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Balakot and After: The Big Cover Up

The Kashmir Monitor






A media report indicates that IAF is in the process of finalising the Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the Mi-17V5 helicopter accident at Budgam near Srinagar on 27th Feb 2019. Some military officials could face charges of culpable homicide.

The report quotes ‘sources’ that the accident is most likely a result of ‘friendly fire’. In other words, ‘fratricide’ or ‘blue on blue’.


We are expected to maintain silence and not speculate on such events till the Court of Inquiry (CoI) is completed and proceedings are approved by higher formations. Disciplinary and remedial action will follow, which may include General Court Martial (GCM) under applicable military acts.

In the military, there’s an old saying that a thin red line separates gallantry awards & court martial. The same line, at a different level, in Sam Manekshaw’s words, also decides whether you become a Field Marshal or get dismissed. When the stakes are high, imponderables – your decision, which side you turn, if or when you press the trigger – often decides which side of the red line you find yourself.

Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Srinagar may just be the fall guy answering to a long chain of ‘thin line’ failures at several levels.

CoIs are meant to be fact-finding scientific inquiries that investigate into circumstances leading to an incident or accident and make remedial recommendations. As such, they are not a legal authority for apportioning blame or establishing culpability. That role rests with the administrative authority through follow-on actions such as collection of Summary of Evidence (SoE) & GCM / summary trial.

If sources are to be believed, AOC of Srinagar base has been posted out and collection of SoE will soon follow. This indicates the CoI has prima facie found culpability of a serious nature. That the Mi-17V5 accident was caused due friendly fire is no breaking news for me. I am more worried about timing.

The timing of selective leaks and disclosures is as suspect as the events that unfolded with Balakot air strikes. The latest report comes just two days before announcement of election results where it will have no bearing on the outcome.

The jingoism – often banal over-the-top chest thumping – that followed Balakot is now making way for more sober, clinical analyses of what brought down the Mi17V5 helicopter, killing six crew members and one civilian on ground.

Tomorrow (23rd May 2019), India will be in raptures over election results. If pre-election season was all about peddling positive narratives (MiG21 shooting down an F16, IAF repulsing PAF reprisal, etc), one hopes that post-election season will bring closure to many sceptics and naysayers, me included.

However, I fear nothing of this sort will happen. Heads will roll at lower and middle levels (all military; none from the exalted tiers above). Then it will be business as usual.

f media brought Kargil War to our drawing rooms, Balakot and the skirmishes that followed were beamed into our phones via social media. Sane voices of reason and those asking reasonable questions were often derided and trolled, keeping with the times.

Now that the dust has settled and exit polls indicate that ‘#ayegatohmodihi‘, let’s hit the rewind button and replay sequence of events from Balakot onwards.

MEA announced that successful air strikes were undertaken by IAF on the biggest terrorist training camp of JeM in Balakot, as a preemptive measure, in the wee hours of February 26 2019. The entire nation celebrated, gripped by intense patriotism and conviction that, at last, we flexed our muscle against Pak-sponsored terror. Balakot is located in Mansehra district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province of Pakistan (read more here).

No conclusive evidence was presented, neither was any intent for such disclosure immediately forthcoming. The MEA press statement said “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated”. The next paragraph of same statement read “as the strike has taken place only a short while ago, we are awaiting further details”.

Well, ‘very large number’ makes little sense to those who analyse such events objectively. Such ‘experts’, especially those circumspect, are still being derided – again, with no conclusive evidence.

Following any such military action, it can safely be assumed that the entire air defence machinery along the border would be activated expecting a reprisal (reportedly, it was). Nothing short of a ‘precautionary stage’ (imminent hostilities) should have been in force. IFF codes, war orders and special rules of engagement would come into force during such times.

Yet, a wave of (reportedly) 24 PAF fighters intruded across the LoC and struck, however unsuccessfully, Indian military installations – a fact acknowledged by official MoD sources. In the air battle that unfolded over Nowshera in Jammu and Kashmir, we lost a MiG-21 Bison across the border and a Mi17V5 hundred kms away at Budgam near Srinagar.

