Meeting A Counterinsurgency Officer

Meeting A Counterinsurgency Officer

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By Farah Bashir

In the course of the last ten years, that I have been away from home, I have met many people from various parts of the world. After I would introduce myself as a Kashmiri, either they have had something to share about Kashmir or they have wanted to hear about the life there.

Most of them would either talk about their honeymoon in Kashmir and fondly recall the time spent there or some would reminisce about a vacation that they had taken years back in Pahalgam or Gulmarg; two popular tourist destinations.

But a few months back, at a literary event, I met a former military personnel who had served in Kashmir in the 1990s. Ramesh Kumar (identity changed) introduced himself as an ex-counterinsurgency cop who was posted in Kashmir in the early 1990s (peak years of the armed rebellion that broke out against the Indian rule in 1989).

While growing up in Kashmir, among other things, our mothers also taught us a few war etiquettes: never laugh or giggle when the men in uniform are around and keep one’s gaze lowered near military bunkers.

Following this code of behavior, talking to an Indian soldier was out of the question- not that one ever wanted to.

But that day, at the event, it was a rare opportunity to talk to someone I would, otherwise, have never spoken to in Kashmir.

I wanted to hear ‘his stories’ about Kashmir. Therefore, we met, one more time, for coffee.



In my mind, I had prepared a set of questions to ask the ex-trooper. I was ready to talk with someone who might have killed young Kashmiri men or raped Kashmiri women. How wrong had I been!

Other than talking about his favorite literary narratives, Ramesh Kumar spoke about some of the counterinsurgency policies they would adopt in some of the disturbed areas.

But I was there to talk and know more about what he did in Kashmir, and I finally broached the subject.

(Below is an excerpt of the conversation)

Me: When were you posted in Kashmir?

RK: Twice. Once before and once after 1989. After 1989, it was in a village near the border (Line of Control; the de facto border between Indian and Pakistan).

Me: Did you kill anyone?

RK: Arre, we used to kill so many of them.

Me: Were those foreign terrorists?

RK: Nahin, locals the, Kashmiri. Kitnoon ko maara (We killed so many). In villages and near the border, we would shoot them, take a nap in between, wake up and shoot them again. Hum kehte the, saale marne aate hain (We would say they just come here to die).

With that response of his, my mind went blank. Here was a man sitting in front of me, swaggering about killing my brethren; I lost the desire to talk to him about Kashmir, even though I had wanted to.

I wanted to know what they did to the bodies of the men they killed “in dozens” but could not muster up the courage to ask. I felt sick; and all I wanted to do was leave.



The conversation haunted me for months; so did the stinging regret of not asking him about the fate of the corpses. That is when I came across “Buried Evidence”, a report published by The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered-Kashmir (IPTK), a group of human rights activists.

The report documentsthe presence of 2,700 unmarked graves of unidentified people in three northern districts of the Kashmir valley, close to the Line of Control.’

“After the summer of 2010, when 117 people were killed, the officials from the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), a semi-autonomous body related to the Kashmiri government approached the IPTK. The SHRC’s police investigation wing had finally decided to pursue the report of unmarked graves after international and local rights groups and activists petitioned the commission. This August, the SHRC submitted its report on the unmarked graves, which marked the first acknowledgement from any Indian official body of the presence of mass graves and murdered civilians being buried after being falsely described by Indian troops and police as foreign terrorists”, reports Basharat Peer in, “What Lies Beneath”, his piece on Kashmir’s mass graves.

Finally, it all made sense. I got answers to the questions that I did not have the courage to ask Ramesh Kumar who had been posted in the villages near the LOC, some of which remain the main sites of the unmarked mass graves. Perhaps he and his team had handed over the bodies, that they had killed, without a flinch, to be dumped somewhere in a ditch.

“In another instance, local communities buried cadavers that had been thrown into a ditch by the security forces”, IPTK says in their comprehensive report.

Those ‘clandestine graveyards often unnamed and unmarked and undecorated’ house no ordinary graves; those are the symbols of yet another war crime committed on Kashmiris by the Indian state.



