India is often likened to an elephant; slow to rise and lumbering in its gait. A little known fact about elephants is that they reach a certain momentum, and when they do, it is impossible to stop them. They rampage, they break, and they destroy and flatten jungles.
Winds of ill fortune are blowing across Kashmir. It had to happen some day. Gently, without undue ceremony, Kashmir has started slipping back into the nineties. The slide is not gentle, but the momentum is visible only to those who know what signs to look for. The insiders speak in whispers. They say that they see ominous signs of “those dark days”. Perhaps they speak of the nineties.
In the mid-nineties, the Rashtriya Rifles was still growing teeth, still developing that fearsome reputation of possessing supernatural hunting skills. RR’s history is interesting. Army Headquarters was pushing units to send men on deputation to Rashtriya Rifles, in the Kashmir Valley. Now, the role of RR and how it could benefit 17 Kumaon was not clear to a young officer who, much against his will, had been appointed Officiating Adjutant. The year was 1995 and the unit was in Tibri Cantt, Gurdaspur. But I knew that I had to “defend & protect” my best men.
I knew what was expected of me. And so when Brigade Headquarters said that there were three vacancies for RR in 17 Kumaon, I sent the worst I had. I sent men with a history of coming back late from leave, gross indiscipline and borderline violence. There were many such clueless Officiating Adjutants, like me, in the Indian Army then, I guess. And there were hard-core professionals who held on to good troops. Any Adjutant would.
The earliest entries into RR were such men. They were the Indian Army’s “Dirty Dozen”. And the best officers the Indian Army could find led these troops. The cocktail was explosive.
RR started notching up kills. Over a period of time, the QR (Qualitative Requirement) of troops changed. Army Headquarters had perhaps got a clue to what Adjutants were up to. Soon, our best men started going to Rashtriya Rifles.
But the DNA of the force had, by then, been embedded in a different culture. Today, Rashtriya Rifles is a distinct force; part infantry and part special operations. They have their ears close to the ground. At any given time, a part of the force is rotating. There are always a substantial number of men who know the ground intimately. They have sources. They have eyes. They can smell. Rashtriya Rifles is the tip of the spear.
And then there is massive radicalization taking place in Kashmir. The gentle Sufi culture, the culture of shrines, is dead. Is has been centuries in the dying, but it was in the past decade that the last rites were read.
From the pulpit of the mosque, venom flows in Kashmir. When DSP Mohd. Ayub Pandith was lynched by a mob; venom was flowing from the pulpit. Every other day, indoctrination to the Wahhabi ideology is taking place from pulpit of mosques. Funds flow in from Saudi Arabia, that proselytizer of proselytizers. Pakistan diverts funds from its infrastructure, healthcare and education budgets to propagate a mindset in Kashmir, a mindset that is accepting of terror…terror from the pulpits.
The humble mobile phone is the tool that disseminates it. Hour after hour, fake news is generated and spread. A population, whose mind has been numbed by propaganda overload, has lost all capacity of sifting wheat from husk. Once the mind is accepting, it is easy to pass off Syrian mass graves as Kashmiri. When security forces surround terrorists, it is this mobile phone that comes to their aid. WhatsApp groups made for this very purpose are activated. Soon, a mob gathers at the site if the encounter.
The mullah and the mobile…that is the bane of Kashmir.
And then, there is China; inscrutable China who, through decades of opaque propaganda positioned itself as a superpower that would brook no opposition. The lesser we understood it, the more formidable it became in our collective minds. Without firing a shot, much less waging a war, China became a superpower in our collective imagination. What will China think? What will China do? What will China’s position on this or that be? These questions were often asked in Parliaments and Senates across the world. So less was actually known about China that after the Indian surgical strikes in PoK, many Indian were waiting for China to react. Some even thought that China might attack.
Nothing happened. That is the moral of the Chinese story. The dragon breathes fire, but the dragon does not go to war. The dragon is wise. This is exactly what is happening in the icy landscape of Doklam. The Indian and Chinese armies are eyeball to eyeball. Not one shot has been fired. Instead of missiles, we have Chinese newspapers writing editorials. These very editorials quote the mood of the Chinese nation, giving veiled hints to India that the Chinese nation is itching for war. We have armchair experts telling India that China could attack through Kashmir. All is pure and distilled hogwash. I always thought Chinese propaganda would be better than Chinese goods. I am disappointed.
China will not attack. Forget that the area of activity was in Bhutan. Forget that China was building a road. China will not attack. It is all bark and no bite.
China has been defeated in war by tiny Vietnam. It is possible to defeat China, and China knows this. In the area of the current standoff, India is at a strategic and tactical advantage. If China attacks, it needs a numerical superiority of 9:1, at least. To engage every Indian soldier, it needs to launch 9 Chinese soldiers into battle. Some thinkers even say that for the Chinese to have even a fleeting chance of success, the ratio must be as high as 10:1. China simply does not have those kinds of numbers.
This face-off was premeditated. It had to happen. After India opposed One Belt One Road (OBOR) and by extension the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), India had to be “taught a lesson”. It started off with Pakistan pushing the envelope in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Muzaffar Wani. Truth be told, Burhan Wani was no Hafiz Saeed. He was a small time militant who was fond of posing for photographs, holding weapons, duly clad in combat uniform. He loved to flash his made-up persona for the ladies. He was involved in the killing of civil functionaries and also planning the killing and ambushing of security forces.
