Part XVI

Lt. Shubhranjan had learned of the above mentioned fact on second day of his arrival when he had to scramble towards cover when Pakis started shelling the place. He was on a familiarisation tour of the post with Sub. Sonam playing the tour guide, when sound of first shell screeching towards the post hit their ears. Both men immediately scrambled towards the nearest bunker, reaching there only seconds before first of the shell landed, albeit well short of the place they were in. Pakistanis were using 122 mm Type 54, Chinese copy of Soviet M30 and ironically, Type 59I which were Chinese copy of M46 that the Indians had. Indians retaliated with shelling of their own. The duel ended as soon as it had started. Pakis didn’t want to risk needling Indians more than usual due to the strategic advantage latter held and Indians on the other hand, were almost always short of ammunition.

Sitting in the bunker while guns were blazing, Shubhranjan had not realised the cramped conditions inside. There was barely enough space for 2 man crew of the machine gun in the bunker and addition of 2 extra men had left little room for anyone to move without bumping into somebody else. He was too busy to pay any attention to this as he watched Sub. Sonam providing coordinates to the artillery crew on the short range radio. But he couldn’t help but notice shaking of earth as Paki shells landed close by and Indian guns fired back. Although both sides had fired only 5 shells each in less than 2 minutes, it has seemed liked an eternity to the young Lt, who was facing enemy fire for the first time. Slightly shocked and disoriented, he had just sat there until Sub. Sonam shook him awake after the firing stopped.

“Are you OK sir ? Don’t worry about this. Ye sab to chalta hi rehataa hai.” The veteran Subedar had told him with a nonchalant grin and went out of the bunker motioning the still confused Lt. to follow him.
They were met by Major Baljit who was always in a cheerful mood, irrespective of whatever was going around. He slapped Shubhranjan on the shoulder and asked, “ So Lt., did you liked the Paki welcome ? Quite a show they put on to make you feel special, didn’t they ?“

Subhranjan was still gathering his wits and could only mumble confusedly, “Yes sir!”

Both of other men laughed on hearing this much to the discomfort of somewhat embarrassed Lt. “Don’t worry Lt. You will get used to it. It’s nothing much.” Major Baljit said in a kindly way.

Although he nodded his agreement, Subhranjan still couldn’t understand how could anybody get used to high explosive shells exploding around him. “Around”, if the chap is somewhat lucky. No amount of luck is going to help someone who gets a direct hit, even within meters.” He thought to himself.

Next few days passed away in a similar way with Pakis marking their presence with an occasional burst of shelling which kept Indians on their toes. Pakis had the advantage of a terrain suitable for moving around and always fired from a different location, unlike Indians who were forced to stay in a restricted area. Although it somewhat evened out the odds, neither side liked it’s status. After all, no body likes to fight an evenly matched enemy, let alone a more powerful one. Much of the work on Indian side consisted on keeping an eye on Paki movements, just to keep the odds even.

This task they performed using high powered binoculars and with additional thermal sights during night or heavy fog. Recently, army HQ in Poonch had managed to get hold of a couple of Heron UAVs. Although it had made the task much easier, there was simply too much ground to be covered by only two UAVs. Local commanders had been pressing for more UAVs but the equipment and trained manpower were hard to come by. It meant that, they could manage to receive pictures and live video feed of their sector only once every two days. Rest of the time, they had to depend on their own eyes and binoculars. Looking at the pictures taken by Heron for first time, Shubranjan immediately noticed the immense force multiplier effect an eye-in-the sky provided. Even during low visibility conditions caused by fog, clouds or night, thermal imaging cameras of the UAV could capture every detail of men and machines on the ground and stream back the images in real-time to their handlers. He had talked about it with Major Baljit and wished that they could have more time with the UAVs. Major had replied simply, “We fight with what we have Lt., not with what we wish for. I agree with what you said, but we simply don’t have the resources right now. “
Seeing the expression on of Subhranjan’s face, he had smiled and continued, “ That’s what Brigadier Gagan said to me when I asked him for more UAVs just the way you said. Who are we to question the old man, eh ? I know he is trying his best. Who knows, we might get more in coming days.”

