While I was busy with tracking down Major and moving out to mainland when we found him, the conditions had grown more serious. Both countries were locked in a position of conflict which could only go worse and it did.

As the missiles and artillery shells were slamming in to their targets in Pakistan, Indian PMO released statements pointing out that the Indian response was still non-nuclear but will not stay this way if Pakistan tried something again. .We declared a no-fly zone within 30 kms of international border and Indian fighter planes had explicit orders to shoot down any and all air planes violating this order. The bravado and compulsion of saving face on Pakistani side forced them to bring 4 of their F-16s in to the no-fly zone from Sargodha base, All 4 of them were shot down as soon as they reached past Lahore. A half squadron of Indian Jaguars unloaded their massive ordinance of dumb bombs and CBUs on the offending Lahore airbase to drive the point home. The destruction of Lahore airport spread mass panic in the city and civilians choked up the roads trying to move towards west away of India-Pakistan border.

Indian RAPIDs had already mobilised by this time and were deployed on international border in offensive formations just waiting for go ahead from the top. Pakistani government under full panic mode was alternating between nuclear posturing and pleas for peace on world stage. The swift and accurate Indian response had demolished most of their military infrastructure close to the Indian border and their ground level command and control was in chaos.
Under imminent threat of Indian land forces crossing border and starting a full scale war, multiple countries offered to mediate and offer a peaceful solution. While Indian foreign ministry made suitable noises, the action on ground continued unabated. As Pakistanis were rushing their forces in Punjab and Rajasthan sectors to counter the assault of Indian RAPIDs, Indian army and air-force launched a massive invasion along LoC. Indian para-troopers and other land forces supported by air force and artillery captured a number of strategically important points across the border in Rajauri, Akhnoor and Punch in 2 days of continuous operations. Pakistani military presence along side this sector was completely wiped out for 4-6 kilometers alongside LoC. Pakistanis were completely humiliated after India released footage of Indian soldiers standing inside Pakistani military garrisons and posts and holding 3700+ Pakistani army and para-military forces as prisoners.

By this time, there was enormous pressure on India to stop the offensive and start talks. We had captured large swathes of Pakistani territory along IB and LoC to form a nice buffer and give us a great strategic advantage in previously unfavourable conditions. The capture of Pakistani personnel also gave us a very nice bargaining chip. At that point, our leadership was divided in two camps. One wanted to press ahead with further attack while the other wanted to call for talks. Even though we had numerical superiority, threat of another nuke attack was a factor to be considered. Since we had managed to capture some important strategic positions in numerous sectors, we were in a position of strength and could force Pakistan to dance to our tunes. That is, as long as the politicians didn’t screw it up.

We halted our offensive operations pending talks, As expected, there was not much to talk about. It was one thing about Pakistani selling off some wanted terrorist leader to USA for cash who was then killed in some drone strike. But handing over terrorists to India for trial was a suicide for Pakistani civilian as well as military authorities. Emboldened by support from their usual pay-masters they brazenly asked for concrete proof and unconditional return of captured territory and personnel and were refused outright. It was made clear from our side that there’d be no concessions from our side till the terrorists and military personnel involved in terrorist attacks against India even in past were not handed over to be tried in India. Veiled threats of nuclear response to protect “sovereignty” were made and responded in kind, for probably the first time.

So this became yet another point of unending “talks”, exchange of dossiers and allegations and counter-allegations between the two countries. In the meanwhile, Indian forces strengthened their hold on newly captured territory by constructing bunkers, roads and other associated infrastructure. Most of Pakistani civilians had already fled when Indian offensive reached their villages and all routes of their move back were sealed off till resolution of the issue. Indian forces guarding the access routes were under strict orders to not allow movement of Pakistani citizens for any purpose and that led to flare up of violence in various positions along Punjab. The toll on civilians was enormous with lakhs of Pakistani citizens turned in to homeless refugees. Pakistani civilian government had to resign and unlike we were expecting, Pakistani army refused to take over directly. The utter humiliation heaped on Pakistani armed forces played an important part in that as for the time being, they had no powerful military chief who could claim to have full control. A farcical President’s rule was imposed with the incumbent a known army plant.

The talks took a hiatus while Pakis were trying to build themselves a central government. While all this was going on. separatist movements in Balochistan and Pak Occupied Kashmir were suddenly getting a lot more attention. As expected Pakis were quick to blame India, but that was par for course. We kept on consolidating our hold on captured territory inspite of all the noise and posturing by Pakistanis. We had called their bluff and they could nothing apart from gnashing their teeth in impotent rage. Seeing the picture from a distance, felt good. There were a lot of things which actually were set in motion by all this, but maybe for later.

