July 2001 News

Long, dangerous days for Indian jawans

4 July 2001
The Asian Age
Qaiser Mirza

Srinagar: Mukhtar Singh Bal is weary. Three years of security duty in Kashmir — frisking civilians on the street, worrying when the next grenade or gunshot will come — have worn him down. The 40-year-old head constable in the Border Security Force is one of a half-million soldiers trying to contain a dozen Islamic insurgent groups in Kashmir. Kashmir has been the main source of friction between India and Pakistan for a half-century, leading to two wars and frequent confrontations. It is expected to be a key issue at the mid-July summit scheduled by the leaders of the two countries. Despite the recent conciliatory overtures between governments, there is no letup for soldiers like Bal, who is stationed in Srinagar. “I have to be alert for 24 hours. Sometimes I have to be in my Army fatigues for days together,” constable Bal says, standing beside a sandbag bunker in his khaki uniform and bullet-proof vest. With an automatic rifle slung across his shoulders, the turbaned Sikh, with a beard spotted grey, looks tired. He says this is one of the most difficult duties he has had in 19 years of service. “You do not know when a militant will appear and from what direction he will lob a grenade or shower bullets,” constable Bal says. Checking vehicles, frisking people, moving around in armoured cars are now routine for him. The Border Security Force — normally used to watch the frontiers — has been pressed into the unaccustomed role of anti-militant fighting in Kashmir. Constable Bal was born near Amritsar in Punjab. He was posted to Srinagar three years ago, and since then has been working 18-hour days because of regular attacks from Muslim militants who want to separate Kashmir from India. He has had close calls, such as one of the bombings that have killed thousands over the past 12 years. “Minutes before the explosion I had left the spot after a routine patrol with my commanding officer,” he says, adding with a shrug that he could have been among the 16 dead. “I have a family — my wife and two school-age children back home,” he says. “I long for them and they are equally worried about me. Whenever there is trouble in my area, my family gets disturbed and makes frantic calls.” He talks about his home village with nostalgia, mentioning his favourite ball game, kabbadi. “But here I have no time even to listen to music, forget about the sport I loved.” “We get food from the mess, but I miss my home meals: Cheese and peas along with maize bread and mustard leaves,” he adds. Bal has no opinion to express on peace efforts between India and Pakistan. “This is for the leaders and top ministers to think about,” he says. “As a soldier I have to carry out the orders from the top and discharge my duty and fight for my country.” (AP)

 

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