Previous Part

Point 6431 was just one of countless mountain peaks that formed the rugged landscape on India-Pakistan Line Of Control in J&K.; Like with every other mountain peak right on the border, this one too had army posts manned all year round. Maintaining round the clock vigil all through the year was tough in summers and murderous in winters. The process was exhausting, expensive and most of all, took it’s toll on the soldiers who considered a posting like this akin to a punishment tour. Cut off from rest of the civilisation, except for the field radio in small bunker high up in a god forsaken mountain, all the while keeping up constant vigil was nobody’s idea of fun. But still, the work had to be done. Neither side was sparing any effort to better or at the very least, keep up with the other side.

Conditions were not always like this though. Prior to Kargil war in 1999, most of the posts high up in the mountains were vacated during winters and reoccupied in summers by both armies. Both India and Pakistan had a gentleman’s agreement on the issue and neither side tried to occupy others empty posts. The truce between two sworn enemies had held in spite of some hiccups till 1999, when Pakistani army broke the agreement and occupied numerous Indian posts while they were empty during winters. Intruders were regular Paki army personnel disguised as “mujahideen”. Indian intelligence and armed forces were caught with their pants down. A limited, yet bloody war ensued with Indian Army throwing waves of infantry and artillery attacks against a well established enemy in an impossible terrain. The war took it’s toll on both sides. India lost more than 600 soldiers and 5 aircraft in a war that lasted just more than three weeks. Losses on Pakistani side were much higher. Indians claiming more than 1400 while Pakistanis claiming no more than 300. Pakistanis owned up some of their dead 11 years later. They had to do it sooner or later, specially since loss of a whole army unit, NLI was difficult to hide anyway.

One of the effects of that war was a halt on the practice of abandoning posts during winters. All along LOC, new bunkers were constructed, existing one fortified with more supplies and armies on both sides started their 365 days a year watch.

But Point 6431 differed from rest of the peaks. It had immense strategic value for both sides. It had been in Indian control since 1947 and unlike many other peaks, it’s posts were never abandoned during winters even before 1999. Much of it’s strategic value came from it’s unique position. It was directly on top of Bahu pass, that connected Indian territory with Pakistan. Although the pass had been in disuse for 6 decades, it was still a vital feature for both the sides. It was the only place in the sector which allowed tanks from either side to cross over in to the other. Both sides had realised the possibility and constructed roads that could support heavy armour movement right up to the opening. But Pakistanis had a major disadvantage in the fact that whoever controlled Pt. 6431 effectively controlled the pass and the control was in Indian hands.

One other advantage that controller of the peak enjoyed was the strategic view it offered, on both sides of border, specially Pakistani. While terrain on Indian side behind the peak was still uneven and covered with smaller mountains, Pakistani was more or less flat with only a small series of hillocks that actually marked the end of the mountain range in this area. Although it gave Pakis an easier and faster terrain to move their convoys, control of the peak in Indian hands negated much of their advantage. Any movement they made was difficult to hide from the Indians. Even the small 130 mm field guns and 81 mm mortars on top of the mountain were deadly and had extended range due to the altitude advantage. Additionally, they could always call for backup from the heavier 155mm Bofors guns which were placed only a few Km back.

Importance of the pass was further increased after an old but disused route connecting Poonch to Shopian in Kashmir was activated. In earlier times, the route was used by Mughals to travel to Kashmir. It passed through Jammu, Rajauri, Poonch and terminated in Shopian in Kashmir. The new road, formally named as Mughal Road was less than 1 hours drive from the pass and the side controlling it had a very easy route to reach both Kashmir as well as Jammu in a short amount of time.

