgotten. I’m in civilization. There’s a switch for a call bell and that gets addressed with a gentle push.

After a wee while, we hear some movement and the door is opened by a middle aged guy. We barge in before there’s any talk and shut the door. We find ourselves in a little hallway with a staircase going up. On one side is a room, but the door is shut. Charlie and Karan check it out and find a living room of sorts. Devoid of any inhabitant. A door from within that leads to another room, a kitchen cum store, and thence to a little courtyard with toilets at one end and a door which I assume, leads out from the back.

We quickly rush up and get to the first floor. Two doors. I push the master of the house ahead of me and kick open one door. It’s a bedroom with a double bed occupied by a very surprised and scared looking lady. This guys wife, I’m informed by him.

We move to the next room. A boot on the door and it swings open. A sleeping form under a quilt on the floor. As Karan puts the muzzle of his AK to what seems to be a human head under the quilt, the old man yells out, “That’s my son, don’t kill him.”

I have no intention of doing so is what I tell the fellow unless……..he tells me where Jahangir is hidden.

“Who Jahangir? What Jahangir? Which Jahangir?”

While this is going on, the other three move around and come back to me with an NTR.

NTR? Where IS Jahangir? There has to be another room.

The lady is up and about now and is yelling blue murder. We calm her down and leaving the Ikhwan to talk to her, we take the father and son duo downstairs.

But what do I ask them? There’s no room that could’ve been rented out.

Did Rashid Mir take me for a ride?

It seems to appear so. I think this has been a classical wild goose chase.

Anyways, before I go back and re-establish contact with Rashid, I decide to talk to these two guys.

They both tell me they’ve no idea what I’m talking about. There has been no tenant or tenants in their house, ever. So on, so forth.

I realize I’m wasting my time and decide to get out of here.

Just as I inform Charlie of my decision, the Ikhwan, who was prowling around in the kitchen and courtyard, comes in excitedly, holding something in his hand.

It’s a garbage pail. He informs me that it was outside the kitchen and wants me to take a look.

Has the guy gone crazy?

Anyways, I peer in and lo and behold, what do I see?

Lots of usual household muck.

And lots of unusual muck……like blood stained bandages and cotton swabs, empty vials, disposable syringes.

Aha !!

I look questioningly at the old man.

“I don’t know anything.”

Sigh !!

I ask both the guys who put all this into their garbage pail.

“It’s not ours”, says the son.

“My wife is unwell with some gynae problems and is undergoing treatment”, says the father, simultaneously.

Double sigh !!!

A few knocks to father and son fail to evict anything out of their mouths.

I don’t have much time. We have to be out of Srinagar before day break. This isn’t a city you can mess around in with nonchalance. There are rules and laws and stuff.

I grab the sons hand, spread it out on the table and pull out my cutlery. “All fingers go if you don’t talk fast” is what I tell them, the tip of the dagger drawing a little blood from the back of his hand.

The two guys look at me and then at each other. I see resignation in their eyes.

“I’ll take you to them” yells out the son.

I release his hand and he takes us through the courtyard to the door leading out from the back.

Only, it doesn’t lead out. I had merely assumed that. He points to it and says “They are here.”

We got Jahangir……….. alive.

The young man got to keep his fingers…………intact.

Combing the Capital - II

05 March

I spend the morning thinking about how to proceed from here. There’s no way that I just go meet this particular Kilo and he’ll tell me everything. The other option is to ‘pick’ him up and ‘squeeze’ him, but what if he’s abs innocent? Gulzar’s information is 4 times removed and in Kilo Land, that’s 4 times too many.

I decide. I’ll need to get some independent corroboration of some kind. But this guy shouldn’t get to know that I’m interested in him, else he’ll vanish. Need to adopt some other approach.

Off I head to the Ikhwan camp. Luckily, there’s some kind of meeting on and all their ‘commanders’ are present. I join in and get down to brass tacks, asking for information on the attacks on Charlie’s base.

They all take off, going blah blah blah, but not one of those ‘blahs’ is worth the while.

I then ask them if anyone’s got info on any wounded militant and one young guy pipes in to say that he’s heard about it. Not confirmed, but there are rumours that Jahangir has been wounded. He’s from the same village and some relation told him about it during a visit to town.

Wow !!! Jahangir huh? I know the guy. A veteran militant. HM. Belongs to Village M. I’ve been after him but with no luck. Pretty smart operator with tremendous clout in his village and the surrounding area. But he wasn’t in Bomber’s gang. Which means, if it is him, he could now be part of this new Al Badr group. Which is likely, because the Paki’s have been trying to merge the HM with the Al Badr or at least get it under Al Badr leadership, even at the grass root level.

I ask this Ikhwan to come along with me, and bidding adieu to the motley gang, trot off, homewards bound.

The rest of the day is spent picking the young Ikky’s brains about Mr Jahangir.

