27 October 2010
Point 711 Border Post
Major Ajay Singh was staring at the written order that he had just received from Army HQ. His orderly Subedar Gurang Thapa stood by. He could read the excitement in the Gorkha's twinkling eyes.
“Where are these journalists right now ?” he asked quietly.
“They are staying at the HQ . They'll be here by tomorrow morning by helicopter if the weather permits. “ Sub Thapa replied eagerly. Sub Thapa was one of the happiest men in the unit right now. Visit of journalists from a national TV channel meant he could be on national TV. His fiancee will be impressed.
“Is old Verma out of his mind ? How are we supposed to help these clowns document the situation at our borders ? We are seriously short of manpower as it is and now we have to play tour guide to these dorks from the TV channel ! “ Ajay muttered in exasperation to himself. Then to Sub Thapa, “Get me Col. Verma. He is not the kind of man given to such frivolities. “
Much to chagrin of Maj Ajay, Col Verma was unmoved by all his protests. TV channel had obtained permission from defence and home ministries for this visit. Defence minister had called Army HQ himself to ensure that full cooperation was extended to the journalists.
“It should be no big deal Ajay. Most of their work is already done in HQ itself. All they need now is to document daily lives of soldiers at the border . Just take them with you on a patrol. Show them the border posts and tell them about your daily lives on the posts on the mountains. You should be happy that you and your men are going to be on national TV. “
“ Being on TV is the last thing on my mind. Conditions are really volatile these days. We are observing a lot of activity on the Paki side. We can't risk ignorant civilians playing tourists on such a minefield. “
Col Verma explained patiently, “It's not a war field yet. You just have to act like yourself and allow these guys to film you in the process. How difficult it could be ? Ministry thinks that we need all the coverage we can get and what better way to get some journos to see what we army guys daily go through protecting country's borders ?
These guys are not completely ignorant. Lead journalist has covered Kargil war from the battlefield itself. I believe that she can handle herself fairly well at peacetime.”
“She was more trouble than anything else then. I don't think that she has improved a bit ”
“You are the one to judge that Major. Col Verma replied sternly. “ We have our orders and we have to follow them to best of our ability. These journalists, one of them a cameraman will be at your post by 5am by chopper. You'll allow them to do their work as explained in written order. Am I clear on this ? “
“Yes Sir. Over and out.”
Maj Ajay disconnected the radio call and walked out of his weather proof shelter. He was in charge of 11 posts spread about on the mountainous terrain, each one manned by 8-12 men. Their main task was to prevent infiltration of Paki terrorists across this difficult terrain.
Each post was constructed within line of sight of at least one other post, sometimes two. But bad weather and almost daily fog during winters nullified any advantage that such arrangement provided. Each post consisted of 1-3 concrete bunker manned by 2 man heavy machine gun teams. Some of the posts had mortars for heavier fire-power and could call for artillery fire from 120 and 155mm guns cleverly hidden a few km behind them. This artillery was useful to suppress the Paki border guards whenever they tried to provide covering fire to the infiltrators. Soldiers usually slept in pre-fabricated igloo like structures constructed of multi-layered fiber-glass and plastic material. This structure provided excellent protection against all kinds of weather.
But first line of defence for these soldiers was the fence on border. The fence itself was an formidable obstacle for any infiltrator. 12 feet high, electrified and covered with motion sensors, heat detectors and cameras with night vision, it was nearly impossible to cross. Number of successful infiltrations had come down drastically wherever the fence was constructed and soldiers were happy for that. Not all of the border was fenced due to the difficult terrain, forests and numerous nullahs and small rivers that abound in mountains. Thus there were some points where there were large gaps from where infiltrators regularly tried to slip in. Soldiers thus had to keep constant watch over such points. Each post sent out 6 men patrol thrice daily to check integrity of the fence and look out for terrorists from Pakistan trying to slip in.
By this time in October, winters usually set in and covered the whole area with snow making infiltration a very difficult affair for Pakis. Most of the infiltration attempts in this area were made just before this time. But winters were unusually mild this year. Only a light snowfall spread over 2 weeks happened and most of the snow melted before it snowed again. The whole area was covered with brown mud instead of white snow which was visible only on the highest rocky tips of the mountains. It made job of the soldiers doubly difficult. Not only there was no snow to slow down the infiltrators, it also made their patrol routes muddy and difficult to travel. Mules which carried most of supplies for these soldiers high up in the mountains often got stuck in the mud increasing their misery.
Pakis on other side of the fence were quite aware of this and were trying to take full advantage of the situation. In spite of the mess their own country was in, they were sparing no effort to push in as many terrorists as possible across the border. According to intelligence reports, there were a minimum of 60 terrorists waiting in various jihadi safe houses across the border, each one guarded by Paki army personnel. More terrorists were streaming in every day from terrorist training camps all around the area. Fence was taking the brunt of their attempts at infiltration and Pakis were trying to create as much gaps as possible by directly shelling and cutting it under the cover of darkness. There were reports of Pakis digging tunnels below the fence and Indians were leaving no stone unturned to counter this. Orders had come in to increase duration and frequency of the patrols. In addition to the usual gear, each patrol now carried a video camera to document all the damage and repair work done on the fence. These extended patrols were taking their toll on Indian soldiers who were short of manpower even during relatively peaceful periods.
All of this was on Maj Ajay's mind as he saw a patrol team from his post come in after repairing yet another breach in the fence a few km away. He shrugged away all thoughts of the impeding visit of the journos as he prepared himself for reporting by the team. Varsha Butt from UNDE TV was not due to land for another 9 hours.