One of the first things that Lt. Shubharanjan had noticed about the peak was the time required for travel to the post on the mountain top from army base camp just on the foot-hills. First time he traveled, it took him more than 5 hours to climb the nearly 6000m high mountain. At many places the path was no more than a small mule trail, that afforded barely enough foot-hold for a loaded mule to pass through. Iron chains and ropes were nailed in at many places to provide a hand hold for the men. Any body slipping at any such place was sure to die a quick yet gruesome death on hard rocks hundreds of meters below. Getting down from the top was as difficult as going up, in some places more difficult due to the loose rock and gravel. Mules and porters carried much of the supplies above, with an occasional chopper pitching in whenever available.
Conditions on Pakistani side were much easier though. The peak was more like a gentle slope albeit littered with large rocks, that extended many km down in to the Pakistani side. It also took much less time to travel and getting men and supplies on the top was much easier and safer. They could have very well constructed a road if it was not for Indians controlling the peak.

He had staggered on to the peak tired, cold and out of breath in spite of the excellent physical condition he was in. His CO, a jolly Major Baljit Singh Randhwa had laughed on seeing his condition and immediately offered him a drink of brandy which Lt Shubhranjan gratefully accepted. He was filled in on the history and importance of the post by the Major himself. But it was Subedar Sonam Stobbdhan who taught him about life on top of the mountain. Among all men, he had spent the most time on the post and was the senior most NCO. He was also the leader of artillery spotter team and had taught many soldiers tricks of bringing accurate artillery fire in mountains.

Lt Shubhranjan had shown good marksmanship in NCC as well as IMA training and was given charge of the machine gun posts. There were 2 INSAS LMGs (Light Machine Gun) and 2 MGA1 HMGs (Heavy Machine Gun) placed in fortified concrete bunkers spread around the top. 2 mortar teams, each armed with 81mm mortars were usually positioned in the middle. They could move to a different position when required.
Heavier fire power was provided with M-46 130mm field guns. Although old, these Soviet manufactured artillery guns were in good condition and had fair range and accuracy for their caliber. These were placed in dug in positions shielded by the rocks and sand bags to protect them from counter-artillery fire and to hide the muzzle flash. Although in theory these guns could be moved around, there was no place to do so on the mountain top. The guns were carried up in completely knocked down condition by helicopters and mules and then assembled on top. Ammunition was transported in the same laborious way, 2-3 shells on a single mule at a time.
Close in fire support was provided by 6 more riflemen armed with standard 5.56mm INSAS rifles.

Soldiers wished for more fire power and men, it was almost impossible to do so using mule-porter system and already scarce Chetak and Cheetah light helicopters. Dhruvs with their higher carrying capacity were beginning to share some of the work load, but they were in short supply too. Even if they could move in more supplies and men, there was little space for either on top.

Part XIV

17:45 Hours
Point 6431
Poonch, Jammu

Joining army was more of an accident than a conscious career choice for Shubharanjan. As a 11 years old kid, he had seen the Kargil war on TV and like every other kid of his age, he too watched the events unfolding on TV with rapt attention then forgot about it afterwards as pressure of studies and other stuff associated with growing up took all of his time. As an average student, he did alright in school and joined a fairly well reputed college. There, he joined NCC just for the extra grades it offered and completed level C. As the time of graduation approached, he too started applying for jobs with various private sector companies and government agencies, hoping to grab a well paying job like all of his classmates.

He was not entirely successful in his endeavours, managing only a clerical job in a small start up company that didn’t pay enough to justify the long hours his boss demanded. He got bored of the job within weeks and started looking for change. Most of his classmate were doing comparatively well, but a lot were stuck in jobs that they hated, just like him. One day he received a letter containing his admit card for the SSB exam. He had filled up the form on the NCC counter in his college months ago without really giving it a thought and had forgotten all about it. Although he enjoyed his stint with NCC, he had never given a serious thought to idea of joining armed forces as a career choice or even as a way to serve the nation. Nobody in his family had been in armed forces, except one of the cousins of his mother and he too was in police.

