There was once a man named Abu Osama.
This would not be a significant thing, except that his name wasn’t really Abu Osama. I don’t know what his real name was, though I assume he must have been issued one by his parents at some point after being born. But, after becoming a terrorist, he abandoned it, so it probably doesn’t matter so much what it was, anyway.
Terrorist, did I say? Why, yes. Abu Osama was a member of the Pakistani jihadist terrorist group, the Lashkar e Toiba, and in accordance with the rules of his outfit would have abandoned his birth name during training and taken on a quniat, or nom de guerre. This quniat, for Lashkar men, usually comprises two parts, Abu (literally “father of”) and the name of one or the other “revered” Islamic warrior. In this case, unless I am much mistaken, said Islamic warrior would’ve been the bin Laden himself.
|Some random South Asian Islamic terrorists, maybe even Lashkar. They don't exactly wear uniforms.|
Anyway, after finishing his training, probably in one of the Lashkar training camps in the hills north-west of Islamabad, the newly-minted Abu Osama was sent, like others of his ilk, across the so-called Line of Control in Kashmir (the actual border between India and Pakistan, though neither country is willing to admit it). By 2009 he was the commander of his own lashkar (sub-unit) operating in Jammu, just south of the Kashmir valley, and had made himself notorious enough to have a price on his head. How much that price was depends on which website you believe – the equivalent in Indian rupees of between US$ 4000 to 6000, a considerable sum even at the exchange rate at the time.
Now, by 2009 the original insurgency in Kashmir was long since over. It had been stamped out by the mid-to-late 1990s, with all the insurgents who took up arms in 1988-89 either dead, captured, or surrendered and turned into politicians. After that, the vast majority of insurgents in Kashmir were foreigners: some Afghans, a few from further afield (including Chechens and even the odd East African), but mostly Pakistani Kashmiris – or Pakistanis like Abu Osama. The remaining Indian Kashmiri insurgents were mostly restricted to one, and increasingly marginalised, group, the Hizbul Mujahideen. Unlike the original insurgents of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, the Hizb are Islamists, but not nearly hardline enough to suit the likes of the Lashkar, who think the Indian Kashmiri version of Sunni Islam tantamount to heresy and idolatry.
This isn’t the place to examine the reasons for the decline and fall of the Kashmir insurgency, a fascinating topic which I’ll talk about in future in case anyone’s interested. But two of the reasons came together in the person of Abu Osama.
First was the fact of his being a foreigner, a Mehman Mujahid, or “guest freedom fighter”, as the foreign jihadis were called by the Kashmiris when they first appeared in the early nineties. The foreigners had neither the family ties and local support the native insurgents had; nor did they have any sympathy for the Kashmiris, whom they considered contemptible idolatrous mushriks who needed to be taught True Islamic Values and who were too weak and cowardly to fight for their own freedom anyway.
The second reason actually predated the appearance of the Mehman Mujahideen. When the rebellion began in 1988-89, the authority of the state vanished almost overnight. A huge number of criminals joined the rebellion along with students, unemployed young men, and others. These criminals, of course, used their newly acquired training and weapons for less “honourable” pursuits than the insurgency. One of the things they did was force their way into village homes and demand food and shelter. Soon enough, this extended to forcing themselves on the women of the house, especially if they were young and pretty. Even those who weren’t criminals, corrupted with their new power, soon joined in. A former army officer I know personally, who fought both against the LTTE in Sri Lanka and in Kashmir, told me of how the terrorists would force the men of the house to act as lookouts while they spent the night with their daughters and sisters.
Obviously, these things did not make for good relations between the “freedom fighters” and the people for whose freedom they were allegedly fighting. The Mehman Mujahideen proved no less susceptible to the Kashmiri damsels, no matter how much they detested their version of the Muslim faith, and were as prone to forcing their way into their homes in the dead of night. Abu Osama was no exception.
Now, in a little village about 30 kilometres from the Line of Control, there was a girl named Rukhsana Kausar. In 2009 she was 19 going on 20, and Abu Osama was taken by her charms. (Let’s take time to point out that Indian Kashmiri women don’t wear the hijab and aren’t veiled, so our Abu wasn’t exactly unable to see her face. Also, Rukhsana Kausar is a Gujjar, not an ethnic Kashmiri, reinforcing a point I’ve often made, that the ethnic complexities of Kashmir make it a far less simple issue than “Indian versus Kashmiri”) In July 2009, some local goons had abducted her and her aunt, though they had subsequently been released. As is usual in these cases in India, the police had done nothing about her complaint.
Then Abu Osama decided that he’d like to “marry” her, which didn’t exactly thrill her, because no sane woman, of course, would actually want to go with a psycho killer with a rapidly shortening expected lifespan. Apparently the fact that she wasn’t enthusiastic made him somewhat unhappy, because he asked her to “beware”. What he threatened her to beware of, I have been unable to discover, but I can imagine, can’t you?
|So could she.|
Then, on the night of 27th September, 2009, Abu the not bin Laden decided that enough was enough, and he was going to get his hands on this woman, come what may. Taking two, three, or five of his men with him – depending on whom you believe – he went off to her village, arriving there at about half past nine in the evening. Apparently he wasn’t sure which her house was, because he went first to her uncle’s home. At gunpoint, he then forced the uncle to take them to Rukhsana’s parents’ home, which was next door. The commotion was enough to tip off Rukhsana’s parents, Noor Hussain and Rashida Begum, who stuffed her and her eighteen-year-old brother under the bed before the terrorists could break in.