Even as we claimed successful ‘shoot down’ of a Pak F16 (minus any scientific inquiry), our pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was captured and taken POW. Videos of his humiliation circulated by Pakistani sources (and his grace & poise) went viral. Not an iota of any such clinching evidence in support of our air strikes or F16 shootdown were available in public space through official sources.

The entire machinery of Indian MoD, MEA and self-appointed Chowkidars went into overdrive to glorify the counterattack with no solid shred of evidence. A narrative was hammered into place, aptly suiting the nation’s mood in election season.

The same machinery underplayed the downing of Mi17V5. All questions were stonewalled with ‘wait for Court of Inquiry to establish the facts’. Surprisingly, no patience or appetite for scientific inquiry was evident in the premature ejaculation over how we shot down the Pak F16 or repulsed a marauding strike package from Pakistan.

Slowly, the nation moved into election campaign mode where claimed ‘successes’ and ‘heroes’ were exploited for electoral gains by the ruling dispensation. Meanwhile, dark secrets lay hidden under a cloak of secrecy even insiders could not breach. An IAF-appointed CoI sifted through the smouldering Mi-17’s wreckage. I am not sure whom they took orders from.

Experts can tell a helicopter shot down by a known Surface-to-Air-Missile (SAM) from any other accident with basic arithmetic skills and a scientific bent of mind. But who cares for such uncomfortable truths in a nation gloating over upgraded fighters claiming epic ‘kill’ in an ‘asymmetric’ duel?

Now that polling is over, inconvenient facts are slowly finding its way back into the discourse.

Once election results are announced, few unfortunate ‘survivors’ of the Mi17V5 episode will go the GCM way, band-aid gallantry awards will be announced to cover up for many blunders at higher level that set the stage for Balakot & beyond, Bison-vs-F16 story will go into history books, and, who knows, a 56-calibre sabre-rattler may warm the seat in 7, Racecourse Road again.

How convenient is that? Who wins who loses, only the next conflict will reveal.

I have some basic bones to pick with this kind of ‘storytelling’.

Firstly, how come we celebrate positive narratives without a shred of evidence while having unending patience and forbearance for CoIs to unearth blunders? How come nobody said ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem’ or ‘we have a possible shoot down of a PAF F16. Please await the CoI’?

The MoD press statement soon after Budgam crash said the Mi-17 was on a routine mission. Can there be a ‘routine mission’ in a semi-warzone where all air defence systems are on full alert?

Secondly, how did we let the ‘enemy’ get away after launching a full-blown counterattack on military installations following our pre-emptive Balakot strike on non-military targets (read the MEA press release here)? Wasn’t that a deliberate ‘act of war’ by Pakistan? If YES, why did we not strike back with overwhelming force? If NO, then what was that Pak attack all about? Terrorism from the skies?

Thirdly, let’s assume (properly) that the Balakot strike emerged out of a ‘Commander’s Estimate of the Situation (CES)’ – an analytical war-gaming tool (read here). If so, why didn’t we, as a nation, foresee or adequately fortify against a possible Pak counterattack?

Did the service chiefs or Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee advice PM Modi about the best timing for such an attack and possible Pakistani reprisal to same? Or was it ordered by some de facto CDS – a chair yet to be filled due political infidelity and internecine turf wars?

Fourthly, if military advice supported a counterattack with overwhelming force, why wasn’t such advice heeded by the government? Was it our weak POW position or the public sentiment around it? (deja vu, 1999 Kandahar hijack). Even if the advice was to flex muscle, get Abhinandan back, then launch fearsome attacks, why wasn’t that advice followed through?

Fifthly, if the advice was to de-escalate after Balakot, why so? After all, we had just launched our first-ever air strike on enemy camps. What could be more predictable or provocative than a committed reprisal by PAF? In the face of such an attack, should we just scramble eight-odd fighters, lose one and then celebrate exchange of a POW, while other services watch from the sidelines?