“Well, what the hell! What’s the harm in trying ? ” He said to himself and attended the exam, then again promptly forgot about it until the day he received the letter informing him that he had passed the written and was required to attend the second round for face to face interviews and physical tests. In good physical condition, he cleared the physicals easily but was shown the door in one of face to face interviews. Piqued and puzzled by his disqualification at almost the last round, he discussed the matter with one of his college mates whose elder brother was a Colonel in the army. The Colonel was gracious enough to listen and give him as much guidance as he could in his limited time. Although in meanwhile, he had managed to land another job that paid better than the previous one, he applied again for the SSB. Even though he still had doubts about clearing the exam, much to his own surprise he did so in second attempt.

His father was both proud and slightly amused while his mother showed more of a horrified surprise than pride. Both had been in government service their whole lives and idea of their only son joining the army had never crossed their mind. They had expected him to complete his studies, get a job somewhere , preferably in government sector and start his own family within a few years of job, just like rest of the extended family. He was even well on the expected path and now this army thing ! What with it’s risks and postings to remote places that no one even heard about.

The very concept was alien to them, but they had to give in to his wishes. Sure there was a little danger but it’s not that everybody died. Private sector job was ok but was boring as hell and he had loved the NCC. He even won 2 awards, didn’t he ? Additionally, even army was paying a competitive salary after the 6th Pay Commission. Who else in the whole family had the honour of wearing the olive green uniform ? And most importantly, finding a girl for marriage wouldn’t be hard now.

He resigned from the job next day and joined IMA for his training which he passed respectably. His first tour of duty in Punjab was peaceful and routine in every aspect and lasted 4 months. After which he was transferred to J&K;, which everybody rightly expected to be his first brush with real action. He had arrived at his post known only by Point 6431 in two weeks ago as an almost fresh Lieutenant still learning the ropes.

Part XIII

10:00 Hours
28 Oct 2010
PM House
New Delhi, India

Everybody in the meeting room wore a grim expression. None of them had expected things to deteriorate so fast. Defence Minister was supposed to be on his way to Russia for a meeting with his Russian counterpart. News of the attempted coup had come in middle of the night and he had to postpone his trip. Air Force Chief had cut short his tour of some newly activated air fields in the north-east. He could have registered his presence using video-conferencing, but he preferred to be physically present. Right now, he was exchanging notes with the Army chief who was looking even more serious than usual.

Last men to enter the meeting room were PM and NSA chief Angad, both earnestly involved in a conversation. Everybody rose up to greet the PM who took up his usual seat and motioned NSA Chief to start his briefing immediately.

“Good morning, gentlemen. We are a bit short on time due to radically changing situations in our neighbourhood. I’ll come straight to the point. Last night, there was an attempted coup in Pakistan.

Some serving Pakistani soldiers, believed to be loyal to General Asgar tried to kidnap or kill General Beg inside his residence. General Beg escaped unharmed, but hiswife and nearly 20 of his soldiers were killed. At the same time, his new second in command, General Khalid was kidnapped. His present whereabouts are unknown. Beg had promoted General Khalid in staff meeting last night to replace General Asgar.

Right after the news of this attack started to spread, there were reports of gun fights among Pakistani soldiers in various cantonments all over the country. 100s of Pakistani soldiers are believed to be dead or missing in the bloodshed.”Pakistan has seen numerous coups, but this one is unprecedented in terms of players involved and the bloodshed that followed. This infighting inside Pakistani army is sure to affect their already weak civil society badly. Pakistani civilians were already reeling under bomb blasts and subsequent riots. This mutiny will have serious consequences not only for Pakistanis but even us. This meeting is called for discussing our plan of action regarding this issue.”

DM was in an unusually bad mood, partly due to postponement of his trip and he was not hiding his displeasure, “Damn these idiots! Who is in control of their nuclear weapons now ? “

“In comparatively normal circumstances, General Beg . Whatever we know of Pakistani nuclear system, even if Asgar manages to get hold of a few bombs, he wouldn’t be able to use them. Not even against us.”

Angad replied”

How is that ?” DM asked eagerly.

