Monday, May 26, 2014

(high-explosive) Toys for child soldiers

“They [army] would give us one gola (grenade) each and send us to throw them on the Indians,” Ali, a cook at Nadra, said. “The children were small and were hard to detect at night. And plus we knew all the inside routes that even the adults didn’t. So they gave us a gola each and off we went, running up the hills.”

Kargil is/was hopefully the last time that we will see hand to hand combat in South Asia. While war is exciting for some people, for us ordinary humans, it is the human factor that is of primary interest, the fact that war (always) creates hidden victims who will never find the support they need from a society which has forgotten them.

On the Indian side, one example was particularly shocking. This was the Adarsh society scam, a building which was intended for widows of the Kargil war dead (soldiers). The top people from politics, bureaucracy and (shamefully) military were involved. Here is the kicker- after all the investigations (as they say in vernacular) not even a single hair was touched. The culprits (alleged) are all out on bail due to a technicality (CBI did not charge-sheet them in a timely manner...why was that??). Ashok Chavan resigned as Chief Minister of Maharashtra and now elected as Member of Parliament in the latest Lok Sabha elections.

People who opine that corruption is the necessary grease that propels developing nations towards developed nation status should stop and reflect about the implications of Adarsh (and a thousand other scams, most of which have not seen any light of the day) and what it means for a country to disgrace the memory of her fallen soldiers.

On the Pakistani side, the report below confirms what was well known- the fact that Pakistan Army disowned its own soldiers as mujahideen and went to the extreme extent of refusing to take the bodies back. The soldiers (who fought for a lost cause) did not get a penny as compensation for their heroics in the battlefield.

However the most shocking revelation (for us) is as follows: child soldiers who were advised by the Army to lob grenades at the enemy. We are not from a military tradition so we would not know about all the intricacies, but it seems that the lines between a professional force and a religious cadre bent on jihad is a very thin one. 
[Ref. Wiki] The Adarsh Housing Society is a posh, 31 storey building constructed on prime real estate in Colaba, Mumbai, for the welfare of war widows and personnel of India’s Ministry of Defence. Over a period of several years, politicians, bureaucrats and military officers allegedly conspired to bend several rules concerning land ownership, zoning, floor space index and membership get themselves flats allotted in this cooperative society at below-market rates.  

The scam was unearthed in November 2010 which forced the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, to resign (Sidnote: he has now been elected as a member of Parliament).

In January 2011, the Maharashtra government set up a two-member judicial commission to inquire into the matter. The report highlighted 25 illegal allotments, including 22 purchases made by proxy. The report also indicted four former chief ministers of Maharashtra: Ashok Chavan, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sushilkumar Shinde and Shivajirao Nilangekar Patil, 2 former urban development ministers: Rajesh Tope and Sunil Tatkare and 12 top bureaucrats for various illegal acts. The allottees included Devyani Khobragade (Sidnote: main actor in the non-payment of wages to maid case in New York).

There was a spate of petitions filed in Bombay High Court seeking to monitor CBI investigation. The petitions are Criminal PIL No. 34 of 2010 by former Journalist Ketan Tirodkar, Criminal Writ Petition No. 3359 of 2010 by Simpreet Singh and Criminal PIL No. 36 of 2010 by Mahendra Singh. Ref. Bombay High Court order dated 17th Feb. 2011. By this order High Court asked CBI to amend the F.I.R. by adding Benami Properties Transaction Act section 4. Also, the High Court transferred the missing filed probe from Mumbai Police to CBI. Praveen Wategaonkar filed Criminal PIL later seeking invoking of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) into the case. So it has been invoked and Enforcement Directorate came into picture.
Reacting to these petitions and based on the slow pace of the investigation in the last two years, Bombay High Court severely castigated Enforcement Directorate for its failure to initiate any probe in the matter on 28 February 2012. 
Expressing its unhappiness the court observed, "It is unfortunate that ED has remained a mute spectator. There is a serious lapse on the agency's part for not probing into money laundering offence. ED has not moved an inch. It reflects a sorry state of affairs. We are summoning the director as there has been no assistance from his department to the court." 
The Court also rapped the CBI for the tardiness in its investigations (begun in January 2011). The High Court, again on 12 March 2012, severely castigated the CBI for not arresting any of the accused in spite of having evidence and ordered it to take action without fear or favour. ED having registered a case under Prevention of Money Laundering Act, has decided to launch attachment proceedings of the flats after going through the latest charge-sheet filed by CBI.