So let’s stop the gristly count now and ponder a bit.

Remember that a pre-emptive air strike by PAF on IAF’s border airfields (read here) set off a well-planned, joint blitzkrieg by Indian armed forces that eventually cleaved Pakistan and liberated Bangladesh. But those were days with leaders like Sam Manekshaw who could stand up to PM Indira Gandhi and her ill-informed cabinet ministers. Only one side of the equation stands true today.

History will judge us for snatching defeat from the jaws of success in February of 2019. Elections come and go. So do political leaders who are so bereft of ideas they now flex military muscle and drive us to the brink of war, only to withdraw and take to microphones and TV studios soon after.

When you add to this combustible mix, self-appointed ‘chowkidars’ shouting from rooftops, high ranking military officials cavorting with party members and peddling false narratives, the ‘graveyard spiral‘ may well have begun.

One more such misadventure may not yield same (election) results. Quoting from a previous article of mine, “we skirmish for two days, lose two aircraft, six crew, against a low-order adversary and still come out smelling of roses? What if it was China?”

The Indian Armed Forces – always apolitical and a beacon of hope in difficult times – are being perilously drawn into a battle they cannot win. That battle is best fought by local leaders in the hustings wearing a Gandhi cap or Modi jacket, not by polarising olive greens, blues & whites either side of a political divide with no clear military objective or foresight.

If we go down that path, brother will turn against brother. ACRs will soon be marked based on political affiliations. Promotions to higher office will become political appointments (if they aren’t already). Red watch, Blue watch & White watch the navy I know runs on might add ‘saffron’. No saying where this will end.

As a nation, our bark should never become worse than our bite.


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Age of Enlightenment: Early Greek Philosophy




By Amir Suhail Wani

All great philosophies and philosophers of the world have been those who made man premier of their teachings. The first entity that man encounters in this boundless universe is his own self. Centuries before, Socrates, who was influenced by Sophism, but was not a Sophist’, asserted that the real subject of man’s knowledge is the man himself. As Alfred Weber accentuates:-

“He [Socrates] placed the study of moral man and of the duties of the citizen in the very centre of education” Despite his bent of mind towards scepticism in regards of cosmogony he was not sceptic towards the knowledge of human self.


Thus the phrase “Know Thyself”, as it stands inscribed in the temple of Delphi, reflects the man-centeredness of Socrates. His greatest contribution lied in moving from Protagoras’s individual and subjective man to objective and universal “Human”. Plato, a disciple of Socrates and the author of “The Phaedrus”, “The Symposium”, “Dialogues” “The Republic” and others, emerged as the next towering figure in Greek philosophy. He made extensive use of Allegories and expressed his ideas in the form of dialogues. His most important concept is one of idealism. He believes that the universe, as it appears to us is rather an illusion and the reality lies in idea. His philosophy was deeply influenced by geometry and he made extensive use of geometrical facts in formulating his “world-view”. Thus Platonic philosophy is the science of ideas, enshrined in geometrical lexicon. In platonic pyramid, man is the end of nature, and the idea the end of man. In his view, the highest end lies in man’s most perfect likeness to God. But then he resembles God with abstractions like “Absolute Justice” or “Truth”, which spirals the whole issue back to idealism. Thus Plato’s philosophy and his concept of man, despite its own legacy suffered a heavy criticism. It considered man as the measure of everything and rejected the existence of external universe out rightly. This concept could have been an ideal playfield for idealists or for those who held the views of scepticism. But for millions of conscious people who pondered upon this paradox found Platonic claims to be vague.

Another dexterous philosopher of this period was Aristotle (Born 385 B.C). His works in included both theoretical sciences like theology, mathematics as well as practical sciences like ethics, politics etc. One of the nuclear doctrines of Aristotle is quadruple of “Matter”, “Idea”, “Movement” and “Final cause”. In other words his entire system is founded on “Trinity of Potentiality, movement and actuality”. To him every being is a combination of form and substratum or idea and matter. Aristotelian picture of human essence is beautifully encapsulated in following paragraph.

