Friday, January 07, 2005

Vantage Point

14 October

Gulzar's come to meet me. Who's he? Ah, well ! He's one of my top sources. Around 60 years old. A widower. Ekes out a living by running a small saw mill in his village. He came across me one day when his teen aged son had a close encounter of the nasty kind with the electric saw and nearly lost his arm. Luckily I was around at that time and managed to use my 'issue type' morphine coupled with my rudimentary skills at suturing to help save that arm. Ever since, Gulzar became my friend and then progressed to becoming an invaluable source. Not that he doesn't believe in the free market economy. Takes a lot of money off me, but since most of it is originally HM/HUA/LeT, I don't mind. Easy come, easy go ! Long as it gets me kills, I'm happy.

Ayways, so he's come to meet me. The preliminary exchage of pleasantries and as he settles down on the floor, I ask him what brings him to me here. I generally avoid meeting my sources at 'home'. For their own good health and longeivity.

He informs me that he's got something major up his sleeve, but would like to talk money first. I remind him that the going rates have gone nowhere and the old agreement stands. 10 k for each kill that he facilitates. Payable only ex post facto.

The evil glint in his eyes tells me that he's in the mood to bargain. Which either means that he's very hard up for cash and will try to take me for a ride, or that he's got something really good.

Its the latter.

It emerges that his nephew, a young fellow who generally lives life in the twilight zone, doing odd jobs for the militants, the cops, the Army and himself, has been approached by an OGW to act as a guide for a newly inducted LeT group, all Afghans. This group is currently hiding up in the hills, but needs to come down to civilisation for logistical reasons.

Gulzar tells me that for a sum of Rs 1 lakh, he'll home me onto this group when they're inside a village. He's discussed it with his nephew and if I'm willing to part with a radio set, the nephew will pass on the name of the village to me once it's decided.

I remind Gulzar that Afghan militants are nasty and ruthless characters and are not likely to take kindly to a guide equipped with a radio set. I also tell him that he ought to stop talking rot where the pecuniary aspects are concerned. Theres no way I'm shelling out that kind of money for a couple of filthy militants, Afghan or not.

Well ! He's obviously thought it all out. He tells me that the nephew will keep the radio off and well hidden and only use it once, as soon as it's decided which village they're moving into. After that, he'll throw it away to avoid any risk whatsoever. And as far as the money angle goes, a lakh is not asking for too much. Because there are 7 militants, 6 Afghans and a Kashmiri, and that would make it 70 k in any case. And because his nephew's life is at risk due to chances of being killed along with the militants, he's asking for an additional 30 k.

Hmmm. I can't argue with that.

This whole show gets on the road tomorrow night. So after giving him a radio set, I rush off to apprise the Brigadier. He immediately sends for the CO (Commanding Officer) of the RR unit in whose AOR this bunch of FMs is moving around and we decide that the RR battalion will stay on alert to move and act, the moment I receive the information from Gulzar's nephew. Towards this end, I'll be co located with the RR CO.

All seems pretty much tickety boo and I go off to sleep looking forward happily to the morrow. Hopefully, this should be a neat and clean, copy book op.

15 October

I wake up in a cheery mood and spend the first half of the day cleaning my weapons and generally thinking out all possible contingencies. Can't think of many. If the nephew delivers the name of the village, a CASO should achieve the needful without any hassles.

Post lunch, I drive off to the RR battalion's location. Karan, much against his wishes, is left behind. He's running a bad fever and in any case, with an entire RR unit to do the job, I do not visualise my getting involved in the nitty gritties of the op.

The CO and I sit with the Company Commanders over tea and discuss which are the likely villages the militants can come into. We're all agreed that it'll be one of the 5-6 villages situated at the base of the hills. Graphical layouts of each of these villages are studied and plans made for each scenario, with specific tasking for each of the companies.

Time passes by and just after last light, everyone decides to have a quick bite and relax till the news arrives.

16 October

0047 hours. The radio's buzzing. "Khalid saab, Aslam bol raha hoon, over."

"Haan Aslam, bolo." I whisper back.

"Hum C gaon jaa rahe hain. Out."

Move! Move! Move!

And damn! damn! damn!

C Village is the largest village in the area. Around 500 houses spread over 4 mohallas (localities). A CASO is going to be tough and time consuming.

But we've catered for it in the planning and the RR CO is not bothered at all. He tells me that his unit has done so many ops there that every man knows the village like the curves of his wife.

We move out ASAP and by 0430 hours, are on the outskirts of the village. I watch in silence as the CO does his last minute briefing and coordination.

The company columns move off to their respective objective areas. A, B, C and D to cordon one mohalla each. E to act as reserve.

I move off with the CO's party. We spot a double storied, flat roofed house on the periphery of the village and spotting a wooden ladder by the side, climb up and settle down on the roof. It's a good vantage point. We can see most of the village from here. Communications are set up. Tea is made and served. We are well situated to control ops. Excitement level is high and we sit in cosy comfort, waiting for contact to be established.

Reports start coming in over the radio. Each company reporting. Cordon in place. Checked personally by the company commander. Each cordon as tight as the proverbial rat's butt.

First light. Searches commence in each mohalla. We're tensed up. Contact should be established any moment. From our vantage point, we can see the locals filing out of their houses and assembling outside the village to facilitate the search within. My ears are straining to hear the sound of firing. Should be any time now.

0800. Nothing. Search is still on.

1200. Nothing. All houses have been searched once.

1600. Nothing. A second search has been effected.

1800. Nothing.

It's getting dark. The CO gives me a very nasty look and orders his unit to pull out. He gets the Brigadier on the radio. "NTR. I'm moving back. The info was abs crap."

I resent the bit about the crap, but hold my silence.

We get back to the Battalion HQ and without further ado, I take my leave and drive back. Wondering all the while what went wrong.

17 October

It's evening. I'm still brooding over the op. What a bloody disappointment. Words with, or rather, from the Brigadier haven't made things any better.

Man Friday turns up. "Gulzar aaya hai, saab."

Ah ! Just the man I want to meet. And just the man who's neck I'm going to wring with my bare hands.

"Saab, kya kar diya aapne? " he says as he walks in.

What I said in reply cannot be articulated here due to censors and such like.

"Arre Saab, sab gadbad kar diya aapne. Haath aaye mujahidden jaane diye."

Jaane diye? Haath aaye?

I grab him by the neck and shake him hard.

"You f****** let me down Gulzar. There were no militants there."

" Kya baat karte ho Saab. Allah kasam. Wahin par the."

"Kahan the? Poore gaon ka search hua. Teen baar."

"Saab, jis makan ki chhat par aap aur CO saab baithe the. Uske andar the."

F*** !!!!!!!!!!!!

Gulzar didn't get any money.

I didn't get any militants.

My ego got a kick on it's fat butt.


At 11:42 PM, March 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

awwwwww ,,, :(


At 11:30 PM, March 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When u reach for the stars, you may not quite get them, but you wont come up with a handful of mud either :)



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