India’s Bravehearts: Untold Stories from the Indian Army. Lieutenant General Satish Dua (Retired). Juggernaut Publications. 2020. Rs. 299. Pages 224.
In 1999, my battalion was also deployed on the LoC, albeit not in Kargil, but in another part of the LoC in J&K. By then, there was a lot of activity on the LoC — frequent firing as well as infiltration attempts by terrorists, heightened by the tensions of the Kargil war.
In those days, I used to spend my days in different company locations on the forward posts of the LoC. One day I went to visit one of the forward platoons, from where the enemy post was just fifty metres away. The LoC ran between these two posts. I spent some time at the post, reviewing the defence preparedness and chatting with the boys over the ubiquitous chai and pakoras.
I was pleased to see that the soldiers on the post were enthusiastic about their work, and their morale and motivation levels were high. I then went into the Post Commander’s bunker to change out of my uniform into a set of civvies, as did my QRT soldiers. On the forward slopes, that is, any slope that descends towards the enemy, where one was exposed to enemy view and fire, we normally did not move in uniform. Instead, we dressed in a Pathan suit which is worn by the locals and which was convenient to walk, although not to run in. If you threw on a bukkal (shawl), like the locals did, the soldiers could hide their weapons as well.
Th e LoC in this part runs along a big nala. The slope on our side was a forward slope which went down to the nala. The slope that rose from the other side of the nala was in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK). The mountainside was covered with terraced fields, as is the case with cultivable land in the mountains. There were very few trees which could provide cover from the enemy.
By wearing local attire, it was easy to mingle with the villagers who were working in the fields on the forward slopes. The Pakistan Army would not fire at the locals, lest they run the risk of losing their support during the infiltration of terrorists.
It was going to turn dark in an hour or so, and we would take about two hours to reach the roadhead from where I would drive back to my battalion base.
We had barely walked thirty or forty metres from the post, when Subedar Bal Raj, the Post Commander, asked us to halt.
He said that the Pakistani soldiers on the opposite post had yelled out to him, saying, ‘Your men are walking fully exposed on forward slopes. Please ask them to stop, otherwise we will be forced to open fire.’
I shouted back to him, asking him to tell them that none of our soldiers were outside, that he was mistaken and the men must be local villagers. They replied, ‘We even know it’s your CO. Please don’t continue this movement or else you will be responsible for the consequences. Our Company Commander has given strict orders." It dawned on me then that owing to heightened firing across the LoC during Operation Vijay, not many locals were moving about on the forward slopes.
Since the Pakistani post was so close, they must have observed my activities as I had reviewed the security of our post. But I also wondered if I should listen to their threat and give them the satisfaction of having scared the CO of the Indian battalion.
Life on the LoC is a lot about psychological domination and aggressive behaviour. I thought for a bit and told Subedar Bal Raj to climb to the observation tower post where a sentry always stood guard to keep a lookout. It was from the observation post just across ours that the Pakistanis had shouted their warning.
It was clear that they too were playing mind games and did not want to escalate the LoC firing situation, otherwise they would have fired instead of giving a warning. Our posts dominated theirs in this area, and we could cause serious damage and casualties to them with our heavy weapons if we had to. Once the Post Commander was in visual contact with the Pakistan sentry, I asked him to relay to the sentry whatever I told him. He did. This is the gist of what he shouted across the LoC.
‘If you start firing on our CO’s party, I doubt the first bullet will hit the CO. But as soon as the first shot is fired, I guarantee you that your post will be flattened. We will use all possible weapons and rockets. Your post is surrounded by three of ours. You will be responsible for the casualties that you incur.’
I waited for five minutes for the message to reach their Company Commander. Then I asked my team if we should move ahead. ‘Darein ya chalein?’
Unanimously, they chose to march ahead.
Cautiously, we stepped forward. About five minutes of walking brought us out in the open. For the next twenty minutes of our walk, we would be completely exposed to the enemy’s view, which meant we would be at his mercy. Should he choose to fire at us, we would be sitting ducks. What if they opened fire on us and we did have heavy casualties? I started having doubts — why did I take this step? Had I been too arrogant? There were very few trees, mostly open terraced fields. We would have no natural cover if firing broke out.
Every step was a step taken in suspense, the air felt heavier than usual and there was silence among us. The tension only ended once we reached the tree cover of the next post.
I heaved a sigh of relief. We were really living on the edge on the LoC, I thought to myself. We were bearing the brunt of some of the not-so-sound decisions taken in the past. We defended with our lives the lines drawn by someone on a map. As I mentioned earlier, we lived by the ethos of ‘grabbers keepers’, playing mind games to remain dominant at all costs, often at grave risk to life.
If they had fired that day and caused casualties, anyone would have been right to comment, "What did you achieve? You took the lives of your own soldiers," that is, if I was not the one to be killed. But any soldier who has operated on the LoC would do the same thing.
This was the constantly tension-charged atmosphere on the LoC. And to think that most of our countrymen feel that soldiers just stand idle on sentry duty there, like the watchman they see at the gate of their building or outside a bank.
Excerpted with permission from 'India’s Bravehearts: Untold Stories from the Indian Army’ by Lieutenant General Satish Dua (Retired).
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