“In return for their dollars, Americans had forced Pakis to consolidate their nukes in to a centralised system that can be monitored continuously and deactivated to prevent it’s misuse in conditions just like this. Their man Beg, had all the launch codes and even if any rogue element manages to launch a missile against us, it wouldn’t cause a nuclear explosion. ” Angad explained.

“You mean to say, that right now all of their nukes are useless against us ?”

” Not exactly. Only the arsenal that they couldn’t hide is under control. Rest of it might still be usable.””

That’s not a comforting thought.” HM observed dryly”

It certainly isn’t” NSA chief agreed.

DM was on verge of hysteria, “The whole country is breaking down. Even the army that used to hold the place together is divided now. What stops any fanatic to take advantage of the chaos and take control of a few nukes! We have to take some action.”

“And what might that be ? Do you have anything in mind ?” PM inquired

“Well, I can’t think of anything right now” DM conceded. But surely military can think of something. What do you suggest gentlemen ?” he asked turning to the service chiefs sitting besides him for help.

Army chief began, “Right now, anything we do will potentially be seen as adding fuel to the fire. They , I mean some of them actually want us to get involved in the mess. This morning, Pakistanis started firing at our border posts in J&K; breaking the cease fire agreement.”

“Pakis have always been firing all year round to provide cover for their terrorists. What’s different his time ?” HM interrupted.

“The scale of firing is unprecedented. Earlier Pakis shelled our positions either to provide diversion or covering fire to their terrorist infiltrating into India, but this time they are specifically targeting our soldiers and positions. This is not limited to a limited area. Our positions in Kargil, Siachen, Uri, Punch, Rajauri, practically whole of the north and north-west sector in J&K; came under intense fire today. It’s still going on in many places. According to the orders, our men showed restraint and refrained from responding in the same way. Our causalities were light for the scale of fire, but our luck wouldn’t hold for long.

“We can’t fall in to this trap. If we don’t show restraint this whole thing will blow up in our faces.” PM said in a worried voice.

General Zoravar Singh was expecting this, “I don’t disagree sir, but consequences will be far more serious if we don’t take any action. We lost 3 men in the firing today with 14 wounded. The toll is mounting even as we discuss the issue. Letting our soldiers die just like that is completely unacceptable. We have to show those Pakis that they can’t take play nuke card every time to inflict damage on us. If we surrender to Pakis today, Chinese will surely try to take advantage, They have already taken control of a large part of PoK. what stops Chinese from indulging in similar mischief to further weaken and embarrass us ?”

“Yes. He is right. Pakis tried to play dirty in Kargil too, thinking that we wouldn’t dare attack them since they had nukes. But after we did, they washed off their hands of the whole issue. Buggers even refused to acknowledge their own dead. What if we had not taken any action and allowed them to stay fearing a nuclear attack ?” DM added

“How do Chinese fit in to this picture ? Are they involved ? And who in Pakistan gave the orders to start the firing ?” PM asked.

” Well, Chinese involvement is what worrying us the most. As discussed in the last meeting,General Asgar is just their puppet. I’d be really surprised if we don’t find any proof of their involvement in this coup. Apart from this, the area in northern J&K;, where we came under fire is too close to places Chinese are present. We know for sure that Chinese have spread their tentacles much beyond the highways and tunnels they were building.

As for who is coordinating this firing, most of the evidence points to General Asgar. For starters, he was CO of the Pak Army HQ in Gilgit during Musharraf’s time. Further, commanders currently serving there are believed to be loyal to him.”

PM’s already worried face assumed a horrified expression, “So if we retaliate to Paki firing, there is a real possibility of Chinese getting involved too ? This is too much for us.”

DM lost all of his patience,”Chinese have no ground to take any offense. All of J&K;, including POK is ours and these turds have no business being there in first place. And we are retaliating to unprovoked Paki firing on our positions. We have all the right to do anything we want to protect ourselves.”

“What if all this is a Chinese conspiracy to pick up a fight ?”

