“So it has come to this.” Lu puffed on his cigarette and stared at the ceiling. “19 billion dollars as his share and what do we get ? We spend a lot of money from our own pockets, do all the heavy lifting and this is what we get. 3% equity for each one of us !”
Mo took a small sip of his whiskey and stared back. Unlike the majority of his own countrymen, he had no worries about his own personal safety from the men sitting around him. He waited for a moment before answering,”This is what Mr Xij asked me to tell you sir. I am just an employee of the company and presently a messenger from him. Nothing more.”
“Don’t sell yourself short Mo. You are the financial brain behind the company. Without your knowledge, links and expertise, this project would have never even started. Hell, if you were not involved, most of us would never have even invested in the company. “ Lu answered bitterly.
“I am very grateful for the faith you put in me. But all of you know that my authority in the company is nothing compared to any of you present in this room. I take care of the finances, that’s it. Three of you here and Mr Xij control everything else.” Mo replied in an even tone.
Lu exhaled some smoke in the general direction of Mo and smiled. “That we do Mo, but tell me how does it help us ? My own personal investment was 140 million US Dollars. Pu here supplied 50 million and expertise that only 2 companies in the entire China have. Ru invested 80 million and made sure that none of Xianji’s competitors could win any contract that we bid on. All of us took losses for 4 years with an understanding that we will have a nice little pot of gold at the end of it.”
Mo nodded in a conciliatory manner but he felt a faint tinge of annoyance. Lu was already drunk and was repeating the same thing again and again. The short meeting which was supposed to last one hour had dragged on for two hours with no end in sight. He had traveled in a plane for 5 hours just for this one meeting and would have to take another just after midnight.
“I’m sure you remember that I became a part of the company long after you four made the agreement. I can only tell you what Mr Xij asked me to. Why and how of this and most other decisions are not taken under my authority.”
“Right, right.” Ru exclaimed with an expression which hovered between a smile and a grimace. “So you mean to say that we should take it up with Mr Xij himself. You are just a glorified messenger. Is that right Mo ?”
Mo wondered if he should say something but just looked at Ru and nodded, “That’s more or less the gist of it Mr Ru.”
Lu crushed his cigarette on the floor and glared at him, “ Then we should not keep you here Mo. You’ve delivered your message. I suppose you have a flight to catch pretty soon.”
“That’s right Mr Lu, thank you. I’m leaving these documents here for your perusal. Please go through them and feel free to contact me at any time you wish. I’ll be more than happy to be of any assistance.” Mo placed a closed envelope each in front of other three people, bowed and walked out of the room.
Pu leafed through the papers given to him in silence while Mu lit up another cigarette. Ru gave a wry smile and said, “5 years, 100s of millions, hundreds of sleepless nights and this is what great Mr Xij has for it. 9% equity for three of us which we can’t even encash without his approval.” He smirked and poured himself another drink.
“3 percent !” Lu exhaled angrily. His hands shook slightly which didn’t go unnoticed with Pu and Ru.
Pu who had mostly stayed quiet during the meeting, spoke in a tired voice, “Nothing much interesting in the papers. It’s more or less the same what Mo said.”
Lu picked up his envelope and threw it against the wall. “So Xij can screw us after all these years and we are left with this ! I don’t know about you two, but I’ll not take this lying down. Well, I do know about you two and neither of you is going to accept this.“
Ru took a deep swig of drink,leaned back on the chair and stayed quiet. Lu glanced at him and then started reading the papers again. Both were familiar with the angry outbursts of First Class Lieutenant General Lu which usually went on for hours if someone interrupted his angry rants.
“Just because he is the son of Chairman doesn’t mean that he can screw us over. Each one of put more at stake every single day than that jerk can imagine and I’ll be dead before he can get away with this bullshit.” He glared at the other two men waiting for a response. Lu put down the papers, looked back at Lt Gen Lu evenly but stayed quiet. Ru stayed as he was, seemingly asleep but very aware of the tension in room.
“Don’t you two have anything to say ?” Lu thundered angrily.
Ru just spoke without moving, “We do have a lot to say General, but exactly what we can say about this issue without getting ourselves in hot water ?” Xij is the only son of CCP Chairman. Words spoken by Mo were not from Xij but his father, CCP’s all powerful Chairman and President of China for life.”
“President of China for life ! Was it only because of my support ?” Lu spat angrily. “All three of us supported him for this. Both of you financed his “campaign” and the constitutional amendment. Do not put this on me.”
Ru looked at Lu straight in the eyes, “Cool down General. I am not blaming you. All three of us had no idea that Xij and his father would betray us like this.
Pu spoke in his soft voice, “This is no time to discuss history and who did what. There is not much we can do legally. Taking Xij to courts will never work. Best we can do is to sell our share as soon as possible and limit our losses. “
“When Chairman Wix is involved, there’s no such thing as legal or illegal.” Ru commented.
Lu thundered, “Don’t give me this crap. He is a greedy old bastard just like the three of us. He’d have never reached where he is without my support and if he thinks that he can get away by screwing me over, then he has made the biggest mistake of his life.”
Ru sighed and asked, “I always thought that two of you were good friends. Can’t you talk to him and clear this up ?”
Lu shook his head, “You do know that I was next in line for the post of CCP Chairman, right ? Wix came to me before he got you two on board and promised me this deal as compensation for my support for his lifetime Presidency amendment. It was me who suggested your names to him for this company. He knew from then what he was doing, how things will turn out and how he will treat us.
The work that Xianji did was not just for making us rich. Pu was brought in not for his 50 million but for his very specific expertise that PLA needed for spying. You were brought in even though you owned a competing company just to create an illusion of choice in the minds of our customers.”
He glared at his almost finished cigarette and flicked it away. “Now do you see what Chairman Wix has done ? He has sole control over one of the biggest telecommunications companies which also doubles up as the biggest mass surveillance network in the world. Not only he has a few new billions in cash in his bank accounts but also the data of 100s of millions of people from all around the world and full control over the networks. If this is not unprecedented absolute power, then nothing else is. All this was supposed to be ours, not just his personal kingdom. If he thinks that he is going to be the dragon sitting on a mountain of treasure by himself, then I am going to be the dragon slayer of western fairy tales.
He paused to light another cigarette and continued, “Do you think that I’ll be happy with this puny payout after all this ? Are you two happy with just this ? This was not what was planned and I will make sure that Wix pays for his treachery.”
