From being a Pakistan-trained militant to a soldier in Indian Army: The journey of Ata Mohamed Lather
This perhaps is the only case of a Pakistani-trained militant being saved from certain death and getting recruited in the same Army which he was brain washed to fight against
This is a human interest story which must be told to the nation at large. It’s a story of compassion and love from one son of India to another, which created bonds of love and affection across regions and religions. In a nation being divided along communal lines, with many openly seeking blood and revenge on perceived wrongs of history, it comes out as a shower of first rain drops on parched lands of hatred.
This happened in December 2001 in Kokernag village of South Kashmir. I was company commander of a Rashtriya Rifles unit stationed in Anantnag district engaged in very intense counter terror operations. A local source gave a tip off about a militant convalescing in a house for treatment of his injured leg. The information was of a house in village Zalangaon, famous for being associated with Kashmiri separatist leader and former militant Yasin Malick. A small team was dispatched immediately to the house and the injured terrorist was apprehended in broad daylight.
The information turned out to be correct: the individual was a listed terrorist named Ata Mohmed Lather from Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI). A brief interrogation was sufficient to get all details about him. He had a gunshot wound on his left leg below the ankle and was recovering from the injury. He belonged to Kishtwar region and had got shot in an operation a month ago in a firefight with the Army. In spite of his injury he managed to escape. In order to recoup and get fit, he was transported on horseback across the Sinthan pass, a desolate area on the Pir Panjal ranges to Kokernag. Since the intelligence agencies would not know much about him in this region, this appeared to be a safe hideout.
His apprehension was reported to the higher headquarters of the Army and the J&K Police. As per the instructions, he was taken to the Joint Interrogation Cell in Srinagar by the police. In a few days he was returned back to us to recover his weapon and conduct operations based on information provided by him. I met him on the same day in the evening and found him broken down physically and mentally. Seeing his condition, I asked my medical staff to first take care of his physical
In a few days he started recovering slowly, I made it a routine to meet him once a day. We got talking after initial hesitation. Over the next few sessions of this conversation, I came to know everything about him. He belonged to a humble family and was educated up to tenth class. He narrated his life story from his village in Kishtwar to joining HuJi and further travelling over very inhospitable terrain to cross over to Pakistan for training and indoctrination. He returned back from Pakistan after two years and again traversed through difficult tarrain, narrowly escaping Army patrols, to fight for HuJI tanjeem in Doda and Kishtwar regions.
His fear was that his parents would be in grief assuming he would be killed by the security forces on being caught. By now we had developed a special bond as we started spending more time together. I asked him to write a letter to his father and tell him that he is safe with the Army. He wrote a letter in Urdu and I was impressed by his brilliant handwriting. It took some time, but one day his father came all the way from Kishtwar to Jammu to Anantnag and to the Army camp in Kokernag. The joy to see a father meet his son whom he had given up as dead was an unforgettable experience.
Ata Mohd soon became healthy and I tasked him to be employed in the company cook house to help in the cooking. By now our close bond grew stronger and he started giving us tips on how to operate in the jungles and high mountain tops of the ragged terrain in south Kashmir. Once he became fully fit, he confessed to me that the image of the Indian Army painted in their minds was totally wrong. He made friends with many soldiers and on special occasions narrated many anecdotes from his life as a jehadi as well as his experiences in Pakistan training camp.
With his life back on track, I decide to find gainful employment for him. At the same time the Army had started the process of rehabilitation of the erstwhile Ikhwans who had worked for the forces for a long time. Sensing a good opportunity, we ensured that the case against him for terror activities was dropped. We started his training to become fit to join the Indian Army as a jawan. Very soon with his passion and hard work he got selected and joined the Army.
This perhaps is the only case of a Pakistani trained militant being saved from certain death and getting recruited in the same Army which he was brain washed to fight against.
Ata Mohd never looked back and soon started his military career with great passion and zeal. Today he has become a Havildar (sergeant) and in a couple of years may be promoted to the rank of Junior Officer (JCO). He got married meanwhile and has three kids. He has built a decent house for himself in Kishtwar town for the education of his children. Every Diwali and Eid we speak to each other. All these years I have felt the blessings of his parents and family.