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.