“How are we going to do that General ? After last year’s amendment, Wix is China. Anything you do against him will be viewed as treason against the state. Not to mention that Xijiang is just one of our many interests closely intertwined with Chairman Wix. Each one of us has 100s of millions invested in dozens of other projects with him. If we do anything rash, we might lose everything just when things are getting streamlined” Pu interjected.
“Mr Pu, you are a brilliant technocrat, but you still have to learn a few things left to learn about politics, statecraft and the inevitable backstabbing required to survive in this murky world.” Lu answered with a smirk. “We don’t fight this war at all. Our “enemy” will fight it for us.”
Prime Minister Angad Bisht had just arrived back to New Delhi after a whirlwind tour of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh where he had inaugurated construction of a few new infrastructure projects and educational institutions. He considered stopping at his house for a quick shower, lunch and change of clothes but had no time as the meeting was scheduled to start soon. So he just went straight to his office after landing at Palam airport.
One of his personal assistants had been contacted by Defence Minister’s office and he briefed the PM about the agenda of the meeting as well as schedule of the remaining day as they drove through the wide open roads of New Delhi. Unlike many of his predecessors, PM Bisht took a keen interest and was personally involved in many decisions related to national security. He had personally hand picked many of the people present in the meeting room based upon their past record, talent and willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty.
He reached his office 20 minutes before the meeting was supposed to begin and managed to grab a quick bite before heading straight to the meeting room. He met External Affair Minister Piyush Vajpayee who was giving some instructions to a bureaucrat a few steps away from door of the room. Both men greeted each other and EAM entered the room after PM. Everyone else was already inside waiting for meeting to begin. After some greetings and a bit of small talk, the meeting quickly came to point. First it was the turn of National Security Advisor Ajay Dhumal who explained the same briefing that he had provided to Defence Minister Maadhvan Kamat.
Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Rajinder Singh had read the briefing from NSA and had some more information from his own office which had a few more details about Chinese support for terrorist organisations in India, Myanmar and Bangladesh. He picked up after NSA, “I concur with Dhumal ji. We actually have a list of some names for the Bhutan camp. Most of them are harcore communists who had vanished from the country a few months back. RBA (Royal Bhutan Army) had shared some intelligence with us a few months back about the issue. Some of the Bhutanese men are related to some politicians there and have been accused of stuff like hate speech, inciting violence and so on.
They had arrested two such men who were trained in a camp near a small city earlier this year. Their interrogation had revealed that they were attempting to overthrow the monarchy and had gotten aid from China. After these recent developments, I think we should interrogate them again.”
EAM Vajpayee gestured his approval, “Sure, getting access to them shouldn’t be difficult.”
Home Minister Rajat Sudarshan looked at NSA and asked, “Dhumal ji, do you have any idea if these Bhutanese communists have any links in India ?”
Dhumal shook his head, “Not that we know of for certain. But after analysing the data we already have, I’d be surprised if they are not cooperating with terrorist groups like NNFC. Both are being propped up by China and I’m willing to bet that there must be some links. We may get some information from the men arrested by RBA. We need to take some concrete action fast before Bhutan ends up like Nepal.”
PM who had mostly just listened to the other people present in the room spoke, “Alright, we should do that as soon as possible. Now what do we do about NNFC and their Chinese connection ? ”
CDS answered, “We really don’t have many choices apart from paying them back with the same coin. They’re trying to create and exploit faultlines within our nation. China itself is a house of cards divided by hundreds of issues and held together just by the iron hand of Chinese Communist Party (CCP). We can exploit their soft underbellies in Tibet, Xijiang, Taiwan, Mongolia, South China sea and various other places of our choice. They’ve made enemies everywhere and only crackpots like Pakistan and North Korea are their allies.
They’re doing their best to subjugate us, it’s time that we start hitting them back where it hurts.”
DM took over when CDS finished speaking, “I’ve been saying this for years now. We need to treat Pakistan as the insignificant rabid dog it is and put some focus on China which is a much bigger threat. Even Pakistan couldn’t have this much nuisance value if it wasn’t being propped up by China since the last few years..”
HM added his bit, “I do not agree completely. Pakistan can affect our internal security much more due to the support they get from some of our population. China has little or no such leverage and is just an external threat. Both these countries have different threat profiles for different reasons.”
PM intervened to get the discussion back on track before it diverted too much, “You both are making valid points, but we need to discuss our plan of action against China. What do we do against their support of terrorist groups and how do we make them feel some pain ?”
There was a pause and then NSA answered, “As decided in our previous meeting, we’ve already started work on reactivating some old assets and creating some new ones. It’s a slow process and will take a few months or perhaps even years. Nothing happens fast in this type of work.
We have gained some vital intelligence in last few weeks and if we play our cards right, we can engineer a split in NNFC and neutralise some of their top leadership. One thing we still haven’t figured out yet is how to intercept their cadre undergoing training in China. Some of them will trek back over the mountain passes, rest will use different international routes to reach back to India. We can turn and neutralise a few with help of local intelligence units, but even 30-40 such trained terrorists in the region can prove to be a big headache.”
DM spoke again, “That’s not bad at all. But even if we neutralise NNFC, what’s stopping Chinese from creating and arming yet another group like this ? What I am suggesting is making the cost of such activities unacceptably high for China. They should think twice before they go around trying to light fires in our house.”
“Do you have any ideas Maadhvan ji ?” PM sensed that his DM was itching to say something and gave him the chance to open up completely.
“Yes, ofcourse.” He responded quickly. “For starters, why not agree to the some of the requests put forth by Tibetan PM Kalsang and give recognition to Tibet as a fully sovereign nation ? Even if it’s just symbolic, we pour cold water over Chinese dreams of One China policy. With all the goodwill that Tibetans have all over the world and with some help from us, we can make it a prominent international issue and I am very sure that people in most democratic countries will pressurise their governments to be sympathetic to the cause even if the regimes themselves can’t or wouldn’t do anything significant.
Now before anyone here mentions it, I know that it’ll not mean much by itself, but it is just one step in getting Tibet free from Chinese control. We need to abandon our support for One China policy they demand from us. Even if we don’t succeed today or in near future, we have a leverage over China which we can use to our advantage in some other issue.”
Everyone in the room voiced their support which led to the PM think for a moment before replying, “It seems like a good idea for starters. We should gather some data on it and discuss how to take it further when we meet next. Anything else ?”
Now was Dhumal’s turn to speak, “ Like I said earlier, we are in process of creating some assets which we can use in China. We discussed it earlier this year. It’s going according to plan and we should be able to start effective operations in a few months.
