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From Dignibal to Afghanistan: Making of an Afghan Trained Militant

Yoginder Kandhari


Ghulam Mohammad Mir, 29 years old now, hails from a sleepy village in North Kashmir. Besides owning huge tracts of agricultural land, Mir's family also runs a flourishing Kashmiri Shawl business. Leading a fairly comfortable life in the village, lure for Mir to join militancy obviously came from some where else. So called Kashmir experts may like people to believe that insurgency in the Kashmir Valley is a direct result of past mistakes of Indian Government and economic deprivation of people, Mir’s story makes such claims appear hollow.

The Backdrop: Ghulam Mohammad Mir partook of the elixir of religious extremism, in 1989-90, in the then newly established madrasa in his native village. Sustained religious indoctrination of the village youth was carried out by a molvi, who had travelled all the way to Kashmir Valley from western UP. Molvi's discourses were full of venom against Hindus, India and her rulers in Delhi. That jihad was the only way to save Islam in Kashmir was the common refrain during such sessions. Entire village population, young and old alike, were swayed by these emotive lectures and an infectious undercurrent gripped the entire village in frenzy. Prominent Pakistan returned militant leaders would frequent the village, brandishing newly acquired AK-47 rifles as an act of defiance against Indian establishment, to entice young boys to join their ranks. Songs eulogizing mujahedeen would rent the air till late in the night. There was an all-round feeling that the golden era of freedom was just round the corner. Whole atmosphere presented a festive look which is normally associated with a nation's independence eve. Young and the middle aged would go overboard whenever an invitation was extended to them to join militant ranks. Ghulam Mohammad Mir was no exception. He too was excited at the prospect of becoming a mujahid and a chance to visit Pakistan-his ‘dreamland’. When local militant commander, Basharat, made an offer, Mir seized the opportunity with both his hands.

The Initiation: Besides the Molvi, village elderly and the respected folks took upon themselves the responsibility of motivating youngsters to join militant ranks for waging a ‘holy war’ against the 'infidels'. Ghulam Hassan Shah and Mushtaq War, both well past their 60s, discharged this responsibility efficiently and with total dedication. The duo formed the village screening committee and wielded enough influence in the final selection as well. Mir considered himself to be fortunate enough to get the final nod and was thrilled at his selection. He was ordered to report to mujahideen camp at Dignibal. Surprisingly, there was nothing secretive about these recruitment rallies or camp locations and such activities were a common knowledge with local administration preferring to be a mute spectator.

At Dignibal camp, twenty young men congregated with a common purpose of crossing over to Pakistan. Here the boys were given briefings about type of clothing and other equipment to be carried. Proper master rolls were prepared and records were maintained by the camp organizers. Women folk, to include mothers and sisters of the prospective mujahedeen, made a beeline to the camp carrying warm clothing and hard variety of rations for their dear ones and to wish them good luck for their ultimate mission. In this entire bustle, Mir was fully convinced that he had achieved his dream of becoming a mujahid and he eagerly awaited marching orders to cross over to his ‘dreamland’.

Exfiltration: On 15th May 1990, the group finally left Dignibal camp for the launching pad located at Shalkhud. This camp was tucked in a re-entrant and was better organized than the one at Dignibal. Two other groups of youth, twenty each in number, simultaneously joined the camp. Here the boys had the first feel of a regimented routine. Immediately on arrival, each individual was allotted a code name and Ghulam Mohammad Mir was re-christened Moshin Khan. These boys knew each other by these code names only and enquiring real particulars was prohibited. Sixty young mujahedeen in the camp were divided into squads of six boys each and most vocal ones were made the squad leaders. Everyone was given a choice to select a buddy-a la army recruitment centre.

During their stay in the camp, these prospective mujahedeen were issued sports shoes, warm clothing, walking sticks, camp kits, rucksacks and hard variety of rations. Conversation in Urdu was encouraged. Detailed briefings were also carried out about the route for exfiltration, likely problems and sustenance en-route, measures to avoid detection by the security forces etc. Latif and Mongru were introduced to the group as their guides for exfiltration. Their antecedents were neither revealed nor enquired. A whisper went around that the guides had been paid a hefty amount, some said Rupees twenty five thousand each, for the high risk job. Basharat accompanied the group as its leader.

