अस्सलाम वालेकुम भाई. (Greetings bother.)
वालेकुम अस्सलाम अली भाई. सब ख़ैरियत? (Greetings brother Ali. Everything fine?)
बहुत बढ़िया भाई. लेकिन लगता है आप मुझे भूल गये हैं.(Very well brother, But it seems like you’ve forgotten me.)
नहीं भाई, ऐसा बिल्कुल नहीं है. अभी हम सब आपकी फ़ेसबुक पोस्ट ही देख रहे थे. यकीन नही होता. (No brother, not at all. We were all just seeing your facebook post. It’s unbelievable)
यकीन कर लो भाई जान. मैं फ़ेसबुक पर कुछ भी झूठ क्यूँ डालूँगा? (Trust me brother. Why’d I post lies on facebook?)
है तो सही, पर कभी कभी हो जाता है. चाचा जान को दिखाई थी आपकी पोस्ट. उन्होनें तो मुँह बना लिया! (True, but it can happen sometime. Had shown your post to uncle. He made a face.)
हा हा. उन का क्या कहें! पर सही में, उन से एक बार फिर बात कर लें. मेरी खुद की आँखों देखी है. इस से ज़्यादा पक्की खबर कोई नहीं दे सकता आप को. वैसे चाचा जान के लिए एक और स्पेशल फोटो शेयर की है मैने. वी भी दिखा दीजिएगा. फिर भी यकीन ना आए, तो बोलना की पतंग उड़ा लें. (Ha ha. What can I say about him! Talk to him once again. I’m an eyewitness. There can’t be a better confirmation. By the way, I’ve shared a special photo for uncle. Please show him that too. If he still doesn’t believe, than ask him to fly a kit.)
हा हा. हाँ ज़रूर. वैसे आप कब तक हैं वहाँ पर? (Ha ha, Sure, by the way, how long are you there for?)
बस खाना खा कर निकल रहा हूँ. (Leaving after the meal.)
गाड़ी की चाभी आप के पास है? (Do you have the car keys?)
हाँ पास में ही है. अभी तो मैं चलता हूँ, बाद में बात करेंगे.
खुदा हाफ़िज़. (Yes, it’s with me. I’ have to go now, will talk late. Bye)
Rao put down the secure phone and stared at screen in front of him. After years of searching, they finally had a good bead on dreaded Zab-a-Zerb chief Hafiz Zargar and two other persons of interest. That too at the same place. ZaZ was responsible for 5 major terror attacks in India which had killed a total of 89 Indian citizens and was also financing a number of Islamist organisations in India including SIMI and Jamaat. The last time he was sighted was in 2021 in Kabul during American withdrawal. By the time Rao’s hitmen reached Zargar’s safehouse, he had already vanished. Rao didn’t know whether he was tipped off by an informant or moved according to his own security protocols.. Now this report by their deep cover agent in the Pakistani part of Punjab was the only lead they had on him since then. He never used any electronic gadget that could be traced back to him, nearly all of his financial transactions were physical and all his movements were in unmarked cars which were rarely used again. No one around him was allowed to carry any kind of phone or communication device apart from a short-ranged radio. As far as Indian spy agencies were concerned, he was more or less an invisible ghost who gave orders of murder and destruction to other invisible ghosts.
Two other individuals sighted with him were no less important. Hasan Haqqani was a senior member of an Ulama Shura and one of the main architects of a terrorist attack on Indian embassy in Kabul in 2015 which had killed 9 Indian nationals and 23 Afghans. Third person of interest was Asif Nawaz, a former Colonel in Pakistan Army. He had fought American forces during invasion of Kabul and had played an important role in the resurgence of Taliban. All intelligence reports indicated that after Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, he was lobbying hard to divert some of the assets that he had raised there towards islamist terrorist movement in Kashmir. By all accounts, the three men had almost reached an agreement but needed to finalise a few details which Haqqani insisted had to be in person. Luckily for Indians, Haqqani was not as careful about keeping his whereabouts as secret as Zargar and a tap on his satellite phone had led RAW to perhaps its biggest catch in years.
Indian security agencies had been able to effectively neutralise most of Pakistan sponsored islamist terrorist organisations in Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of India over the last few years. It hadn’t been an easy job and had taken multiple difficult steps like cutting off of financial channels, better security & intelligence apparatus and defanging of local supporters including influential politicians. Policies of the new government had broken the back of terrorist organisations and the number of terrorist incidents had plummeted over the last few years. These days, nearly all of incidents involved a handful of a few local muslim terrorists and rarely one or two Pakistani infiltrators in border areas of J&K. Even the infamous stone pelting was no longer an issue.