Burhan Wani was killed because he was the head of the Hizbul Mujahideen, which is a terrorist outfit. Politicians in Kashmir regularly question the killing. They say that they would have spoken to Burhan and brought him back to the mainstream. Burhan became a militant at the age of 15 and by the time he has killed by 19 RR, he was about 22 years old. For 7 years, no Kashmiri politician spoke to him and no one asked him to join the mainstream. After he was killed, he became a political milch cow. Burhan alive was a migraine for security forces. Burhan dead is a treasure trove for separatists and Kashmiri politicians.
Now, they will, forever, milk his memory dry …for votes, for tears and for electoral sympathy.
On 8 July 2007, the Special Services Group (Pakistan Army Special Forces) stormed Lal Masjid in Islamabad. One of the casualties it suffered on that day was Lt. Col. Haroon-ul-Islam of the Zarrar Company (anti terrorism unit), who was killed in action by a sniper. He was a brave officer who led from the front and did not shirk from his duty even in the face of certain death.
Today, I remember the courage of Lt. Col. Haroon-ul-Islam. Had we met in war, we would have been enemies, sworn to kill each other. Yet, he is worthy of respect because he died in the line of duty.
I also remember Lt. Col. Haroon-ul-Islam because his own army forgot him. For this brave soldier, there was that almost perfunctory tweet from ISPR. For a terrorist like Burhan Wani, the Pakistan Army Chief sang praises and the whole Pakistani nation wept.
The death anniversary of a soldier and a terrorist fall on the same day, and Pakistan chooses to remember the terrorist. Such are a nation’s priorities. Such are our enemies.
What is happening on the Line of Control? Look carefully and you will see that without exception, all ceasefire violations are taking place along the Jammu axis. Naushera, Sundarbani, Bhimbar Gali, Krishna Ghati, Mendar, Poonch, Rajouri, Balnoi; all these areas where Pakistan Army regularly violates ceasefire are in Jammu. There is no ceasefire violation in Kashmir.
Here is what the situation is like. LoC along Kashmir has zero ceasefire violations, and terror attacks are very rare in Jammu. Srinagar and South Kashmir see stone pelting. Jammu has no stone pelting.
Pakistan deliberately wants to punish the population of Jammu, which it perceives is loyal to India. It wants to create a Hindu-Muslim divide in the Valley. Since Pakistan was created on the basis of religion, that is the extent of their imagination. Pakistan rarely thinks beyond religion. Or money.
China. Pakistan. Terror in Kashmir. Two and a half wars.
When massive stone pelting and rioting broke out in Kashmir after the killing of Burhan Wani last year, the security forces were taken aback because they based their assumptions on the truth, that Burhan was a nobody and that there would be no reaction. He was not the first terrorist to be killed and certainly would not be the last. Pakistan’s ISI, in cahoots with militant separatists like Asiya Andrabi created the myth of Burhan Wani overnight.
The ISI excels in psychological warfare and its post-Burhan management of the chaos in Kashmir was a master class in psy ops. But the CRPF is a force famous for learning on its feet. It knows the ground intimately. On the first death anniversary of Burhan Wani, ISI and the separatists in Kashmir had planned widespread rioting and stone pelting across the Kashmir Valley. Less than 5% of what they had planned actually happened on ground. Take a look at the local newspapers. So little was the stone pelting that, forget Indian newspapers, even Pakistani dailies did not give it more than a passing mention. The Burhan drama has fizzled out. Even if it picks up later, the initiative is lost. You do not celebrate a birthday a week after the date. It’s simply not done. Same logic.
India has called China’s bluff. China stared at India, and India did not blink. China knows that the year is 2017 and not 1962. Pakistan Army’s adventurism on the border is being responded to with ferocity that it has not seen in a very long time. Their bunkers are being decimated and their troops are dying. For the past few weeks, the infamous Border Action Teams of Pakistan Army are strangely ineffective, because Para SF is now hunting them. The attacks on security forces camps are down to a trickle. Everyday we hear of terrorists being killed. Stone pelters are still stone pelting, but every week their effectiveness reduces.
There is only one way to permanently keep China on the back foot, embarrass it and make sure that it is always on a slippery slope. We have the Dalai Lama. For decades, India has kept this relationship subtle so as to not embarrass the Chinese, and in the interim China has quietly gone about changing the demography of the Tibetan plateau. It is time to come out from the cold. Lets not be bashful about it.
The Dalai Lama should be facilitated in all possible ways so that he can meet the heads of states and the United Nations, and appraise the world of Chinese atrocities against Buddhists. Let black banners meet Xi Jinping wherever he goes. Let Tibetans protest outside Chinese embassies across the world.
Hong Kong has been the bedrock of simmering discontent against Beijing’s rule. Pro democracy protests are becoming commonplace. Very recently, a few public officials refused to take oath on the Constitution of China. That, coupled with a few more incidents prompted Xi Jinping, no less, to issue a very public warning to the people of Hong Kong. He did it because China was rattled.
When India openly supports pro-democracy forces, there will a rumble in the dragon’s belly. China is afraid of social media. It is afraid of contrary opinion. It may not be afraid of our armed forces, but if Tibetan protesters greet Xi Jinping with black flags outside the United Nations, China will not know how to deal with such a scenario. It never has. It is used to applying brute force upon its own citizenry.
The Indian Army has shown us the way. If you don’t blink and if you tell China that you are not impressed with all the optics of size and economy it so brazenly displays, China will be at a loss.
The two and half wars we are faced with are, to a very large extent, China’s doing. And these are power games between China and India.
It is now time to twist the dragon’s tail.
Major Gaurav Arya (Veteran)
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