HM spoke up.”So what! We give them a fight. Why the hell are we spending so much money on defence when a 3rd rate terrorist sink hole can kill our soldiers at it’s own pleasure ? ”

DM’s voice was getting too loud for ears of the soft-spoken PM and he winced in annoyance.”So, what do you want ? An all out war ? “

“Of course not. But taking such provocations lying down is highly unsuitable for a country aspiring to be in UNSC. It’s your pet dream after all, isn’t it ?” DM shot back, much to the surprise of everybody present in the meeting.

HM cleared his throat and intervened, “Cool down Shivendra jee. It’s not the time or place for this. There is always a peaceful way.”

“Don’t you think that I know this ? DM replied, in a milder tone. “But there has to be a limit. There is nothing stopping us from at least bombing the hell out of buggers who are shelling us.”

Army chief took the cue, ” Yes. Our hands are tied due to the ceasefire agreement. Now that they’ve themselves broken it, we have no obligation to play nice. At the very minimum, we should have the authority to destroy Paki positions which are firing on us.”

“What about Chinese ?” HM askedDM answered the question before Army chief could, “What about them ? We are defending ourselves from Paki firing. If they object, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand upon. “

PM took a deep breath and asked “Are you sure General, that firing back is the right thing to do ?”

Army Chief responded , “We do have the option to stay quite and take the blows, but for what ? We are losing soldiers even as we sit here. Some of the firing has affected civilian areas too. A journalist from a national TV channel was filming a documentary on our border posts in Uri, when it came under fire.”

HM had not forgotten the pestering he had endured by the TV channel to grant permission for documentary. He rolled his eyes and interrupted, “Yes, that Varsha Butt from UNDE TV. Saw her showing off her wounds and posing like she is some kind of war heroine . It was a mistake allowing her to be there.” Realising somewhat belatedly that he was interrupting the Army chief, he apologised and requested him to continue.

Army Chief acknowledged his apology with a curt nod and resumed, ” Not responding will encourage Pakis as well as Chinese to cause even more trouble. It’s effect on moral of armed forces as well as civilians is anybody’s guess. We are not asking for permission for an all out attack on Pakistan. We just want the authority to defend ourselves against Paki firing.”

“And you are sure that the things wouldn’t spiral out of control ? What if they start firing in other places too “

” I can’t give you 400% guarantee of anything apart from that my soldiers will not overstep their authority in any condition.” General replied plainly. “As for rest of the international border apart from J&K; is concerned, we can be reasonably sure that the Pakistani Rangers in the sector will not act in same way as their Army counterparts in J&K.; We have no reason to believe that Rangers will dance to Asgar’s tunes.In addition, they don’t have the Chinese card to threaten us here. Pakistani forces are in no position for a offensive anywhere. Our forces are on a high alert anyway and can start mobilising within hours of receiving the orders.”

“Will you require support from Air Force or Navy ? “

“We had discussed the issue among ourselves before the meeting. My men will surely need support from AF to transport men and materials. Navy can be used to impose a sea blockade, but that’s not necessary now. We can handle the offensive part ourselves. Involving AF or Navy offensively will escalate matters. “

“That reminds me, what about their Air Force and Navy?” DM asked Angad.

“Although their Air Force is in control of some nuclear bombs, they just can’t launch their aircraft carrying them without us or Americans knowing. Specially since only a few F16s are nuke capable and Americans have kept a tight leash on them .As for Navy, we don’t think that they pose any serious threat to us. Mutiny in army has affected these 2 forces in the same way and operational readiness is severely degraded. Hell, I’d be surprised if they manage to fly even regular sorties. Even then we are taking no chances and we all of them under continuous surveillance. If they try doing anything funny, we’ll be the first to know.”

For first time since the meeting started, PM looked slightly at ease, “That’s some comparatively better news. Very well General. You have my permission to fire back in if Pakistanis fire at you. But under no conditions, our men will cross the LoC. You can’t imagine the pressure I’m currently in. People want me to just offer the other cheek. “

“I understand Sir. We’ll try our best to keep things under check.” A visibly relieved General Zoravar Singh replied.

