We were stunned at the same time speechless on seeing ourselves inside a fully secured terrorist camp.
The submarine wasn’t in the sea, but in a small artificial lake which is almost at the centre of the camp.
“I know you’ve many questions in mind, but relax. All of them will be answered. One by one.”,Amar said, looking at our confused expressions.
As we stepped out from the submarine, a batch of almost 10 well built heavily bearded soldiers surrounded us and we were subjected to a thorough security check. Our bags were rummaged again and again by those Mujahideens who acted like hungry scavengers who finally scratched out some food.
Finally after 10 minutes of utter nonsense, we were allowed to enter.
At that very moment, I felt as if I’ve committed a big mistake by taking this decision.
To our left, we could spot some cadets who were practising mixed martial arts. Behind them, were another dozen of them, running with heavy bags and weapons. Their clenched teeth and weary expressions said it all.
As we moved ahead, we reached the weapon’s training camp. Here, Mujahideens were taught how to handle these dreadful medium of terror, ranging from hand grenades to missile launchers. The sight of the commander in charge slapping a young cadet- roughly around 20 years of age- sent a chill down my spine. Atif and Ali were silent too, as Amar led us, doing his job.
“How did we reach here? Where’s the sea? And..and which place is this exactly?”, Atif asked without any further thought.
“See Atif, the lake here is connected to the sea from under the ground. The very prospect of entering the main land through a common port or any other place where there’s a chance of us being busted led to this underground canal, or tunnel you may call.”, Amar explained.
What the actual heck!
“And the place we are currently in, is Lahore! That was a silly question. Don’t you know the fact that…”
“…those Mujahideens who are selected for Kashmir attacks undergo training at Muzaffarabad whereas the rest of the troop are sent to Lahore.”, I completed his sentence, referring to what Junaid had mentioned to us.
“Perfect. And now we are here at the Chief’s office. He’s the in-charge of this entire camp.”, Amar said as we neared a small hut.
Too small a mansion for a Chief, I guess.
As the soldier’s who guarded the door saw us approaching, one among them went inside and informed the Chief about our arrival.
We looked at each other in suspense and anticipation.
The Chief was an old man, most probably in his late sixties. His white beard was perfectly knotted at its end. The black sunglasses confused us for a moment about him being blind. His face was covered with battle and training scars, each one of them telling a story of his grit and determination. The heavy shoes made a thumping noise each time he landed his foot on the weak wood platform in front of his house.
As we were trying hard to figure out what would happen next, the soldiers came forward and pushed us to the ground, forcing to bow as a mark of respect to the Chief.
It was a déjà vu moment for me as it reminded me of a similar scene.
The haunted house mystery chronicles.
History repeats itself, once again.
“In the end, it’s all about the respect you get in your lifetime. Right Amar?”, the Chief said in his deep husky voice, trying to sound as if he quoted his own thoughts.
Amar could only nod in approval.
“Good to see another batch from you Amar. I’m really proud of you my son.”, the Chief went ahead and hugged Amar.
We were still down on our knees, with the soldier’s gun’s nearing our head.
“So..tell me. What’s your name?”, the Chief asked as he walked around us in circles, scanning us.
“Good. I’m not that interested in your back story, but I’m pretty much interested about your future. Your future actions that will contribute to our organisation.”
We still didn’t dare looking in to his eyes.
“The strongest survive. The weak perish and make way for the strong. And that’s the only rule that we follow here.”
Elegantly copied from Darwin.
“Now, go and make your tents. Have some rest. Be prepared for a small introductory lecture tonight. 8:30.”, he said as he turned back to his mansion.
“Dammit! This is so freaking stupid.”, Atif sighed.
“Things will get more stupid and interesting soon.”,I murmured.
Amar led us to a place where most of the cadets have made their tents.
The entire area was dusty and looked as if it was situated at the outskirts of a village.
“All the very best Atif,Ali and Aslam. I hope you succeed in your life.”, Amar said as he bade farewell.
My mind was abuzz with loads of questions, but it also deserved some much needed sleep. But in this condition, sleeping seemed out of place. Away from home, in the middle of a terror camp.