In a lawless and ‘densely militarized place’ such as Kashmir, the only laws that prevail are AFSPA (Armed Forces Special powers Act), DAA (Disturbed Area Act) and PSA (Public Safety Act) which not only ‘give the troops immunity from persecution’ but also sanctions them the permission to kill thousands of people because they know they will never be tried in the court of law.

The security forces kill indiscriminately without caring whether the person they are shooting is a militant, a militant suspect or just another innocent civilian. It is because they are aware that they can kill with impunity in conflict zones such as Kashmir.

The fact that Ramesh Kumar can travel the world despite his past being dotted with reckless killings is because he knows he is protected well, and the chances of punishment for him or the soldiers like him are very low. On the contrary, they could very well be sipping coffee, in some swank corner of the world, laughing away while narrating the horrific tales of their killing sprees.

Till the day the said draconian laws exist, such horrors will be committed and repeated, and the lines between a soldier and a murderer will remain blurred.

Farah Bashir works as a qualitative researcher and is based in Singapore.


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  • Jamal Ahmed

    Sounds like a nice piece of fiction.
    Farah should try harder.
    Someday may win a Booker.

  • Joe Kashmiri

    I have covered Jammu and Kashmir for 18 yrs. Believe you me darling if Indian state started posting ur Jihad video speeches of crime on non-Muslims, collect all those yrs on national television, then you Kashmiris might face some serious trouble from the masses. Happy article writing.

  • Nisar Mir

    Dear Mr J Kashmiri

    It seems odd that you should address Ms Farah Ji with such patronising tone as ‘darling’ and ‘you Kashmiris’.

    In a democratic country as India, all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and the Indian soldier is bound by his oath to uphold the law, not to take it into his hands. It is the duty of the state to protect its citizens and sadly not only has it failed to protect innocent people, the Indian soldier has been led to believe that all the people in the valley are militants, anti-indian and been given a free hand to do what it has done. How else can we explain thousands of unmaked graves, thousands of people living a life of misery away from their homeland, having fled to save their lives.

    Kashmir lost too many people,both in terms of life as well as in exile.

    Ms Farah is a passionate reporter and please show due respect and please dont’ address Ms Farah as ‘darling’. Out of all the people, you should know better!

    With due respect

    Professor Nisar Mir

    • Joe Kashmiri

      Professor sahab, salaam!

      And here I am a fool to believe all these years that masla-e-Kashmir is something exacted by Kashmiri mainstream or jamat-e-outstream walas, alas its was Indian state or to say Indian soldiers thats makes us all conceive that all Kashmiris want azaadi and fighting for it, as you claimed, some with guns and some with stones – including all those kafirs of Ladakh and Jammu or Gujjar of South in ‘occupied Kashmir ‘ – or Shias Ismailies of ‘azad’ Gilgit Baltistan. Shame on Indian soldiers to make us believe all this. But then being a ‘Indian dog(go back)’ I made the mistake of believing Indian army than holier-than-thou Kashmiri media. Sorry!

      Ofcourse, all citizen are equal in ‘democratic’ India – both, half million kashmiri ‘traitors’ who caballed with Jagmohan to kill all those ‘ innocents’ asking for Nizam-e-Mustafa and the latter themselves.

      Also, sorry to hear that all unmarked graves are of ‘innocent’ kashmiris – not of those thousands of Mujahidins from Pak or Afg or locals joined holy war to liberate J&K from India – then also its like the same narration of ‘traitors caballed with Jagmohan’.
      I should have known this of ‘all the people’ that Dal is much more cleaner than it appears so.

      Pay my regards to ‘Ms Farah’,

      Respect for you.

      • Nisar Mir

        Dear Joe Saheb

        I wish there was only one chapter in this book! What you have said is also true and it is how we look at it. In my view we one can never wash the blood of a single innocent person, of course some authorities may call it a collateral damage.

        As a nation we may be way ahead of many countries, to have a sikh or a muslim president or a prime minister with majority hindu population, our armed forces are one of the most disciplined soldiers in the world. However, when it came to Kashmir, the national media and the politicians showed open anti-kashmir bias. It did not spare the most loyal community of Kashmiri pandits.

