Rest of the story told by Major S from Defence Intelligence Agency.
I was one of the men present in the debrief with Colonel. While rest of the people were left flummoxed and were running around the headless chicken, I sat and wished I had not stopped smoking. I couldn’t really call Major an old close friend now but we knew each other quite well. Our worst fear was that he had been ambushed by enemy and packages snatched inside our territory. Such an event would have been catastrophic and we could not let it happen at any cost. The news went up higher in command and all hell broke loose. We did sent out search parties in ever direction but had no luck. Then a few hours later, we had reports about an explosion in Rajauri, a large town in the area, two hours drive away from our base. Normally it was not such a big news to have terrorists exploding bombs in a crowded population center or on highway trying to ambush security forces. Inspite of all our efforts it happened all too frequently. Sometimes terrorists even paid a few youngsters to throw 1-2 grenades at something or someone and then melt away in the crowd.
But this time was different. This time it was a dirty bomb.
Our emergency response team immediately detected the radioactivity on arrival and the area was evacuated within a few hours. Reports said that the bomb was placed inside a stolen car and exploded near the gate of a local politician as he was getting out in his car convoy. Initial on site reports indicated 12-14 dead people on blast site and most of the house destroyed. We could detect lethal radiation levels in an area of around 100-120 meters around the blast site and 600-700 people had received moderate to highly lethal radiation dosage, probably more. The local news reporters who were expecting a big juicy story about assassination of a local big-wig politician too got enough radiation exposure to make them seriously sick and everything was being played non-stop on TV, papers and radio.
Forensics team had to work really slow and carefully on the site and they declared that there was one man in the car who more or less had been blown in to pieces by the explosion. Apart from him, there were 7 dead bodies, 3 each in politician’s two cars and 1 of a local man passing through the street. Rest of the 6 dead bodies were recovered from the destroyed house, most of them members of the politicians family. But it was name of the dead politician which gave me a pause. He was Yakub Mirza, a sitting MLA and a former minister from the local opposition party JKDP. I could’ve believed anything, apart from the fact that he was killed by Pakistani controlled terrorists. In fact, he was on our radar for almost 14 years for his links and support to terrorists. His family claimed to be descendants of some muslim cleric and controlled a big old mosque which attracted pilgrims from all over. Even non-muslims visited it which always felt strange to me considering the type of people controlling it and how the muslims following their ideology had all but wiped out all non-muslims from the area. His name had been linked to a number of local terrorists, but owing to his political clout and our reluctance to go against “secular fabric” , our hands were always tied against him. Apart from that, he was always very careful and we had almost no concrete proof against him which could’ve nailed him. This job had to be done by the local police, which was even more corrupt and useless than Indian police elsewhere. So he had played the double game with impunity for years, hiding behind the veil of his religious and political status. There was no clue of Major’s fate.
While we were all raking our brains and investigating this incident, rest of the country was half in shock and half in rage. Normally to us Indians death of a few dozen or even a hundred people hardly matters. Terrorists, natural disasters and accidents kill so many people and people just shrug it off. People who ask for action against the perpetrators are usually called hot-headed right wingers or something similar and their call for action or revenge are usually drowned out by random noise about Gandhi, peace, secularism etc. But this time, it was different. The dorks in media houses and on streets just heard the word radioactive and saw a golden goose for TRPs and endless talk shows. Indian territory had been attacked with a radio-active weapon and people killed. To be fair, plan of the Pakistani terrorists was to explode it somewhere in India. But somehow the explosion had killed one of their allies in India. That was the only silver lining I could find in this whole damned mess. That big but local artillery battle that happened between Indian and Pakistan during the operation would have stayed a local news and would’ve received only a small mention in some media reports. But somehow it gained momentum and Pakistanis were shelling our posts all along the sector covering areas such as Uri, Punch, Akhnoor and Samba. Our forces were also retaliating with even more venom than usual. Within 24 hours, we had 17 military causalities with 5 dead and probably more on Pakistani side. But the damage to our civilian infrastructure and lives was dreadful. Dozens of villages from each sector had to be evacuated after the deliberate shelling by Pakis. If the images of people suffering from radiation poisoning was not enough, the plight of displaced migrants from border villages just added fuel to the fire and government was under tremendous amount of pressure to respond. And that we did.
Indian Navy started aggressive patrols near Indian maritime borders as well as international waters near Karachi. Presumably, it was to prevent another Mumbai like attack in which Pakistani terrorists came on a captured boat. Pakistanis took this almost as a naval blockade even when it was nothing like that. In their statements later, they claimed that their purpose was only a show of strength, but Indian version was quite different. According to commanding officer of INS Rana, a Rajput class destroyer patrolling in international waters 60 nautical miles out or Karachi port, two Paki ships, PNS Tippu Sultan and Shamsher had acted aggressively and the latter had almost hit the Indian ship. Rana had fired it’s 76.2 mm main gun on Shamsher taking out it’s main radar and bridge. Tippu Sultan was welcomed with a Syx missile almost simultaneously. The bow of unlucky ship was almost split in to two and both Pakistani ships took large number of causalities. It is unknown now what were intentions of Pakistani crews, but the flow of events indicated that the Indian ship was well justified in it’s response.
All of our air bases on western and northern commands were put on full alert and CAPs were being flown round the clock. I think that the naval incident was the last straw. For the first time, India let loose of it’s formidable arsenal on several Pakistani military targets inside PoK with special emphasis on the sector where all this started. Targets which were unreachable by our artillery guns were razed to dust by Brahmos missiles. Most of their helicopters, fuel and supply depos stationed near border were burnt to ashes. This Indian response came us a big shock to Pakis as well as entire world even though it was not entirely unexpected. Till now, Indian response had been limited to action inside own territory with minimum action across the border. But this time, it was just shy of an all out war, a lot like Kargil. There were charges and counter-charges on international stages by both sides. But India had an upper hand this time and with the reality of Pakistani terrorist inclinations being common knowledge, almost no one was willing to give them any benefit of doubt. A dirty nuke attack is one scenario which has been a nightmare for a lot of western countries and they were quite scared by a demonstration. So while in the past we had to bear useless platitudes about restraint and peace, this time there was only tactic silence and appeals to Pakistani authorities urging them to hand over the culprits.
Threats of conventional nuclear strikes were traded but that didn’t stop India from launching more missile attacks on a list of pre-determined list of targets inside Pakistan. The first wave of attacks by artillery and land based Brahmos had destroyed the backbone of the military infrastructure near border areas by destroying most of communication facilities and fuel ammunition dumps. The second wave of attacks a few hours later took out their main military bases in Gilgit, Risalpur, Kamra, Gujranwala, Rawlapindi, Lahore and Sialkot. This massive coordinated attack paralyzed most of Pakistani command and control in it northern and western military commands. Missile strikes were also done on high value terrorist targets which included top tier leadership of some terrorist organisations LeT, HM and also on Dawood’s residence in Karachi for good measure. Although we didn’t know of their fate till a few weeks later, but the strikes were an excellent morale booster.