For now, I have to finish the story by telling you about what happened to major. His highly decomposed body was found washed up on the banks of a local river. It was presumed that his gypsy had met with an accident rolling down the mountain in to the raging river. His last rites were performed with full military honours in his hometown.


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.

We damaged all the weapons and supplies we found there as quickly we could and threw them down the mountain. The cache was more than enough to sustain a platoon for a week. It had taken us almost 3 hours to march to the camp from our ingress point which was more or less up an incline along with a forced stop of 35-40 minutes due to bad weather. We reckoned that we could make it back in less than 3 hours with some luck. Zahid was gagged up, his hands tied tightly and feet loosely. So that he could just walk, not run. Major and I were to walk in front and behind him with a rope tied around his waist to keep watch. That box with a bomb was to be carried by rest of team members on turn by turn basis.
We had just 4 hours left before sunrise and we wanted to reach India back before Pakis got any hint.  Once everything was decided, I kicked  prisoner to his feet, who got up with a mix of fear and resignation in his eyes. Major was in his front while I was at rear. The sniper team was acting as our reconnaissance scouts and they had left a few minutes earlier to scan for any threats on our way back. If we had everything in our wishlist, a helicopter would have come in fast and low and picked us for the ex-filtration. Like they show Blackhawk helicopters swooping in at the climax of Behind Enemy Lines. But real life isn’t awesome like that. We had to walk back to our base across the border while carrying a dirty nuclear bomb and escorting a highly dangerous and uncooperative terrorist in the dark through a very treacherous mountainous terrain. I was not even sure that our soldiers on sentry duty on border had any idea of this operation. It was quite likely that they’d shoot us if they saw us trying to cross the border from enemy’s side. I just hoped that the old Colonel back home had taken care of at least this thing. 
Till that point, almost everything had went exactly according to the plan. But after 35 minutes of marching, the the scout team reported two men walking on the trail leading up to the camp from other side. Both were carrying torches and we could see the small specks of light bouncing off the rocky path across the ridge. A sniper shot at that distance was impossible and they were only a few minutes walk away from the camp. So sending someone to dispose of them was also not an option. There was really no way to mask the approach and they  would’ve reached the campsite long before anyone from our team could reach within killing distance. Major ordered us to make the best of whatever little time we had left before discovery and we picked up pace dragging a very reluctant yet afraid Zahid with us. When he showed some hope of rescue and defiance after seeing those two Pakistanis, a tight punch on his face from the Major changed his body language almost instantly. Inspite of what he taught his terrorist disciples, he himself valued his own life and complied to our  orders.
Our exfiltration route was nearly the same way as our infiltration route and I recognised a few landmarks like a nearly round boulder and couple of  big trees which are quite rare in these mountains. We  just had 5 ridges to cross before we reached the border fencing area but there was no trail or path. We had to trust our GPS devices and handheld maps for navigation in near pitch dark conditions inside hostile enemy territory and to cross the border back home. Although we were in range of our big artillery guns, we couldn’t really rely 100% on them or air support for that matter in that kind of terrain. Every extra gram of equipment on the body matters in such a situation. We were marching as fast as we could under the circumstances and I never thought that was fast enough.
25 minutes had gone by since we had seen those 2 torch lights and we were reasonably sure that the Pakis would launch a search mission any moment. The first indication came in the form of muffled blasts from west. A few seconds later, the sky in that direction turned red for some time. That was caused by their mortar fired illumination rounds. This round instead of exploding, goes 400-500 meters up in air and deploys an intense source of light by parachute illuminating the surroundings in bright light for up to 30-40 seconds. The rounds were quite a distance away from us but were not that far from our exfil point. With some good luck, we could avoid getting detected.
We picked up the pace but job of carrying that heavy load of bomb and escorting a cunning prisoner over tough terrain made it highly tiring and stressful. We still managed to make good progress and had reached just about halfway when a Paki army’s Mi-17 helicopter flew over our heads. We threw ourselves to the ground and hoped that they had missed us. But it seemed to be running a search mission in grid pattern and flew over our location 2 times again before flying away. Although we couldn’t be sure but it was quite likely that we had been spotted.
We had marched for 15 minutes more when the same helicopter came again flying just 50-60 meters from the undulating ridges and a machine gun from it’s side opened fire on us. We all ducked to find cover and tried to return fire. After finding itself under fire , the helicopter moved some distance away from our field of fire on the ridge further up on our way and started hovering. As we watched ,Paki soldiers started slithering out from a rope and started landing on a ridge slightly higher than us.  By this time,  Shanky had managed to get a fix on the helicopter and fired a 80 mm rocket which hit the engine just below the main rotor.  There was an explosion and the Mi-17 fell careening on the edge of ridge before sliding down the mountain’s side in a blaze of fire and screeching metal.
But we had little time to celebrate as the deployed Paki soldiers were right in our way and we had to neutralise them fast. Shanky had downed the chopper quickly but apparently not fast enough as the surviving Paki soldiers started raining accurate rifle fire on us, Frontal charge was an option but almost suicidal with little chance of survival for us. So Major ordered a flanking action from the right. Bheem took position behind a rock with his INSAS LMG and started firing quick bursts to provide cover. Major and I took flanking positions and started suppressive fire while rest of our squad maneuvered to reach a better firing position.
