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March 7, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Varsha Bhosle

The hell where youth and laughter go...

Before we continue with our musing on the Counter Insurgency And Jungle Warfare Training School, we need to make a point regarding the Kargil Committee Report and its observations on Pakistan's notorious Operation Topac. In May 1998, Home Minister LK Advani had referred to the "three-phase plan put together by Gen Zia ul Haq" to "liberate" Kashmir. Indian commentators have, at various times, written that the former Pakistan President spelt out project details of Op Topac at a meeting of the ISI in April 1988, a few months before he was killed in an aircrash over Bhawalpur.

Zia's speech included exhortations like: "Let there be no mistake that our aim remains quite clear and firm: the liberation of Kashmir Valley... shrewdness and intelligence, power to persevere under pressure and political intrigue were some Kashmiri qualities that could be exploited." He warned that the use of foreign mercenaries would require detailed and ingenious planning because the 1965 Indo-Pak war, code-named Op Gibraltar, held "many lessons for us." On arming Kashmiri insurgents, he said: "We have managed to accumulate large stocks of modern arms and ammunition from the US consignments intended for the Afghan mujahideens... It will be disastrous to believe we can take on India in a straight contest. We must be careful and maintain a low military profile so that the Indians do not find an excuse to pre-empt us by attacking at a time and point of their choice." Naturally, we believed in Op Topac as an article of faith...

But now, Subbu Mama's report states: "One of the most realistic assessments of Kashmir developments as they unfolded during Pakistan's proxy war was 'Operation TOPAC,' a war game written by a team of retired Indian Army officers in 1989. It is interesting to note that 'Op TOPAC' has since been mistakenly attributed even by high placed Indian officials and agencies to General Zia-ul-Haq. This shows how close the authors of 'Op TOPAC' were able to get into the mind of the Pakistani establishment in relation to their aims in J&K." Eh...? A war game?? Meaning, disinformation and propaganda against Pakistan?!

We chewed our nails over it till we got confirmation: In 1986, Zia *did* conceive and frame a programme for ISI-backed insurgency in India. In 1988, Zia *did* give the speech at the ISI meeting. In 1989, the speech and the programme were analysed by two retired generals of the Indian Army, Afzal Karim and Mathew Thomas, in the International Defence Review. Since the gentlemen did not know the actual code name used by Pakistan, they came up with "Op Topac-Amru" (who, by the way, was a king of Latin America). The project is real, it exists; the insurgency trouble that India is undergoing *had* been set in place by Zia in 1988. Only the name that Indians know it by, was given by our military think-tank. The words 'Op Topac' may have been mistakenly attributed by high placed Indian officials and agencies to Gen Zia-ul-Haq -- but the programme hasn't "mistakenly" been. Subbu Mama has done a disservice by merely touching over the matter in fleeting and thus unnecessarily introducing demons.

That said, we return to the CIJWS... We've so far told you about some of the instructors and the heads of the two wings. The third senior officer we met, and trailed till we left the premises, was the head of the Faculty of Studies, Col Sanjay Holey of our Maratha LI... And now please let us digress as usual: One cannot escape Chhatrapati Shivaji when one comes in contact with the Indian Army; for instance, at the entrance of the Brigade HQ in Uri, J&K, there stands a huge statue of the glory of the Marathas. At every mess we've visited, portraits and busts of the founder of Hindu pad badshahi have stared down upon Bhosle. And so when we came across the painting at the CIJWS, we asked Maj S Vinod of Gurkha, a cute Mallu from Trivandrum, what Raje Shivaji was doing in, of all the places, Mizoram. Answer: "This school is the one place where the presence of Shivaji is a must, for he was the first exponent of unconventional warfare in India."

You know how it is, when you grow up with tales of valour, you stop seeing its heroes objectively. Yes we knew that Shivaji invented guerrilla warfare here, but how others perceive his unorthodox and inspired methods, was a revelation to us. To illustrate, Maj Vinod related Shivaji's taking of Sinhagad from Udaybhan Rathod, a serf of Aurangzeb, in 1670. On the night of 4 February, 300 Marathas, under Tanaji Malusare, reached the foot of the impregnable fort. Tanaji tied a rope around a "ghorpad," a large Iguana-like lizard, and had it climb the one unguarded, sheer facade -- and scaled the wall with the help of that rope. Once up, he threw down the other ropes he was carrying, to let selected men climb into the fort. Some engaged in battle with the Rajputs, while others opened the Kalyan Darwaza to let the waiting Marathas in. The lizard and the ropes indicate a planned operation... Result: the conquering of Sinhagad -- with 500 Rajputs and only 50 Marathas dead. Maximum gains with minimum casualties... the core of CI ops.

Sand model class In truth, we shimmied up so much to CIJWS admin, that we were eventually allowed to sit in a class or two. The first we attended discussed the shift in insurgency from rural to urban; the last, conducted by Col Holey, was a "sand model" of a search-and-cordon op. That is, the students were given details of a hypothetical situation wherein they had to demonstrate on a large model of Silchar town, how they would cordon off the area which a terrorist was going to visit and how they would neutralise attacks.

