Reportage of Operation Sarp Vinash might lead to the impression that machines are the real heroes of modern warfare. Predators, the unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles purchased from Israel, are supposed to have spotted terrorists from the air. Helicopters firing missiles and machine guns are said to have pinned them down. It is supposed to have taken thousands of troops to eliminate the terrorists hiding up on the Hil Kaka mountains.
Tucked away in the military documents are references to the real heroes of the Hil Kaka fighting: the members of Special Group III. A covert unit made up of local Gujjar people, Special Group III provided much of the intelligence that led to the operation and played a central role in the fighting. Although Special Group III operates under the command of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, its members are not professional fighters. They are ordinary Gujjar residents of Surankote drawn into the fight against Islamist terrorists because of atrocities inflicted upon their community. In this interview to Praveen Swami, the Special Group III leader, Fazl Hussain Tahir, speaks of what made him give up a comfortable life as a businessman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and return to fight in Surankote.
What were the circumstances that led you to form Special Group III?
We are four brothers. My eldest brother left for Saudi Arabia many years ago, helped by a Haryana businessmen for whom he worked. Over the years he took us all there. I had a prosperous business, taking contracts to put marble exteriors on new homes. Two years ago we decided to send our eldest brother home, so he could live his last years in comfort. Soon after he returned he found that one of the girls from our clan was being very badly treated by a Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorist. They had abused her beyond the limits of humanity and without compassion. He complained to their commander. But instead of punishing the erring terrorist, the Lashkar-e-Toiba let him off with a minor warning. Then, he came to our home and tortured and killed my brother.So you sought vengeance?
At first, I contacted the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia. I made a tape of a meeting at the local Lashkar-e-Toiba office as proof of my intentions. I met a certain K.K. Dhillon there, who was very happy and promised to help. But he was soon transferred, and nothing further came of the whole effort. Within a few weeks I also came back to India. I had no idea how to proceed further, but I was determined to avenge my brother. If nothing else, I thought, I would plunge my fingers into the eyes of the man who killed him. I would be killed too, but at least the man would have to live the rest of his life in darkness.How was Special Group III formed?
On my return I met almost everyone for assistance. I spoke to officers in Romeo Force and in the Northern Command. I spoke to the police. When nothing moved, I even travelled to New Delhi last September. I met a number of politicians, including L.K. Advani. We did not need money, but weapons. Finally we were put under the Jammu and Kashmir Police, and began operating with the Army. We had first planned to attack the terrorists on Hil Kaka in January, but could not do so because of the weather. But our men were watching their moves day and night. When we finally attacked, I had the honour of killing my brother's murderer with my own hands, in exactly the same way as was done to him.
Now that you have gained your objective, is your fight over?
No. Until every Gujjar family is safe from these animals, we will struggle on. In fact, three more young Gujjar men from Saudi Arabia will be returning soon to join our group and train to protect the honour of our community. See, we are a simple people, but our traditions and culture are thousands of years old. We do not need lessons in Islam from Sindhis and Pathans. Our women were not born to work as their slaves and bear their children.
If we have a problem with India, we are more than capable of dealing with it. Every day our people are killed in the name of Islam. What kind of jehad is this? These terrorists are not only dishonouring our people, but the holy Koran itself.
Do you have political ambitions, as in the case of some surrendered terrorists in the Kashmir Valley?
We are not surrendered terrorists, nor are we politicians. We are fighting for our community. We have many leaders, but they cannot protect us against guns. We will have to do that job ourselves.