I was still firing when a rifle grenade exploded a few meters ahead of me temporary disorienting and showering me with small rocks and rubble. But another one targeted towards Bheem’s LMG was more accurate. It destroyed his gun and left him with shrapnel wounds on face, neck and hands knocking him unconscious. I crawled to his aid and dragged him to cover before starting firing again. But our covering fire had given enough opportunity to rest of our squad members who had managed to get better firing positions and destroyed the enemy squad in no time by grenades and rifle fire.
Once the guns fell quiet my attention was diverted towards Bheem was was regaining his consciousness and moaning in pain. I applied field dressing as best as I could and left him to look for the prisoner. Major had blindfolded him and left him in some cover with rope wedged tightly against a rock. Zahid had wisely not risked his life and tried to break free during the fire fight as he couldn’t see a thing. Major took his blindfold off and motioned him to walk in front of him. I carried the box which Viru had dropped when the helicopter had started firing and started moving towards rest of the squad.
We reached there quickly but  a headcount sank our hearts. Viru was missing and the last that anyone had seen him when we were all ducking to cover under the helicopter’s machine gun fire. During firefight, rest of the squad had assumed that he was with us. Shanky and Rana left immediately to look for him back on the lower ridge while we tended to Bheem’s wound. He could walk without support but needed to get proper treatment fast. We were really nervous about staying in any single place for any amount of time, but we don’t leave a comrade behind. Jaggi and Subhash had moved on further to scout for enemy reinforcements and reported clear. A few minutes later, Rana came back with a stoic face and just a human arm wrapped in his poncho. Apparently that was what left of Viru when helicopter started firing. He couldn’t find cover fast enough and the heavy machine gun fire had killed him almost instantaneously. His body had probably rolled down the cliff in to the gorge below and we had no way of retrieving it.
We had no time to grieve though. Viru had died on a mission and it was our responsibility to make sure that his sacrifice was not in vain.Major radioed back to the base and informed them of the situation. Colonel was still there and he informed us that the UAV had just reached station and started beaming back live feed. That was good news for us as we could expect fire support from our guys.  But we still had about 80-90 minutes of difficult journey before us while being chased by the enemy.
Within a few minutes our UAV picked up 3 Paki units moving on foot to intercept us on our direct path. Their coordinates were passed on to our 130 mm  guns in our area of operation. They let loose a barrage of deadly anti-personnel rounds on each patrol which must have come us a complete shock to the enemy. 2 of the intercepting units were decimated while the third one seemed to stopped moving after finding some cover. But this volley of fire from our side goaded Pakistanis in to firing back with their own guns both across the border as well as in our general direction.
By this time, they didn’t have any definite idea of our exact location, so their artillery and mortar shells were way off mark. As we reached closer, the duels between the two sides gained momentum with neither side holding anything back. It was serious enough for us to get worried about a blue on blue incident. The whole region was a war zone with machine gun rounds,  heavy mortar and artillery shells streaking in every direction.
Unluckily for us, our movement was spotted somehow and the heavy caliber fire in our direction got more accurate. Two mortars fell close enough to shower us with shrapnel and rubble. Third one fell almost in front of our squad injuring Vikram who got shrapnel wounds on his arms and thigh. He was given basic first-aid as we stopped and tried to find cover. But we had to keep on moving as mortars with their high trajectory are very good in finding targets even in mountains. If their guns too started firing at us at the same time, we’d be all but dead. But Pakis had very little left to target us with when their mortar crew was taken out by fire from our side. We heard the explosions as our shells crashed at their post and obliterated it.
We sprinted across the border with leftover Paki soldiers spraying some random fire in our general direction and reached the road without further incident. There was a feeling of relief and joy about a job well done even though we were all weighed down by loss of Viru. A truck and a gypsy were waiting for us to take us back. I climbed in to the truck first and fell asleep.
I woke up when we reached our base and we all got down. Major was not with us, probably was in the debriefing meeting. We were are looking forward to get a hot shower, a heavy breakfast and then some sleep. But we were called immediately in to the debriefing room as soon as we disembarked. We walked inside to find the Colonel and some other staff waiting for us. We all took our seats and waited expectantly. After a few minutes, Colonel asked us about whereabouts of the Major and we stared blankly back at him. Someone from our squad said that he had taken the Gypsy along with Zahid and the bomb.
“What bomb ?”, he asked incredulously ?
We all looked at each other before Jaggi stood up to reply, ” The dirty nuke that we found at the camp, the one major told you about and asked permission to carry back. “
“You found a nuke ?” Colonel looked like he was about a pop a vein . “And who ordered it to carry it back to our territory and where the hell is Major ?”
The atmosphere in the room suddenly got tense from celebratory .
Jaggi explained the whole story as quickly as possible to the debriefing staff who looked at us like we were hostile aliens. After Jaggi finished, Colonel asked when did we last saw Major, Zahid and the dirty bomb ?
I had last seen him as I climbed up in the truck and assumed that he was taking the Gypsy or had climbed in to the truck after me. But rest of the squad said that he had put bomb in Gypsy, tied and blindfolded Zahid on the backside and got in to the driver’s seat asking the driver of vehicle to travel back in the truck.
One of the staff officers present ran outside immediately and came back a few minutes later as we were interrogated further. Apparently the Gypsy never arrived and they couldn’t contact it on radio or trace it anywhere.  Even to a low ranking soldier like me, it was pretty clear that something somewhere was amiss. Our squad volunteered to go out to look for Major but were denied permission and told to keep our mouths shut. We walked out of the room to our barracks, highly confused and tense. There are some other things which happened but nothing what I know much about. My part in the story ends here .

