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In death, a deadly reminder for Kashmir

- Kalashnikovs Weapon of choice for militants & part of valley culture

Srinagar, Dec. 24: Mikhail Kalashnikov, who died yesterday in Russia, once said “soldiers don’t go to university” and “need something simple to survive”. So simple that in Kashmir, his invention is called “Kalashinkof” and is part of everyday lexicon alongside “crackdown and curfew”.

But ask M.M. Khajuria, who headed Kashmir police when the guns began to be used at the start of militancy, and he demurs with the idea of simplicity and firepower parity. “It (AK-47) was an absolutely unequal weapon,” said the retired officer whose force then plodded along with “antique 303 rifles”.

Over the past two decades, Kalashnikov has become a household name in the Valley, the most favoured weapon of militants. Security officers say they have seized 31,000 AK rifles in the past 25 years, most of them of AK-47s and a few of its Chinese cousin AK-56.

The cache is enough to equip three divisions of the army, or 30,000 troops. The guns are still being used, although the numbers have dwindled to a handful. Many guns are feared buried by militants in dumps before their death and may never be found, the officers said.

The main advantages of the weapon are that it is robust, lightweight and easy to maintain. It operates in desert sand and trench mud and can go on firing after western weapons jam.

Pro-Aazaadi poet Zarief Ahmad has words that would have been like music to the ears of Kalashnikov. “Words like Kalashinkof, crackdown, curfew, tension and parade are already part of Kashmiri literature.”

The poet said “Kalashinkof” would remain etched in the people’s memory even after the gun disappears. If nothing else, Ahmad’s own lines in Kashmiri would help remind readers. “Kalashankof motuk krooth paigam, ami kor kashiran mandnen gatul sham, khodaye zaani tas kyah aasi anjaam (Kalashinkof is a cruel envoy of death which plunged Kashmir into darkness. God knows how agonising the gun-maker’s death would be.”

He had once lamented the transformation of his invention into the weapon of choice for irregular armies and criminals, referring to pictures of Osama bin Laden posing with the gun. “Whenever I look at TV and see the weapon I invented to defend my motherland in the hands of these bin Ladens, I ask myself the same question — how did it get into their hands?”

Kalashnikov always said he was proud of his invention as a weapon for defending his homeland. He admitted he felt “a heavy heart” that AK-47 in the hands of Afghan fighters had accounted for most of the 15,000 Soviet soldiers killed during the occupation. In subsequent years, he was peppered with questions about his feelings at having inventing a weapon that had killed more than the bomb at Hiroshima.

Back in Kashmir, poet Ahmad underlined the double-edged nature of the gun. “Militants were seen as heroes but many misused the gun. Some treated it like a toy. One of them trained it at an earring of his aunt out of jest. He opened fire but luckily she survived with injuries.”

Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Bhat spoke of “awe” at the gun among people. “They wanted to touch it, feel it and see how it looks. When it was first brandished in public (during the release of five militants in exchange for the abducted daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed), a massive gathering greeted militants like heroes.”