We expected exciting gung-ho stuff. Instead, we got: How to provide security to the local population; establish rapport with the people; develop liaison with civil authorities; network intelligence, etc, etc. All utterly ho-hum till: how to dominate the area and neutralise maximum UGs, "undergrounds," for terrorists. Note: MOUT is military ops on urbanised terrain; tpt, transport; ab, airborne; str, strength; coy, company; heptr, chopper -- the army is stark raving bonkers about abbreviations! As we started listening, we soon realised that though all that martial machismo certainly is important, more crucial is plain old administrative know-how. There was a long sermon on how man-made cnstr (constructions) impact on tac (tactical) options open to cdrs (commanders), who must treat the elements of urban sprawl as trn (terrain) and know how this trn affects the capabilities of units and wpn (weapons). We bugged our class-mate for an explanation of every sixth word.

Naturally, we can't tell you the tacs imparted (though now we know why Hollywood films show cops entering a terrorist-held building always from the top and never the bottom), but some illustrative anecdotes were cleared. Like the time when Col NJ Nair of 16 Maratha LI set out to capture a group of insurgents in Manipur. The army had information that the terrorists used a certain ferry site frequently, and the colonel and his men disguised themselves and worked as boatmen in that area for more than a month. One day, the UGs took the same boat that the colonel was plying -- and all were ferried to Hades mid-stream... Or the time when Col Holey, while searching a house during winter, casually moved the smoldering wood in the hearth. The fire caught, the smoke rose, and down crashed a UG from the chimney... Or the time in Sri Lanka when Col Holey and his QRT cordoned off an area upon definite info of a terrorist sighting. The whole day they searched in vain and finally returned to their post. That night, a villager snitched that the UGs had been present all along -- perched in the tamarind tree from under which the colonel had directed the operation...

Charm them, damn it! We laughed the most when Col Tiwari (officers from different wings often sit in to monitor classes), was exasperated by a particularly stubborn student who disagreed on the WHAM methods of evacuating civilian homes: "Charm them, damn it! Charm them so much that the family will beg you to be their son-in-law! Arre tum Bharat ke jawan ho. Open up your faculties! Pitch a tent in their garden; offer money; keep them in a 5-star hotel! Aggression is not the solution." Then there was the awful footnote on how to handle the media during CI ops: We cringed into our seat as Col Holey said, "Even if you know that an employee of, say, the water works department is sympathetic to insurgents, do not hold on to him for interrogation and keep him from his job. For the next day, the Press will report that the army has denied water to Silchar." About 27 pairs of semi-hostile eyes had turned towards us...

Despite all the technical details, the bottom-line of the instruction was plain: There are NO set solutions in CI ops -- only the pitfalls, based on lethal experiences, can be indicated. Everything, even vehicles requisitioned from the civic administration, have to be checked for IEDs. On-the-spot command, quick thinking, is what saves lives. And, no civilian, no source can ever be trusted with or for information since every civilian can be coerced by terrorists. For instance, the time when 11 soldiers died when a trusted informer led the coy into an ambush. The difficulties inherent in CI ops cannot be fathomed without hearing from the other side.

A student answers It was wonderful to sit along with the young captains and majors and hear their take on deadly scenarios. Even though they were students here, they weren't greenhorns -- all of them had faced enemy fire, and many of them had commendation medals. They were the same guys whom we had gotten to know quite well in our antagonise-them mood during our daily Happy Hour. But after this class, we worried over how the constraints of political correctness would let them operate freely in situations of unconventional warfare. For rules of battle do not apply to terrorists -- and shouldn't apply to their pursuers, either...

That evening, the bar was free of all the students. We were grumbling to GS, Why do we get along famously with your over-40 officers and clash with the young ones...? The wise man explained, "The young are still finding themselves, they are sifting through their ideologies. Didn't you do that during college? Once they get the experience, they will settle down. Don't worry! I know them, they are alright." But where are they?! "Oh, the term is over. Tomorrow is the passing-out and they will return to their respective posts thereafter. Tonight, they are having a party in the garden -- some bonding is taking place," he smiled.

Asterix in CIJWS Without the students' boisterous revelry, the bar was no fun; we wrapped up. Later that night, from our room we could see the party in full swing. The loud strains of D-I-S-C-O were drowned by their voices as they sang along and danced with each other. We could see them: some in windcheaters, some in suits. It was like any urban Gen-X group at a pub, minus the girls. Just that morning, we had spied an Asterix book smuggled into class -- they were so like urban college students. And I thought, tomorrow they go to their posts, perhaps at Siachen, to fall into a crevice; perhaps at Poonch, to fall to a Paki bullet. And I remembered a verse from the WW I poem by Siegfried Sassoon:

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Varsha Bhosle

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