Perhaps if we had kept 1-2 terrorists alive then we had a better chance, but we had only Zahid and no one in our team was ready to trust that feral pig. But he was the only chance that we had and we took it. He was dragged inside the hut and thrown in front of box face down.  It was hard to read his facial expressions at that time but he did stare at the box for some time before looking back at us. Even then I noted that his stare fell back only at the Major, not anyone else.
He walked up to the Zahid, grabbed him by his hair and put his knife on neck of the prisoner.  Then he brought his face close to prisoner’s and growled, “Now you’re going to tell me what’s  in the box  or I will cut your throat just enough to make sure that you bleed to death in a long and agonising way.  Trust me, I’d rather cut you to a million pieces while you’re still alive rather than take you back. Now I’m going to take off this cloth off your face and you are going to tell me what’s inside and you’re going to tell just that. Do you understand me ? “
While the Major was doing this, he had pressed the knife to Zahid’s throat hard enough to draw blood and his eyes were streaming tears probably due to pressure on his head and neck and as well as due to fear.  He just blinked his eyes and gestured towards the knife silently begging the Major to remove it. Bheem advanced and removed the gag from his mouth. Zahid perhaps wanted to get his arms free too but the icy stare from soldiers in his field of view stopped him from asking for it. As the Major left his hair, he let his head fall down on the floor and sobbed. Major yanked his head up again by hair and gave him a loud smack across the face which must have loosened atleast a couple of Zahid’s teeth. He hissed again, ” Are you going to tell me what I want to know or do you want to be cut in to pieces ? “
Zahid had recovered from the smack just enough to moan a vehement no. He tried to sit up and was yanked up by the arms in to a sitting position. He moved his gaze towards the box and said simply, “It’s a bomb”.
Major nodded, walked around to the back of cowering terrorist and asked, ” What kind and why are you carrying it that way?”
“It is not an ordinary bomb. It is what you call a dirty bomb. No nuclear reaction but the fallout caused by spread of radioactive material is enough to contaminate a small town.”
” Where did you get this from and what was your target ?”
“What do you think ? Anywhere in that kafir filled land that we could take it.”
He had just finished uttering these words only to be smacked again across the mouth. His cheek started to swell up and his eyes were streaming copious amount of tears.
Major let him moan and writhe in pain before speaking again, ” Now you are going to answer just what I asked, no attempts at being funny or cryptic. Why did one of your students jumped on it instead of going for a grenade or a gun ?”
Zahid held up his hands in front of his face in anticipation of another blow, ” I don’t know ! May be he wanted to kill you all ? “
Major walked around Zahid and squatted to bring himself on eye level with the terrorist. He stared at him for a while before saying, “If that’s the case, then why shouldn’t I make you open the case right now ?”
To be honest, I was not very comfortable with the idea but if anyone else felt the same way, it was not enough for them to speak up and everyone in the hut remained quiet. Zahid looked past the major at the box and shrugged, ” I could do that but it is just what I told you, nothing more. There will be an explosion of 4-5 kg of RDX, whoever is within 35-40 meters will be dead or severely injured and people within a few hundred meters or may be kilometer will get severe radiation poisoning. No one will die in a second or perhaps even a month even if I throw what’s inside at any of you. This bomb even if it’s rigged with more explosive and exploded in a crowded city street will lead to only a few hundred immediate causalities if extremely lucky. It is all about making a point, not increasing the kill count by thousands or lakhs,”
 At this point, we had no reason to trust Zahid, but it was simply a thing which we couldn’t pass up. Capturing him was our primary mission and if what he was saying was true, that would change the whole equation of Pakistani terrorism. The job of opening it was better done by the experts, not by us. It was the best decision we could make at that point under the circumstances. Some of us had doubts about the whole carrying back the bomb inside Indian territory considering it was part of plan of the terrorist, but some one above me had the to take final call for it and he ordered us to take it back with us. Major went out for few minutes and came back to order that the bomb to be carried back.

