Kalashnikov will never fall silent

NEW DELHI: When Delhi's chief minister-designate Arvind Kejriwal pulled off an upset win against Congress stalwart Sheila Dikshit on December 8, we at The Times of India could think of only one analogy to honour the spectacular achievement—the AK-47. The blanket headline on one of our special pages read, 'Cong big guns fall silent as AK booms'. The rest of Indian media took the cue from us and Kejriwal became the new AK, a giant slayer.

On December 23, the man who gave us this iconic name passed away. Lieutenant General Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was 94.
On Friday, Kalashnikov was given an elaborate state funeral in Mytishchi outside Moscow. His mortal remains were interred in the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery, an exclusive burial ground for Russia's national heroes. As his coffin was lowered, Russian ceremonial troops gave him a gun salute by firing AK-47s, a final tribute to the man who had invented the world's most popular firearm and etched his name in hot lead in the annals of military history and science. He went to his grave without carrying any moral burden or guilt, save an unfulfilled wish of creating something useful for farmers.

Across the globe, opinion about Kalashnikov's unrivaled legacy is divided: some call him the inventor of the world's most popular killing machine, while others see him as the man who created the most potent symbol of liberation and anti-imperialist struggle. Standing testimonies to the latter argument are the AK symbols on the national flag of Mozambique, the coat of arms of Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso (1984-97) and Fiji, and the flag of Hezbollah. The AK-47 would equip conventional armies and guerrillas/terrorists alike. It would reap a bloody harvest wherever it opened up: the killing fields of Vietnam to the strife-torn lands in Africa, the rocky terrain of the Hindukush to the burning peninsula of Jaffna, the tropical rainforests of Assam to the arid streets of Syria.

Kalashnikov himself never thought that his creation would be so hotly debated even 66 years after it first came out. Nay, he never wanted to be a weapon maker. He was only fired by a great desire to create something for the defence of Mother Russia that was invaded by Nazi Germany in World War II.

In the battlefield of Bryansk in 1941, Kalashnikov was a senior staff sergeant and commanded a T-34 tank. He was wounded fighting the Panzer division of General Joachim Lemelsen, but made it to a Soviet field hospital on foot. Recuperating from his wounds, Kalashnikov studied the enemy's weapons and compared those with what his own force had. He was impressed by Germany's latest innovation—the Sturmgweher 44, the world's first assault rifle. Yet he was also sure of the power the Soviet PPsh or 'poppashot' possessed: a submachine gun that could pulverize a target by maintaining a constant rate of fire and which was also easy to maintain. He wondered if the power of the two could be packed into one, solid weapon. The result was the AK-47 that looked much like the Stg-44, but had a higher rate of fire. In over 60 years, 100 million AK rifles would be spread across the globe.

Kalashnikov's legacy is every bit cultural as it is military and political. And Indians don't have to look elsewhere to understand this but just look within.The AK has both tormented us and saved us major embarrassment in battle. India first encountered the might of this weapon during the Chinese aggression of 1962, when our jawans, fighting with the Ishapore 2A1 7.62mm bolt-action rifles, Sten guns, Sterling submachine guns and Bren guns struggled to counter enfilading fire of the Chinese who were armed with AK rifles. Though Indian disaster was more to do with bad planning of the high command and a weak supply chain, the immense stopping power of the AK-47 didn't escape notice.

India would eventually adopt the Kalashnikovs, though not wholly: like the British, she too would choose the Belgian-made FN-FAL as the primary infantry rifle and christen it 1A1 SLR (the British called it L1A1 SLR). Decades later, India replaced it with the indigenous INSAS rifle, which was based on the AK-47. But it didn't pass muster at Kargil in 1999.

"Kargil went badly for us initially. The new INSAS 5.56 rifles were not up to the mark. Many of us badly missed our old SLRs. This new rifle would either jam or its components crack. Also, sometimes the gun would fire in full-auto mode when the selector switch was turned to the burst mode (three shots at a time). Funny, it didn't have a full-auto mode," recalls an Indian Army officer who fought in the war. AK rifles were hurriedly sent to the frontline. "The Kalashnikovs were both lifesavers and face-savers for us at Kargil," the officer adds.

Another officer of 17 Garhwal Rifles who battled militancy in Kashmir believes the AK-47 gave him and his troops a big morale boost. "I was chasing a militant armed with an AK-56 once. That chap just ran, but kept on firing his rifle. And then my SLR jammed. I lay flat on the ground, hoping that my adversary won't stop to turn back; if he did, I would be done for. Thankfully, he never did. But others weren't that lucky. But when we got the AKs, the situation changed completely. I knew I had 30 rounds of rock and roll and no bloody militant would dare face me when my Kalashnikov opened up," he says.

More than a decade after Kargil, India's paramilitary would cry 'mayday' in the Maoist belts after being outflanked and outgunned in Chhattisgarh. Their succour would be the same AK rifles. Forest guards in Assam would ask for them, too, as rhino and tiger poachers would give up their shotguns in favour of the AK-47. Mumbai police would arm its lower rung with the Kalashnikov after 26/11 terrorists brought hell and fire on the force. And there may be more instances in the future when crisis would warrant the intervention of the AKs.

Experts believe Kalashnikov's invention would remain a great game-changer for a long time to come. This gun will never fall silent.
Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Kalashnikov-will-never-fall-silent/articleshow/28017313.cms

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