August 1998 News

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Kashmiri's Abiding Faith in the Army

21st August 1998
By Saeed Naqvi

Heaven knows Farooq Abdullah has made many mistakes in the past, most notably under the influence of his friend Rajiv Gandhi, but this is no time to hold him accountable. These are testing times. For three days what I have seen him do, all along the LOC in Kashmir, has to be seen to be believed. I cannot imagine any other Kashmiri leader hold the attention of the shell-shocked people of Uri, Tangdhar, Machhal or the Gurez valley the way he does. Let me give you an example of the substance of his speech, say, in Gurez: "I do not know when these Pakistani guns will be silenced. These guns that destroy the paddy fields of the poor, maim and kill innocent civilians. This is not all. The border remains porous. Pakistani infiltrators are still streaming in,creating chaos by acts of terrorism. And let us face it, there are some anti-national people among you also, who are in cahoots with the infiltrators. But, by God's grace, we have the will and the military back-up to take care of this menace. "And now pakistan has embarked on a strategy to target the Hindus in Dakhikote, Paranoia, Doda, Chambal. Why? So that misunderstandings are created between Hindus and Muslims throughout the length and breadth of India. So that the 200 million Muslims, all of us in India, are viewed with suspicion by the Hindus. Why is Pakistan creating these problems for us? Do they want all of us, the 200 million Muslims of India to join them? Those who made the mistake of crossing over after Partition are to this day referred to as Mohajirs or migrants. They have not been assimilated into Pakistan. What is their interest in creating this turmoil in our lives? "Let them realize that we are a powerful nation, our economy is not sinking the way the Pakistani economy is sinking and we shall never concede an inch of our territory.

So I implore my Pakistani friends to come to their senses. Keep whatever you have on that side of the LOC. But please let us reconstruct the lives of the poor people on this side, in India." Thunderous applause follows. There is something surrealistic about the places along the LOC that Pakistan has recently chosen as its artillery targets. Take Uri, for instance, Brig. U.S. Klair of the Gharwal Rifles walks smartly up the observation post at Uri. He makes an arc with his right hand, pointing out all the peaks and passes that enclose the Uri bowl where with a touch of great irony, a handful of malis are tending the grass in what must be the world's most adventurous 18-hole golf course. Some shells have fallen on the spectacular green below. In fact, the golf course is within the Pakistani artillery range from three sides. There at the base of Machikaran, the highest peak towards the left is the bombed out roof of the house of a lonely, 85-year-old man who has since been in the Army's care. Brig. Klair points out two or three houses on the higher reaches of the mountains in front.

"Militants in one of those houses were guiding the Pakistani artillery by wireless sets", he says, "That is how they were able to target 57 villages, injuring 75 people". How does he know that militants from "those" houses were helping Pakistani artillery to correct its aim? "We intercepted messages," Brig. Klair says. The Army found the houses locked but when they broke open the doors, log fires indicated that the"militants" had possibly escaped on seeing the Army approach. The "log fire" story flies into the face of the testimony given earlier by the villagers. Most of the villagers had refused to talk. But some of them had said that nobody lived in the houses which had remained locked for a very long time. It is just this kind of testimony, obviously given because of fear of the armed militants, which creates suspicion in the minds of the Army operating under extreme pressure.

These misunderstandings are also contrived, all part of the proxy war. At the public meeting in Uri town one of the speakers refers to the Army's "highhandedness". As he rises to respond, Farooq holds up the open palm of his right hand. "Are all the fingers equal?", he asks. It was dangerous to tar the image of the Army because of isolated incidents." Let us not forget that Pakistan has imposed on us an undeclared war, he adds.

"Let us also not forget how much you depend on the Army in these remote parts." At the hospital in Tangdhar the injured raise their hands in prayer." May God protect the army doctors without whose dedication many of us would have bled to death." In Machhal, the soldiers of 28th Punjab look after the entire administration of the inaccessible valley. A wizened old man standing in the corner mutters, "Sheikh Abdullah came here in 1948 and now his son has come. No one else visits us. The Army is all the help we have." Such heart- warming stories about the Army are interspersed with stories of excesses, and Farooq Abdullah navigates this very difficult stretch explaining to the people on the one hand and the Army commanders on the other their total interdependence in times of war.


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