Additionally, I am meeting with Rear Admiral Rajratan Hooda about status of the new Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) tomorrow. Some reports suggest that Chinese have managed to penetrate our communication infrastructure using their private companies. We need to secure ourselves against possible cyber attacks as much as we need to secure our borders.”
“Chinese private companies ? If that’s the case, then we need to kick them out as soon as possible.” PM asked with raised eyebrows.
“Yes, we have some intelligence which suggests that CCP is using companies like XIanji for military espionage and data collection. They’ve been on our radar for quite sometime and we are trying to keep them out of our business as much as possible. I can’t say how long it’ll take to have a strong enough case against them, but we are getting close. I’ve been asking for an official or even an unofficial ban or restrictions on a few Chinese companies for quite some time now.
Apart from that, DCA is working to strengthen our defence communications from inner as well as outer threats. I’ve also asked for their help with security of our civilian infrastructure. DCA is in process of commissioning some equipment which will boost our offensive capability manifold.”
CDS was next, “I’m sure you must be sick of hearing it, but we need atleast one Mountain Strike Corps ready by yesterday. Not a mish-mash of borrowed brigades and weapons dusted off from reserves, but a proper new Corps, fully staffed and properly armed. Plus 14 new squadrons of fighter jets, atleast 6 more aerial refuellers and same number of AWACS for Air Force. Navy needs more submarines, atleast 8 diesel-electrics to maintain bare minimum operational capacity. The budget allotted to us this year is barely enough to maintain our current level of preparedness. We can’t hope to tackle China and Pakistan both with what we have. “
PM raised his hands in surrender, “You don’t need to preach to the choir General. We are trying our best, but there are lots of mouths to feed and not enough resources for all. Most of the stuff you guys choose is so expensive that it’s impossible to pay for all of it from the budget we have.”
CDS and everyone else in the room knew that PM was talking about recent payments for imported T-90 tanks, Rafale planes, Scorpene submarines, Spike missiles, R-77 Air To Air missiles (AAM), SIG-716 rifles, Apache helicopters and various other hugely expensive imports. There were local alternatives for almost all the mentioned weapon systems. But Indian defence procurement was plagued by rampant corruption, incompetence and an unhealthy obsession for foreign imports at expense of local weapons development and production.
One huge example was repeat orders for Russian T-90 tanks which were proven to be quite inferior compared to Arjun in one on one comparative tests. T-90s were given a number of concessions in trials to speed up their purchase, while everything was made doubly tough for Arjun. Even then, Transfer of Technology deal that had come in with the tanks was not honoured by the Russians and Indians had to add numerous improvements like air-conditioner, sights that actually worked on their own.
Similarly, Air Force was willing to import every plane on offer, but unwilling to support local Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas. One Air Force Chief was even wary of showing support for the project because he thought of the project as that of it’s developer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), rather than IAF itself. The list was quite long and grew only longer every year. It was after the same air force had spent years trouble shooting and improving imported Sukhoi-30, Mirage-2000, Jaguar and Mig-21. But they refused to extend similar support for LCA till DM had put his food down.
Even reliable allies like USSR used these sales as leverage on their clients and control and even restrict usage of their weapon systems by restricting supply of spares. China had learned this lesson decades back and had done everything possible to be completely self-reliant for it’s defence needs like all other major powers. But India was still burning money every year on costly imports and even more expensive spares and maintenance.
One of the things that the new regime had done to remedy this was to encourage defence production in the country and decrease the value and quantity of imported systems. But old habits don’t change easily and there were a lot of vested interests, both internal and external trying to throw a spanner in execution of every such move.
“I hope we get better budget allocation next year.” CDS replied simply as a kind of truce.
PM acknowledged, “We are trying our best to increase the defence budget next year and working on improving the weapons purchase system. Anything else ? I read something about Vietnam in the meeting brief. What about it ?
EAM answered his question,” As I mentioned in the meeting brief, they have sent a request for increased intelligence sharing and sale of some military hardware. What should we do about that ?”
PM spoke,“I think we should be able to help them out easily, right ?”
EAM answered, “I am not sure about the technical details, but if you ask my opinion, we should definitely respond positively to their approach even if we have to spend some money from our own pockets. They can be a useful ally against Chinese hegemony.”
DM leafed through his papers and put one in front of PM, “I have checked the feasibility of their wishlist and most of it is quite easy for us. We can manufacture a satellite according to their specifications in 3-4 months. Only hard thing is getting them a slot in the scheduled launches this year.
Next item in their list is training of their pilots and submarine crews. Their Sukhoi-30 and Kilo submarines are very similar to ours and we can easily accommodate their crews.
Increased intelligence sharing is actually good for us and we should be doing it with as many countries as possible. We should get someone to work on this as soon as possible.”
The last item in their list was possible sales of some fast patrol boats and anti-submarine ships. I think they were referring to Car Nicobar class patrol vessels and Kamorta class anti-submarine corvettes. That is also not impossible, but I have my doubts.”
“Why’s that ?”
“Both ships are manufactured by GRSE and all of their production lines are completely full for 3-4 years.They can open extra manufacturing lines only if they have confirmed orders.
Additionally, there are a lot of very good options for these categories of ships from Japan, Russia, South Korea, France and a few more. I am not sure that our state owned shipyards can compete with any of these competitors just yet.” DM answered with a slightly frustrated expression.
PM chuckled, “ I know, I know. We are trying our best but old habits die hard and Indian bureaucracy has a lot of inertia.”
“That’s why we need more contracts for private sector,” HM added. “We also need to talk about the latest terrorist attack Rashtriya Rifles foiled in Rajauri.. If the terrorists had managed to detonate the explosives in bus station, they could have killed 300-400 people easily. 25 kgs of RDX is no joke.”
CDS mirrored a map of the region on the large screen showing location of encounter along with the long LoC snaking along the western border. “In last two months, Pakistanis have attempted 11 infiltration attempts and fired at our posts as well as villages 24 times just in this sector. We’ve lost 11 soldiers and 18 civilians in these attacks. This area has been relatively free of militancy for last few years and they are trying to change it. We have been retaliating with our artillery, but they need something much stronger.”
“Excuse me General sahib, but why do you say that artillery fire isn’t enough?” PM asked quizzically.
“It’s mostly because the artillery can’t hit the real planners who train and push in the terrorists. With our firing from the border, we can kill some of their low ranking soldiers, that’s all. They are considered expendable cannon fodder anyway and Pakis don’t care much how many of them die. Their lives are only marginally more valuable than those of the terrorists. We need to spear some of the bigger fishes across the border to put some fear in them.”
