On 24 Nov 2009 at 1159 PM... "Saab hamari Paltan ka posting Kashmir aa gaya hai". This was a dutiful Company Havildar Major informing his newly commissioned officer undergoing Young Officers course at Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. Despite putting in 24 years of service and serving at multiple field locations, this man did not lack even an ounce of enthusiasm when his Paltan was all set to move to razor sharp, bone chilling and freezing heights of Kashmir. Whatever little time lag I had in information processing, my brain was filled with noise of patriotic chart busters from Bollywood movies like Lakshya and LOC Kashmir In my mind I did rehearse the capture of Batra Top or Tiger Hill at least a hundred times, despite knowing the fact. They have already been won a decade ago by sacrificing many who were far better than me. Yet, the terrain had many lessons to impart and memories to be etched. The assigned location to me was called as Table Top somewhere at great Himalayan ranges looking straight at the majestic Mountain K2.
564 Days at Table Top was the time to learn unforgettable lessons of survival, team work, camaraderie and art of cribbing. This was also the time for my first interaction with the locals of Kashmir Valley which leaves a deep imprint in my mind about the challenges they have to face in their day-to-day life. Our pony drivers from nearby villagers fetched us with best of the apples and apricots, ensured we always had fresh vegetables, fruits and gossips from local villages. The tenure got over sooner than the blink of my eye.
While being at peace stations every now and then we hear that Kashmir has changed, situation has changed, it is no more like the old times. Units get relieved, troops get posted out, perceptions ping ponged from left to right and vice versa. I always believed an old saying "Hath kangan ko aarsi kya, Padhe likhe ko faarsi kya", I had to wait out for my next exposure. But unlike any other prestigious postings like a United Nations tenure or IMTRAT tenure which requires lot of hard work and a bit of luck, Kashmir is inevitable, especially for an infantry officer.
On 06 Dec 2019 at 0830 PM... "Haan bhai. Paltan ki posting aa gai hai". This was our Tiger, always taking us all by surprise. We found out about our next location, alongwith the news that I will be relieving an old friend and beloved senior at our new assignment. This location was really hot - active insurgency with challenging terrain as per the inputs of officers already deployed there. After spending 11 years in unit, I was the designated spear head and path finder for the Paltan as Officer Commanding Advance Party for the newly assigned task. Enemy was being punished like never before, all guns blazing, all salvos accurately landing.
This was the test bed for any trained and professional soldier - The Tung Wali Baihk. Upon my arrival I realised, Kashmir has been an inseparable part of lessons imparted by the mountainous terrain. Along with our sentinels, walking shoulder to shoulder are the Kashmiris part of the sinusoidal curve where the peak is peace, increased tourism and nourishing business and bottom of this band width was increased terrorist activities, frequent cease fire violations and stone pelting.
To foil the nefarious plans of terror sponsor Pakistan, our forces have been fighting relentlessly with every recoil of our weapon makes enemy skip a beat. Every step taken by the Kashmiris towards normalcy dents the enemy's ill plans.
Kashmir is now on the road towards progress, success and prosperity. Kashmiri economy is traditionally service and agriculture based but tourism, pilgrimage and handicrafts have huge potential for progress. With the approximate growth of 9.6% in 2019-20 from 8.51% in 2015-16, gross state domestic product has reached Rs 1.76 trillion. During 2010-11, most of the Kashmir highways were two lanes, restricted with seasonal connectivity. Now the same have been converted to four lanes and due to construction of Banihal and Zojila tunnel projects, will have all weather connectivity.
Literacy rate in Kashmir was 67.16% in 2011 has increased to 77.3% by 2020. Kashmiri youth look more confident with increased awareness and more than that happier with smiling faces all around. Indian Army has major contribution in the education success story of Kashmir, the chain of Army Goodwill Schools initially started in 1998 has grown manifolds. Army Goodwill Schools from being Primary Schools have been upgraded to Middle Schools and Higher Secondary Schools. In 2010 where parents of Kashmiri Children were skeptical to send their Children to Army Goodwill Schools with fear of retributions from terrorists; now they are more eager and willing to send their children to continue their studies in Army Public Schools in various parts of India. This shows the strengthening bond between the Kashmiri population and the Indian Army. Youth of Kashmir is now more focused both on educational front as well as multiple other arenas in the ever-advancing technological world. They have been winning International Sports Competition, securing place in Civil Services, prestigious government and reputed educational institutes. The hidden talent of Kashmiri youth has been nurtured in the right direction and the results are there for everyone to see and admire.
Pristine natural beauty of this land still attracts tourists from all over the world, innocence of Kashmiri children who still waves at uniformed personnel with same beautiful smile, fragrance of apple orchids, Kashmiri Walnuts and the friendly attitude of locals along with the forever deepening commitment and friendship of Indian Army with the Kashmiri Awam.
May we keep coming back to Kashmir, may the progress of Kashmir continue, may the youth keep moving towards the path of success and prosperity. I document another date and incident but this time not as a uniformed soldier but as a tourist with his family looking forward to explore each and every part of the Kashmir.
Bibliography Statistical economic date from India Brand equity foundation - www.ibef.org