I learn that he’s lost his parents. Has two unmarried sisters, both of whom teach in the village school. One younger brother, who lives in town and works as a shop assistant. Jahangir leads a reasonably clean life. No bullying, no stealing, no womanizing. Generally hangs around Village M but has a very strong EW network and has never got anywhere near being nabbed. Is much attached to his sisters and vice versa. Other than his sisters, he is close to an uncle, his ‘mama’, who lives in the neighbouring village. Name is Rashid Mir, Village W.

Aha !! I don’t need to look into my little black book for this one. The name Gulzar gave me was Rashid Mir, resident of Village W.

I thank the Ikky for his time. Give him a bottle of rum, which he will sell for gold and send him off, but not before telling him to try find out more about Jahangir’s current status.

Early dinner and I knock off, reasonably pleased with myself. I think I now have sufficient cause to ‘lift’ Mr RM. But before that, I need to do something else.

06 March

Post breakfast, I’m off to meet Charlie. I gen him up on all the khabar and my plans for the future. Thereafter, we both push off to Village M, headed for the village school.

We go meet the principal and Charlie informs him that this school is very high on his company’s civic action horizon and that he plans to do something for them. Only, he’d like ideas from the faculty on how the Army can help so that the funds and other resources are optimally utilized.

The faculty troops in a wee while later, 4 in number, of which only ones a lady. What’s this? I thought both of Jahangir’s sisters taught here. But there’s only one femme, unless the other ones into cross dressing or whatever.

A discussion commences and goes on for about an hour, with none of the participants realizing that Charlie’s talking through his hat (or BPP in this case). Finally, it ends and an agreement is reached that Charlie will build an additional classroom as well as gift some cash for buying books and so on.

The teachers push off and we’re left with the principal. I compliment him on his bright and committed faculty, while expressing my surprise that there’s only one lady on the staff. In an emancipated state like J&K, one would expect more. He informs me that there is another lady, in fact the sister of the one we met, but right now she’s on a spot of leave.

Aha !!! The dots seem to be getting joined. Let’s see what picture emerges finally.

Charlie and I return to his camp and after lunch, I apprise him of my plans for the morrow. Thereafter, I head home via the Ikhwan camp where I pick up a battered old civilian jeep as well as my young Ikhwan friend of Village M.

06 March

Sunday morning, and I’m up with the lark. Well, an early lark, so to speak. Its 0200 hours and it’s time for action.

Karan and I get into the aforementioned jeep along with the Ikhwan and set course for Village W, reaching the outskirts by 0300 hours. Having alighted, we set off into the village, the young Ikky guiding us to the residence of Rashid Mir, Esq.

A knock, silence, another knock and the door opens. Happily for us, and sadly for Rashid, the doors opened by him. A quick, silent grab and we head back to the jeep, and thence, drive back to my hidey hole. I’ve a little guest room of sorts as part of my palace….a little shed that at some point in time housed cattle, and Rashid is dumped there to ponder his fate. Trussed and bound, if that’s the correct term.

The good guys, who include me, go to bed.

I wake up a few hours later and am informed by Karan that our guest is in good health, though not in good cheer. Not surprising at all.

After getting ready, I head downstairs to meet him. A normal looking guy in his 50s. I wish him a respectful salaam but instead of a wale-qum-as-salaam, I get a barrage of queries like where is he, who are we, why is he here, what do we want and such like unimportant stuff. I politely remind him that given the circumstances, the script dictates that all questions will be asked by me and his sole job is to provide answers with accuracy, brevity, clarity and honesty.

He displays belligerence but after a few words and suitable actions, we are both agreed on the fact that he will talk.

“Where is Jahangir?”

“I don’t know.”

Whack !!

“In Srinagar”.

“Who took him there?”

“I don’t know.”

Whack !!

“I did.”

Our discussions go on in this vein till around noon. Thereupon, fearing for his health and well being, I allow him a break for lunch and introspection, after which talks resume.

By evening, Rashid Mir has given me all that he has and I have a fair idea of what transpired. It took time and I learnt a lesson. The youth think they’re immortal and so don’t fear death. The aged know they’re mortal and so don’t fear death. They realise its inevitability.

Anyways, the story, narrated reluctantly by Rashid Mir, goes like this.

Jahangir got injured. He went and hid in the orchards. Uncle was sent for. Uncle arrived. Thereafter, Uncle arranged for a car and took Jahangir to Srinagar. Zarina, one of the sisters, went along. Found a room on rent. Then found a surgeon. Got Jahangir checked out. Uncle returned same evening. Learnt from Zarina via telephone two days later that surgery has been conducted successfully. No further news. Last known, Jahangir is recuperating in the rented room with Zarina playing Florence Nightangle.

Armed with all this information as well as the address of the rented accommodation, I’m all set for progressing the search for Mr J in Srinagar.

TO BE CONTINUED .....

