AN AIDE'S RECALL OF AN EPISODE IN THE EARLY DAYS OF INSURGENCY IN KASHMIR
I don't remember the dates but another time, a unit in Uri had ambushed a very large column of terrorists with huge loads of weapons and ammunition. Several of them were killed. The terrorists dropped their bags, abandoned their dead and ran helter skelter and many were mopped up in search operations. A group of media persons from Delhi were coming to cover this operation. An IAF MI-17 heptr was arranged, the Corps Commander, Adviser Law and Order (Ved Marwah) and I accompanied this team from Srinagar to Uri. It was a remarkable operation by the troops and everyone was happy with the outcome. I sensed that your dad and Ved Marwah after complimenting the troops were very worried. It was for the first time that the scale of Pakistani proxy war was beginning to dawn on people. One win here in Uri but if enough large infiltration attempts are made, inevitable that some would get through.
As we took off from Uri, Gen Zaki went to the cockpit and asked the pilot to fly along the LC towards Gulmarg and then to Srinagar instead of straight line back to Srinagar. The air force pilot said he had a flight route and would not be able to take a detour. Followed by a long death stare. The pilot then said he would do a small detour to avoid the cloud formation enroute and everyone agreed it was a good idea.
After about 10-15 minutes Gen Zaki walked to the windows on the right side and then called Ved Marwah. He showed in a particular nala and said this is a probable infiltration route. Ved looked and nodded wisely. I looked though another window and wasn't able to find anything significant about this nala as there were many like this. We came back to Srinagar and on reaching the Corps HQ, he called BGS and Col GS to the ops room and after a discussion, he ordered a column to be moved to the nala. Over the next couple of months, more infiltrators were caught here than anywhere else in the corps!
How and why did such things happen with him? Because he had a photographic memory. He would remember people, dates, places and events in graphic details 35 years later as if they happened yesterday. He also spent at least an hour every day in his study, studying maps of the corps zone. In 1: 1,000,000 then 1:250,000 and finally in 1:50,000 scale. Sector by sector, he recreated 3D terrain images in his mind. Basically a Google map before the idea of a Google map would have been ideated. It also helped that he had been GOC of the Baramula division and then had basically walked to most posts in the sector. An old style soldier who believed that for any sort of tactical or strategic planning in the mountains, understanding the terrain was most important. His knowledge of the land was extraordinary and freaked out his formation commanders and staff alike. Once during the daily morning 'sitrep' briefing in the corps ops room, listing out the over 100 instances of exchange of fire on the LC during the night, Gen Zaki suddenly said 'not possible'. Everyone literally jumped. Why was it not possible that X post of the Pakis had fired with AD guns in ground role at Y Indian Army post on the LC? Because he said, the posts are more than 7km away and there is no line of sight between the two posts!
A combination of knowing the terrain, very strong Instincts, ability to out think the Pakis: Gen Zaki was a very special Corps Commander for a very special Corps at a vital time in its history. The Governor, his Advisors, DG Police, IG BSF and everyone else in J&K listened to him and depended on him. In some ways, he was holding Kashmir with India with the Army when every other organ of state had failed utterly.