        There will always be politicians who would like to lure people believe that azadi will deliver them their dreamland or incite them on religious emotions. You don’t have to go further in the history than Babri Mosque issue or other rites in India.

        As a nation we need to move forward, dialogue with people who want to talk, convince people by presenting facts and figures and sadly meet the armed resistance with a reasonable force. It must be remembered that each person who dies in a cross fire becomes a fuel to the fire.
        As a nation we must learn to show remorse and condeemn any excesses comitted by our forces. It only shows political maturity. Rahul Ghandhi showed that maturity during his recent visit to Kashmir and so has Sonia Ji.

        I have deep respect for the journalists who have been bold enough to tell the world as to what has been going on in Kashmir.

        Visiting Jammu last winter has been an eye-opener to me and to see the horrors of mass emigration of kashmiri Pandits. It is poorly presented in the media and the Western wold knows nothing about it.

        Our central Govt would like the world to believe that the period 1953-2010 in Kashmir was just a bad dream and let us forget it and let us put more money into some pockets, employ a few youth, build a few bridges. How can they compensate for the grief of the widows and orphans, both muslim, sikh and pandits; the plight of those who have become homeless and had to spend their last few years in pardes.

        There is lot of healing to be done and we start by accepting our responsibilities.

        Peace and blessings


  • Garima

    Everytime I read such a piece on Kashmir, I try to put myself in the place of the locals and imagine how life would have been or what death of these Kashmiris would have meant to me. But at some point, I am going to think from MY side, the side of the Security Forces. I was born in an Army family. At the time of my birth, my father was posted in Kashmir. And I don’t know what soldier you shared that cup of coffee with, but I have lived with them all my life. I do not dismiss that innocents are killed, and women are raped. But those who are responsible, are thrown away faster than you think. You do not get away with these things in the Army. And the soldiers who are posted there- they leave their homes behind- Maharashtra, Kerela, Assam. They could be from anywhere. And they are there, not to enjoy the ‘murders’, but because they are servants of the state. They know, their families know that death may face them sooner than they imagined. What are they supposed to do, wait till the other person fires and kills one of them and then open firing?

    I do not justify any of the horrendous acts that the Armed Forces commit in Kashmir. But it is not the soldier to be blamed. I read Basharat Peer’s books, and I have managed to see the other side, or at least try to see the other side. And I insist that any war should not be seen from only YOUR side. The writer of this article has failed to form a reasonable perspective.

    And just for the record, the Indian soldier does not see all Kashmiris as militants. And tell me again what those unmarked graves implied- ‘Innocent’ Kashmiris? Think again from both the sides.

    • Sajad Malik (Srinagar)

      Garima Ji,

      My sympathies with you. Glad that you read Basharat Peer’s book. But reading the book may take your imagination into the killing fields or torture center’s of kashmir..but then you return back from trance into your cozy living open your eyes, your Computer is still on your right..the light you left on, still remains so. “Unmarked graves” you are speaking of and contesting they can not be innocent! and then asking us to “think” from both sides. I ask you to think from one side only..that of your side..why are you on our land in the first place? Do some digging in the “unmarked graves”…you may find a mason shot dead in a fake encounter.

