Silent village, sudden movement of weird men, some long haired, smiling, loving to be photographed and trying to do the impossible who tried to step up the venomous gas of hatred! But could not have done so!
-‘ This is a story of small shifts in your thinking, and small changes in your energy that can lead to massive alterations of your end result. The terrorists of those times had selected this place for a reason and if analyzed now the reason, perhaps was to convince Kashmiris that shrines do not matter much in the gamut of things but we (militants) do matter. Mast Gul or whatever he was, had come for that particular reason and then fled Kashmir leaving what today is known as the carcass of a fighting machine of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen’!
‘-The Kashmiri brotherhood was blown away by the mystique of flamboyance of the gun on the shoulder to complete a mission and that could not have been possible. I will sum it up in a few lines as to what Mast Gul and party were trying to say that was true but Kashmiris could have understood one straight fact, ‘try telling the truth for a whole week. And just see how much trouble you get in.’ They definitely got into a serious one. Not all but just a few!’
-‘Another thing that remains unconvincing in the psyche of some kids in Kashmir is that they think they are right but unfortunately that is not the truth. The truth is that when a human God is ready for you to move, he will make your situation uncomfortable. Mast Gul did that! This way or that I think I’m talking sense!’
‘Some word was coming up in those days and that was Hizbul Mujahideen was growing in stature. What was it we never knew but when we did come to know what it was then a character made charismatic by Kashmiris had become the talk of the town. The name of the wretched human known was Mast Gul. He was heard but he loved to be photographed! That is where I saw him first. But the last one I saw was with a few strands of hair dangling on the neck and back side up the skull, the skin shining bright! The Mast Gul’! But he ran away like a scared hare, because the bullets when they were fired were heading towards him! He escaped and left behind a legacy that still hurts! I think the big legacy of the Mujahideens called Hizb started from here! Yasin Malik was a dirt clouded man then!’
– ‘Salahuddin, the Hizb man made his life difficult for himself. He destroyed many men/boys who would have done wonders for Kashmir. What he wanted no one knows but at that time with a cloth on his shoulders he looked as if he wanted a cup of tea and bakery to fill his pot belly in Soibug! I can describe what he would have said, ‘ save your skin from the corrosive acids from the mouths of toxic people. Someone who just helped you to speak evil about another person can later help another person to speak evil about you.’ This language got drilled into the minds of a few men and their tongues also ejaculated the same!’
-‘ Today perhaps the children of Soibug would be saying, ‘we don’t know anything about silent sages, buried knowledge, the eye of the mute poet, serene seers, yet how many talkative destroyers, prophets and ideologues, teachers and beautifiers there are on the other side. Perhaps Charar-e-Sharief is the best example as to how the destruction of generations could be stopped. But that generation was teaching kids about long hairs and beards! Bad idea!’
‘Mehwish looked into my eyes, which were blank, unreadable. That was the worst kind of person, the scariest, the one who’d learned to keep her feelings out of her eyes, she spoke in scornful language’. Or I didn’t feel anything at all. She blurted in not the tastiest of languages, ‘I have known people like that; they were the destroyers, you are also. They took things, everything we worked for, all our silly dreams and smashed them beneath their boots for no reason at all.’ I had nothing to say but for the fact, ‘I did not kill your brother!’ The reply was still an angry one, ‘you all are liars’! ‘Never mind, I’m’ I responded but it was the truth! That day I left and when this kid grew big she did acknowledge to another officer, Sir, you were correct’! The kid had grown up so much in Charar that she never recognized me! And when she did she did say, ‘it takes no genius to destroy. The creators, the givers, the lovers, the healers – these are the heroes who know – building up is so much more difficult than tearing down.’ The last line blew apart my heart, I smiled, ‘the little kid had grown big to understand the reality of times! ‘Indian Army is the best, they that day resisted from doing what they could have done’! They were saving the population on that day at Charar-e-Sharief!