For this mission we had to choose a small, mobile yet sufficiently armed group of men. Major wanted only 10 other men to accompany him and each one of them volunteer from our unit. Every hand went up when we were called in to CO’s office and listened of the Major’s plan to go into the Paki territory for some mission. He personally chose each member based upon he soldier’s specialty and his own personal opinion while CO just sat and smoked quietly. After that, the chosen ones were given full mission briefing along with warning of severe consequences if we let one word about the mission out to anyone unless given explicit permission to do so. We had just enough time to get our equipment and weapons and leave as time was short. The men who had been left out gave us curious glances but we just helplessly shrugged our shoulders. We left at 1900 hours jut after sunset on a covered truck and were on our egress point on LoC about one hour later. The truck went back after dropping us . The egress point was chosen due to it’s lack of any enemy post nearby which could spot us. The nearest enemy post which could prove to be a nuisance was about 1 km away hidden behind numerous mountain ridges. Even though, we had butterflies in our stomach as we crossed over to PoK under the cover of darkness. After that, it was a long walk to our destination the while trying to escape being noticed by Pakis when the rain storm caught us.

I was half dozing when I realised that the noise due to rain and had stopped. I woke up with a start and checked my watch. We had stopped for only 20 minutes . Most members of my squad were already up checking and strapping up their gear. Within a few minutes we were all ready to move. Major got us all in a huddle and said, “Our UAV had to go back to the base due to bad weather. Now we’ll be able to get it back on station only after 100-110 minutes. But there is nothing to worry. We are very near our destination. As we had expected, Pakis have withdrawn most of their patrols to their forward posts in order to help with their covering fire. They’ll remain pinned there by our own fire when we give the word.” He grinned, “This is going to be one long crazy night for those basturds. Now lets move. ”

Walking on mountain was even more difficult due to snow banks, mud and wet slippery rocks. It slowed down our progress a little but we were on our checkpoint soon enough. Our first way point was a small Paki army post adjacent to a small goat trail which split in to two going towards their larger camp. According to intelligence, it was lightly guarded and used only by mules and porters as a temporary shelter on their way to LoC. From aerial photographs, it was just 2 tin sheds on a comparatively flat area on a ridge. The camp ground itself was a flat roughly circular area no more than 30 meters in diameter A diversion from the trail divided it in to two parts. One had a small hut made of wood, stone and tin sheets and the other side only had a small tent. That night the camp ground was occupied by Hussain and his bunch of trainee terrorists.

Our UAV had caught the group walking on the trail leading to this camp and they were sure to come this way unless they took to climbing full height of mountains in darkness. Through better part of it’s length it was barely wide enough for a single person to place a single foot. Only the ocassional Paki army patrols and their beloved wild goats ever put their feet on it as the terrain area wasn’t conductive for human habitation. There were dozens of boulders all over the mountains and often it just took a single push to roll them down the steep slope. There was sparse vegetation in form of various small bushes and grasses. Little else grows on such mountains at such altitudes and trees are few and far in between. There were big patches lacking any sort of vegetation mostly due to big bare rocks. Other times it was due to snow and landslides. Parts of the ground were still covered by big and small snow deposits which had not melted by then. This made detailed planning of routes and waypoints very difficult. It’s not always possible to plan a mission like this just by the maps and a lot of work and improvisation is needed for any chance of success.