  • vimal Mohan

    Dear all,
    Kashmir is a beautiful place with beautiful thinking people. Trouble started after 1983; when Pakistn ISI started training Jamaite- Tulba, a militant faction of Jamaite Islami of kashmir to avenge their defeat in Bangladesh. They started two prong operations that were executed in Punjab and Kashmir. The then Chief Minister of POK is well aware of this fact. Training was imparted in POK and launching was being done through Poonch-Kahuta-Gulmarg, Uri-Gora taal-triknjaan-Baabaarishi-srinagr,Uri-Khargosh-maiyaan-Gurdwara chhaati Padshhi- uri- barmulla, leepa-nausheri- Domari gali-Trehgam,Leepaa-kayian Boul-patiala-trikaanjan- baba rishi-gtanghmarg-Srinagar. Inncent youths were exploited in the name of Jihad and forced to take up arms. as aa matter of fact, Kashmiries are very family oriented and emotional people. Men can’t stay away from their families.some of the youths even after becoming militants, when rejoined their parents were slapped by their parents and sisters;subsequently they were sent to Banglore for studies so that to remain away from dirty politics of Jamaite Islami. Pakistan’s expertise in exploiting and motivating the youth is an open secret, after we all in the world have witnessed in Afghan war.This is the high time for Pakistan to wake up and stop meddling in to the affairs of other countries. There no doubt so many youths have died in the kashmir valley; but we should know that India hs never indulged in adopting an open aggeression against misguided youth of our Kashmir.Middle east war, Iran -Iraq war were different than that of Afghanistan which was planned and executed by ISI, initially on behalf of USA and lateron with different aim.
    Pakistan even cheated USA by providing shelter to Osama Bin Laden. Lets us understand the ground realities and deny giving a fillip to such activities of Pakistan. Let us restore the natural beauty and peace in the Kashmir valley. Indians have shown patience which should not be misunderstood.

    • Sajad Malik (Srinagar)

      Mr Vimal,

      Thought provoking stuff Indeed :)

  • DK

    I refuse to believe this conversation ever took place. With all due respects to the writer, but I think she is lying.
    I have grown up amongst soldiers all my life. 7 of my childhood friends are in the forces and they all have been posted in Kashmir at some point in their lives. I have never heard any of them or any other soldier I have ever met talk about killing people, innocents or guilty, so callously as though its some video game. The soldiers kill because they have to, not because they want to.
    Either the person the author met is a fake or she is lying.

    • Sajad Malik (Srinagar)

      Mr DK;
      Even the wife of the american soldier who recently massacared innocent Afghanis including 8 children is in “shock” hearing her love has indulged in such an attrocity. The problem with Truth often hurts. I feel sorry about you. My sympathies.

  • Sanjeev

    I am an army officer myself and have served in J&K in counter terrorism ops. I got grievously injured in an operation and spent close to six months in ICU. I can assure you that I never killed a single innocent unarmed civilian intentionally, neither do I know an officer who did. A soldier who is loyal to his profession can never kill a non-combatant or violate women.

    That does not mean that I sympathised with any of the anti-India traitors there. I was – and remain – completely convinced in my mind that this whole issue is about religion. Fanatic Muslims can not bear with the fact that their state is part of a Hindu majority country and will kill without remorse to change the status. In such a scenario, there is no option but to allow army to deal with the thugs.

    If I am posted again in J&K and if the situation becomes as ugly as it was then, I will conduct myself exactly as I did back then. Without pity, without fear wnd without remorse. If the human rights of a few terrorists are hurt, I will just condemn it and move on!!

    • Sajad Malik (Srinagar)

      Mr. Sanjeev,
      It is good to know you and more importantly the thought process that goes into the making of an Army officer (An Indian officer ofcourse)…Thanks for speaking your heart out. This is precisely what we know of you guys out there…when you would be seen donning a tilak on the front of a bullet proof vehicle that reads “Kaal” or “Sons of Durga”… Problem is with “Muslim traitors” you see..All those 8 year going kids you will kill deserved death for they are tomorrow’s “potential terrorists”.
      Israel’s got to take a few more lessons from indian army officers…Wen is the next meet?

  • Syed Nahri

    In the first paragraph of the heading Soldiering or Murdering, I think you meant immunity from “prosecution”, not “persecution”. Please correct that.

  • Sanjeev

    Mr Sajad Malik,

    I guess you have heard all this before from the “thousands” of soldiers you have been harassed by. Please understand that this position is non negotiable. Let me educate you that each and every state in India was a nation at some point of time in history. There was a Sikh nation, a Tamil nation, a Rajput nation, a Maratha nation and so on. We can not turn the clock back and allow the country to be broken up for the hateful politics of a few thugs. I assure you there will soon be a day when this evil piece of law called article 370 will be discarded to its rightful place, a toilet pot. That will be the day when J&K will have been truly integrated into India.