We reached the Chief’s place on time. The Chief was already busy with some cadets.
As soon as he spotted us, we bowed in respect.
“Go to the North west of this camp. You’ll find Maulana there. He’ll brief you about the things you need to know before the training commences.”
“Sir.”, we said in unison and started our journey to find Maulana.
On the way we came across many bonfire lit cadet camps. Many of them were busy talking or cooking food, while a few resorted to sleep peacefully after a tiring day.
We were a bit surprised on spotting a group of female cadets as we neared Maulana’s mansion.
As expected, his house was heavily secured too. We were allowed to enter without any further fuss.
Maulana welcomed us with a warm hug. His persona was sweet and lenient unlike the strict militaristic chief, but my mind kept on saying there was something evil behind all this sweet image.
“You know who I am. And I very well know you and from where you came. Hell, I even know where exactly you live. So without any customary introduction, let me brief you about the things you must keep in mind before your training starts tomorrow. You’re free to ask questions. Only for today.”
He knows exactly where we live? This means we were kept tabs on. If this is real, that would certainly mean they know about our episode with Junaid! Do they?
“So! First things first…”
“Where exactly do we used to live Sir?”, I interrupted him.
“Well well! A question before we even started? Good.”, he smiled.
I smiled coyly at my stupidity.
“You all used to live in Mumbai right? You entered via Kalyan. And from the documents you gave there, you three live at Kurla, Airoli and Nahur. Right?”, he flashed the papers we had given to Qureshi.
“True.”, I sighed as our move of giving a fake residential address worked. The fact that they didn’t check whether the address given was a real or fake did puzzle me a bit though.
“We have all the necessary information about our cadets Aslam.
This form also says that you three were recommended by a member called Junaid. Tell me, how did you meet him?”, he asked.
We weren’t prepared for that question at all!
“We met him at a restaurant at Ghatkopar. It was our usual hangout place. He was the waiter there with an alias..”
“Sultan”, Atif completed my sentence.
“And then?”, he prodded us to continue.
“ We normally discussed stuff related to movies, sports, politics, corruption, justice, etc. One day, as he was serving us, we were talking about JeM and their attacks which had managed to shock the entire nation. And from there on, Junaid’s skills took over and he brainwashed us slowly. At first, we didn’t agree with his thoughts. But then, he asked us to think deeper and reflect accordingly. From that moment, we haven’t looked back.”, Ali put his lying skills to full use.
“I personally know Junaid. He too trained here. He was the brightest and sharpest student of his batch.
The anger and vengeance with which he trained was truly remarkable.”, Maulana said.
We stood silent. This was a dangerous topic to speak anything about. One mistake and the entire play will end along with our lives.
“Anyways, let me introduce to some basic stuff. This introduction module is relatively new since our chief now thinks that it would be better if the cadets know about the overall idea of them being here and if their doubts are cleared, unlike his formal self who thought that cadets are just meant to train, go on missions and die. Ever since, we’ve joined hands with ICIS and the number of cadets have gone low on the overall, his value for cadet lives has increased. A bit.
Goodness gracious. That was pretty motivating stuff.
“So, let’s begin with the training modules. Shall we?”
We nodded in affirmation.
“The entire training module is actually inspired by the AQ, another terror outfit which was at its supreme in the 90’s era. The AQ first picked up the entire programme from the US marines and started training their cadres accordingly.
It was in the year 1998 that the Lashkar-e-Mujahideen picked up this method from the AQ and started training their cadres in a similar fashion. However, the LeM has also adopted the Indian military commando training programme as we feels that it would be easier to fight Indian forces by adopting their own methods.”
“Is it true that ISI is also involved with JeM?”, I asked a question whose answer I already knew.
“Yes, the entire training is overseen by the ISI and it involves ex-army personnel.”, he confirmed everyone’s belief.
“Now comes the mode of attack.”, Maulana continued.
“There are basic 3 ways we attack: via land, sea or air.
Although an attack through the seas has been carried out earlier too, the fact is that the LeM mostly prefers water way attacks and has been imparting extensive maritime training to the cadets since the day we realised our enemies are still weak to this method of attack. Plus, we have some contacts in their Navy too who are always on vigil and helps us with all their internal info.”
