My Brushes with Terrorism in Kashmir -II
t was a dark sable night during the cold surreal winter of 1989. Frost had gripped the valley of Kashmir though snow had not fallen yet. Subversion and acts of terror had already been unleashed to intimidate and subdue Kashmiris. Horrid killings and gruesome murders of peaceful and innocent Kashmiri Hindus were orchestrated to intimidate Kashmiri Pandits to run for their life and honor as they were the softest targets to be hit first. Some prominent Kashmiri pundits and Muslim secularists were done to death in the most barbaric manner. This was done to intimidate and harass people as much as to whip up anti-state and anti-India hysteria in the valley with the aim of causing insurrection and revolt. Unidentified dead bodies started being found floating in the streams, rivulets and nallas of the valley. School buildings, government offices, banks and public utility stores and private offices were vandalized and bombed to scare people and extract their forced support to the cause of the separatists. Properties of Kashmiri Hindus were vandalized and ransacked before some of them were blasted or burnt. A state of anarchy and chaos was staged by Pakistani motivated and trained terrorists who were abetted and supported by the local separatists. The symbol of Government in winter months when Secretariat is shifted to Jammu, the office of Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir located on the bank of the Jhelum was attacked with a rocket. It was in such a turbulent atmosphere that I persisted to perform my special duties in Pulwama district of Kashmir valley as a foolhardy man even when others had left the fort and taken to hiding.
Since those were the initial days of insurgency in Kashmir valley half hearted attempts were being made in ad hock and unprofessional ways by local civil and security administration to combat and stall the menace gripping the valley. District Pulwama had been divided into convenient and contiguous geographical zones to combat insurgency and contain its damages to the civil society. Some senior officers including me were placed on special duties to oversee maintenance of law and order in such areas and the duties would rotate from day to day. Special duty was to be performed by such officers during nights also risking them to ambush and attack from terrorists without the offenders getting noticed and exposed. As public properties were the prime soft targets of subversives, the district had evolved a strategy to combat the sabotage by focusing on watch and ward arrangements. I did not know how many of the officers performed their duties but I will speak for myself. Every head of the institution, office, school, bank and public utility service was made responsible for the safety of the asset he was heading during night as well as day time. It was ordained by an executive order that HODs would ensure safety of the assets by ensuring presence of staff for watch and ward duty of the assets on rotation basis so that no public asset would remain susceptible to surprise terrorist attack during nights for want of proper watch and ward.
Cut back to an earlier time: Mohd Maqbool Bhat who belonged to Kupwara district of Kashmir had crossed to Pakistan occupied Kashmir some years back as he had been lured by Pakistani agencies like some other Kashmiri youths. He came in contact with Aman Ullah Khan of POK who had established Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front in Pakistan occupied Kashmir for the so called independence of Kashmir and was its self proclaimed Chairman. Maqbool Bhat conspired with him and became his activist. He was fully charged and motivated to spread armed insurrection in Indian part of the valley. So he infiltrated back into Kashmir with full fire of revolt on a mission under Operation Topaz, to either annex Kashmir with Pakistan or destroy it with civil strife and anarchy as per plans of General Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan. He targeted the first JK Police officer Pt. Amarchand (a Kashmiri Pundit) at his home at Nadihal and gunned him down to create scare in the community and evoke publicity for “Azadi”. As the JK Police was quite professional those days, he was nabbed immediately after and put to a fair trial under the law of the land. He was sentenced to death on charges of sedition and conspiracy, causing death of a police officer to provoke revolt against the legally established government of the state, for secession from India and annexation to Pakistan. After his case went through all stages of appeal and mercy petitions, his death sentence was confirmed by the highest court of the land. He was therefore executed in Thira jail of New Delhi where he had been lodged during his trial. His execution was acquiesced by Indra Gandhi the then Prime Minister of India even as she withstood great pressure put by the Muslim centric National Conference to grant him amnesty for placation of Muslim separatists of the valley. After he was executed, his day of hanging was converted into a day of remembrance by the enemies of the state. The day started to be observed by underground and separatist forces in the valley to stoke hate against local government and revolt from India. It was on one such death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat, in 1989 that I had to cross-check the performance of government offices regarding watch and ward of government assets during that dreadful night. I record these reminiscences on the basis of my faded memories and so there may be gaps and omissions in dates and names. Yet efforts have been made to record as sincerely and as honestly as my memories allow.
I had to start in the evening of that fateful night. There was a nasty nip in the air. I had to start from District Complex Pulwama where other members of my team met me. They consisted of a JK Police SI who was a Kashmiri Muslim young man in his thirties with affluent fluffy cheeks. There was a gunner of JK Police without a gun who was a lean Sikh in his late twenties with sunken eyes. Besides, there was me and my colic driver. We boarded our gypsy at Pulwama at about 8 PM and started towards our zone which comprised the areas on southern bank of the Jhelum, starting from Awantipura and going to Pulwama via Newa and taking right of the road to Ratnipora and then further right to the bank of Jhelum to Lojoora to Padgampora to Malangpora and back to Awantipura. Tehsil Tral too was in the area of the zone, which we had to recee to check the presence of the staff on government assets on that fateful night.