From Shalkhud the entire group was lead over mountain tracks overlooking Kangan, Mamer and picturesque Telel in Gurez. Enroute the party encountered all the impediments except the security forces. They had to negotiate snowbound peaks, circumvent frozen lakes and cross fast moving Kishen Ganga River using ropes. Training at Shalkhud camp came in handy in ensuring smooth exfiltration across the LoC. Exfiltration took its toll when Ashfaq slipped and rolled down Kaw Bal. No serious effort was made to trace this boy and he was presumed to have met his snowy grave. After a fortnight's trek, the group reached a Pakistani post in Gilgit. As soon as they stepped inside the post, the entire group knelt to kiss the ‘holy-land’. Pakistanis accorded them a warm welcome. Within an hour two helicopters arrived to ferry the boys to Gultari. This long and arduous journey did not end here. Local buses had been pressed into service to transport these boys to a training camp at Gaddi Habibullah. Bus journey took about four hours and the boys were totally exhausted and hungry by the time they landed in the camp which camp was commanded by Colonel Riyaz of Pakistan Army. Khajur were served to the group, more as a token of welcome than to satiate their intense hunger. Immediately thereafter, each individual was put through a medical examination to confirm whether all the members were circumcised, probably to establish that no Indian agent had sneaked into the group. It is believed that Bashrat had been given an option to train mujahedeen either in Pakistan or in Afghanistan but he opted for the first course. Training commenced on 01 June 1990 with all the seriousness.

Routine at Training Camp: Training curriculum was well thought out and carefully structured to contain all the essentials elements of military training. Psychological toughening was done through sustained religious indoctrination and anti-India propaganda. A three month training schedule was drawn for the boys in order to make them expert insurgents.

Subjects Weightage

(Number of training days)

1. Field craft and minor tactics.

2. Physical endurance training which include regular ten km run.

3. Skill at arms i.e. stripping & assembling of weapons, removal of stoppages and live firing @ 5 rds per day.

4. Handling of explosives to include fabricating and planting IEDs.

5. Training on support weapons i.e. LMG, RL etc including live firing.

By the time training finished, all the boys grew confident of taking on the might of Indian security forces so as to liberate Kashmir from the clutches of kafirs. Based on their performance during training, five mujahedeen were selected for advanced training in Afghanistan. The lucky ones were Moshin Khan, Molvi, Sher Khan, Commando and Bilal. Thrilled at the prospect of training in Afghanistan, they eagerly awaited orders for onward journey while the rest packed up to return to the Valley under watchful eyes of Basharat.

Training in Afghanistan: The chosen five were airlifted to an unknown destination in Afghanistan. Location of the new camp was neither divulged to the trainees nor did they dare to ask. Regime in the camp’ under Captain Nurul Rehman, a Pakistani instructor, was very tough. The broad out-line of five month advanced training capsule is given as below.

Subjects Weightage

(Number of training days)

1. Advanced tactical training with emphasis on map reading, raid, ambush, roadblock, fighting in built-up area etc.

2. Training in martial arts.

3. Weapon training @10 rds per head per day and training on RL, LMG, MMG, RCL etc.

4. Communication training.

5. Training in handling explosives and fabricating IEDs.

Besides military training, religious indoctrination continued unabated. Instructors at the camp were ruthless and severe with punishment. However, the group was so possessed that the rigors seemed to be minor irritants to them.

Return to Pakistan: On completion of training in Afghanistan, five fully fired mujahedeen returned to Pakistan but this time to a different training camp. Return journey from Afghanistan was not smooth at all. A short airlift was followed by six days of continuous route march to a road-head before they took a bus ride to land in a camp called Jungle Mangal. Routine in this camp was bereft of any military content. It was confined to observance of religious rituals like offering nimaz five times a day and reciting Koranic verse. Since winter had already set in, the group waited for the passes to open. Finally, in first week of May 1991, three guides appeared in the camp to lead the mujahedeen back to Kashmir Valley for the ‘holy mission’. As the group readied for return journey each individual was handed over an AK-47 rifle, four magazines, 500 rounds of ammunition, two hand grenades, a new pair of sports shoes, two sets of shilwar kameez, a walking stick and Rupees three thousand in Indian currency.

Infiltration: A warm send off was accorded to the departing mujahedeen. This group was instructed to restrict movement to night for obvious reasons. Infiltration too took its toll. Bilal suffered frost bite and was proving to be a drag. He was abandoned enroute and nothing is known about him since then. After crossing LoC, they were received at Bandipur by Zaffar of Al Barq outfit. Further in the hinterland, they moved from bound to bound without much of a problem and halted at Shalbug before reaching Malbag. At Malbag, the foursome was received by Basharat and stayed in the house of Idris. People thronged this house in droves to have a glimpse of their Pakistan returned heroes. Boys were instructed to shed their weapons and equipment at Malbag and were granted a month's ‘leave’ to meet their families.

On expiry of their ‘leave’, the mujahedeen quartet reported to their commander for further assignments to carry out their mission. But then that is another story.

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