Following the Court's criticism, the CBI carried out eight arrests including two retired Major Generals TK Kaul and AR Kumar, retired brigadier MM Wanchoo, former General Officer Commanding(GOC) of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, Adarsh promoter Kanhaiyalal Gidwani and Pradeep Vyas, the then city collector and currently, finance secretary (expenditure) in the Govt. of Maharashtra. Accordingly on 22 March 2012, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan announced in the legislative assembly that the two IAS officers whose names have figured in the scam, Pradeep Vyas and Jairaj Phatak have been suspended from government service.
In a further twist to the case, the CBI officers arrested their own lawyers, J K Jagiasi and Mandar Goswami. Jagiasi allegedly asked an Air India (AI) official, one of the accused in the case, to pay a bribe of Rs 5 million in exchange for diluting charges levelled against him. The petty cash books maintained by Jagiasi helped unearth the conspiracy. 
In addition, Rs 2.5 million was allegedly paid to Goswami. He was the Special Counsel in the Ministry of Law and Justice and at present is working as Retainer Counsel for CBI. According to CBI sources, the tainted AI official approached the CBI for dilution of the case filed against him. Jairaj Phatak and Ramanand Tiwari were arrested by the CBI on 3 April 2012, for their alleged involvement in receiving illegal gratification in the Adarsh Housing Society Scam.

On 29 May 2012, a special CBI court granted bail to seven of the nine arrested accused in the Adarsh scam since the CBI failed to file a charge-sheet within the stipulated 60 days from the time it took them in custody. Those granted bail include Maj. Gen. (Retired-retd) A. R. Kumar, Maj. Gen. (retd) T. K. Kaul, Brig. (retd) M. M. Wanchu, IAS officer and former Mumbai district collector Pradeep Vyas, former Defence Estate officer R. C. Thakur, IAS officer P. V. Deshmukh and former Congress member of the Legislative Council Kanhaiyalal Gidwani (the chief promoter of Adarsh). 


I needed a new guide to help me find the elusive colony of people displaced by the Kargil conflict and living somewhere behind Islamabad’s Bari Imam shrine. Wars between Pakistan and India have claimed thousands of victims but forgotten among them are the living victims of the Kargil war who have sought uncertain refuge in the squalor of shanty towns around the country.

Across a bridge and up and down narrow streets lined with palm trees and mud and brick houses, their doors painted in shades of orange and green, Baqir, our pied piper, led me and a long line of local children to a small hamlet teetering on the edge of the creek. 

A sheepish Wafadar found us again somewhere along the way. “Why did your family move here?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” Wafadaar said. “Ask my father.” Something terrible had happened to Wafadar’s father — something senseless but dreadfully common among hundreds and thousands of people who have been displaced from several parts of Pakistan brutalised by war.

A sepahi in the Pakistan army, Shah returned to his village across the border from Kargil one morning to find that an Indian shell had crashed through the roof of his two-storey house and left his son and daughter dead. His second daughter, 10-year-old Sidra, was lying semi-conscious under a tree, her skull crushed by the bombardment.

As he gathered his children’s bodies, Shah says he remembers fretting that the bales of hay stacked on the roof for the goats’ winter fodder had caught fire during the shelling. He worried for his animals. A few days later, after India blocked water to the area, Shah fled, his bleeding daughter bundled in his arms. Sidra died a few days later. But grief and remorse trailed him to Islamabad, combining with other stresses: financial troubles and the absence of support from relatives and friends. 

Fifteen years later, Shah is a driver at the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority, surviving on a meagre salary and a Rs5,000 pension. He blames Nawaz Sharif. “Kashmir was in our hands,” he told me at his house, sitting in a blue plastic chair under harsh fluorescent lights and a clock that read 6:54, no longer keeping time.

“But then Sharif went to the United States and we had to give Kargil back.” For Shah, and his neighbours, many of them ex-army men, Sharif’s greatest betrayal was calling the Kargil fighters mujahideen. “Kashmiri mujahideen?” he scoffed. “He said we were mujahideen! I’m retired from the army. He disowned his own army.” While Shah has never been compensated for what he left behind, and several trips to the GHQ have borne nothing, Sharif will travel to India next week to make gains for the future.

A neighbour’s son Ali Raza, now 20, also remembers shells: exploding Indian shells dripping like rain every day on his way to school. A shell fell near his school bus once, so close it rocked the bus from the side to side. He tells me about the 12-year-old girl whose nose was sliced off by shrapnel. He also tells me about how the war changed children’s lives — and their toys too.

“They [army] would give us one gola (grenade) each and send us to throw them on the Indians,” Ali, a cook at Nadra, said. “The children were small and were hard to detect at night. And plus we knew all the inside routes that even the adults didn’t. So they gave us a gola each and off we went, running up the hills.”

As Ali tells me about the unusual toys and the invented games, his infant daughter plays with a rattle by his feet. She chuckles. At least for her, one can pray, the war is over.



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