The child was speaking the truth like many other children looking blank and white faced but someone was speaking lies. Major Mast Gul, the commander became an overnight hero because he was doing nothing else, doing things that looked inflating for a few and deflating for the most and extremely disturbing for the children of that era. The echo that rumbled throughout the Valley further fanning flames of anger was that the army had sprinkled gunpowder over the town from helicopters before blasting it down with mortars. A bizarre story. Rattled by all this, a shocked Government cranked up its creaky propaganda machinery. A plane load of journalists, Indian and foreign, were flown in from New Delhi (I was not one of them but I knew as to what had happened) as the town was still burnt and small-arms fire continued. But there was too much damage to control. It was evident that the Charar incident and the army action – ironically called Operation Shanti had raised anti-India sentiments in the Valley to a new high. The All Party Hurriyat Conference’s Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said: ‘The Indian Government is destroying our religious places to suppress our political struggle.’ At that time most believed it but a few did not. It was Hizbul Mujahideen that had prepared itself for a major strike without realizing that the hulk smash was on its way!’ Mast Gul is history but Charar-e-Sharief the great place had blown the clarion call! The forthcoming generation was not going to be moving around with guns. The kids of Mehwish did not and so did of Isha , her younger sister! The world for them had to change and change it did!
‘It was an unexpectedly tough resistance from the militants,” said Major-General D.B. Shekatkar, General officer commanding (GOC) of the 8 Mountain Division, deployed in the region. ‘By burning the shrine and the town, it is the militants who have gained,’ Said the General. This was because the Militants burnt it before the Army got on to mopping up mode’
The fire fight lasted barely an hour. But the shrine was in flames. For sure the Indian Army would not have done that but someone had! Pakistan had got the spice powder. It was the ballistic politics of those times and the calm to be maintained. Bodies of militants killed in the encounter was a surefire indicator that the terrorists were there but what was Mast Gul doing there and how did he get across the LOC! These questions remained unanswered but that is not the part of the story but the answers are not far off!
Despite voicing strong criticism of the Government, the Opposition joined ranks with it on the issue of national security. The most discordant noise came from dissident Arjun Singh who, in a cynical and self-seeking outburst, not only sought Rao’s resignation but also threatened to visit the burnt shrine along with Imam Abdullah Bukhari of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. But did he? That time journalism includes Kashmir know the best! Why? It’s written in history!
But as usual the militants/terrorists in Charar were a confused lot. They had taken the town and were inside but the dissensions were growing. The Harkat-ul-Ansar men wanted to use the Government’s offer of free passage to escape. However, Hizbul Mujahideen leader Mast Gul was reportedly getting instructions, routinely from Pakistan, not to give in. In one of the intercepts picked up by security forces, Gul was reported to have told his mentors: ‘hum wohi karenge jo Markaz kahega (We will do as the headquarter says). But the mad hat escaped. According to army authorities, on the evening of May 8 that year, Gul asked all the militants to assemble in the shrine complex where they offered prayers. At 8.30 p.m that fateful, the militants set ablaze a few houses in Baba Mohalla, a residential locality about 200 m from the shrine, which by then had been deserted. They may have expected to escape in the resultant confusion. Some did and some did not! But Gul definitely had without telling the story as to what transpired!
By the way as it happened in Hill Kaka militants had fortified their positions by building bunkers and mining the area around the shrine with improvised explosive devices (IEDS) and booby-traps rigged with LPG cylinders. The Government, apprehensive that they might blow up the shrine, ruled out a flush-out operation. That was the beginning but now almost twenty five years later the people are acknowledging that Indian Army was not wrong but men like the then Hurriyat leaders Shabir Shah, Yasin Malik and Abdul Ghani Lone had tried to march to Charar-e-Sharief before the shrine was destroyed by the militants led by one whom some Kashmiris considered a person straight out of Marvel series of movies, I mean Major Mast Gul! Army authorities had said repeatedly that the militants were in constant touch with the Hizbul Mujahideen through a VHF (very high frequency) communication set.
Because of its strategic location, Charar-e-Sharief had been a haven for infiltrators from across the border (not now). As an end note of the Part-I of the story I will say that after the day-long operation one man arrested was Abu Jindal, the self-styled chief of Harkat-ul-Ansar, hailing from Faisalabad in Pakistan. He later helped the army in the detection of IEDS and hideouts of the surviving militants at Charar-e-Sharief!
What I wanted to say in this edition of the story was that a man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty (Kashmiri men and women do stand out in this regard and there should be no doubt of that), and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever (Alas! Some in Kashmir, now a very few follow this too)! No this is up to the parents to see as to what is right or wrong! That is why I used Charar as a background! But be rest assured more will be written on this because nothing finishes till it really does!