PM considered advice of CDS for a moment and asked, “I suppose you have some plans for this?”
“Yes Sir, we can send some teams of our own to hit some of the targets which include some staging camps for terrorists, artillery positions and a few important rear echelon posts. So far, we’ve been fighting them inside our territory. If we take the fight to them, they’ll get the message.”
PM looked at the DM who gestured his support. “You have our approval on one condition. You need to make sure that this doesn’t spiral out into a full fledged war. Hit them where you like, whenever you feel necessary. Just make sure to keep things under control. It’s time that we pay them back with interest.”
CDS looked happy for first time since the meeting started, “Thank you Sir. You have my word.”
Captain Sanjeev Pandey entered the Commanding Officer’s (CO) room and saluted smartly, “Good afternoon sir.” His CO returned the salute and instructed him to have a seat. “Sanjeev, how good are you with construction work?”
CO was famous for his abrupt orders and strange ways of grilling people. Capt Sanjeev was expecting something like this when he got the message about CO wanting to see him asap. He had answered dozens of such questions since his deputation two months back and heard hundreds of stories from his subordinates and seniors alike. Yet, he had no answer and just mustered a confused, “Sir ?”
“Do you know about the new building for the primary school that our battalion is helping with ?” CO stared at him evenly as if looking for a weakness to pounce upon.
“Yes Sir.” The two words came out more as a question than an answer.
“You’ve been busy with patrols on the fence, cordons and getting to know your men. But this is important, you know. This work we are doing helps the local villagers as well as us too.”
“No doubt Sir.”
“So do you think that you can help out with this ?”
“Good then. Go to Suraj Yadav and ask him to take you to the construction site. He will brief you about the job.”
Sanjeev got up, saluted and walked out of the office still as clueless as he had come in apart from one lead, Havaldar Suraj Yadav. He found the elusive Havaldar playing a game of volleyball and asked him about the school business.
Suraj nodded sagely, looking somewhat impressed, “CO saab asked you to take care of it! That’s good!“
“Take care of what?”
“Didn’t he tell you anything else ?”
Sanjeev felt a twinge of irritation rise within himself, “I’ve told you everything what he told me. Now let’s go to the construction site.”
Suraj opened his mouth as if to say something then changed his mind, “Ah… so he really didn’t tell you anything! Well the main thing is that there is no construction going on right now.” Sanjeev just sighed deeply, his irritation rising with each passing second but Suraj seemed oblivious.
“No construction going on…. Right. And why’s that ?”
“Gulam said that some of his workers were sick and a few were asking more money, so he fired them. He will bring new workers tomorrow to resume the work.”
“Who is this Gulam ?”
“He is the contractor making the school building sir, Gulam Bhat. He is kind of the default person to get this kind of work done in these parts. He is from Srinagar but usually lives around here for most of the year. Has a lots of ‘approach’ in state government too.”
“Of course he does. Do you have his phone number ?”
“Yes Sir, do you want it now ?”
“No, just give him a call and ask him to be at construction site at 11:00 tomorrow morning. I want to talk to him.”
Indian armed forces perform a lot of community outreach activities in their areas of deployment. They build schools, clinics, roads and other civil infrastructure in remote places which don’t have much development work done by the civil authorities. They also arrange sports programs, scholarships, life skill programs, study tours, medical checkup camps among a few other things in order to help the population of the area where they are deployed. In J&K, most of these activities are done under Operation Sadbhavana as a way to generate goodwill and remove any sense of alienation from the people.
Capt Sanjeev Pandey’s battalion was constructing a new building for a village’s primary school in it’s area of operations (AOR). The construction contract had been awarded to a local contractor Gulam Bhatt as is the case with most such work. Construction had started in the allotted land but the progress was slow. Sanjeev had been assigned to speed up the process by his CO.
Next morning he took Suraj in his Gypsy and drove to the construction site only to find it completely empty apart from two stray dogs napping in the sun. Suraj immediately called Gulam and turned to Sanjeev, “Saab, he is saying that his vehicle has a problem and he will not be able to reach before 2 pm.”
“2 pm” Sanjeev muttered while gritting his teeth. “Where are the labourers then? Why haven’t they started the work yet ?“
“He said that he was driving them in the truck transporting them.”
“Inbred bastard! Do you know where is he right now?”
“He said somewhere near the steel bridge. 40 minutes drive from here.”
“Good. We are going to meet him there.”
Both army men got back in to the Gypsy and found the mini-truck there sitting on side of the road. There was no sight of Gulam, his labourers or even someone repairing the minitruck. Sanjeev cursed the CO under his breath for assigning him to chase after idiots to do their jobs. He had specifically chosen infantry to avoid a life of paper pushing, contracts and office work. First posting in an active zone and he was doing exactly that. Another phone call to Gulam and he claimed that he was driving a mechanic to the broken minitruck.
Sanjeev nearly snatched phone from Suraj’s hand and asked Gulam to meet him tersely. Half an hour later, Gulam drove up to them in his brand new Tata Safari and grinned as he offered a handshake to seething Captain. Sanjeev got a good whiff of cheap alcohol coming from him as he opened his mouth to say hello. Sanjeev was too angry to indulge in niceties and idle chit chat.
“So Mr. Gulam Bhat, it looks like that you’ve wasted our whole day and not done even one bit of work. What do I say to my CO ?”
Gulam grinned sheepishly as a way of apology showing off his many discoloured teeth. “I was personally bringing the labourers to the construction site, but this stupid truck broke down in the middle. You don’t need to worry, I will finish the building right on time.”
“Mr Bhat, my job for next few days is to ensure that you finish the job in time and I will make you do it one way or the other. By the way, where are these labourers you were bringing ?”
“Oh those bastards ran back when I was gone. They wanted me to pay them for whole day of work even when they had not lifted a single finger for anything.”
“It’s not their fault that they couldn’t reach the construction site in time when you were transporting them.”
Gulam guffawed loudly as if Sanjeev had cracked a funny joke, “How could I pay them if they had done no work ? I drove them from Rajauri, 40 km from here and they start demanding money as soon as the truck broke down as if I’d run away. And all of them ran away when I was gone to get a mechanic.”
Sanjeev felt like picking the man by his neck and giving him a good shakedown but restrained himself, “Where is the mechanic you’re talking about and why are you bringing simple labourers so far from the site. There are enough people willing to do the job in the Ghani and nearby villages.”
“Don’t worry about the mechanic Captain sahab, I’ll get it repaired soon.
As for the labourers, have my advice sahab and never trust anyone from Ghani or any village in this area. All of them are lazy bums and only want money without doing any honest work. I’ve stopped hiring them for any job.”