Our gypsy took towards Ratnipora from Pulwama on Srinagar Pulwama road. It was a moonless dark night. Cold winds of November in Kashmir lashed the side windows of the gypsy. Police SI was seated with me on the front seat. The gunner without gun took the rear seat. On reaching Ratinipora bridge we took a detour towards the right which bordered Ratnipora village where there was a school building as per list available with us, which I had visited during my normal duties. We meandered through the narrow lanes of the village to approach the school building which was situated in a depression around which ran a road in a rectangle raised on higher elevation. It was pitch dark in the village in response to the call for black out by the terrorists to invoke people towards their cause and create scare and panic. Neither was there any sound or movement of life except the howling of jackals. When we crossed one side of the road we could not see but only felt the image of a door for the building from a veranda .The building was an L shaped single storey barrack. We stopped the Gypsy and blew the horn to evoke some response from inside. There was no response and so we assumed that it was a case of dereliction of duties. But after a while there was creaking and through a small crevice a streak of light gushed out of a room. It was the dim light of a hurricane lamp which was wicked dim to avert detection by the terrorists and escape reprisals for daring to challenge the diktat of blackout. But this confirmed that some one was in. The door hinged open slowly and a human figure in dark appeared against the background light. The gunner without the gun called out in his Sikh Kashmir dialect as to who it was. “Me sir, Jumma the chokidar” came the voice in a withdrawn sound apprehending us to be the terrorists to inflict reprisals for not obeying their diktat. Immediately after, another dark human figure emerged from the door. When he was asked as to who he was, he replied in a timid trembling voice,”Gash-pandit, the teacher” apprehending that he was perhaps the softest victim of the day for the terrorists as terrorists were massacring the Pundits in similar situations ( for being Kashmiri Pandits). Immediately after another apparition appeared on the same door declaring that he was ”Sabir Headmaster”. Appreciating the extraordinary zeal of the school staff for the safety of school property, I was intrigued to enquire from the HM as to why three of them had stayed in the school that night when only one was expected. I was silly not to figure out that it was simply not possible for a single man to stay the night in that sable wilderness when panic and dread was ruling the roost as a method of terrorist intimidation. The HM chuckled in a mischievous but suppressed voice that he believed in strict discipline and joint responsibility in performance of all school duties. When I asked him further as to why Jumma chokidar appeared the first he replied that being a disciplined teacher he maintained seniority in all respects. Therefore the junior most man Jumma came out first to face the bullets followed by Gashpandit the teacher the next senior. He informed “My turn would be the last to face the bullet of the terrorists. And thus I appeared the last. Isn’t this protocol fair sir?” he asked me. This arrangement of duties devised by the school HM sent chuckles into me on realizing the ingenuity of Kashmiris who have mastered the art of creating humor even out of grim and critical situations. I patted the HM for his originality and prayed that they remain safe during that uncertain night of senseless violence. And thus we left that place for our onward journey in the performance of “special duties”. We had to recee the villages on southern bank of Jhelum upstream Via Lojura to Padgampora, to Malangpora and cross over the Jhelum to ancient village Awantipora on National Highway, covering a chain of villages and hamlets on both sides of the way which were all shrouded in ghostly darkness due to the call for blackout dictated by the terrorists. After negotiating the kacha road for about an hour we reached Padgampora which was famous for its Agriculture Research Farm. This road intersected Awantipora, Pulwama main road. As stated already it was pitch dark all around and light was not even flickering anywhere for reasons recorded already. From Padgampora we crossed the Jhelum on to Awantipora and joined Jammu, Srinagar National Highway which too was unusually silent. We directly rushed to the Police Station which was situated on a mound. And to our utter surprise it was as good as empty excepting a middle aged Hindu Munshi who was more scared than alert. I could make out that he took us as an irritation and informed us that all men were out on field duty to get rid of us. On the right side of the mound a small number of khaki tents seemed to have come up recently, where hectic activity was on. It was a CRF Camp where security forces were camping to take up their new job assignment in this area, by rotation. There was a visible difference between the two. One was full of life and activity, ready for a role to perform. The other was dead and dormant, hiding to shirk and connive. From this notional Police Station our gypsy labored towards Trall town. The road from Awantipora to Trall was a climb up through the terraced gullies, on which paddy fields were leveled and some villages of the Tehsil were located. Here too it was sable dark and no sign of life. When we reached the police station at Trall the same story of Awantipora repeated, when we found that only two men present in the station. Where had the ranks gone? I could not fathom. I hoped that the men were not contributing to the cause of the terrorists with their criminal absence. After some time we took another route via Dadsara back to Awantipora which had more villages by its side. It was jet black all around and there seemed to be no movement and no streak of light anywhere. It seemed a ghost-land that was being visited by evil spirits from the dark hell. Only howling of jackals was heard at a distance. When we rejoined the highway at Awantipora, we were shocked to find that the milepost was painted green with a JKLF flag done on it. First I thought it to be the handiwork of some miscreant who was influenced by the separatists as we were made to believe then. But when we moved back towards Malangpora I could not believe it that the next milepost too was painted the same way; So was the next and the next. So had all mileposts on the valley roads been painted with JKLF flag on green background at only this time of the dreary night? From Qauzigund to Lagama Uri; to Sonamarg; to Yusmarg; to Bandipora; to Gulmarg! It was simply mind baffling to conceive of the organizational network of activists paid or otherwise, who had been motivated to accomplish such a huge task just by midnight of that gloomy night of the death anniversary of Maqbool Bhat. I got shivers in my bones to grasp the dimensions and reach of this effort at anti-national indoctrination of the Muslims of the valley.