“Nous”, the principle of divine reason makes human soul an intermediate being between the animals and God. In sensibility perception arid memory, it resembles the animal; in reason it is like God. This dual aspect constitutes its originality as a moral being. There can be no morality without the coexistence of animal and intellectual principles. The animal is not a moral being, because it is devoid of intellect. Nor can there be any question of morality in case of God, who is a pure thought.

Hence morality is the distinguishing characteristic of human nature, and the end of human life consists neither in one sided development of animal functions nor in changing man into god, but the complete and harmonious expansion of our dual essence’. In this sequence there emerges another figure in the form of Epicurus and his “Epicurean school of thought’, which deemed pleasure (Ataraxy) as the ultimate ideal of life”.

This system was simple and anti-mystical in nature and formalism. Much of the existing knowledge of Epicureanism comes from Lucretius’ poem on “Nature of things”. Epicurus divided philosophy into three parts “Canonic”, dealing with rules for finding the truth, “’physics’, concerned with the nature of world and “ethics”, concerned with morality”.

“Stoicism’’, which was collectively formulated upon the teachings of number of philosophers like Zeno, Seneca, Chrysippus, Soli and others was not merely philosophy but a theistic system raised upon the ruins of polytheism or a kind of compromise between theism and atheism. Stoicism concerned itself with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom. This triangular philosophy of ‘God, man and universe’ forms the crux of stoic philosophy. They too, like Heraclitus believe that heat or energy is the principle of life. But in stoicism, man occupies a pedestal as Mired glibly puts it “Man is to God-universe what the spark is to the flame, the drop to the ocean”.

Confining ourselves to Greeks, after

Stoicism there ensued periods of “Academic scepticism”, and “Sensationalistic scepticism” both of which stressed upon the uncertainty of knowledge resulting from position, distance and other spatial temporal relations existing between the observers and observed.

The “Neo-Platonist” school of thought presented a picture of God that resembled too closely to Islamic one, with marginal differences. To put it in more subtle form, “He the holy one is beyond the beyond and again beyond the beyond”. And as Alfred Weber eloquently sums it “the God of

Neo-Platonism is superior even to idea and therefore eludes the thought”. Neo-Platonism upholds the belief of reunion of ego (Man) with Super Ego (God).Their chief belief in regards the existence of man is that “personality” is not the only form of existence, but all individuals (creatures) are constantly driven towards the creator. is the same thought which is enshrined in most of the schools of thought of Islamic mysticism and has been adored by Islamic mystics as their chief tenet. Neo-Platonists further hold that each form of life emulates the higher form is “Spiritual evolution”, whereby life is ever dissatisfied by its “present” also echoes in Mathnavi of Rumi in most profound form. . The basic premise of Mathnavi is that the souls in devolution from God realized the pain of egress and became restless to reunite with their source i.e. God. is sentence forms the diagonal for the whole matrix of Rumi’s philosophy. In “Neo-Platonist theory’; man is seen as the part of divine whole and of celestial origin. They believe human souls were first divine souls, conscious of God alone. Before coming to world of nature souls were in world of command where they were intimately close to God. After coming to nature spirits got bridled by earthly elements, particularly by their bodies that detached them from divine world. “Neo-Platonism” believes that it is an inexplicable fact that how and why spirits came about to suffer from egress after being in a state of union with God, but they are in perpetual motion towards their origin-the God. Subsequent to this era eventuated the era of Christian theology that was predominantly the echo of Platonic thought. e concept of man, as was presented by Christianity is discussed somewhere else . Here only a passing reference has been made to maintain continuity of the subject. Continuing its passage via corridors of time, philosophy continued to assume forms and philosophers continued to enrich the subject with their astute and manifold ideas. Each new era led to the synthesis of advanced and more encompassing theories. However the “Questions” remained same, only the methods changed and with changing methods the questions were answered with more precision and accuracy.

