5 September 2014

We Don’t Seek Benevolence, But Don’t Malign us Either – Part III (Saf Shikan)

By Xeric
Also published by defence.pk

So, you already have been introduced to Saf Shikan Post; that it is a post above 18000 feet AMSL which is dominated by an Indian post just a few meters away from where the Indians liked to conduct shooting practice, and zeroed their weapons on us casually. Whenever the Pakistani side would thrash Indians even in another sector, they would retaliate by rocketing Saf Shikan day in and day out. Whether some Kashmiri freedom fighters hundreds of kilometers away would hunt down some of their occupiers, Saf Shikan would get the beating without any reason. Even if the Indians would like to test a new High Altitude (HA) weapon, Saf Shikan was there to serve as a soft target. But then this routine was getting old and we had developed some means of our own to tire the Indians of their favorite pastime. When I was up there, and had been on the receiving end for quite some time (atleast twice a week), I along with a few other Officers chalked out a plan which gave Indians a taste of their own medicine, and then they never again targeted Saf Shikan for times to come. Atleast for the many years after I had left Siachen till a cease fire was announced between both the countries in 2003 which is still holding. Though I am not sure how the Indians would treat Saf Shikan once this ceasefire is over as decades have passed since we first provided the Indians with the ante-dote.
            Now you must be wondering why we have to be on the receiving end, always. Well, in mountainous areas like Kashmir and Siachen this is the part of the game. At places you dominate the enemy and elsewhere he would. That’s how operating in mountains is – a spur here with them and a ridge there with you.
            Coming back to Saf Shikan. The 25 x 10 feet area that made up Saf Shikan was cramped by soldiers and some infrastructure that sloped along the length of the post. Movement within the post had to be done while tying oneself to an HA rope or else you risked slipping off into the base of the mountain a couple of hundred feet below. Saf Shikan was a difficult post, not only because it was under direct observation and fire of the enemy or because it was located on a slope, but for a few other reasons that I shall explain shortly.
            Snow, time, kerosene (K-2) oil, ammunition and food are the five things that are abundant at Siachen. Unfortunately at Saf Shikan, this cliché didn’t apply as it mostly remained a bit short on food. During summers (dumping season) the remaining posts were stacked with food, ammunition and K-II oil for the entire year. However, as approach to Saf Shikan was being watched by Indians, dumping by mules was not possible. Consequently, all the items were delivered to the post on man-packed and opportunity basis i.e. whenever we could sneak a few men down to the base.
Food at Siachen is plentiful. Items like honey, butter, dried eggs, tinned meat, fruit and veggies, and certain medicines like Cod liver oil capsules are readily available in abundance. Flavored glucose is also a basic requirement as snow water tastes bitter. However, due to reduced appetite, the fact that we Pakistanis are not used to tinned items and how much honey can one actually eat on daily basis, you normally find people complaining about the food ay Siachen. But then you tend to respect food when you are at Saf Shikan. Unlike other posts, carriage of items to Saf Shikan is limited to what a man can carry at one time. This is further compounded as movement to and from Saf Shikan is also very restricted due to our very vigilant Indians friends on the other side. So, we have prioritized the items that can come to Saf Shikan as; Ammunition, K-II oil, medicines and then rations. Rations too mean the basic items like dhall (pulses), flour and vegetables as luxuries like honey and butter are not desired. Meat too is not cooked at Saf Shikan because at such altitudes, cooking meat means more consumption of K-II oil thus increasing its requirement.
During my tenure there, ammunition was not an issue as we had enough of it to melt half of Siachen. So, whenever the weather and the Indians gave us the opportunity to move a party, we would get as much K-2 oil as the men could carry. Then was the rations. But the maximum we could ask the men, in addition to the K-2, dhall and flour, was to stack some sachets of flavored glucose in their pockets as asking anything more while they were carrying a 22 kilogram jerry-can at a low oxygen area was too much from them. Once when the men were fed up of eating the same dhall every day, I acted generous and allowed them to replace glucose sachets with some fresh potatoes. I was amused to see how they looked with all those potatoes ‘oozing’ out of their pockets. The good thing was that they were happy.
So at Saf Shikan the rule was that everyone would get one roti, irrespective of his rank, along with whatever was cooked thrice a day. Tea was only given during breakfast. No exceptions whatsoever. Now this seemed a bit harsh when compared to the other posts which had so much rations that men would write their names on snow with colored glucose for fun and complained about the ‘taste’ of food most of the time. But then Saf Shikan had its limitations. I remember when once we were short of K-2, we had to eat uncooked dhall for two days. By the way, another trick I learned there was if you are short on cigarettes, rolling used tea in a piece of paper and smoking it would give you the requisite psychological satisfaction of smoking a real cigarette!