“But they were working on the site before you fired them, right ?”
Gulam wringed his hands and nodded a reluctant yes.
“Good then you are coming with us to Ghani right now. Go to the labourers you had hired previously and rehire them. I’ll personally supervise the job. Get the smell of this shitty liquor out of your mouth and follow us.”
Gulam opened his mouth to protest only to get a sharp rebuke from Suraj, “Do not waste our time and obey what he is saying Ghulam ji. We have orders straight from CO saab.”
Gulam sullenly dunked his face in cold water of the stream and got in his SUV.
The construction work was going on at a good pace. The local labourers were working fairly well unlike claims of Gulam who had dismissed them as lazy freeloaders. Sanjeev had been going to the construction site daily to spend 1-2 hours there and see the progress. He met Gulam there on 1st day and then he had not shown up for three days claiming that the labourers didn’t need his constant supervision and that he had some other projects to take care of too.
Sanjeev was taking stock of the building supplies when he noticed a labourer with a deformed leg carrying a bag of cement on his head. The disabled worker used a thick stick clamped within his left armpit to support his bad leg while carrying loads on his head supported by his right hand. He looked older than his years with patches of grey in his hair, deep lines on his face and deeply tanned skin. Sanjeev watched him for a few seconds, then got busy with his own work.
About an hour later as he was about to leave, labourers stopped work for lunch. Most of them had brought simple rice, roti with some vegetables type meals from their homes and were eating them while chatting. He walked to the group as they were finishing off their meals and greeted them. They were respectful, smiled and answered politely but seemed a little reserved. Sanjeev was still getting used to the Hindi mixed with Pahadi and Gujjari language spoken by people of the area and chatted for a bit before leaving.
Next 2 days went by without much to talk about. He barely had any time to spend at the construction site due to some night missions and patrols. Summer time was usually busier due to large number of infiltration attempts by Pakistani terrorists and Border Action Teams (BAT) from regular Pakistani army. There were some incidents of artillery fire which were often cover for infiltration attempts. One of the sister platoons had neutralised two terrorists in such an attempt and there were rumours of more in hiding.
He had spent most of the last few nights setting up ambushes on likely infiltration routes but had ended up empty handed. Last night was yet another long sleepless night spent in the forested area freezing their butts off without anything to show for it. After getting a few hours of sleep, he had reached the construction site in late afternoon to see Gulam leaving just as he approached from another direction.
The labourers were huddled in a group at some distance talking animatedly but grew quiet upon noticing him and went back to their work. The disabled labourer was there too, but seemed much slower than usual. He was carrying stuff as usual but unlike previous days, was not as energetic and struggled visibly. Sanjeev felt bad and walked up to him, “Hello, how are you ?”
“Fine sahab. Just doing my job for the day.”
“You seem tired, are you ok ?”
“I am fine, just had a little fever last night. I should be fine by tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you take some rest ?”
“We just had a break to get our wages, can’t take another. Otherwise Gulam sahab will get angry.”
“So he was here to pay your wages. Does he pay you in the middle of the day?”
“He pays us every 3-4 days or whenever he feels like.” There was a strange expression on the labourer’s face as he said it and Sanjeev caught it.
“I thought you men get paid every day after finishing the work.”
“That happens sometimes too sahab.”
Sanjeev just realised that he didn’t even know the name of the man he was talking to and asked hurriedly, “Sorry I still don’t know your name.”
“Liaqat Ali, sahab. I live in a small house near the grocer’s shop. The shop owner is my cousin.”
“Can’t you get another job in which you don’t have to do so much manual labour ?”
“My forefathers have been farmers for as long as we can remember and we’ve always spent our sweat to earn our bread. I was an idiot and a bit unlucky and sold all of my land to pay for my vices and wife’s hospital bills. I need to work here otherwise my family will sleep hungry.”
Sanjeev was not ready to hear all of Liaqat’s story, yet he felt bad about the poor man. “Come with me to the base dispensary. I’ll get a doctor to check your temperature and get you some medicine and food for home.”
“I can’t leave work before time sahab. It will not be fair to the rest of them.” Liaqat answered by gesturing towards the other labourers.
That simple explanation gave Sanjeev some pause. He thought for a moment and then said, “Alright. Finish your job for the day and then come find me at the base. I’ll ask the guards on duty to let you in.”
Few hours later Sanjeev was reading a four days old national paper in the unit’s recreation room. The paper published in New Delhi took minimum two or usually even more days to reach his unit in the remote area close to border. Most of the time, they got a whole week’s worth in one batch. With such a large gap, the paper was read for everything but the news. His reading of the editorial section was interrupted by a guard who escorted Liaqat to him. The unit’s doctor had done a basic medical checkup and given some medications for his fever.
Sanjeev offered him a seat and a cup of tea and some biscuits. Liaqat seemed hesitant but gratefully accepted after a bit of cajoling.
“So Liaqat, you told me that you don’t get your wages on time.”
“That’s true sahab. Gulam keeps on delaying it over one issue or the other.”
“I’ll talk to him and ensure that you get your wages on time. This is no way to treat workers. By the way, do you know why he didn’t hire anyone from here for the job and was bringing labourers from Rajauri ?”
Liaqat seemed hesitant as he sipped his tea as if thinking about something. Sanjeev was about to encourage him to speak up when he spoke of his own volition, “Sahab, Gulam had hired labourers from Ghani and neighbouring Dullian for the job, but was taking away one-fourth of our wages. Even then he was not paying us on time. He claimed that he was not getting paid either and put up different excuses every time. When we protested after not getting paid for 5 days, he said that the project was delayed and he had no money. He paid us wages for two days and said that it was the maximum he could pay us.”
“Is he giving you your full wages now ?”
“When he came to hire us again, most of us refused. But he later offered to take only 15% . All of the other labourers are as poor as me and we don’t have many jobs here. So we agreed to work for him again.”
“And none of you considered informing us of what he is doing ?”
“We did, but think of it from our position. You are a fauji who will stay here for a year, maybe two or three and then you’ll move somewhere else. Men like Gulam are the ones who provide us with some work. How can we complain against him?”
“But you complained against him just now.”
Gulam gave a wry smile, “Yes I did. I didn’t want to do it but the bastard took an extra 10% of my wages saying that I don’t work hard as others because I’m a cripple.”
Sanjeev was speechless for a moment and then felt even more anger for the man than he had met only twice. He got a bag of dry rations from mess, handed it over to Liaqat and sent him on his way. He was tempted to go to the CO just then, but he waited and verified what Liaqat had told him with a few other labourers next day..
