NEW DELHI — The Kashmir Valley has been gripped by fear and confusion created by a slew of unexplained government orders, which in turn have led to speculation that something major is afoot. From the sudden induction of 100 paramilitary companies (over 10,000 men) into the region, to midnight raids on Jamaat-e-Islami cadre, to cancellation of doctors' leaves and instructions to hospitals to store medicines and food, these moves have sent people stockpiling supplies.
A journalist from Srinagar called me to say that people were talking about army movement to the border. He connected this information with the recent visit of the Pakistan army chief, General Qamar Bajwa, to the Line of Control (the de facto India-Pakistan border in the Kashmir Valley) and an order issued in Pakistan to prepare civilian hospitals to receive injured army personnel.
In the past hours, BBC News reports India had launched air strikes against militants in Pakistani territory. Pakistan said the strikes hit an empty area but vowed to respond. Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors have been deteriorating since a suicide car bomb attack earlier this month in the Kashmir town of Pulwama killed more than 40 Indian troops. India blames Pakistan for allowing radical Muslim groups to operate in the disputed areas.
Taken together, does all of this mean that the Narendra Modi government's plans to avenge the Pulwama killing could lead to a wider war?
We can rule out this scenario because India doesn't have the capability, capacity or political will for war. A war is much more than localized army action along the Line of Control; it involves the air force and numerous enablers like space, cyber, electronic (to jam communications) and so on. It is certain that any crossing of the Line of Control by the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force (IAF), or the use of stand-off weapons or long-range artillery guns from within our own territory, would be met with an equal response from Pakistan.
Moreover, a war between India and Pakistan would quickly involve China too in some form. Since the Pakistan Army is responsible for security of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is the designated flagship of President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative, the People's Liberation Army's support to General Headquarters, Rawalpindi against India is assured.
For example, the recent United Nations Security Council statement condemning Jaish-e-Mohammed for the dastardly Pulwama attack was delayed because China was keen that the phrase ‘state of Jammu and Kashmir," which Indian wanted, be replaced by India-administered Kashmir, which suited Pakistan.
Since the Chinese gloves are off, it would be instructive to recall the December 2010 declaration made by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Indian soil that China has a 2,000-kilometer border with India. According to India, the border is 3,488 km; China does not recognize the 1,488-km border it shares with India in Ladakh (Jammu and Kashmir).
Given its stakes in Pakistan's security, China would (a) heighten its military activities on the disputed border with India in order to ensure that the Indian Army is unable to move troops from there to the Pakistan border; (b) send unlimited spares and other war support materiel to Pakistan to enable it to outmatch Indian military reserves for intense war; (c) provide its space, cyber and electronic warfare capabilities to the Pakistan military, which the Indian side would have difficulty contending with; and (d) be ‘forced" to enter the war in self defense if its own civilians and security personnel working on the CPEC are killed or injured by Indian strikes.
Once that happens, the Indian war would not remain limited to two fronts – Pakistan and China. The Indian Air Force would be compelled to fly over the airspace of neighboring nations. This would transform it into a regional war with extremely high stakes, since the three main players are nuclear-armed.
There is added pressure on the Modi government from its ideological mentor.
This progression of war should underscore the fact that since escalation has its own dynamics, it would be impossible for India to restrict or control war. All talks about limited war (in time and space) that Indian generals are fond of discussing are peace-time activities, with no relationship with the reality of war.
The reality, unfortunately, was laid bare by the so-called 2016 surgical strikes the Modi government advertized, where a localized tactical operation had political rather than military objectives. For one, surgical strikes which are akin to blitzkrieg are done by the air force and not the army, which can at best do raids. For another, they were, as the then foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, described, "low level, targeted counter-terror operations'. Given the army leadership's complicity and eagerness to please political bosses rather than serve their command, something similar to surgical or fake strikes could be on the cards.
There is added pressure on the Modi government from its ideological mentor, the Hindu nationalist RSS paramilitary organization. The latter has reworked its priority for the coming general elections, where instead of the Ram Mandir issue, the Pulwama tragedy would be the focus. The RSS is expected to assert that only a muscular and stable government can ensure that more Pulwamas do not happen, demanding hard choices from the Modi government.
Writing in the Sunday Times of India, the pro-government columnist Swapan Dasgupta has said, "India will have to exercise hard options, including the grim sight of body bags." Sadly he knows little about with India's or Pakistan's hard power choices, not to mention China's enormous military capabilities that would come in support of Pakistan.
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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