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…………..