“I suppose that’s all there is to it ? Now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I have a meeting scheduled with the American ambassador. Shivendra jee, do you have your statement on situation in Pakistan ready yet ? Let’s discuss it in my office. PM rose up signaling end of the meeting.

Part XII

07:30 Hours
28 Oct 2010
Point 711 Border Post
Uri, J&K;

Sub Gurung Thapa was proving to be an enthusiastic host for the two journalists. He had assumed the responsibility of a hospitable host right from the moment the chopper carrying Varsha Dutt and her cameraman Sidhesh Pathik had landed. Maj Ajay Singh had received the visitors himself, but then had handed over the reign to Gurung. He in turn was only too glad to have the opportunity of getting his photos clicked and having an attentive audience. It wasn’t everyday that reporters from national TV channels came visiting for interviews. After handing them much needed cups of hot coffee, he took the journalists on a guided tour of the small base, explaining everything about their daily routine. Varsha kept asking questions and nodding vigorously to his explanations while Sidhesh kept recording everything in his camera, not uttering a word. He had learnt to keep quiet when working alongside journalists with inflated egos and love for attention. He just paid full attention to the camera, leaving the journo to his/her own and it had worked for him quite well.

They were in middle of the guided tour when Gurung was called upon by Maj Ajay. The morning patrol had discovered breaches in fence nearby their post that needed immediate repairs. He had to leave the journalists under supervision of somebody else, while he accompanied the repair team Major Ajay was leading the team who wanted a first hand look himself. As her itinerary included a visit to actual LoC (Line of Control), Dutt had no great difficulty persuading Maj Ajay to let her accompany the repair team.

Actual site of the breach was less than a Km away from the post, but mountainous terrain and muddy trails prolonged their journey to 30 minutes. Breach was in a small clearing inside a lightly wooded area. There was a gentle slope just beside the Indian fence, broken by small hill like protrusions on the mountain on the Pakistani side. Pakistani presence was marked by two small bunkers on two such hills, about 800 metres apart from each other. One bunker which was on a slightly higher elevation provided a superior view of the surroundings, while the second one provided a cover to its flank from the right side. For any Pakistani infiltrator, it was an ideal place to cross over due to easier terrain, tree cover and firing cover by Pakistanis manning the bunkers.

Varsha Butt was struggling to keep up with the soldiers marching towards the breach. She had not expected her visit to fence to be an exhausting affair. So far it had consisted solely of her trying not to get left behind on the muddy and rocky trails. Her expensive Swiss made snow shoes and warm suit were covered with mud and in spite of 4 layers of clothing, cold wind was chilling her to the bone. The small 6 man team led by Maj Ajay would have been more considerate if the tensions were not so high. But they were under tremendous strain themselves and couldn’t afford such niceties. Sub. Gurung was cameraman of the team and he was responsible for recording all the damage to the fence and material required to repair it. Sidhesh had taken an instant liking for the cheerful Gorkha soldier and he was teaching him tricks of the photography. So, she was left with no one but herself to talk with. This she did with much gusto, grumbling to herself. Sidhesh once caught her talking to herself and considered slowing down for her. But he was enjoying Gurung’s anecdotes too much to do so.

The party reached the site of the breach and at once went down to business. Major Ajay assigned 3 soldiers to keep watch and 2 for repair of the fence. Gurung switched on his camcorder and started recording. The damage was not much, but a single man could pass through the breach with little difficulty. Varsha cornered Maj Ajay as soon as he was finished assigning duties and started another interview right there. Maj Ajay answered her questions as patiently he could while half of his mind was focused on the work being done by his men. He was also wary of an ambush by the Pakis and wanted the whole business to be over as soon as possible. His men reported that they’ll need 15 minutes to finish up the job. Varsha Dutt now wanted to rattle out her impressions of the visit with the fence and Paki border posts beyond that in the background besides her. Although it was dangerous, Ajay had no choice but to acquiesce to her demands.

