As men from the Army, National Security Guards, Air Force and Defence Services Corps were taking on terrorists holed in the Air Force base at Pathankot earlier this week, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described the terror that was aimed at destroying valuable military assets of the nation as a 'fidayeen' attack. In the same breath, he also paid tributes to the martyrs of Operation Dunga Suraksha, as it was apparently code-named.
The loose English translation for 'fidayeen' is suicide squad or suicide bomber. Such terrorists are prepared to commit suicide rather than be captured alive.
At the height of militancy in Punjab, the 'khadkus'—terrorists with huge rewards on their heads, carried cyanide in a pendant they wore round their neck. When about to be killed or captured, they swallowed the cyanide and died almost instantly. The police team that chased them did not get the money, the terrorists became_ shaheed_ among those supporting the Khalistan movement.The fanciest of arms with them were the Kalashnikov guns—the AK47 that sprays bullets in whatever direction they were pointed towards.
The Pakistani state or non-state suicide squads of the current crop are another story, whether in the Kashmir Valley or the Mandher ridge of Jammu, or in “spectacular terror events” like in Pathankot earlier this week. They are armed to the teeth. Their jackets and backpacks are loaded with much more than magazines for the AK weapon and the grenades. The “suicide bomber” has only to pull a pin and the explosion consumes much of their target as well as the terrorist himself. Among the Urdu speaking population that supports or belongs to the organisations like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, they are referred to as 'fidayeen': actually meaning shaheed in Hindi or martyrs in English.
What our soldiers who have become martyrs may think of Jaitley referring to the killed terrorists as 'fidayeen' can be imagined from the way a serving soldier who has been part of countless such counter-insurgency operations says: "Why should our minister, or any Indian be glorifying the terrorists we killed? Terrorists were neutralised, or they were eliminated. They were suicide bombers. That is how they should refer to terrorists. Dead or alive. We never even call them terrorists...”
So, while Indian soldiers killed in action would definitely be martyrs, killed terrorists cannot be 'fidayeens' in India. As we discussed martyrs, the conversation saw the mention of the martyrdom of the NSG commando Lt Col Niranjan Kumar. “His was an altogether avoidable martyrdom. There is nothing like a safe killed militant, even if he is totally charred,” he explained. Typically they put a rope around the body carefully, use a stick and humiliate the body.
There is nothing like a hurried burial or returning the body. In one case, when a body was moved 19 days after he was killed, the movement resulted in the pin of the grenade he had kept concealed close to his chest coming out, it exploding, making a martyr of the soldier handling it.
How do soldiers in such operations refer to the terrorists, I asked. He preferred to let my question pass. When I persisted, he replied: haraamzade. Meaning bastards. It may be okay for some groups of men to use some words loosely, and not mean what they say. But when our soldiers call the terrorists, killed or alive, that, there is the fire akin to what comes out of the barrel of the gun.