This blog is the part three of a sequel (Part-1 and Part-2).

3 September 2014

Jamhuriat Ka Husn

PHOTO: Pakistan Defence FB Page
By Xeric
Also published @ defence.pk

In an editorial published in Dawn on 2 September 2014, the editors have shown concerns over “Army’s questionable decisions” it has taken during the impasse that has gripped the country due to the Inqilabi - Azadi protestors sitting outside the Parliament since the last 21 days. The concerns are primarily based on two things done by the Army. One, the statements its public relations wing has released, and two; the action or ‘inaction’ as the editors at Dawn like to call it taken by the Army on 30 August 2014 when the Parliament was about to be overrun by protestors.
Had this piece been a blog, I could have lived with it understanding that fanboy criticism of Army is a norm these days. Unfortunately, it was not the case.
Apart from many other concerns shown in the editorial, some of which I shall address later, the writers, in government’s defence had asked that “would the army allow even a handful of peaceful protesters to gather outside GHQ for a few hours?” This tongue-in-cheek or so I like to believe comment is something which I think should be addressed at priority before it sets an audacious trend, and here is why:
To begin with, Article 16 (Freedom of assembly) of our Constitution states:
“Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order.”
Now by virtue of the above, Pakistani subjects can protest against the government, even if it means gathering outside the Parliament – after all it is the people who have elected the individuals there. They can also gather against or go on strike against an unpopular decision of a private or even a government organization like WAPDA, SSGC etc, but the same cannot be done or asked from the Pakistani citizens when it comes to military. Primarily because:
  • Unlike the Parliament, is not an elected forum, and that unlike OGRA or State Bank, decisions taken by military regarding its internal matters does not affect Pakistanis in their individual capacity and hence does not produce reasons that would cause a protest. This is despite the fact that military runs on your taxes.
  • Unlike in a democratic or civilian setup, there is no concept of ‘popular vote’ in the military. Infact, there is no concept of voting altogether (as shown in some Hollywood movies where even soldiers settle issues among themselves through vote). You are given an order and, whether you like it or not, it has to be carried out and hence its employees or so to say stake holders have no grounds for a protest, unless an individual has been punished by a court-martial. So, whereas in a civilian setup people can protest or launch strikes for pay increase, or against odd work hours / difficult working environments, soldiers or their families or for that matter the larger audience cannot. That is what primarily differentiates a military organization from a civilian one.
  • Unlike in a private or any other government organization, its employees are not under oath to obey orders without questioning them and hence even if there is some kind of resentment, the protest, if that is what I should call it for readers’ consumption has a very different procedure.
In short, military is an undemocratic organization, hence protests whether in the form of gathering outside GHQ or even a unit by the soldiers or the larger audience are objectionable to say the least. However, this raises a question for those who claim that ‘Ihtijaj Jamhuriat ka husn hai.’
Another absurd point raised in the editorial is that the soldiers did ‘nothing’ to stop the ‘thugs’ from ‘attacking’ the Parliament. Now whereas the editorial itself says that “it was surely the army’s duty to repel them” but it fails to understand the essence of it and forgets that the ‘thugs’ were indeed ‘repelled’. Of course the mode used to accomplish the task was not what the government or the editors of Dawn wanted i.e. use of force a.k.a ‘rubber’ bullets and teargas. Before proceeding further, I must clarify here that unlike Police or FC, Army being the last line of defence is not supposed to resort to non-lethal actions like hawai firing or riot control agents. By law, it is required, to the extent possible to make use of negotiations to resolve a matter, failing which it has to use lethal force (Note: A soldier can get court-martialed for firing its weapon in air to disperse a mob). So, it is either words or “real” bullets when the matters come into Army’s hands. Fortunately, it was the former that saved the day or night on 2 September 2014.
Further, the editorial’s shenanigans go to the extent of saying that it was due to Army’s ‘inaction’ “which largely explains why the protesters were able to continue their pitched battles with the police and attacked the PTV headquarters yesterday.” But then it fails to answer or even question that who ordered the Police guarding PTV removed?
Lastly, the editorial conveniently misses an important facet of all the releases by ISPR whereby it continuously emphasized upon Army’s continued support for democracy and then simply alleges that “the army is hardly being neutral” and that “it is making a choice” despite the fact that it was the government itself that got the military involved by invoking Article 245 and later by inviting it to play a facilitative role for resolution of current impasse.

       P.S. Those who would ask why a guy in uniform is commenting on politics should understand that I am Pakistani first and a solider thereafter.
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