Combing the Capital - I

23 February

“Charlie for Khalid, Charlie for Khalid.”

Not the ideal words, voice and tone to be waking up to, but apni apni kismet hai.

“Khalid for Charlie, go ahead.” I mumble, only half awake as I stick a paw out of my warm sleeping bag to grab the little Kenwood.

“Charlie for Khalid, my company base came under attack last night.”

Whattttttt ???

F*** !!! This is crazy !! Charlie’s company is located in an area where these kinds of things do not happen. What’s going on?

I’m more than fully awake now and I quickly get the details from Charlie. Just after midnight, his camp got fired upon from a hillock that overlooks it from the north. No casualties, barring a jeep that suffered some GSW (gun shot wounds) on its bonnet and two store tents that suddenly found themselves reconfigured with a few neat, circular ventilating vents.

Charlie’s lads fired back with LMGs and RLs and a QRT (Quick Reaction Team) was sent off to out flank the attackers, but by the time they got there, nary a soul was around. They found some fired cases, all AK and spotted some foot prints. But nothing that could lead them anywhere or to anyone. A plain and simple ‘fire and f*** off’ op or for those who take umbrage to my less than placid language, a ‘shoot and scoot’ op.

Charlie goes on to inform me that he’ll be working on his neighbourhood to seek out information on this and requests me to also put in my 8 annas bit towards this end.

“Wilco, out” is my response as I sign off, mulling over this event.

Like I said, these kind of things don’t happen in this area. And then, an attack with just AKs? The hillocks too far away for rifle fire to be effective. If the militants had used PIKAs or rockets, I’d understand. And if this was anyways going to be an ineffective attack, then why launch it? Nothing to gain and there’s always the risk of the baddies bumping into a patrol at night.

Anyways, its too early in the morning to tax my limited grey matter and I yell out for Man Friday to charge my batteries with some tea.

Later in the morning, I’m out with Karan headed for Charlie’s location. He isn’t there when we reach but I get to hear the story from some of his jawans. Nothing new.

I then venture across to the hillock, Karan and I pretending to be Messrs Holmes and Watson, sans the homburg and pipe, but come up with nothing.

I head back to Charlie’s location and find that he’s back. He tells me he’s asked around but has got no news at all. The poor guy is all low and blue because getting a camp attacked by militants is a big insult. Sadly, I can do nothing to lift his spirits so after advising him to stay on the alert for a few days to avoid a repeat, I head back to my hidey hole.

The next few days I ask around, but zilch is all I get.

01 March

“Charlie for Khalid.”

Sigh !! Another wake up call from Charlie. Now what?

“Charlie for Khalid, another attack last night.”

Jeez !!!

Similar attack, from the same location. Same reaction from Charlie’s angels. Same result.

Except…..no jeep and no tents got hit. And…..Charlie’s guys have found blood on the hillock, from where the militants fired. The trail leads to a point but then dies. No further leads.

Now this is really getting crazy. Has some militant or group of militants lost their head? What ARE they trying to achieve?

I start my snooping around with renewed interest and vigour. Some crispies are handed out. Some locals are pulled in and questioned….some politely and some not so politely. Ikhwans, cops, BSF, other Army units….everyone’s asked….but with no luck.

Leaping Lollipops !!! I’m beginning to believe the ghost of Bomber Khan is at it….trying to extract some kind of revenge.

04 March

I’m informed that I’m right, or nearly so.

My good and trusted source Gulzar turns up with the news that this whole thing has been engineered by the remnants of Bomber’s gang along with a new lot of HM jerks who’ve just inducted into this area. They’re being led by an Al Badr (another militant tanzeem) Pakistani and want to ‘make their bones’ ASAP.

But what will they achieve by this stand off kind of thingy is my doubt and it gets answered when Gulzar tells me that the plan was for two guys to fire from the hillock, while the rest of the militants laid an ambush for the troops that were sent on an outflank move. The first time they studied the reaction and the second time, they laid the ambush along the route the platoon would take. Sadly for the militants, and happily for our boys, the QRT didn’t follow the same route.

Gulzar goes on to tell me that of the two militants that were on the hillock, ones got splinter injuries from a Karl Gustav rocket. The guy’s knee has been badly jacked and he’s undergoing treatment in Srinagar. The others have melted into the environment.

All this Gulzar has got from another Kilo who knows another Kilo who knows another Kilo who knows the Kilo that took the wounded HM chap to Srinagar. And if I want to know more, I need to get to THAT Kilo. Whew !!!

Financial negotiations get underway and after Gulzar has considerably lightened the little leather pouch I store my crispies in, as well as a few 100 grams of tea leaves that I got from a friend located in the cushy environs of a tea garden in Assam, he leaves. I’m left behind with the name and village of the Kilo that took the militant to Srinagar.

Time to get to work on this gentleman.

TO BE CONTINUED ........