LEAVE THE ARMY ALONE TO DO ITS JOB
As I write this on a Saturday morning, can't help but look back on the past three months' development on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and partly on the International Border with Pakistan. The 10-year old ceasefire that both the countries agreed in November 2003 is as good as dead.
Nearly 200 violations in 2013 so far as compared to 117 in the whole of last year tell their own story. Over 140 of them have occurred since August 2013, mainly in the areas south of the Pir Panjal range of mountains.
There is almost daily coverage of the ceasefire violations. After a while the numbers have become just statistics: "10 ceasefire violations in last 48 hours; heavy firing on the LoC, India retaliates with equal measure," are some of the oft-repeated headlines we all love to give. but in this rush to 'cover' the ceasefire violations and their fallout, I have realised that the narrative is often one-sided. Because, the Indian Army and the BSF/police share instant information about the development and casualties, I suddenly realised that an impression has gone around that only the Indian side is suffering casualties.
This is an erroneous projection. Since monitoring Pakistan media, especially the media outlets along the LoC is not easy, we hardly come to know of the losses suffered by the Pakistanis. One doesn't even know if as extensive coverage as the one that happens here takes place on the Pakistani side. So willy-nilly, we in India feel that the Indian Army and BSF is on the defensive. On the contrary, there are reports of Pakistanis suffering heavy casualties and abandoning villages in the face of intense Indian retaliation. This is more closer to the truth since I know of standing orders on Indian posts: "If Pakistanis fire 2 rounds, we will hit back with 10." Look at the sign painted on one of the posts in the accompanying photograph and those who haven't been on the LoC will understand what I mean!
When I travelled to the LoC in early September with Barkha Dutt and met officers and soldiers deployed right on the LoC fence in Krishna Ghati, BhimberGali, Hamirpur in Poonch sector, the josh and morale was exemplary. A befitting reply to Pakistani mischief was being given every day--and night. Constant ceasefire violations, firing, casualties have not deterred the soldier from doing his job to the best of his ability.
What many objected to however was the impression that they felt was being created about so-called laxity on part of the Indian Army and the soldiers guarding the LoC. During my interaction on the LoC an officer had promised to give his feedback on what the Indian soldier feels. Here's the written feedback sent to me by an officer posted on the LoC. For obvious reasons, he will remain unnamed. Read on.
I am an officer posted on the line of control. Yesterday was Sunday, and also Dussehra. Got to know it only from the newspapers that are spread before me- a day late by the time they reach my post. The nice part is that I receive a whole bundle after they have been pored over in the headquarters.
We went out on an ambush last night. There was information that an infiltration attempt could be made through our area. I have been receiving the same information daily since the last six months. Hopefully we will have a fire fight tonight.
Seven of us slipped out of our post, 300 m from the line of control, after last light. A half hour walk and we deployed in two groups. The weather gods were not happy (maybe because I didn’t know Navratras had begun). Light rain and mist descended and visibility was down to three metres. We try and peer through the white haze till the eyes hurt. I hear a soft snore on my left and give a hard nudge. Tomorrow, over a hot cup of tea after we return to the post, we will laugh and tease him.
It’s midnight, cold and miserable. I flex my index finger to make sure it slips into the trigger guard in time to shoot the terrorist who might suddenly appear three steps from me. Suddenly, the chatter of machine guns jolts us out of complacency. It is followed by the soft ‘thump, thump’ of mortars ejecting their bombs. I am glad for the distraction, as the whole ambush is now fully alert.
We wait for the mortar bombs to fall. Shit… they seem to be falling on my post. There are mixed feelings running through me. I am safe, but what about my soldiers on the post. The firing grows in intensity- rocket launchers and mortars open up from our side. It’s frustrating because we can’t see anything. I briefly think of returning to the post but have a job to do tonight, and there are good soldiers back on the post.
We return in the morning and thankfully all is well. One splinter injury-flesh wound only, and a living shelter damaged. We all sit around a breakfast of hot puris and bhindis, exchanging anecdotes, feeling proud about how we weathered one more day on the line of control.
A three hour nap and the first newspaper is spread before me. “Dropping guard at the LOC” is the headline of a Mail Today article. It says ‘Indian troops have been sitting ducks’ in the August incident and that the foiling of infiltration attempt in Keran ‘has been taken with a pinch of salt’. Harinder Baweja in Hindustan Times says that the Army has been ‘found wanting’. Tribune wanted to know ‘how porous is the security system’ on the LoC. Asian Age informs me that ‘Army is under attack from the MoD’. I always thought those attacking us were across the LoC. Should I now look over my shoulder?
A large number of journalists are now questioning our tactics along the Line of Control. It is easy to pass judgement when sitting in air-conditioned offices and speaking on the telephone to ‘well-informed sources’ who have an equally comfortable chair. It is also unfortunate that some of our retired officers have also jumped on the media bandwagon to slam our ‘defensive mindset’ and ‘lapses’. Did no soldiers die when they were commanders? Has the army suddenly forgotten its ethos because some of our officers have retired?
Let me not quote facts and figures because I have no access to them. My senior officers tell me that the security situation in J&K is improving. Violence, infiltration levels, civilian causalities are down, and there is less fear on the faces of people. I believe my seniors because I see it everyday.
Can I do more? Maybe I can eke a little more out of my aching muscles and sleep filled eyes. Will it help? I don’t think so, because the newspapers will not cover what I do, but look for the one who does not. I just hope I am not one of their victims.
I am an Indian Army officer- proud and confident. I know what I have to do. No other profession in the world demands that you lay down your life in the defence of people you do not even know. If you question my commitment, please be prepared to wear the Uniform and man the LoC in my place.
P.S. Can’t avoid the last dig at the media. Read Sebastian Junger ‘War’.
Eloquent, heartfelt and to the point. I think all of us in the media need to mull over this feedback. And take corrective measures.
Perhaps we should leave the Army alone to let it do its job. And be discreet and responsible on what and how we report on the Indian military.
Lest many readers of this blog accuse me of not practicing what I preach, let me assure you we did our LoC reporting only after taking the necessary permissions from and with full cooperation of the Army. I am aware that there will be people who will say the Army has co opted us! You can't please all in any case.
Posted by Nitin A. Gokhale