Few days later, Gulam Bhat was forced to pay pending wages to all the labourers, blacklisted from all the defence contracts and his running projects transferred to someone else. Sanjeev knew that Gulam was just one of many blood sucking parasites, but he was happy to make a difference, however small it was. The fact that it won him a few new local friends was an added bonus.
Work on the school building resumed after a gap of two days and Sanjeev was on the construction site again trying hard to not fall asleep while taking stock of the situation. The work was going on on a good pace and the building was starting to take shape. His hunt for the terrorists was not going on very well though. There were some radio intercepts in last few days which suggested that a group of three to four Pakistani terrorists was hiding in their sector and were planning something big very soon. Security agencies had tapped every informer, put up ambushes and guards on every possible route to get a lead without any success. Sanjeev himself was leading a search mission every night without anything to show for it.
He was about to leave the site when Liaqat came up to him and greeted him. After Sanjeev’s report, CO had pulled some strings to help the labourers. Liaqat was about to get a small loan to buy two milch cows as a result. Some other labourers had received books for their children, another a scholarship for studying in college
“Sahab, can you arrange a checkup for me with a doctor in your dispensary today ?”
“Sure. What happened?”
“Nothing major sahab. I just need to meet him as follow up.”
Sanjeev was having his evening chai in barracks in evening when a soldier escorted Liaqat to him. He offered to get a cup of tea for him, but Liaqat refused, “Captain sahab, I don’t have much time today. I just wanted to talk to you about your night patrols.”
“You are searching from some goats across from the border, right ?” On seeing Sanjeev nod, he added hesitantly, “And I’ve heard that there’s a reward for information related to them.”
Sanjeev put his cup aside and looked at Liaqat keenly, “Yes, there is if the information is good.”
“Sahab, I don’t particularly care for any money or reward. I just want to pay you back for the help you have provided me. I just want to be sure about safety of my family.”
“If you have some concrete information, you can freely share it with me and it’ll remain strictly confidential. If it’s correct and leads us to these ..goats, we’ll pay you in cash. No one apart from me and CO sahab will know anything about who provided the information.”
Liaqat rubbed his knee for a moment thinking over his words carefully. “You know about my cousin Mukhtaar, the grocer right ? His wife’s older brother Abraar has a vegetable farm near the waterfall. If you send someone there to take a look in the straw hut in the potato field, you may find some big stuff which the goats carried with them. There is a small cave around 30 steps right from the hut hidden behind a rock. Ask someone to take a look there too.”
“Interesting. And do you know here I can find these goats ?”
“I’ve seen four on the upper floor of Abraar’s house at night. You must have seen the green double storied house at western end of the village. It’s one of the largest in the village, so you can’t miss it. They spend the night there because it’s too cold and damp in the cave. They can’t stay in the house during daytime for obvious reasons. I’ve seen them leaving the house just before morning’s namaaz time.”
“How sure are you about this Liaqat ? Isn’t this Abraar district head of Democratic Peoples Party ?”
“He is and his son-in-law is a constable in the police.”
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“That’s all I know sahab.”
Sanjeev sent him on his way back home and nearly sprinted to CO’s residence and shared the information. After a short discussion in which both officers discussed the veracity of intelligence, CO finally agreed to take action. He called up commander of Quick Reaction Team (QRT) and instructed him to set up observation posts near the field as well as Abraar’s house. They could not raid the house without any proof and they didn’t want to let anyone else know of their intentions either. Abraar was just a small time politician, but he was capable of causing a lot of drama if something went wrong. They had to be careful while collecting information about terrorists like their routes, timings and armament to be successful.
A six man team took up camouflaged positions at a short distance from the field and another climbed up a small hillock to monitor Abraar’s house. They couldn’t get close to the house because of movement of civilians and houses nearby. Both teams were equipped with night vision devices and thermal sights to ‘see’ even in the dark. Days in such places start and end up early and most of the village was closing down for the night around sunset. The shops closed at around 6-6:30 pm and the people chatted animatedly as they walked back to their homes from their farms, shops or whatever their work involved. By 10 pm, all the streets were empty and only a few houses had any lights on.
Once the streets were dark enough, a platoon worth of soldiers moved out of the base silently and took up positions on the two possible routes from Abraar’s farm to his house.
Around 10:30 pm, Q1 team assigned to the field reported movement of three men from the cave and one from the hut. They had draped themselves in shawls to hide the outline of AK-47s hanging from their backs. None of them used any torches and walked carefully and slowly in a straight line on the narrow hilly trail leading up to the village below. It’d have worked in the dark, but not with experienced troops equipped with night vision devices who tracked their movement from start to finish at Abraar’s house.
A decision was made to not storm the house and wait for terrorists to move out before dawn to avoid any chances of civilian casualties. That meant soldiers had to wait out the night sitting in same place waiting till terrorists decided to move back to farm again.
A small team of soldiers cautiously searched the hut and the cave in dark and found no one there. They did find two cleverly hidden gunny bags with explosives wrapped in plastic bags weighing roughly 25 kg and four remote detonators. In the cave they found a bunch of full AK-47 magazines, a couple of pistols and some grenades along with some plastic sheets, blankets and food supplies.
Around an hour before sunrise, the observation team near the house reported four men moving out of the house and taking the same path back again towards the farm. Once they were far enough from the village, the ambush party cornered them and asked them to surrender. Three of the terrorists started to fire indiscriminately and the fourth started running towards the village. First three were shot down within seconds while the fourth took two bullets in leg and one on his shoulder without even getting his gun in firing position. He was captured, given first aid and moved to military hospital. Hewas identified as Zakir Musa, an IED expert from Mirpur, PoK. The group was tasked with bombing of bus station in Rajauri.
Liaqat got his reward of INR 2 lakh cash few days after the encounter.
The small restaurant still had the ambiance of a shady mob club even with the modern clientele. He remembered his visits in the 90s when the crowd was a bit older, rough and usually drunk. Lot had changed in two decades, yet few things remained the same. Most of the new customers wore stylish clothes, talked in fake accents and seemed to be college students out trying to impress people of other sex or perhaps of the same. Their expensive haircuts, overly strong deodorants sprayed liberally, glow of mobile phones and flashy accessories were a far cry from crewcuts, sour faces, loud guffaws and smell of illegal liquor that he remembered from the 90s. On the other hand, furniture, most of the staff, lighting and even the menu had not changed much.
