THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN

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The exact date escapes me, but it was around the year 1190 AD when the Muslim armies of King Saladin clashed with the Christian knights of King Richard, The Lionheart. The war was for Jerusalem, a city believed divine by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Hundreds and thousands of soldiers, mercenaries and civilians had perished in the First and Second Crusades, and thousands more would die in the Third Crusades, some for the cross, and others for the crescent. There was a third invisible power that was driving its own agenda, ruthlessly and ferociously. They attacked Muslims and Christians both, and such was the finesse they exhibited while killing that soldiers of both armies had started to believe that it was the work of ghosts and jinns. They did not leave their footprints in the sand, so to say.

Saladin was a wise ruler, compassionate and merciful. And he did not believe in ghosts. He was almost murdered twice in his sleep, leading to a royal commissioning of spies to find out who would want him dead. The spies came back with a damning report. There was a secret group of highly skilled killers on top of a mountain fortress in Alamut. These secretive killers were all Naziri Ismailis, a sect of Shia Muslims, who owed allegiance to an old man called Hassan-i Sabah. The killers would consume hashish, a potent drug and sway in religious abandon, as if in a trance, chanting the name of Allah. Once they had reached the peak of religious ecstasy, they were sent by Hassan-i Sabah to kill and spread terror. Since these secretive killers consumed hashish before going on their mission, they were called hashishin. After the Third Crusades ended, the Europeans went back home. Amongst the memories they took back was of these deadly hashish-consuming killers. The French, however, could not pronounce the word hashishin. So, they called them assassins.

What made the hashishins so formidable? It was certainly not the number of people they killed. Perhaps, the human mind is terrified of the unknown, the great black, as it were. The suddenness and efficiency of their methods, compounded by the secrecy of their order was what struck terror in the hearts of battle hardened generals. Over the past three decades, Islam has become the alias for all that is violent. But before we accept this without question, let us revisit history. Who were the world’s greatest killers, ever? Genghis Khan was a pagan. Stalin was an atheist. Hitler was Catholic. Mao denied the existence of God. Timur the Lame was Muslim. We see that mass murderers have been found in beliefs other than Islam, too.

Japanese Air Force in the Second World War had Kamikaze pilots, who flew suicide missions. Their aim was to cause maximum damage to the enemy and when they were out of ammunition, they would fly their plane into the closest available military target. Closer home, between 1980 and 2000, the LTTE carried out 168 suicide attacks, some of them on civilian targets. Then why does the world find it so easy to think of terrorism as an alias for the Islamic world? Perhaps, no one apart from those who follow political Islam, have used terror as a weapon so systematically and consistently against largely civilian non-combatants. It is the same hashishin mindset. It is the suddenness, the sheer incomprehension on the part of the victim as to why the attack was carried out, that makes it so deadly. This was the same logic behind the 26/11 attacks; attack a target and carry out mass murder, which, on the face of it, is totally devoid of logic. What people do not understand, they fear. A few days back, Burhan Wani’s successor and the local head of terror group Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen Zakir Musa made an appeal to the people of Kashmir. He said that the war with India was not for Kashmir, it was for Islam. He further asked the stone pelters to pelt for the faith, and that nationhood and democracy had no place in Islam. What Zakir Musa was trying to say was that “azaadi” was not what the Jihad was about. The Jihad was about establishing the Khilafat, or Islamic State where the law would be Nizam-e-Mustafa, or the law of the Prophet (PBUH).

Across the Line of Control, two incidents have happened which on the face of it, seem disconnected to what Zakir Musa said. But on close study, a pattern emerges. One, Pakistan has started the process of granting statehood to Gilgit Baltistan. This has put a spanner in the Hurriyat works. Suddenly Pakistan, the Hurriyat role model and sponsor, looks as bad as India. Statehood to Gilgit Baltistan is happening under immense Chinese pressure. China will not invest in an area that the Pakistan Constitution deems “azaad”. China is Shylock 2.0 and to think they would do business based on sentiment is displaying the worst kind of naivety about the Middle Kingdom.

Two, the Kashmir ‘freedom struggle’ circus is dead. It can slow-walk and crawl for another few years but after that, it will fade away. For almost three decades, the Kashmir terror infrastructure has tried every trick in the book to lure Indian Muslims to fight in Kashmir. Not one Indian Muslim went to Kashmir for anything more daring than a shikara ride on the Dal Lake. Foreign fighters have dried up. Kashmir was where Sudanese, Arabs, Afghans and assorted Central Asians would come and earn their spurs against the mighty Indian army. No longer. What you have are a few Pakistani Punjabis and a sprinkling of Pashtuns. The rest are local youth, who are not great fighting material anyway. When Zakir Musa changes the discourse from ‘freedom’ to Islamic Jihad, he is exponentially expanding the canvas. He is giving terrorists everywhere just cause. He is turning Kashmir into a magnet for any deranged maniac with a desire to take a shortcut to Jannat.

I predict that this will be the bloodiest summer in a decade. I predict that we will have foreign visitors crossing over to fight in Kashmir. I predict that the Indian Army will take off its gloves. It will change tactics. I don’t know what they will do or how they will do it, but my gut tells me that from July onwards, Indian Army casualties and fatalities will decrease. There is a reason why the Indian Army loses so many fine young men in encounters while the Israelis and Americans don’t. Non-combatants are not legitimate targets for the Indian Army. If there is a house with terrorists and hostages, the Americans and Israelis have a policy of putting a missile into the building, collateral damage notwithstanding. The Indian Army believes that Kashmiris are our citizens and that hostages must be saved. How can you save hostages? By putting your own soldiers in harms way. Our army is capable of extraordinary violence but that violence is not cruel. We will kill the enemy but you will not hear that your army has tortured prisoners, or treated the enemy dead with disrespect. The Indian Army is different. As I often say, we are not just a powerful army. We are also a moral army. We are not strong because we have weapons. We are strong because we are right.

The summer of 2017 will be extremely violent. This will be a bare-knuckled fight, a throwback to the nineties. You will see black-clad Rashtriya Rifles soldiers hunting day and night, without respite. There will be blood. But then before Zakir Musa is killed, and killed he will be, I hope he realizes that he should have let the wolves sleep. He is pushing hundreds of youth into the arms of terror, and RR does not care. They will just keep killing. That is why the Indian Army raised them…to kill for peace.

Pakistan feels that creating mayhem by calling directly for Islamic Jihad will bleed India. And that will force India on the back foot. It imagines that India will burn in Srinagar and somehow the fires will not spill over into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. And that somehow the CPEC will remain insulated. In Pakistan there are hundreds of such old men. And in Kashmir there are hundreds of such mountains. Or so they believe. In 1256 AD, the Mongol hordes crushed Alamut. The old man of the mountain was no more. History is witness that every old man meets his fate. Every mountain is humbled. 761 years have passed. It is now time to crush the hashishins once more.

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