The fight was not between a surrendered terrorist and an interrogator but between the two actors, completely absorbed in their characters, waiting to watch who blinks first.
Our protagonist, a young boy named Khoaib Ahmed Bhat, sits at the corner of a dingy room, awaiting his de-briefing. The coldness in the room can only be matched by his shivering thoughts. Putting on a pretence of a confused, frightened and innocent Kashmiri, the likes of whom are often quoted as misguided youths, Khoaib awaited his captors, ‘The infidels’. As the footsteps of approaching persons grew louder, Khoaib started his final mental preparations to get into the character, which would be his attempted masterpiece at greatness.
Facing his captors, Khoaib started to dive deeper in his thoughts in a well-rehearsed manner. Staring at the roof, Khoaib mumbled words which could not be understood by the infidels. He kept on with this act until realising the fatality of it, although he succeeded in impressing upon the gathering that he is still in the shock arising out of the encounter, wherein he had surrendered to Police and Army.
Our antagonist, Vishnu, facing Khoaib was a master class in him. Leading a counter intelligence task force, Vishnu had an in-borne talent for acting. Probably in his younger days, he even dreamt of growing up as an actor, until the reality dawned upon him and he chose to join Security Forces, rather than being an extra in Bollywood. But, the talent remained. And he too like Khoaib was already in character. So, the fight was not between a surrendered terrorist and an interrogator but between the two actors, completely absorbed in their characters, waiting to watch who blinks first.
Offering Khoaib a cigarette, Vishnu made the first move to establish a connection. Khoaib desperate for a cigarette pounced on the opportunity and put his guards down momentarily. Vishnu – 1, Khoaib – 0. Seizing the initiative, Vishnu maintained pressure and started small talks. Khoaib, not ready to come out of the character so easily, puffed on the cigarette, acting to be consumed in thoughts of recent ill-fated encounter, silently presented his unwillingness to cooperate. Khoaib – 1, Vishnu – 1. And so, after an hour or so, the draw seemed inevitable. Vishnu realised, that Soft Power needs to be complemented with Hard Power, or else, Khoaib would walk away with a draw, and convert it into a ‘Notion of Victory‘. A deeply non- violent man, Vishnu hated the alternate methods of persuasion. However, staring at a sure shot defeat, with no options left, he prepared himself to apply hard power.
Khoaib by this time had realised that his non-cooperation movement has lived its utility and it was time to open the secrets which he held so close to himself, a duty bestowed upon him by the leaders of the great resistance. He was the ‘Chosen One‘ to carry the flame of resistance.
Khoaib came out of his thoughts abruptly. ‘Wait’, what secrets do I have, to keep? Where is my place in this Resistance? Who am I resisting too? Where is this resistance going towards? For whom am I resisting? For the uninitiated, hard power comes with added advantages, one of which is to win ‘Hearts and Minds’, which Vishnu was about to realize soon.
Still reeling under pain, Vishnu in his hand and Khoaib somewhere in his body, the deadlock was seemingly broken. Asking for another cigarette, Khoaib started his narration, Vishnu – 2, Khoaib – 1; Game, set and match.
Khoaib started his career in Al Gadar terrorist organisation as a stone pelter. Stone pelting was an honourable job until August 2019, with a decent earning, social respect and international sympathy, if a stone pelter got injured in the line of duty. However, career progression and post-retirement benefits did not justify risks versus reward. After August 2019, stone pelting industry took a major hit and business houses started shutting down. Khoaib applied for a part time job and became courier boy. Initially a freelancer, he slowly was accepted by Al Gadar, running errands of terrorists, mostly to their girlfriends.
Due to blockage of mobile services, couriers were a preferred method of communication and Khoaib’s career started blooming. However, Khoaib dreamt of higher social esteem and better pay package, which would enable him to find a girlfriend, worthy of causing jealousy to his peers. With this aim, he transferred from courier department to OGW (Over Ground Worker) department of Al Gadar, aspiring to gradually convert into an active resistance fighter. But his chosen organisation ‘Al Gadar’, was reeling under lack of funds and weapons. Once again Khoaib was facing disappointment, as he gradually uncovered the truth of ‘Al Gadar’.
Khoaib was contemplating his future in ‘Al Gadar’, when the god sent opportunity surfaced. Another misguided youth (an aged youth in 30’s, actually), Chakoor Tharray was re-organising ‘Al Gadar’ and had managed some money and weapons, mostly damaged pistols. He was on a look out for new recruits. Khoaib dutifully submitted his resume and to his elation, was accepted. To Khoaib, his life- long service as a stone pelter, courier and OGW had finally paid off. To Chakoor Tharray a dumb and day dreaming young boy was found, a perfect recruit. And so, Khoaib became one of the gang members of Chakoor Tharray.
Sadly, his grand plans again were shattered. Within the gang of 5, there were two AKs, proudly carried by Chakoor. Three pistols were managed somehow. One day as they were walking in an ant like formation, the magazine of the pistol dropped and could not be found. The pistol without a magazine was of no use, but Khoaib decided that it was enough to impress locals and especially girls, who would take him as a serious resistance fighter. In any case, he had never trained or fired in his life and even with a magazine, he was not sure that he could fire. Khoaib’s role in the gang was limited to mundane jobs. He did not even know where the gang was moving around. One day, after he represented to gang leader that he was moving around with pistol without the magazine, he was thrashed up badly and told that he himself is responsible for the same. Khoaib started sulking after that. However, Chakoor finally took pity on him and gave him a magazine with two rounds, as rationing of ammunition was the order of the day.
Khoaib finally got back his respect and started taking pride in his chosen profession once again, until one day he mistakenly fired a round, which of all the places it could go, landed in the leg of a visiting senior terrorist from another tanzeem. Chakoor somehow salvaged the situation, as it could be misconstrued as an attempt to murder senior functionary of a competing tanzeem and had the potential to spark inter tanzeem fighting. Shortly afterwards, Khoaib was again thrashed and pistol was handed over to another gang member for safe keeping. With this, Khoaib knew that his career and his grand vision of being a senior functionary in Al Gadar was over. He started dwelling into the thoughts of his future, resulting into absent-mindedness. One day, the gang was visiting an OGW’s house. Khoaib started staring at the medical books kept on the shelf and remembered his college days, when he was studying to be a para medical staff. Unknowingly, the daughter of the host came and stood near the shelf. Unaware of the girl standing there, Khoaib kept on staring at the shelf. The host complained to Chakoor about Khoaib staring at his daughter and consequently, Khoaib was again thrashed.
At this point, Khoaib completely lost it and was looking for an exit. It is only now, that the Gods heeded to his wishes. In the evening, as the gang took shelter in another house, army and police cordoned the area. Khoaib moved out of the house and surrendered, while rest of the gang fired on him, in order to stop him. Khoaib was saved, while the others were killed in the encounter.
And so, Vishnu and Khoaib sat across the table, silent, still absorbing the story just narrated. Was it true or was it a fictional masterpiece Khoaib had just created !!!
Sequel. Khoaib was released from custody shortly. However, more misfortune awaited him. Unknown to him, Chakoor Tharray had substantial money with him when encounter took place. The money was never found again. Al Gadar Supremo on other side of the border got in touch with Khoaib to enquire about the missing money. This call was intercepted and Khoaib was again lodged in jail.
Vishnu has moved on to greener postures outside Valley and has again found his faith in Soft Power.
P.S. Any Resemblance to Terrorist Organisation Al Badr is Purely Intentional.