And what happened when they broke in? Well, brave Abu Osama came in with two of his men and began beating the hell out of them with sticks, because apparently that passed for asking for their daughter’s hand, and also because that’s what you do if you’re a tough armed militant and you want to show some defenceless villagers who’s the boss. While this was going on, Rukhsana Kausar and her brother, Aijaz, were under the bed, watching.
They didn’t watch too long. There comes a point in some people’s lives when they have to make a fundamental choice; and that point arrived in the lives of Kausar and her brother. They could keep watching and hope the Abu would leave after expending his pent-up anger, merely beating their parents to a pulp instead of killing them. Or they could do something about it.
They decided to do something about it.
By “decide”, I don’t suppose they held some kind of confabulation there on the floor under the bed. No, the “decision” would have been on the spur of the moment, and Kausar’s own words after the incident give the idea that she was the prime mover in what happened next:
"I couldn’t bear my father’s humiliation...I thought I should try the bold act of encountering militants before dying."
The word “encounter” in this sentence may be difficult for the uninitiated to understand. After all, hadn’t Kausar already “encountered” the militants? Well, actually, this word has a special meaning in India. “Encountered”, in Indian police and military lexicon, means “had a firefight with”. There’s a whole deeper layer of meaning to it, because you can take it almost for granted that when the cops claim to have eliminated a gangster or terrorist in an “encounter”, what they actually mean is that they arrested him and then shot him in a staged gunfight. It’s so much part of the Indian culture that the word has even become shorthand for “kill with legal impunity.”
Also, Kausar obviously had no illusions about what her fate would be; she’d obviously decided that being killed was inevitable – and preferable – to watching this home invasion any longer. She felt she had no choice in the matter.
Here’s a bit of advice, gratis: If you’re set on a course of violence against someone, never, ever, leave them no way out. Once you leave them with no alternatives, you’ve pretty much cooked your own goose.
If Abu Osama had ever known that, he’d forgotten it by that time. Too bad.
Because this is what Rukhsana’s decision to “encounter” her uninvited guests led to: she and her brother rushed out from under the bed, grabbed an axe which happened to be in the room, and gave Abu Osama an almighty whack across the back of the head with it. As he – not unexpectedly – collapsed from this sudden and unexpected assault from the rear, she grabbed his AK 47, hit him with the stock, turned it on him, and pumped him full of bullets.
The great Lashkar e Toiba commander with a price on his head had been smoked by an outraged teenage girl who had never held a gun before in her life.
Yes, you read that right. Rukhsana Kausar had never before touched a firearm in her life, had never fired a thing. How did she know how to shoot it?
She had watched movies.
I’m not joking. Her words:
"I had never touched a rifle before this, let alone fired one -
but I had seen heroes firing in films and I tried the same way. Somehow I gathered courage."
but I had seen heroes firing in films and I tried the same way. Somehow I gathered courage."
Somehow I get the idea that Rukhsana Kausar is a young woman it wouldn’t be a good idea to cross.
At this point it would be appropriate to mention that if Abu Osama had taken the elementary precaution to, you know, keep his safety catch on, he might have survived with nothing worse than a cracked skull (do you recall the last action movie to show anyone taking off a safety before blasting away? I don’t). I don’t know if they left out that little detail in Lashkar training camp or he thought it was macho to wander around with his safety off. I suspect the former, because...
...having gunned down Abu Osama, Kausar turned her gun on the other two, and shot and wounded one of them. The two formerly brave freedom fighters promptly ran for their lives, dropping one of their guns, which Kausar then tossed to Aijaz. Apparently this gun also had its safety off. The brother and sister then began a brisk firefight with the two to five (depending on whom you believe) terrorists outside, which lasted – according to some accounts – up to four hours. I find that somewhat hard to believe because I don’t see how two AK magazines, even full, could last that long, and I don’t recall the last action movie which showed anyone changing magazines, either. I have, however, no problem believing that the gunfight seemed to last four hours to the people inside the house. At some point in the proceedings, Kausar’s uncle took a bullet in the arm, but that was the only casualty on the side of the good guys. As for the terrorists, later on the police found blood trails, in the plural.
Never, ever, thoroughly piss off someone and then leave them with nothing to lose, is the message I’ll keep repeating.
Having finally had enough, Abu Osama’s thoroughly defeated men withdrew, and Kausar and her brother shepherded her family to the nearest police outpost, Aijaz firing into the air at intervals to keep away the terrorists. I think they’d had enough for one night anyway.
(Later on, there were revenge attacks on Kausar’s family home, including grenade attacks. But nobody was hurt because they had been relocated by the government to accommodation in a protected area, and besides, the grenades missed the house. The Lashkar’s grenade-throwing training also needs work,)
Rukhsana and her brother went on to get medals for bravery, which is actually...not quite enough recognition for what they did, come to think of it. Rukhsana was appointed a constable in the Jammu police, which means that now she has legal licence to blow away terrorists if they come calling, and presumably knows a little more about guns, too. The siblings also got some money for Abu Osama’s by now cracked and very dead head.
They also taught the Lashkar a lesson: for the third time, never push someone to the point where they have nothing to lose.
I doubt the Lashkar took it, though.
|She has that gun to remind them.|