Som cleaned his shoes on doormat and nodded to Namdol manning the counter. Both men knew each other for decades. “How’re you doing Namdol ? Wife treating you fine ?”
“Yeah, same old. How’ve you been ? Haven’t seen you in months.”
“You know, same old work, family routine.”
“Yeah, you’re getting too old for this place. As you can see, it’s for young college kids now. It’s supposed to be better than the mob of ruffians that you trained. But I’d rather have them anyday than this instagram crowd.”
“May be you should start selling illegal liquor and drugs again.”
“Who said I ever stopped!”
“I don’t want to know.”
“Good. Now come with me, we need to talk.”
Namdol asked one of his workers to take over the counter and escorted Som to his private cabin. He poured homebrewed beer in two mugs and handed one to him.
“Dalai Lama is sick.”
“How sick ?”
“Sick enough that I felt the need to call you here. He will probably survive this time, but he is not getting younger and healthier. We need to be ready whenever it happens.” Namdol stretched in his chair, took a long swig and sighed in satisfaction. He had brewed the rice beer himself. The fact that it was technically illegal was of little concern “His original replacement, I mean the reincarnation is still missing and people are getting restless. Some of us believe that he should be considered lost and search for new Dalai Lama be done from scratch.”
Som sipped homebrewed beer with caution. People who made this liquor didn’t care much about limiting the alcoholic content.“But the current one has expressed his desire that this tradition of choosing the leader should be stopped. Wouldn’t people agree with him ?”
“And choose Kalsang as the official leader of Tibetan people ?” Namdol put his mug on the table and asked pointedly. He had been working with Indian agencies for most of his adult life and probably knew about their inner working more than many actual employees. He realised that all dealings with governments always had some give and take. You couldn’t expect to gain something on a charitable basis from bureaucrats and politicians. India had provided shelter and safety to lakhs of Tibetan Buddhists because Tibetan leadership was mostly compliant of their demands. Although Dalai Lama had been a good ally, some people in the regime thought that a political leader would have more authority than a religious figurehead. He knew well how Kalsang had been carefully cultivated as a powerful resource over decades by India and they’d rather have a politician like him in charge rather than the controversy and chaos of choosing the next Dalai Lama. There were some other people who felt that Chinese would find a religious figure much harder to control than a politician. But they seemed to be in a minority.
Som felt slightly surprised by the question “I didn’t know that there’s something wrong with him.”
“Oh there’s nothing wrong with him. It’s just that he has one or two good competitors who are quite capable too. He may not get so much support in next elections.”
“Are Choedon and Paljor so popular now or is Kalsang losing his touch ?” Som took a bigger appreciative sip of his beer.
Namdol chuckled lightly and finished his mug in a long gulp. He waited till Som hurriedly finished his and then refilled the mugs again. Som watched as his host took another long swig from his new drink. “You still drink like a camel.”
“It’s medicine you jerk. People like me need this after dealing with all of these wannabes outside.” Namdol glanced through the darkened glass window of his cabin and took another long swig. “Anyhow, your friend Kalsang will win the next election unless he really shoots himself in the foot which is not very likely. Choedon is happy just getting his name in news and the attention. It’s Paljor you need to watch.”
“Is it because he doesn’t like Dalai Lama and his ‘Middle Way’ ?”
Middle Way Approach was Dalai Lama’s pacifist solution for solving the Tibetan issue. He wanted a special semi-autonomous status for Tibet under Chinese control. Majority of Tibetans looked up to him and trusted him to make all such decisions for them. But he faced sizeable opposition to this idea even among his dedicated and more religious followers. There was a consensus to follow the policy for a while, but it was on a conditional basis, not permanent.
“More or less. Young people here now want some change. They’ve seen three generations of Tibetans as refugees and they want some action now.”
Som stared at a collage of photos on the wall. Most of them were taken in the restaurant from it’s early days. Some of the faces were of people he had worked with in Establishment 22. “Just like the first generation.” He observed, more to himself than Namdol.
“Kalsang is like Dalai Lama in his policy of dealing with Chinese. He has been working on the Middle Way and will keep on doing it for god knows how long no matter what Chinese do or say. Paljor thinks differently and has publicly announced his disdain for the policy and even asks for full separation of politics from religion.”
“I can’t say that I dislike the man for this.”
“Of course you wouldn’t.” Namdol squinted at Som and shook his head. “A significant number of Tibetans think this way too, atleast the younger ones. We oldies are too set in our ways to change. Frankly, I am not against this either but there is this matter of his ties with the Americans. We don’t have much problems with them per se, but we’re also more than just aware of their policy of use and throw with ‘allies’. We have firsthand experience of it from not too long back. It’s not like you guys are any better, but with you it’s more like dealing with a known devil.”
Som laughed and took a another sip. “Glad to know that. You do know our official policy, right ? My government says that it fully respects the right of Tibeatn people to choose their own leadership.”
“It’d have been believable if Tibetan government was an independent one based in Lhasa, not Tibetan Government in Exile based in Dharmshala, India. We acknowledge the tight rope that you have to walk, yet you need to be aware of the sentiments here. Paljor will only grow more popular and stronger from here.”
“And if Kalsang wants to keep winning elections, then he needs to be aware of such sentiments among his people.” Som finished the sentence.
Namdol nodded and finished rest of his drink in another long gulp.
Monsoon of 2016 had been more humid than usual with more heat than rains. Indian National Security Advisor Ajay Dhumal started sweating as soon as he stepped out of his air conditioned car and started walking towards the office of Indian Defence Minister Maadhvan Kamat in the expansive South Block building.
Ajay Dhumal had retired as a Deputy Director in Indian external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Unlike many people in the upper echelons of the secret service, he had served as field operative in a number of countries which included Pakistan, China, Saudi Arab, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Unlike most of his colleagues who usually salivated over easy foreign postings in Europe, USA and other similar countries, he asked for and got postings in hostile places where the job was a lot tougher and risk to life and career much higher.
He was instrumental in setting up several deep cover assets for Indian intelligence in various places which had proven their worth time and again in the last few years. His work in Afghanistan had ensured protection of Indian interests in the war torn country even at the worst of times. In addition to Hindi, Garwhali, Kannad, English and Tamil he could fluently speak Arabic, Pashto, Sinhalese and understood a bit of Manadarin and Cantonese.
Sometimes he considered writing it all down in a book, but something always came up.
As NSA, he usually dressed in white shirts, dark trousers, plain spectacles and a pen in his shirt pocket as his only accessories. But during his work as field operative he had taken up disguises as varied as a smuggler, shopkeeper, fortune teller and quite a few more. He was considered to be one of the sharpest people by his friends and detractors alike and was appointed as NSA on personal recommendation of Prime Minister himself.