Out of copious philosophers that emerged in ensuing phases some assumed prominence in comparison to others. Despite all those had their unique “world-view”, but to discuss them all is out of question in this meagre work piece. The next important person of our interest is Aurelius Augustinus (Alias, St. Augustine).He united in his soul a deep love of Christ and an ardent zeal for philosophy. As Bertrand Russell puts it: – “He is the first of a long line whose purely speculative views are influenced by the necessity of agreeing with Scripture”. In words of George Patrick:- “ The tendency towards the complete spiritualization of the soul and to a decided and uncompromising Dualism, already seen in Plato, culminated in the teaching of Saint Augustine and through him was handed on to medieval church and to modern thought”.

The philosophical lexicon of Augustine is laden with myriad issues of thrilling, instigating and thought provoking nature. His concepts on time, vice and virtue God and hereafter are worth study. His thought, which in its broadest structure was a synthesis of Christian theology, Platonic thought and Jewish traditions influenced the evolution of philosophy to a great extent. But one of the major drawbacks, as it can be called in his thought was the theory of transference of sin from parents to progeny, which indeed, he has borrowed from Christian school of thought. He believes, on part of his religious obligation that:-

“If our first parents had not sinned, they would not have died, but, because they sinned, all their posterity dies. Eating the apple brought not only natural death, but eternal death, i.e., damnation”.

Augustine concerns man to the faculties of passiveness, receptiveness and contemplation. Dexterously, as Alfred accentuates:-

“The inner light, which reveals to the thinker God and the eternal types of things, seems to him grow dimmer and dimmer, the more convinced he becomes of the fall and radical corruption of human nature”.

This doctrine catastrophically reduced the status of man from that of a divine ambassador to that of an amoral biped. It created a veil of diabolic nature between the man and his reality. The “fall of man”, as it is called in Christian lexicon is not a belief, but a dogma, a dogma that kept and keeps man in oblivion. The further ramifications of this doctrine will be dealt separately then.

One thing that must be borne in mind that middle ages, synonymic with dark ages in Europe were predominantly dominated by the

Church. Outside the church, there lied no salvation and all scientific and philosophic progress was stagnated by the seal of Christian dogmas.

The persecution suffered by numerous scientists at the hands of pops and church bear witness to the intellectual bankruptcy of Europe during Middle Ages. Given such dismal state, there was hardly any scope to ponder upon the very nature of man. The political anarchy, religious dogmatism, social instability, economic chaos and class conflict no space to fathom the depths of human existence. It was only with the renaissance and scientific movement that intellectual pursuits gathered momentum and a new science and philosophy emerged out of the pitch dark tunnels of history. Numerous treatises affirm the fact that when Europe was engulfed in deep gloom, the minarets of Spain, Damascus and other Muslim territories were illuminating and irradiating the crimson rays of wisdom and intellect.