On reaching Padgampora crossing we saw a truck coming from the opposite direction. While our gypsy indicated for it to stop it also wanted us to halt. When two vehicles stopped almost grazing each other on that narrow road, we saw it to be a truck of security forces carrying about a score of security men of CRPF. Some of the men were with obsolete guns while others were with batons. We could see that it had two guns mounted on the tool box to confront any ambush and assault. It had stopped us for security check. The commandant of the truck who was seated on the front left seat was a terse and serious middle aged lout. When he was satisfied that ours was the vehicle of Duty Magistrate on night duty he let us pass. I had already dismounted from the gypsy and went to him while he was still on his seat. When I talked to him he did not seem to respond as he seemed to be in combat mode on the front line. During the stop of the vehicles, the fog lights of vehicles were on as there was pitch darkness all around. Looking upwards on a standing leafless popular tree, I could feel something fluttering in the fast breeze. Getting curious I enquired of the commandant as to if he had seen some thing fluttering on a tree. This involved him in the talk and he came down from the truck along with his men in arms and with batons to check. Both of us looked upwards the line of poplars and willows that bordered the road and were shocked to mark that the trees on the road on both sides were fixed with 1`X6`` flags which were fluttering. This must have taken a stupendous organizational effort to arrange transport and fix these flags at the middle of the night at great risk of falling down from the trees. Was it a foreign sponsored indoctrination or self inspired motivation of activists to challenge the state and central authority and their authorized forces? The commandant of the truck commandeered his men to bring down some of these flags with the help of their batons and rifles which they did with vengeance, to defeat the invisible enemy. I remember that seven or six such flags were brought down out of which I collected two as trophy of the night. The hand flags were made of green cloth with JKLF logos on them. Then, both the vehicles left. When we reached Malangpora Training Institute bend we did not enter the institute because we thought that it was all safe, having a unit of static Security Forces already stationed there. When our gypsy labored the ascent leading to Newaheath darkness was penetrating and silence was frightening. Just before we made the ascent we saw some shadows crossing the road just 20 feet ahead of us. As we reached the spot I asked the driver to stop the gypsy to check. Though Police SI inside was reluctant to venture such a risk, the driver stopped. The SI was annoyed for my misadventure and came down from gypsy with me with a visible grudge. We tried to check with the help of my hand torch but could not pierce the dark wilderness of that somber night. We could not locate anything. The SI in the meanwhile insisted that we go back in the gypsy and whiz off. While we were conversing, the wheezing sound of a passing bullet ripped through the dead silence. We thought that it had grazed the canvass window of the gypsy, but it had not. This was the immediate reward of my misadventure of venturing to disturb the sabotage and revolt plan of JKLF to invoke insurrection in the valley. We were just lucky enough to escape. As a quick reaction we mounted the gypsy and buzzed full throttle to cross a long stretch of Newaheath which had almond plantations and some world famous saffron fields. As a fool I felt guilty that I had done nothing to detect and check the elements who had aimed at us but my SI friend reproached, “Sir I had told you that we need not to be more loyal than the king and do our passive duty only of making a recee of our area without inviting any notice and trouble to ourselves.” It took us about an hour to reach back to District Headquraters where we were supposed to report and register any untoward activity that came to our notice during our visit of the duty area. It was past midnight now. There was no one available at the District Headquarters to report to. So we dispersed to our places.
The next morning I went to inform the District Headquarter of our adventure of the previous night. With two JKLF flags snatched from two trees in my hand as the trophy, I reported wholesale painting of all mileposts with JKLF Flags and perching of the said flags on trees and house tops of all roads of the valley. I reported of the grim and serious situation that was engulfing the valley. I was not only surprised but also embarrassed to be advised to take it easy and cool. I could not make out then as to if the advice was a sincere effort to underplay a critical situation that had acquired the shape of a revolt or if it was connivance with the cause of militants and the separatists in the administration. I wonder if it can ever be clarified. Till that time I will carry the mystery of that bleak and bizarre night within my heart.
MY BRUSH WITH KASHMIRI TERRORISTS (Part 1)
*P.N.Ganjoo was born in a modest Kashmiri family about 7 decades ago, lost his father early and was raised by his honest, hardworking mother. With her efforts he received his education in Srinagar and went on to serve in various Government Departments before retiring as a senior grade KAS officer.
Presently he is working on his varied interests besides being a consulting Director of a software services company.
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