He was shown straight into the Defence Minister’s office who was just finishing up his 4th cup of tea of the day.
Dhumal saw him put away the cup and remarked, “Namaskar Kamat sahab, yet another cup of tea in this weather ? I thought that you’d be having something cold in this heat.” Maadhvan Kamat’s addiction to tea and his knowledge of it’s wide varieties was well known. Both men had developed a friendly informal relationship during their work together and DM insisted that the NSA treat him like a regular friend. He laughed “Namaste and welcome Dhumal ji, have a seat. This is iced tea, for a change. Would you like to have one too ? It’s pretty good.”
Dhumal took a seat and considered for a moment, “Sure, why not. It’s about time I taste cold tea too. I think I need it after all the headache last night.”
“Is it about that NNFC operation or something else. ?”
“That and a few other things. I meant to brief everyone about our progress with that NNFC issue in our next biweekly meeting. But there’s another thing which I think is related and I wanted you to know about it as soon as possible before we take further action.”
Dhumal was referring to the scheduled biweekly meetings between Prime Minister, Defence Minister, NSA, Home Minister, Chief of Defence Staff and RAW Secretary. Every such meeting always had these six people plus a few other people from organisations such as IB, DRDO, HAL, External Affairs Minister among a few others relevant to the issue for the time.
“Alright, I’m all ears.” Kamat said after handing Dhumal a glass of iced tea.
“Have you had the chance to read the mission report about our Bangkok mission that we sent last night ? No, then let me give you a short summary first. In April, our people got a lead about a huge shipment of weapons and drugs divided in 3 parts being shipped from Thailand and China by NNFC. We have reason to believe that they’d have sold some of the weapons to some other terrorist groups in India too. Some weapons were meant as payment for islamic terrorist groups in Bangladesh and Myanmar for their help in smuggling weapons from ports to their country’s border with India.
We tracked down NNFC’s main weapons runner in Thailand, a man named Elias and monitored him closely. Through him we got information about his main financiers and suppliers and the shipping details. We arrested him as soon as he landed in Kathmandu and brought him in for interrogation where he spilled more details which matched with our surveillance reports.
Based on information provided by us, Myanmarese and Bangladeshi intelligence captured 2 of the consignments as soon as they landed on their shores and arrested around 13 people between them. They’ve also provided us a fair bit of intelligence in return. The third ship was meant to leave from China yesterday, but our reports suggest that they’ve delayed or cancelled it after the other two were intercepted.
We’ve known about the role played by China in arming and financing terrorist groups like NNFC for quite some time. But now it seems like they are trying to increase the heat against us from all directions. “
NSA Dhumal paused to take another sip of the iced tea and continued, “They have been training terrorists from north-eastern states for decades now But till now, it was meant as an irritant rather than a means to wage war. The terrorists in the past were given basic weapons training, some fieldcraft and surveillance skills. But since the last 6-7 months, these terrorists are being trained a lot like special forces soldiers with advanced battle tactics, demolition and espionage. It’s almost like they’re being trained like an army to fight a high intensity war, rather than terrorists meant to keep the pot simmering.”
And it’s not just us, a fairly large number of the terrorists in Chinese training camps are from Myanmar and Bangladesh too. Our reports suggest 300-400 Indians and as many Bangladeshi and Myanmarese nationals being trained in a total of 8 such camps. In addition, they have a separate division for Bhutan. But we don’t have a lot of information about their activities yet.”
“Bhutan!” DM Kamat exclaimed incredulously.
“Yes, Bhutan of all the places. As far as we know, their main motive is to destroy the monarchy and get their own puppets in control of the country. “
“Like they did in Nepal. DM observed. “ What about Bangladesh and Myanmar ?”
“I think it’s being done to make our raids on their camps in the two countries a bit more difficult. Also these terrorists can keep on hitting us on the borders and then melt away in dense jungles. We can’t really cross the border to hit them everytime after every such incident. Additionally, Chinese think that armed terrorist groups controlled by them provide some sort of leverage and influence over the two countries. They think that they can use their activities to drive out competition, make their supporters stronger, assassinate opponents and so on.”
“Statecraft with guns and bombs, in a way.” DM Kamat observed bitterly.
“Yes and all of this is being done far away from their borders, so they think that they have plausible deniability and no one can blame them for anything.”
DM leaned back in his chair and smiled wryly, “So they are trying to emulate their sweeter than honey iron brothers In Pakistan ! ”
Dhumal gestured his approval, “Yes, but you might be wondering how this issue deserved a special meeting before our regular one. So I’m coming straight to that.
Our people have detected some consolidation and movement of Chinese troops in multiple sectors, one is a tri-way junction near our border with Bhutan and China near Sikkim and other is in Arunachal Pradesh. They’ve also started construction of more roads and some military infrastructure Aksai Chin.
The first place never had any problem till now while the second has been a hot point of contention with multiple incursions by Chinese patrols since last 2012. It’s nothing that we have seen before. But Bhutan is under our military umbrella and if Chinese are making a move to raise a dispute in that sector, it’s going to make things very complicated. Only way we can send our troops to this area is via helicopters or land route through Bhutanese territory.”
“Never a boring day in this line of work, eh ? So External Affairs Ministry (EAM) will need to be prepared for the upcoming meeting” Kamat took off his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“For this and for another party too.” Dhumal said finishing up his iced tea.
Kamat looked at him with questioning eyes.
“We have one informal contact from Vietnam. They haven’t opened up completely yet, but they seem to be asking for military assistance. The message came through an unofficial channel, so I am not completely sure what to make of it. But EAM may need to get involved too.”
“Do you have any general idea about what this is about ?” Kamat asked.
“From what we know so far, they are looking for some help against Chinese grabbing some of their islands. They may ask for intelligence sharing, weapons and maybe some training.”
“Personally I am not against the idea, but isn’t Vietnam too far from here for us to be of much help ? And how can we help them with weapons ? As things are, we can’t even get enough for ourselves.”
“That may or may not be true according to them. I can get more information if you give me approval.” Dhumal knew he didn’t need to ask, but he wanted to play it safe by keeping someone trusted in the loop.
“Yes, why not. It wouldn’t hurt to know what they want. Can you get this information before the meeting ?” Kamat asked.
“I think so. We have one common enemy and quite a few common interests. It will be a good idea to help out each other for more than one reason.” Dhumal answered and asked for permission to leave.