After one more hour of walking, we checked our bearings on GPS a little more closely. According to maps, we were very near the camp but we had not spotted it yet. No trace of fire or light either. Our sniper team broke away to scout for the camp. Rest of us found a spot to huddle up under cover. I had butterflies in our stomach now that that we were so close. If any one else was feeling the same, he didn’t show it. After a few minutes, which seemed like hours to me, the scouting team came back. They had spotted the camp on a small bump of a hill less than 100 m from our location. It was on an elevated clearing at some height from the trail and thus not visible for most part from the path we took.

After a little talk, we split up in to 3 different teams. The sniper and Carl Gustav guys took a circuitous path around the ridge and took positions at some height from the camp to provide cover and warning of any enemy approah. Rest of us sneaked upwards slowly without making a sound. A strong breeze was blowing which helped cover the sound of our footsteps. Through my nigh vision device, I spied 2 Paki soldiers sitting in front of a sheltered fire-place leaning against wall of hut on left, apparently in deep sleep. The fire itself was long extinguished, most likely due to rain. It takes more than just exhaustion to sleep in that kind of weather and position. Probably army issue liquor or high quality gaanja. They died more or less peacefully in their sleep. We had expected at least 1-2 more soldiers, but a careful reconnaissance showed none outside. By this time, most of the clouds had dissipated and moon was throwing some light on ground every now and then.

Two of our guys slowly crawled forward to take a look inside the hut. There was a small glass window on the side opposite to door on each. Ordinarily it was impossible to see inside a dark room from outside by naked eye, but there are ways. One guy switched on his infra-red light and pointed it through the glass. Figures of 10 men sleeping in 2 rows on the floor were clearly visible in night vision goggles. One wall of the hut was lined with Klashnikov rifles, some heavy looking bags and rucksacks, Presumably the weapons and supplies carried by the group.

There was only one pair of boots outside the only tent in the ground. Our best guess was that it was occupied by our most wanted man Zahid. He was a short, squat man, with a long scar running down his left cheek which parted his long bushy beard. We had seen his ugly mugshot on our units board a hundred times and knew it well. So there was almost nil chance of any mistaken identity.

Our squad divided in two. 2 men took positions on each one of the exits of the camp. 2 men were assigned to cover the tent while rest were assigned to clear the hut. In order to maintain stealth, we had to do everything with as little noise as possible. Contrary to what’s shown in movies, firearms with silencers are not silent. Even the best military grade silencers can’t lower the noise to anything less than 120 decibels. A sound like this in uninhabited mountains echoes and travels a long distance. Our whole plan hinged to being quiet and stealthy. So use of a firearm was a matter of last resort. That left us with knives; silent, efficient and brutal.
But there was one small problem of storming the hut without waking up everyone. Any noise could’ve woken up the terrorists inside and made our job a lot more difficult and probably endanger the mission and our lives. After a few minutes of brainstorming, we eventually agreed on opening the door as quietly as possible and pounce on sleeping terrorists before they knew what hit them.
But we had a stroke of luck when one of the terrorists woke up to take a leak and opened the door for us. He was quickly grabbed, debriefed and dispatched. Inspite of his love for hoors in jannat he blabbered on and begged for mercy before he was silenced. That left 9 sleeping targets for 7 of us. We assigned ourselves our targets and checked our weapons one last time

My team lined up besides the door with knives in hand and pistols within quick reach before entering the hut.

I was second in line to enter the hut and was moving towards my assigned target on the extreme end of hut when he turned and opened his eyes. He probably registered imminent threat to his life quite soon and sat up bolt upright and shouted as I lunged towards him. He jumped up and moved towards where their luggage was instead of the guns which I had expected making me miss him by just centimeters. His shout was enough to awaken some of the sleeping terrorists inside the hut, but not enough to help them survive the murderous assault by my team. All of them were in process of being killed by a broken neck or severed arteries while he was trying to find something in a bunch of heavy looking rucksacks. A lot of us were chosen due to our proficiency for unarmed combat and it paid off. Apart from some muffled thuds and screams, no one outside the huts heard anything.

His decision of not going for guns proved fatal to him and he was killed just a few moments later.

Major had chosen himself and 1 other soldier as the team storming the tent and they went to work at the same time as my team. When we came outside , our hands and uniforms covered with the blood of Paki terrorists, we found Zahid with sitting on his knees in the mud with his hands tied and mouth gagged, staring in absolute disbelief at the Major. There was a hint of recognition in his eyes, or so I thought.

He was kept at gunpoint while we searched the site. We had no real need of carrying any of the terrorists’ weapons back with us. So we just made them unusable by breaking them as quietly as possible. We’d have rolled rest of the supplies down the slope from where most of them would end up in the stream but actions of that terrorist made us search each individual bag. more carefully. There were 2 satellite and 4 mobile phones which sometime prove to be a great source of intelligence and leads. This was entirely what we expected but the thing which captured our interest was a big plastic box inside one of the rucksacks where the last terrorist died.