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By Shabbir Aariz                                                   

It was quite amazing to learn about a seminar organized the other day by the Institute of Engineers in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority supposedly pertaining to Dal Lake conservation and its dwellers. It was as usual use of adjectives and phraseology like improvement of lake hydrology and hydraulics, removal of man-made bunds, preserving its eco-sensitivity and rehabilitation, lacking not only the will to improve anything but the passion that is cardinal to any change, seemed missing. Such events sound more as playing to the gallery than an endeavor out of conviction as much of the fire is from the insiders who make noises about it. Agencies responsible for preservation of Dal’s pristine glory have all along failed it. Otherwise this vast sheet of water and its shore line originally spread over an area of more than twenty-two square kilometers would have not shrunk to an about fifteen over the years. The Lake though guarded by the misty peaks of Pirpanchal mountains and being integral to tourism and recreation is not only encompassed by boulevard and fore shore road but also the vultures clothed by riches and influence who have vandalized ecologically rich ecosystem. The untreated sewage from peripheral localities, settlements and house boats responsible for influx of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Lake has never been properly addressed. Big thanks to the vote bank politics that has been chiefly responsible for the authorities to look the other way while encroachments are made and laws sent to winds. It is not less disheartening and shameful to note that there are people in the west who are genuinely concerned about Dal’s plight and even have been extending financial assistance for its preservation but we have failed and let them down. The Lake presently is Custodia Legis (in the custody of the law) by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court following a Public Interest Litigation in the year 2001 for its preservation. The mighty state is the main respondent in the case pending before the Srinagar wing of the High Court. Besides appointing a senior advocate as an amicus curia to represent the Lake’s interest, a number of directions have been issued by the court and a number of affidavits filed by the state so far. A period of about two decades has shown little progress and compliance of the directions of the court and huge funds spent except for a few cosmetic measures like de-weeding and establishing sewage treatment plants, some of which due to the lack of proper maintenance, find their way to the lake for its waste. There is even a detailed project report that was prepared following the court’s direction but hardly any substantial progress has been made on that report or its implementation. It is worthwhile to mention that one of the Chief Justices personally inspected the Lake to have a better grasp of the problems faced by this second largest lake of the state, jewel in the crown of the state and Lake of Flowers but yet it is craving for real justice. Though it has become fashionable to speak about Dal bereft of sincerity like GAREEB KI JORU, MOHALAY BHAR KI BABI (poor- man’s wife is easy to comment upon), one can’t be oblivion of the fact that the stakes are not ordinary. It is an identity, a heritage, a history and the glory that not many people and parts of the world are as fortunate as we are and proud to boast about. According to the Hindu mythology, area close to it known as Isaber (Ishber) was the residence of goddess Durga. Mughals developed the precincts of the Dal with sprawling gardens and pavilions as pleasure resorts to enjoy its healthiness. Thereafter, it has remained the star attraction for nature lovers, tourists, historians, trekkers, writers, poets, movie makers and many more. It has also remained a source of livelihood for generation after generation. Enormous is the kindness and countless are the bounties of this unmatched treasure. It, therefore, remains the prime concern of all the stake holders from the lake lovers all over the world to the dwellers, shikara wallas, houseboat owners; of whom about five hundred houseboats are of Victorian era making them part of the heritage. It is also an important part of a larger environmental debate. It is time to introspect in penance, seek forgiveness from the Creator and conscience, put our heads together and draw up our sleeves before it is too late though already very late. As such a pledge and an honest effort of all the stake holders—– to whom none of us is an exception—– is required to restore and preserve this gift of nature before the nature’s wrath is unleashed on all. Nature follows its own rules and is ruthless in executing them. When we fight nature, the nature fights back with more powerful weapon and registers the ultimate victory. Let nobody test its patience.

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:     

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The Saga of Francis Younghusband’s first arrival in Kashmir and his Kashmiri saviours




By Bhushan Parimoo

The name Younghusband though sounds strange, however, is not unfamiliar to Kashmiris. Well entrenched in the contemporary history of Kashmir, Francis Younghusband was a British Resident in Kashmir for two years between 1906 and 1908 when the state was under the rule of the third Dogra ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh. Their friendship and personal bonhomie is legendary and deservingly finds place in the recent history of Kashmir.

Younghusband’s fame, however, is not  only preserved in him being the  resident in Kashmir at the beginning of the 20th century but in his other achievements as an extraordinary explorer, mountaineer, spiritual writer and a military spy who led the famous British Military Expedition into Tibet in 1903.


Famed for his extraordinary forays into Far East and Central Asia, Francis Younghusband was also the first to cross the Pamirs and Hindukush in 1889, the first to scale Muztagh Pass at 19,000 feet above the sea level in 1887 and the first to photograph the Mount Everest with definite and identifiable pictures in 1904.

