An Excerpt from - LASHKAR (2008) - by
The sentry took one long, silent look at the dead
man lying in the pool of blood. He did not bother to check his
breath or pulse. The sentry had seen too many dead men not to be
able to recognize death when he saw it. ‘Come on. We need to bury
him. Come and help me.’
‘Bury him? Isn’t he from the Pakistan Army? Do you think
it is okay to bury him here?’ Even as he spoke Iqbal realized it
was not a very smart remark and his voice trailed off.
The sentry just gave a short mirthless laugh. More like a bark.
‘What do you think we should do? Take him back to Chakoti, hain?’
He gave that barking laugh again. ‘Do you really think those
buggers care?’ He waved a vague hand in the direction of POK.
‘They even refused to collect their dead when the Indian Army was
handing them over at Kargil. Just because that would have
meant acknowledging that they are Pakistanis.’ The sentry
spoke in a very matter-of-fact way yet the anger and cynicism came
through loud and clear.
‘Why do you say that? Why are you so cynical about them? You know
they are helping us. They train us, give us money, weapons and...’
The sentry’s harsh laugh barked out again cutting off Iqbal. ‘You
think they are doing it for us? You stupid bugger!’ He
hawked loudly and spat in the corner of the hut. ‘They are doing
it because they don’t have the balls for a fair fight. They have
lost every damn war with India that is why they have inflicted
this endless, aimless jihad on India. They are trying to bleed
India by forcing it to fight this constant low grade war.’ The
sentry jabbed a finger at him. Even in the darkness his anger was
evident. ‘For the college guy that you seem to be you are quite a
fucking moron. Can’t you do some simple maths? They didn’t hire
you for money, but they know you need it to live so they give
you... what? A few thousand bucks... right?... What do they give
you if you die? Bugger all... right?’ He made another vehement
gesture. ‘But what happens when one of their regular army soldiers
dies? They have to pay hundreds of thousands as insurance,
gratuity and pension to his family... right?’ He gave Iqbal a long
angry glare, ‘Don’t you see? It is all about money. Only
about money. Twenty dead mujahideen like us cost them
less than one dead Pakistani soldier. Plus they have the comfort
of denying that they are the ones who train us and task us to
fight their war. They get to fight a cheap war at almost no cost
to them. Even the few bucks they throw at us we earn for them by
bringing out their drugs.’
‘Drugs?’ There was an incredulous look on Iqbal’s face.
‘Of course – drugs! How do you think the drugs
from Afghanistan reach America and Europe? Do you have any idea
how many millions of dollars those shit-eaters earn from drugs?
Most of it fills the coffers of those fancy ISI generals, CIA
agents and our great fearless leaders… a few paltry pieces are
also thrown at us to buy arms and ammunitions.’
‘I don’t believe that.’ Iqbal retorted with angry vehemence. ‘You
must be mistaken.’
‘Really? You want to go and take a look at the backpack of that
guy? Go on!’ He gestured angrily towards the dead man lying
between them. ‘You want to come with me to the main camp in the
next valley and have a look? Damn you!’ He spat out vehemently. ‘I
know what you are feeling. That is exactly how I felt when I came
to know how I have been used and abused…’ The sentry stopped
suddenly. He threw up his hands in a weary gesture as though the
futility of it all had gotten to him. ‘They are ruthless bastards.
We are just pawns in their great game. Irrelevant. Expendable.
They don’t fucking care who lives or who dies...’ He looked away
and a long pause reigned. The pain and confusion starkly etched on
his face reached out to Iqbal, overwhelming his mind with
confusion. Suddenly the sentry shook himself and returned to
reality. ‘Come let us bury this poor bugger… before he begins to
They carried the limp body out. Iqbal’s mind ached with the
cacophony of thoughts that swamped him. ‘Then why do you still
accept their support if you know all this?’ Iqbal finally mustered
up the courage to ask as they carried the body towards the forest.
‘Why do you continue fighting if you think all this is futile?’
The sentry didn’t answer for a long time. Even when he finally did
he spoke really very softly, almost as though he was talking more
to himself than answering Iqbal’s question. ‘What choice do I have
now?’ His voice was almost lost in the wind and Iqbal had to
really strain to make out what he was saying. ‘Back in those
days... when the blood ran hot and the cause burnt bright I killed
many Indian soldiers. Seventeen... you know... seventeen
operations I have taken part in. My rifle has accounted for
many of them. They know about me...’ For one fleeting moment his
face brightened with some deeply buried, long forgotten pride.
That moment passed so fast that for a moment Iqbal thought he had
imagined it. ‘Do you know what they will do if they catch me?’ He
spoke very softly. As though talking to himself. There was a long
silence. Iqbal could think of nothing to say. The sentry himself
seemed to be pondering over what he had said.
They were putting down the body to start digging when he startled
Iqbal by suddenly speaking again. ‘The Indian soldier has become
hard today. Much harder than they were when the jihad began. These
days they are far more willing and ready to pull the trigger than
they used to be.’ Pause. The sentry stopped to catch his breath.
By now they were both breathing hard with the effort. ‘I guess
their patience is running thin. May be they are just tired of
waiting to be shot at first.’
The silence returned as they started to dig again. The ground was
cold and hard. The chilling cold only made it tougher to dig. The
freezing, numbing wind sliced through them as they dug. The ground
became a bit softer once they got through the hard outer crust.
Luckily they did not encounter any big rocks. Despite that Iqbal
could feel the sharp pain in his muscles. It almost overwhelmed
the confusion in his head.
‘Do you know what happened once?’ The sentry suddenly spoke again
as he paused to catch his breath. Yet again he seemed to be
reminiscing more to himself than communicating with Iqbal. ‘We had
gone to pick up rations and stores from Srinagar when Indian
soldiers suddenly started a cordon and search of the area. I was
standing right there... barely ten feet away... when one of our
guys panicked and tried to run. He was a young kid barely out of
his teens… a new recruit who had just gotten back from training.
They shot him down like a dog. They must have hit him at least a
dozen times. There was no way he would have lived. He was barely
alive... trying desperately to crawl away when one of the Indian
soldiers walked right up to him and put one more bullet in his
‘Can you imagine... just walked up to him and... BANG...
right between the bloody eyes.’ The sentry gave another snorting
laugh. There was no humour in it. ‘Do you know what I heard the
soldier say when he was walking away from the boy he had shot?’
The sentry looked at Iqbal, as though he expected him to know. ‘Motherfucking
Pakis... the only good ones are the dead ones.’ He laughed
again. This time there was a cruel, bitter and manic edge to his
laugh. ‘Motherfuckers…’ he said again, in a soft low hiss, to no
one in particular. After that the sentry did not speak again.
Almost as though he had run out of thoughts, or maybe the words to
vocalize the thoughts.
They dug on in stony silence. It took them almost two hours to put
the dead man safely under the ground.
‘We have to make sure he is deep enough or wild animals will feast
Iqbal shivered. It was not just the cold that was getting to him.
A hint of the impending dawn was evident in the air as they
finally made their way back to the hut. It did not do anything to
dissipate the darkness that had begun to fester in Iqbal’s head.
NOW AVAILABLE – AT A
BOOKSTAND NEAR YOU
The contents of this
book are protected under copyright laws. Copying or re-production
of the contents, in any form or manner whatsoever, without express
written permission of the author is strictly prohibited &
liable for appropriate legal action.