My best guess was that it was a bomb which he was trying to explode in order to take us all down with him. It was the size of a thick carry on suitcase but heavy. It must have weighed atleast 25- 30 kgs. It had a simple latch system for locking it close.
At that time, we had no way of knowing if it was a bomb or we could safely open it. But last actions of that terrorist made it a very mysterious and potentially vital object which we could not leave without investigating. Carrying the whole thing back with us with all our gear was out of question without making sure and neither one of us felt comfortable enough to try opening the box without any required equipment.

My first posting was in some remote corner of Assam, not far from Guwahati. Till a few years back, the area was hotbed of numerous insurgent groups due to it’s proximity with Bangladesh border. But by the time I was posted there, the terrorist movement had lost most of it’s steam. There were still a few irritants mainly funded by China and Islamists but our good intelligence network and improved relations with Bangladesh ensued that the area was enjoying a period of peace. But we never let our guard down.

Life in an army cantonment where I knew no one except my colleagues wasn’t easy for me at first. I had thought that the time of those soul crushing drills, long marches etc was over with the completion of training. But I was wrong. Drills, albeit of a different variety were still a part and parcel of our daily routine. What was known as long march during our training period was replaced by even longer patrols. We had to wake up early at the crack of dawn and get ready to leave for patrol. Almost every other day the route changed . Maybe it was an attempt by our higher ups to prevent monotony, but I never knew. We were told to keep an eye open for suspicious characters, anything out of ordinary and all that. Nothing ever came up. It was always just a long walk carrying our rifles and a small bag of supplies.

Locals were not exactly hostile but they were not very friendly either. The insurgency which had lasted for decades had left them wary of both the militants as well as security forces. But I thought that confidence building measures initiated by army like the free medical camps and schools had a good effect. At least the kids loved us. Older generation was a little hostile to change but they were gradually coming over their mistrust of the uniform. In any case, army provided them with free medical care, education, relief operations and sometimes even transport without asking for anything in return. It was a better deal for them than militants who had scant regard for the same people for whom they claimed to be fighting for.

Due to peace and lack of any violence we had a fair amount of free time, but the remote place had little to offer in terms of entertainment. We had to endure a 90 minute long bumpy ride in an army truck if we wanted to watch a movie in the nearest town. Even the food was strange and mostly tasteless to my taste buds. Enduring such long ride for these meager rewards wasn’t exactly an appealing idea. I could drink my free time away on the cheap army liquor but I never liked alcohol that much. Only saving grace was the comparatively well stocked library. It wasn’t much but certainly was better than nothing. During my 6 months long stay there I read more books than I had read during my entire student life . I don’t know if it was my performance on field or in library which helped getting my name in list of a few men from my unit shortlisted for special counter insurgency training in Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJW) in Vairengte, Mizoram.

The six week long training that I got there was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. It was much harder, very unconventional and there were many occasions when I thought that I’d flunk it. We were taught to survive on just what jungle had to offer. We ate things and animals which we never even thought could be eaten. Instructors taught us to think, act and attack like guerrilla.

After successfully completing the grueling course, I came back to my unit. A few weeks later, I was posted to J&K as my first posting in an actual active combat zone . The place is a sensitive area due to it’s proximity with Line of Control and Pakistani attempts to push in terrorists. I volunteered and was accepted in to Ghatak Platoon which is tasked with some of the most difficult missions. I had my first taste of combat there and on 3rd week of my posting there. My platoon was credited with killing 4 Paki terrorists in two different operations. It”s usually during summers when the Pakis are most active due to favourable weather and lack of snow blocking their routes. During summer months when snow melts, usually in May till September, the LoC is a virtual war zone due to Pakistani firing in order to provide cover to their terrorists. Most of their attempts are thwarted due to the fence and our vigilance. A small fraction which manage to sneak in are usually hunted down like mad dogs within a few days. But this never stopped Pakis from….well, being Pakis. Over the last few years, number of infiltration attempts had came down as terrorists lost their support even amongst the most rabidly Islamist people in J&K, but apparently Pakis refused to learn. They still manage to get a steady supply of delusional, horny fools who think killing non-muslims or dying in process will get them 72 whores for eternity after death. At first it was surprising to see such people and hear of their ideology but then I realised that it’s the only expected behaviour from a country founded on principles of hatred and exclusivity.