Before serving as the Resident in Kashmir, Younghusband also served as the British Commissioner in Tibet. Long after he left Asia, Younghusband also had a distinguished term as the President of the Royal Geographical Society and headed the World Spiritual Council for Peace & Harmony.

Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, nearly six decades after William Moorcroft, the first British to do so in 1823. It was no easy time for him. And when Moorcroft finally left Kashmir via the Jhelum Valley he was stopped by a semi- independent chief near Uri to pay the custom duty of a heavenly sum of Rupees 15,000 which Moorcroft denied. This forced him to retreat and finally he reached Punjab by a different route but not before he paid the custom duty on his caravan that was fixed at Rupees 500.

When Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, it was already autumn and valley’s glory had already begun to depart. At the time Younghusband had no other set of clothing than what he was clad in. He was clothed in long Central Asian dress that was worn out. His boots were in no better shape. However, the inner and under portion of his dress was of European origin.

Younghusband arrived in Kashmir after a journey of nearly 4,000 miles from Peking in China.

He crossed into Kashmir at Baltistan from the Muztagh Pass that was nothing but a rocky precipice of hard ice slope. Doing so, he and his five servants and other caravan men slid down the cliff holding the turbans and waist-clothes and belts tied together. Fortunately, Younghusband managed to carry with him the little baggage he had brought for himself from the other side of the Pass. Even his roll of bedding and personal kettle was thrown down the mountain slope in the hope that it could be collected safely only if it were not lost in the bowls of the mountain crevices during the tumble.

Having thus arrived in the territorial domains of Kashmir, Younghusband at the time had no money and no tent to cover his head. En route he had slept in the open from one side of the Himalayas to the other with funds completely consumed.

Hence, the first thing Younghusband did, after arriving in Baltistan, was to borrow money from Pandit Radha Krishen Koul, the then Governor of Baltistan.

Pandit Koul was a very popular and respected official of the  State and later for his impeccable character , upright public standing and moral integrity was promoted to hold the office of the Chief Judge in the State during the rule of Maharaja Pratap  Singh. Besides Koul, there was another native of the state who became integral to Younghusband’s life as an explorer.

After all the ordeal of crossing the Pass, Younghusband had the services of only one servant who cooked for him and did all other sundry jobs for  his Master which even a dozen employees would have shirked to do. In all emergencies, this faithful servant carried all the load and evidently he became the most faithful and most trusted of the servants Younghusband ever had in his life. His name was Sukar Ali.  A native of Ladakh, Shukar Ali was an Argon. His father was a Yarkandi man who had married a Ladakhi woman. Younghusband first picked Shukar Ali in Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan.

Shukar Ali was a cheerful person, often happy- go-lucky and an easy going man who though was careless at times. Always found laughing, he dealt with other caravan men of Younghusband’s entourage with great felicity. He always performed the hardest part of the duties and was ever ready to do the most dangerous piece of work, be it in the barren wastes of the Pamirs or the Karakorum or Hindukush.

Shukar Ali was the only Ladakhi who dared to cross the Muztagh Pass. An incident recalled here, by the present writer, of this daring feat must stand as a tribute to this brave but unsung man. It is but only appropriate to narrate it in Younghusband’s own words:

“After crossing the Pass we had to cross a very full and rapid stream straight out of a glacier. Immense blocks of ice were breaking off the glacier and floating down the stream. The bottom was also partly ice and partly boulder.

“Shukar Ali, with his usual readiness volunteered to carry me across this stream on his back. But in mid-stream he slipped. I was precipitated into icy water, while Shukar Ali, in his frantic efforts to regain his own footing, unknowingly kept pressing me under the water.

“We both eventually gained the opposite bank all right”.

As a result of this incident Younghusband was wringing wet with ice-cold water on every stitch he had on and the situation became all the more difficult when he had no substitute clothes. Younghusband almost froze in the chill and cold. It took some time before any respite and rise in temperature followed that brought him some relief.