Yet if the three terrorist leaders meeting in Mian Channu succeeded in their plans, India could face an influx of a huge number of Pakistani, Afghan as well as islamist terrorists from other places such as Uzbekistan, Bangladesh and perhaps even Turkey. The three men had the clout and resources to make it happen and couldn’t be allowed to succeed at any cost. If they were successful in their plans, India could see a huge rise in the number of terrorist attacks not just in J&K, but in rest of the country too.
Rao emptied a glass of water in a few big gulps and entered Bhaskar’s cabin without knocking. “We have confirmation from HUMINT (Human Intelligence) about all three HVTs.(High Value Targets). We’ll not get any more chances like this.”
Bhaskar nodded thoughtfully, “Not much time to make a decision or ways to do it either.”
“What do you mean?”, Rao said as he took a seat.
“Our squad will not be able to reach there in time,”
“We can’t use air-strikes and SF mission (Special Forces) so deep into enemy territory is out of the question too.”
“So that leaves…” Rao paused,
“So that leaves a precision missile strike as our only option.” Bhaskar completed the sentence. “I’ve just finished talking to The Chief and he seemed OK with it.”
“Great! So what are we waiting for? Where do we send the coordinates?”
“We are not whacking some low ranking terrorists in Gilgit or close to IB (International Border) like Balakot, Rao.” Bhaskar spoke with some impatience. “This spot is within 100 kms of their II Corps HQ and close to 40th and 14th Infantry Division HQs too. They even have a full-fledged Air Defence Brigade in the area plus two airbases. And in case you forgot, 120 km from the border. Why do you think we’re not using aircraft here?”
“But you just said that The Chief agreed.”
“Even he has to report to someone.”
The phone on Bhaskar’s desk rang as soon as he finished speaking. He picked it up and a faint smile appeared on his lips as he listened quietly. “Thank you, sir. I’ll contact Colonel Chandra immediately.”
“Are we on?” Rao spoke with barely concealed excitement.
“Yes. A Brahmos will be on its way within 10 minutes of us sending coordinates to Colonel.”
“Are you doing it now or should I go back to my desk and do it from here?”
“Way ahead of you Rao.” Bhaskar grinned as he typed a few quick keystrokes on his computer.”
“By the way, what about Pakistani response? What did he say about it?”
“We’re calling them after the missiles are in the air.”
“Really and they will do nothing?”
Bhaskar scoffed, “All three targets are supposed to be hiding somewhere in Afghanistan. It was printed quite prominently in their compliance report to FATF last month. Sure they can take offence and try attacking us back, but what will they say in the next FATF meeting? That they were harbouring three wanted terrorists including one former army man right next to their Corps HQs? Including the two which are directly responsible for 12-14 deadly attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan? They’ll go straight to the dreaded black list and get a few extra sanctions on top of it. Not that they’re in any condition of any retaliatory attack, going by what they did last time.”
“So it’s better for them to take the hit and stay quiet.”
“Yes, it’s just some non-state actors anyway. And in case they don’t agree, we are ready for them.”
Near Sirsa, India
Col. Chandra put away the latest intelligence reports and looked around him in the command center. His men had finished putting in coordinates for the attack and were waiting for his order to launch. A young Captain spoke smartly, “All systems are OK and ready to launch on your command, Sir!”
“Very well. Start the final countdown for launch of one missile. Designate it as Viper One.”
“Countdown for launch of Viper One, starting at 10, 9, 8, ..”
Chandra looked at the large screen in front of him which showed a live ground camera feed of one Brahmos launcher with its launch tubes in their vertical ready to launch position, just a few meters outside. As soon as the countdown reached 0, the protective cover of one of the launch tubes popped open and a sleek grey Brahmos missile jumped up in a cloud of grey smoke and white flames. Moments after that, it turned horizontal towards south-west and suddenly gained acceleration as the liquid-fueled ramjet engine kicked in. It was out of eyesight within a few seconds yet visible on radar consoles. After travelling for a minute in that direction, it changed its course by nearly 90 degrees and started moving towards Pakistan. A Netra AEW&C on patrol had a good lock on the missile since its launch and its feed was being telecast to people in charge. Its commander was in constant touch with airbases in Jodhpur, Pathankot, Adampur and Ambala with three squadrons worth of fighter aircraft ready to scramble at a short notice.