Over the last few years, Pakis have grown more brazen and they think nothing of firing on our posts even when they aren’t providing cover fire to anyone. Their terrorists too have become more desperate as they try sneaking in through more difficult paths as we keep on closing the gaps. It’s an ongoing cat and mouse game with no end in sight till that scourge of violent Islamism is rooted out. Fat chance of that happening though.

Two weeks back, we got reports that Pakis were trying to push in a large group of terrorists numbering up to 10 from infiltration points near our area of operations. We had some intelligence about where they were staying before their infiltration attempt and support by Paki army being extended to them. They even had a SSG major deputed to command and get them safely across LOC. This Major Butt was involved in training as well as helping terrorists sneak in to Indian territory for a number of years. But the terrorist we were most interested in was Zahid Hussain, a highly wanted commander of Pakistani terrorist group, Lashkar-E-Taiba. Earlier he operated as self proclaimed ‘Area Commander’ recruiting young men as terrorists in terrorism affected areas of J&K. He did this by brain washing and often kidnapping vulnerable youth to force them in to joining LeT. He was infamous for his brutality, even for his own cadre who ever crossed his path. He was forced to flee after Indian Army tightened the noose and support for terrorism amongst local population waned. He resumed his ‘work’ in Pak Occupied J&K and Pakistani Punjab and had quickly risen in hierarchy of LeT . He was believed to be one of the strong contenders for the title of chief of the terrorist group once the current one died or removed. He had also made a lot of contacts in Paki polity, Islamic clergy as well as ISI over the last few years. Quite a few of the terrorists in the group were recruited by him during the last 2-3 years. In Pakistan, he operated openly under the patronage of Paki authorities, safely out of our reach.

If we managed to catch or kill Zahid, it’d have been a big victory for us and a major setback to LeT and Pakistan. But it was easier said than done. According to our intelligence, he was part of group only for the ‘moral support’. He himself was supposed to come up only till the LoC to ensure that as many as possible of his trainees could cross the border while he’d go back to indoctrinate some more fools back in his camps. We had no idea about their likely route of infiltration. With most of snow melting away during the last 2-3 weeks, they had a lot of places to sneak in as our fence had been damaged in heavy snowfall and landslides. Repair work was under progress but it was clear that Pakis will try pushing them in to our territory before we could plug all gaps. They had already stepped up their artillery as well as small arms fire to hamper the repair work as well as to create even more gaps in the fence. Our response was limited due to political pressure.
Even if their attempt to cross over didn’t succeed, it was quite likely that the terrorists might retreat and try to sneak in some other day. We had the chance to eliminate the bugger after such a long time and we were not going to let it slip away so easily.

Everything we had on our disposal was dedicated to this task. Frequency and duration of patrols were extended, work on repair of fence was stepped up and all of our intelligence sources put on overdrive. We had access to imagery by a few Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) but the numbers we had were not enough for kind of surveillance we wanted. Tracking a small group of men in heavily forested mountains is no easy task. But we had a stroke of luck in morning when one of our UAVs noticed a group of 5 men walking on a narrow trail leading from a small settlement towards LoC. Just a few hours later another group of 7 Paki terrorists was observed on an adjacent route 3 kms away from first one. According to reports sent in by our HUMINT (Human Intelligence) sources, Zahid was with the second group. Going by our guess, considering the terrain and their speed, they were less than a days walk away from the border.

The likely area for infiltration attempt by both groups happened to be under the grid of our battalion, so it was up to us to prevent it and to eliminate or capture Zahid if possible. One easy option was to wait for them to reach the LoC and then capture or kill them in as they tried to cross over. The problem with this approach was that they could have chosen any of the numerous breaches to cross over and we didn’t have enough manpower to set up ambushes on every breach. But the most important flaw was that we had no way to eliminate or ca[ture Zahid. The closest he’d come was some Paki post out of our sight, perhaps give a small pep talk and then slink away after sending his recruits in to jaws of death. Even if all of them died, it was no skin off his back. There are always more where they come from, each one thirsting to get in to that imaginary whorehouse they call jannat by killing non-muslims.

Second option was suggested by The Major who I suspected had a death wish. His plan was to take some men across the LoC on foot and setup an ambush on a location the terrorist group led by Zahid was sure to cross on their way. That meant we had to watch out for Paki army manning the border as well as their rear echelons which could come to aid of the terrorists. His solution was to keep them pinned down by fire from our side if necessary, as we ambushed the terrorist group. Our CO had to make a choice between the comparatively safer (for us) 1st option and riskier but more rewarding 2nd. He chose 2nd and this is how we found ourselves on a god forsaken mountain in middle of a very rainy night a few km inside enemy territory.