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When We Don't Need To Kill

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

A Rashtriya Rifle young Company Commander relives vivid memories of one of his operation in a village in Kashmir valley that has been this impressionistic in his mind and so with the then called terrorist, today a gentleman! Story more intriguing than Vicky Kaushal's Blockbuster Uri, talks of Surrender by a militant to a life of new hope and dreams.


I was delayed in getting to the site of the operation – it is not easy to negotiate stone pelting mobs and one of my men was now bleeding heavily from a gash on his neck. His need for immediate medical attention, the constant thud of stones on the vehicle and the not so distant roar of gunfire all added to my impatience. It was frustrating to try and make sense of the short transmissions on the radio and by the time I did get there, events were well advanced.

I really need not have worried – the young Company Commander leading the operation had the situation under control. Completely imperturbable under fire, Major G had hit the target house with complete surprise and cut off all routes of escape. He and his men shot down two terrorists trying to break the cordon and were now occupying positions all around. There was a third terrorist in there though, hiding and shifting positions in a big three storey house, taking the occasional pot shot at our men and we needed to tackle him too.

For Security Forces engaged in counter terrorist operations, statistics are a bane. A necessary evil perhaps, yet an unsatisfactory drudgery, since bare numbers never tell the full story or bring to fore the frustrations, the grind and the complexities that these operations involve. So, the briefings are full of graphs and bar charts and arcane acronyms so natural to armies the world over- TK- Terrorists Killed, TII- Terrorist Initiated Incident, FT-Foreign Terrorist and so forth. One of these acronyms is TS-terrorists surrendered. It is this category which is a field of study fit for psychologists and sociologists and soldiers and policemen. Here we may just find the elusive answer to that most fundamental questions...

Why do they fight?

What makes a young man pick up a gun and fight the might of the state, knowing fully well that thereafter, his life span is measured in days and weeks!

Most importantly, after he does join the ranks of terrorist organizations, can he be made to surrender, to give up the gun?

The Commanding Officer (CO) was at the other end of the cordon and he updated me about the tactical situation on the radio set, completely neglecting to say that he had sprained his back and was in agonising pain. The Regimental Medical Officer told me this, vehement about immediate painkilling injections, possible evacuation, x-rays and such, suggesting that I order the CO to get back to base. No chance of that - Colonel A was a tough guy who strapped his khukri for operations, true to his regimental traditions. Telling him to pull back in the middle of an operation would bring forth a reply as sharp as his khukri!

The firing had paused. A hurried check of the two killed terrorists revealed that, as

we suspected, one was a FT and the other was the local District Commander,

someone who had long been a thorn in our flesh. As we digested this, I heard a loud

female voice behind, hysterical in pitch and tone. Soon enough, Inspector V of the

JKP came up to where I was. Another good guy, V was (and is) a trusted comrade, a

solid man to have by your side. He told me that the woman was the sister of the

third terrorist, a resident of this very village, now trapped alone in that big house.

She had come on to the scene along with a cousin, crying and pleading with us to

save his life.

Surrenders are not easy. I know, because we tried very, very hard, often putting lives at risk. Terrorist tanzeems guard their members zealously and the newly initiated are subjected to a regime of physical and communication isolation designed to prevent second thoughts.

In the first few weeks, the new terrorist recruits are no better than prisoners, not trusted to carry weapons, subjected to privation and even brutality. The hard core members of the cell and the FTs know the value of each body and will go to any extent to prevent surrender from within their ranks.

Hurried confabulations to weigh risk. Memories of fake surrenders in the past. A hysterical woman crying to save her brother. The growing clamour of a mob in the background. The fact that he was still firing at us. Real decisions about life and death. Col A saying,”Let’s try and get him to surrender, Sir. We’ll give it a shot.”

Ultimately, it went well that day for all concerned - after persuasion and assurances conveyed on a megaphone, the trapped terrorist threw his weapon out of a window and emerged with his hands up and the brave sister who forced her way into an operation site saw her brother alive and unharmed before he was whisked away by the police. As for us, we eliminated two hardcore bad guys and did not have to kill a scared young man. For Major G, Inspector V and their men, a job well done.

Being constantly hunted, always on the run, having to move three times a night brings its own physical and psychological pressures. For a young man of nineteen or twenty, the lack of freedom, separation from family and friends and the constant fear of a violent death are powerful disincentives. If he is very lucky and very smart, he may just be able to get away from the constant vigil, to return home. Yet, he will not be able to stay at home, or at peace, because he knows that his spurned comrades will come looking – if not for him, then his family members. Hobson’s choice really, but then it’s a cruel world. In a few cases, the family will pay off the tanzeem, often incurring debt to do so mortgaging a house is trivial when compared to losing a son. Hobson would concur.

Some, too few, surrender in a firefight. They give up, overwhelmed by the situation, the odds and in the face of certain death. In almost every operation, a chance is given to surrender. This offer is made despite the complexities it will add to an already difficult situation, despite a history of fake surrenders and loss of our men thereafter, despite the hordes of stone pelters bent on disrupting the cordon. It is done because we do not like to kill misguided young men, because there is really no joy in taking a life, because our ethos will not permit us to do it any other way.

Despite what some may say, there is no glory in the statistics of TK; I’d rather have a higher number in the TS box and my officers and men felt the same way. Some days later the family of the surrendered terrorist turned up to meet Col A and Major G, to thank them for sparing their son’s life. Over a cup of tea, the sister was as dignified and poised as she had been brave when it mattered. Major G continued to be the epitome of cool and calm, with multiple decorations for gallantry to his credit. Colonel A did not wear his khukri for the meeting. But then, the really tough guys are the ones who win without drawing blood.

Smile Please. A Selfie !

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