She at once positioned herself at an advantageous point, where Sidhesh could capture a Paki border post and the fence at the same time while keeping her in focus. Sidhesh gave the ready signal and began recording, while she started her speech.
“So, here we are the Line of Control, where Indian soldiers stare at their Pakistani counterparts day after day, night after night. This line is dotted by thousands of posts on both sides where lakhs of able bodied men who could be employed more productively elsewhere, spend their lives keeping their so called “enemy” in their gun-sights all the time.” All the soldiers within earshot cringed in disgust. Oblivious to them, she rattled on, “We spend billions of rupees just to maintain status quo while billions of people go hungry everyday. Is this the right way to…”

Her speech was interrupted by a screeching sound coming from across the border. She stopped in mid-sentence and turned around looking for the source of the sound in confusion. Maj Ajay and his men knew the sound of Paki Type-81 mortar very well and immediately swung into action. Maj Ajay rushed towards the two journalists and started dragging them towards cover behind some large rocks. First mortar landed about 80 metres from their location as they were taking cover. Almost at once, Pakis from bunker on left opened up machine gun fire, pinning them down behind the rocks,

Although the soldiers were used to be under fire, it was not true for the journalists who were scared as hell. Varsha screamed at once. “What the hell is this ? Why are they firing on us ?”
“It must be an ambush. They deliberately damaged the fence, knowing very well that we’ll send our men to repair it and will be sitting ducks in process.” Ajay replied over the din of gun fire.
They ducked again instinctively when another mortar round came whooshing by and landed less than 40 metres from them.

“Pakis from the 2nd post are firing these mortars sir. We are not in their direct line of sight, so they can’t fire their machine guns on us. But we need to get out of this area as soon as possible.” Gurung shouted.

“This post in front must be providing them with our exact location. Chandra and Murugan, take up positions and provide us with covering fire while rest of us make a dash towards the tree cover. We’ll cover you when we reach there. Gurung, you escort Varsha and Sidhesh. Run towards the trees the moment Chandra and Murugan start their covering fire.”

Just then another mortar landed very near to the group showering them with dust and rubble. It was too much for Varsha, who at once jumped up from behind the rocks and started running, exposing herself to enemy fire. Gurung at once realised the danger she was in and jumped on her, pinning her to the ground. He then dragged her back to the cover behind rocks as she kept thrashing hysterically.

“You F**** moron. You will get me killed here ! Look at me. Why did you tackle me. All my clothes are now covered with mud. These clothes cost more than your annual salary and you’ve spoiled them. You’ll suffer for this you idiot.” She screeched.

“Calm down madam. He just saved your life. You can’t talk to him like that.” Maj Ajay intervened

“You need to shut up Major. You don’t realise who you are talking to. I left my comfortable studio to make a documentary on you dumbasses and this is how you treat me ? This is not acceptable. I’ll make sure that you all suffer for this.”

Gurung interrupted her charade, “Sir, the men are in position. Ready to leave at your order.”

“Very good. Chandra, Murugan, start firing. Rest of the men, follow me” Maj Ajay ordered in a calm voice..

“She coming too, sir ?” Gurung asked, gesturing towards Varsha who now lay prone behind the rocks.

“Yes. Drag her if you have too . Just ignore whatever she says.”

Murugan and Chandra had taken up positions behind 2 large rocks and started firing on the Paki machine gun with their INSAS. Even though, distance was large for an assault rifle, their accurate fire silenced Paki machine gun for a while. It was the opening that Maj Ajay was waiting for. He ordered the team to rush out at once. Paki gunners saw them trying to escape and opened up fire again. But the team reached safe positions before Pakis had the chance to adjust their aim and fire accurately. Maj Ajay then ordered men alongside him to provide covering fire for Chandra and Murugan who rejoined the team safely. After checking whether everybody was OK, Ajay assigned 2 of his men to escort the two journalists to a safer place, while he called for reinforcements and fire on the Paki posts from adjacent Indian posts.

He didn’t know it yet, but Pakis had just started unprovoked firing on 11 other locations along LoC in J&K.; Ceasefire along the border was no longer in force