Kargil man risked life to help jawans in 1999

DRASS (LADAKH), July 27:
Seventy-one-year-old Naseem Ahmad is not an ordinary tea seller. When everyone left this town for safety during the Kargil war in 1999, he stayed put to serve tea and meals to soldiers fighting the enemy forces in the challenging terrain of Ladakh.
Ahmad, who still runs the tea stall near a police station here almost 24 years after the war, was a “friend” of the Indian soldiers and became their saviour when everything around was shut and Drass looked like a ghost town.
“When the Kargil war took place, I was the only one who didn’t leave. Shelling used to happen continuously on both sides of the LoC. There was a complete wreck of houses and properties due to the shelling,” Ahmad told.
He had made a wall using stones in the front of the stall to safeguard his life and the lives of his “guests” while the shells hit the area around — most of which were fired from the nearby peaks of Tololing and Tiger Hill.
The battle of Tololing was one of the turning points of the Kargil war. Tololing peak is the dominant position overlooking the strategic Srinagar-Leh highway. Pakistani infiltrators had occupied the peak and it was a tough challenge for the Army to reclaim it as there was no cover for the soldiers and they had to fight in the open.
“The reason I didn’t leave this place during the war was that soldiers requested me not to leave. They told me if you will also leave, then who will give them food,” Ahmad said. Some media personnel were also here at that time and they also asked me to stay put, he added. The Army provided him with ration supplies and he used to make tea and food for the soldiers.
“It was very scary,” he said when asked if he felt afraid. “When the shells used to explode, we used to shudder. That time was very scary. For the whole two months, war was being fought and around 150 to 200 bombs exploded daily. The pause was only during evening prayers. Other than that, it was a continuous trail,” Ahmad said.
Asked whether his family feared for his life, he said he used to call home from the telephone exchange booth to inform them about his well-being. Abdul Majeed, a local, in his eighties, said he has known Ahmad for over 30 years.
“He (Ahmad) did not leave this place when the war began and he was here till the end of the war. He is very courageous. During the time of war, he tirelessly served meals to the Army men. Even I left, and when I used to come in between to check on my house and property and livestock, I saw he (Ahmad) was working at his shop, serving tea and meals to the soldiers,” Majeed said.
For the two months of the war, Ahmad was like a friend to the soldiers and to the visiting media men, listened to their stories, felt their sadness as well as joys, and played hide-and-seek with the raining Pakistani shells.
“My job was to serve them food only. The soldiers used to help me and even used to wash utensils,” Ahmad said. The Indian Army had launched a fierce counter-assault, ‘Operation Vijay’, to push back Pakistani forces that had stealthily occupied important heights in Ladakh in 1999. The Kargil war saw soldiers of the Indian armed forces fight in the most challenging terrain under harsh weather conditions, defeating the enemy in Drass, Kargil and Batalik sectors. (PTI)