Pakistani army chief Khwaja had just finished his first drink of the day and was looking forward to enjoying a few more in the company of some well-connected friends later in the evening. If he managed to persuade right people, he could be a proud owner of at least 14 new McDonalds in Australia by end of the year. He was thinking about what tie to wear when a sharp knock on the door and sound of its opening diverted his attention. It was his aide, Brigadier Alam. He didn’t even wait for the permission to enter or speak. His eyes were wide with panic and spoke loudly, “Sir, the Indians have just launched a missile, the target seems to be near Multan.”
All thoughts of the upcoming fruitful evening gone, he sputtered in surprise, “What the hell! What’s the target and what are these damned Hindus trying to do? Call Strategic Command and Air Defence Command and Air Force too. Was everyone sleeping? He was almost shouting by now. “Have our anti-air defences managed to get a lock?”
There was a sound of running feet outside. Major Majid came running into the room and nearly collided with Alam. “Sir, we’re getting reports of an Indian projectile heading in our direction. It is fast!”
Khwaja shouted in anger as he started to run out of the room towards his car, “Why the hell are you two bringing the same information?”
Majid tried hard to keep up with Khwaja without trying to step on him, “We just caught it on our surveillance radar entering our airspace.”
“But sir, we got a call from their DGMO too informing us of the missile strike.” Alam managed to shout out.
Khwaja stopped and moved suddenly, causing both Majid and Alam to bump in to him.
“What?” Khwaja and Majid both exclaimed at once.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to say. Indians are saying that they’ve launched a missile to take out three jihadi leaders including our Asif Nawaz and Hafiz Zargar. Third is some high ranking Talibani, Haqqani. They’re all meeting at someplace called Mian Channu near Multan.” Majid stopped to catch his breath and looked at his watch, “God damn it. It’s already 6:45. The damned missile must have hit the target already!”
North-East of Mian Channu, Pakistan
After travelling at Mach 2.8 speed for 3 minutes, the missile started to lose altitude and started terminal manoeuvres before its final approach to the target building. Several Pakistani civilians looked up in the dark sky to see a fast-moving small point of light. It was gone from their field of view before they even started to process what it was. It left a huge roar of deafening thunder and such strong shockwaves that window panes of numerous houses shattered with loud noises. It ended with a hit on a small row of private rooms in a small roadside hotel and shattered the whole one-storied building complex into a rubble of bricks and twisted metal.
2 km from the target, Ali stopped his car and started recording a live video for posting on social media as almost everyone else around him. He had felt the impact even while so far from the impact point. He pointed his camera at the right landmarks and even added a bit of helpful commentary unlike the rest of the crowd which was either too stunned to say anything or just shouting inane gibberish. Ali noticed the cloud of black smoke rising in the distance and started running towards it. He was glad to see that he was not the only one. Majority of the people were running away from the blast site, yet a fairly large number were running towards it. He thought about taking the car but decided against it. There was too much risk of either getting stuck in panic induced traffic jam and getting noticed. As he kept on running, he noticed a fairly large crowd gathering around the blast site, most of them with their camera phones on, recording the event.
He gawked with awe at the hotel building where he had a meal only 20 minutes back. The place with 6-7 rooms and sheds was nothing more than a pile of flattened and smoking ruins now. There were bricks and metal pieces spread around 100s of meters. The four cars which had brought in HVTs and their bodyguards were still there, but all were thrown off their wheels and burning furiously. He noticed a strange piece of twisted bright metal on fire and then a few more. He took due care to record and upload it all. The sleek 8.5 m long Brahmos missile was just a bunch of unrecognisable chunks of broken metal pieces. Walking purposefully he tried to get a good look at the room where all three HVTs had gathered. He grunted in satisfaction to see that it was all but vapourised. The military guys were not lying when they said they could shove it up someone’s butt, if they had to.
He tried to get close to the room and struggled against the crowd of other onlookers. There were splashes of blood and half burnt clothing almost everywhere, but nothing recognisable. There was an excited roar towards his right as multiple vehicles stopped and several army soldiers jumped out from them. A moustached man with a loudspeaker started shouting at the people to clear the area. They arrived sooner than Ali had expected, but it was alright. No one in the building and that room, in particular, had survived. The patang (kite) in the sky must have seen everything he had missed anyway.
Rao and Bhaskar were looking at the same live satellite feed in Pathankot that their Chief was in Delhi. Rao checked his console and spoke with a huge smile, “We have confirmation. All targets have been neutralised.”
Bhaskar nodded back with a grin of his own, “Yup! I need a drink now. What about you?”
Note: This is probably fiction. Please don’t take it seriously