Chapter 62 - When Wood is Chopped, the Chips Will Fly

The Prime Minister of Tawa – 62

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Lieutenant General Kareeman was quite different from every other army officer in Tawa. He was only five feet four and hence much shorter than the average Tawan soldier. Though he was in his early fifties, he was as slim and reedy as a new recruit. His moustache was irregular and small, again unlike most other army officers who had thick and luxuriant outgrowths on their upper lips. His uniform was rarely ironed and was usually crumbled. And finally, he had blazing eyes which had a messianic look about them. The fiery light in his eyes compensated for everything else – the unpressed and crumbled uniform, the lack of height or muscle, the small moustache. A devout family man, when he actually managed to spend some time with his wife and two sons, Lt Gen Kareeman had led the campaign against the SFF in the 1990s till General Naranin fled to Switzerland.

Horan Samiban had replaced Lt Gen Kareeman with someone else when he took overpower, not because Lt Gen Kareeman was not good at his job, but because he was too good. Replacing Lt Gen Kareeman had convinced the Seedas that the new civilian government did not intend to pursue a military solution.

Within a month of the attack at the dam site, Nedeem proposed to Mash, ‘let’s bring back Lt Gen Kareeman.’ Mash was not too keen to bring back Kareeman, but he did not really have a choice. The Tawan army was tied down in Eko. Getting supplies to them through the mountains was a problem. The SFF routinely ambushed the army convoys, which carried supplies into the Central Hill District. Air dropping relief materials was costly. The number of army helicopters they had was limited. And finally, within a couple of weeks of the attack on the dam, the SFF started to attack the army in Eko itself. A few bombs exploded in Hepara, one of which went off in a crowded restaurant killing twenty people.

‘Appoint the bastard,’ Urushambo counselled Mash. ‘He may break a few rules, but the people here don’t care. You’ll be seen as having done the right thing.’

‘I have my reputation outside Tawa to take care of. I don’t think Ted would approve. Even now he keeps telling me that I should try to negotiate. He even thinks we are in the wrong this time.’

‘It’s none of their business. Ted Hoffman will only talk; he can’t do much. And he ought to be grateful to you for not having withdrawn the troops from Iraq.’

‘He is grateful for that. Even though it’s just a hundred soldiers, the Americans are grateful.’ Mash’s decision to continue to keep the hundred soldiers in Iraq was attacked in Parliament but had been supported by the Hepara Herald and other newspapers. If there was one thing that Tawa did not have a shortage of, it was manpower. There were still plenty of patriotic young Tawans queuing up to join the army. In such a case, why bother to bring back the soldiers from Iraq and antagonise America when it was so easy to recruit a hundred soldiers? One hundred trained soldiers are wasted in Iraq when our homeland is in danger, the communists lamented. But no one really thought that Mash was making a mistake. It was not as if the average soldier being sent off to fight the SFF was highly trained. A couple of weeks’ drills on the parade ground, two months basic training to use a rifle and hand grenades, and the soldiers were ready to march off to war.

‘I will lose my reputation as a moderate, someone who is willing to negotiate. My rep does matter when it comes to attracting investment.’

‘I think we should focus on finishing off the SFF. In any event, you are unlikely to get any investor when there is a war going on. Once the SFF is routed, you can become a moderate once more. May be even issue an apology for any past mistake committed in the heat of battle.’ Urushambo smiled at his own turn of phrase.

‘You are right. Investors will forgive or even condone human rights violations. But they will not tolerate instability,’ Mash agreed.

Everyone approved of Lt Gen Kareeman’s appointment, right from the press to the opposition PDA. Even the communists did not dare say anything against him, even though Kareeman was one of General Naranin’s protégés. It was universally accepted that Lt Gen Kareeman was the best terror fighter they possessed. True, he fought terror with terror in a way that had Girlie and the few other human rights activists in Tawa crying hoarse. However, when dealing with an organisation as ruthless as the SFF, one did not really have an option.

Kareeman had read Tolstoy when he was at the military academy and his favourite character was Kutuzov from War and Peace. 'When wood is chopped, the chips will fly’ Kutuzov had said while fighting Napoleon’s army. Soon after Lt Gen Kareeman took over, word went out to all his officers. The gloves are off. It’s back to our tactics of old. When in doubt, play it safe and Fire! Soon the number of SFF men being killed in army raids started to go up dramatically. Very few of the SFF were caught alive, but that was more because the SFF rarely surrendered, always preferring to fight till they died. They knew that death was better than capture. Once Kareeman got to know from an informer that a certain person was a member of the SFF or a sympathiser, he did not wait for an unnecessary amount of evidence. Instead, he would send out a squad of troops to confront the man, either at home or at his workplace. It was common for SFF members to carry hand grenades on their person and detonate them when captured, killing themselves and those around them. In order to avoid unnecessary deaths amongst the soldiers, Kareeman always encouraged his solders to catch suspects unawares and kill them before they had a chance to try anything hanky-panky.

Kareeman was a great believer in collective punishment. If any SFF member was found to have sheltered in a house, that house was demolished. It did not matter if the house owner was an SFF sympathiser and had voluntarily sheltered the SFF man, or if he had been coerced into doing it. They should learn the cost of supporting the SFF, Kareeman reasoned. Once in a while, innocent people, innocent even by Kareeman’s standards, were killed. Couldn’t be helped, could it? Kareeman would shrug his thin shoulders. One can’t chop wood without chips flying.

There were a few patriotic Seedas who were willing to help the Tawan army in its fight against the SFF. Admittedly, those numbers were small and all of them practised Deelahee. To persuade more such Deelahee practising Seedas to support the army, Lt Gen Kareeman persuaded a prominent Sage based in Hepara to issue a call for national unity in the face of terrorism. The SFF is a terrorist organisation and Guardian Akbar would never have approved of it, the Sage proclaimed. Lt Gen Kareeman raised a brigade of one thousand Seedas and put them in the forefront of the thrust against the SFF. The animist and nature worshipping Seedas had always treated the Deelahee practising Seedas in their midst with suspicion. Within a week of the Seeda Brigade’s formation, attacks against Seedas following Deelahee went up. Soon almost all such Seedas were forced to leave the Central Hill District for Hepara. Most of them ended up in a small corner of Cornovee.

Mash got a letter from Girlee asking him to reign in Kareeman and his men. Mash tore up the letter and refused to take Girlee’s calls.

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