That left us all shocked.
“What if a cadet manages to return alive after completing the mission assigned to him?”, Ali asked.
“It has been a LeM tradition that after a successful operation, if any of these cadres manage to return, they are not used for any further operations, but are asked to impart training to younger recruits.”, Maulana answered.
“Is there still an internal division among the organisation or have the terms LeM and ICIS become extinct? Because till now you’ve mentioned everything as LeM and not JeM.”, Atif asked this time.
“Seems like you boys are a group journalists!”, Maulana was amused at the rate we were bombarding him with questions.
“Men from the LeM are more involved in planning, financing and organising an attack. LeM does not involve itself too much with the training, but use the help of ex-army personnel for the same. The ICIS part of JeM comes to the fore during the attacks.”
“So that means you are originally from Lashkar.”, I stated the obvious.
“Without any doubt.”, Maulana Saab smiled.
“Why are younger boys chosen?”,Ali asked a clever question.
“This is more of a military tactic. When a youth is trained to undertake a fidayeen attack, he is expected to last longer during battle. For a fidayeen attack, boys under 30 are usually sent. A fidayeen training programme is extremely tough and involves extensive training.
They are required to sprint 100 meters in 12 to 15 seconds, run 10 kilometres during which only a half-an-hour break is allowed and marching 4 kilometres while carrying weight of 20 kg on them.”, Maulana explained.
“What if anyone doesn’t pass these physical tests?”, I asked out of sheer curiosity and an unwavering confidence that I’ll not pass them for sure.
“They are more of a mental test rather than physical ones. It’s all about your grit, your determination and willpower which will be put to test. And about the cadets who don’t pass it, we just use him/her for a different role. Such persons are usually recruited into sleeper cells or are asked to assist in terror activities like retrieving information about the venue of blasts,etc.”
“What’s the difference between the training modules of those cadets who train at Muzaffarabad for the Kashmir operation and our’s?”, Atif asked.
“Those recruited for the Kashmir operation are trained extensively in guerrilla warfare. These men are also trained in fighting both on land and sea. However, the recruits for fidayeen attacks on cities undergo a slightly different pattern while training. They are trained on storming cities, running in between the cities while dodging security continuously for 3 kilometres. Apart from this, these men are also trained in undercover operations.
This helps these men in entering into a city and staying undercover before they launch the attack. Take the example of Junaid. He worked as waiter at a restaurant and during this period he planned his operations.”,Maulana answered.
“And the recruitment phase?”, Ali asked.
“The JeM has its agents across the world and the job of these men is pick boys and send them across for training.
Take the example of our famous Mujahideen Shahid Bilal. He was an agent for the LeM and was working in a courier company. Young boys are identified by these agents and then the process begins. These agents first get friendly with the boys and when these agents realise that these boys can be motivated into taking up arms, then they are sent here for training and the indoctrination programme. The same thing happened with you three.”, Maulana smiled.
“Anymore questions cadets?”, he asked.
“Who’s the main mastermind behind the entire organisation?”, I asked the perfect question.
“I can’t answer that for sure. You’re just beginners. You’ll get your answer yourself after your training. But for now, just assume that me and the Chief are the highest authorities here. Get that?”
“Yes..Sir.”, I nodded in approval.
“So, in short you’ll go via three drills in this 2 years that you’re here.
The first one is focussed on religious indoctrination and physical fitness. The other two are similar but more rigourous. Think of this as a particular game. You just have to reach level 3. After level 3, you meet the boss.”, Maulana said.
*Our entire life was nothing less than a game. The only difference was we got more chances when we failed.*
“Sure Sir.”, Ali replied.
“That’s it. You guys are the first batch who have asked me this much!
It’s already 9:30 now. Have some food and sleep by 10:30. No cadet is allowed to stay awake after that time, as per our rules.”
“Thank you Sir for your detailed info and time.”, I sugar-coated him before we left. After all, he has just provided us with what we are here for.
Except one question.
“Who’s behind this all?”