Having known Shukar Ali’s dedication and skills needed to survive high altitudes, Younghusband, after the conquest of Muztagh Pass, again sought his services. Two years later in 1889, the Government again sent Younghusband to explore all the northern frontier of Kashmir from Ladakh and the Karakorum Pass to the Pamirs and Hunza.  And yet a third time, Shukar Ali accompanied Younghusband when he was sent on a political mission to the Chinese Turkestan and the Pamirs in 1890-1891. On this occasion also both were faced with a near death experience of coming under a snow avalanche.

After Younghusband’s 1891 expedition in the Pamirs, there followed a long silence between him and Shukar Ali. For 17 long years, there was no contact between them. However, in the intervening period another pioneer of the Central Asian and Himalayan expeditions, the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin employed Shukar Ali in his Tibet expeditions.

However, following Younghusband’s appointment as the Resident, Kashmir, Shukar Ali suddenly appeared at the Srinagar Residency after he had walked 240 miles across the treacherous mountain stretches and passes from Ladakh to Srinagar.

Shukar Ali appeared before Younghusband at the Residency in the same old coat the latter had given him 17 long years ago while crossing Muztagh Pass. The sight moved Younghusband and symbolically assured him of the devotion of his former faithful servant. During their meeting Shukar Ali greeted Younghusband in all possible manners.

Younghusband, in his book ‘Kashmir’ writes: “He kept jumping up and down, first kissing my feet, then touching my coat, then salaaming, and all the time ejaculating an unceasing flow of speech, calling me by every affectionate term.”

After this initial exciting encounter, Shukar Ali next  pulled beneath his loose ravine native garments a wooden bowl, a bag  full of sweets, a pair of goat horns for Younghusband and his wife. But the special gift Shukar Ali carried were the multi-colured small stones which he had collected from Tibet during some of his earlier sojourns he had made, for their little daughter.

Shukar Ali during this visit stayed with the Younghusband at the Residency. For all obvious reasons Younghusband gifted Shukar Ali with several gifts that he considered could keep him comfortable in his home.

However, before Shukar Ali’s departure from the Residency, he desired for an order from the Maharaja exempting him from service in his village. Fortunately, His Highness, upon Younghusband’s recommendation, readily acceded to Shukar Ali’s request. The Maharaja made out the order by appending his signature  in the document. It was presented to Shukar Ali during a garden-party hosted by Younghusband at the Srinagar Residency. At the time the Maharaja addressed Shukar Ali in the most kindly manner and invited him to visit the Palace for a meeting.

On the following day, Shukar Ali presented himself at the Darbar where he was presented with a shawl of honour by the Maharaja.

Following these felicitations, poor Shukar Ali left Kashmir with many tearful farewell expressions. Few weeks later, the grateful servant sent a letter to his Master. Illiterate, Shukar Ali as such was incapable to write himself. He took help from his native friend Ghulam Rassul Galwan, another intrepid  mountain caravan bashi of many Himalayan explorers of the late 19th and early 20th century and one who had picked up some English words and learned to write in his own grammar and style the world has never known again, to write on his behalf.

The letter quoted here under and considered unique in the annals of world literature for its  true spirit, entertaining simplicity  and innocent expression bordering laughter but always understandable must stand as a token of glowing tribute to all the three pioneers of Pamir conquest: Sir Francis Younghusband, the recipient; Shukar Ali, the author; and Ghulam Rassul Galwan the scribe.

Thus reads the rudimentary gem:

“Sir, I reached very well home, with very felt and found all my poor family very well happy and showed the all kindly of your they got very glad, and we all family thankfully to you to remember us so much, to little people and my all friends got very glad too, they said thank you, and hope you would not be angry with this English written, please you pardon for this, and could not write myself and could not get munshi write you, because and found Rassul, he was my old friend and let him write this letter. Please give my salaam to Mem Sahib and Baby Baby Sahib. Your obedient servant from poor Rassul plenty salaam”, -Shukar Ali

(The writer is a well-known Jammu-based Environmentalist with special expertise in History)

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June 2019
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