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By Syed Nazakat/Rak ki Haveli Post, LoC

In a mud-and-thatch-roof bunker on the mountain, Indian soldiers are getting ready for night patrol. A havildar peers over the sandbags of the machinegun pit. A Pakistani bunker can be seen on a hilltop. A muddy stretch of farmland lies divided into many fields. A few yards away is a Pakistani village where the only concrete building is the mosque. Soldiers at the bunker cannot see beyond the Haji Peer Pass of Pakistan.

It is dark. The unit commander and eight soldiers set out on foot to patrol the border fence. While on patrol don’t talk, don’t use torch, and don’t mess around, he orders. Some soldiers use night-vision goggles, others their bare eyes. Pakistani snipers wearing night-vision glasses can see the glow of a cigarette a mile away. They will watch as you lift the cigarette to your mouth and figure out where your head is. Then you are gone, says the officer.

High on these mountains near the Line of Control in Jammu’s Poonch sector, the Army keeps round-the-clock vigil, braving daily confrontations with infiltrators, and the biting cold at night. A barbed wire fence that snakes through the mountains divides India and Pakistan. At some places, the mountain base belongs to India, with the peak in Pakistan’s control.

The patrol party takes a steep, slippery, narrow path cleared of mines towards the fence. Erected along steep mountainsides, the double-row concertina wire fence, 12ft high and 4-9ft wide, is connected to a network of thermal imaging devices and alarm systems. Sharp-edged metal tape and glass pieces on the ground make infiltration difficult; in some places the fence is electrified.

On the Jammu border, the Army uses dogs, which recognise soldiers and civilians and bark at intruders. No fence in the world can prevent movement unless there is surveillance, says Lt Col A.K. Gopi. The brief to his unit is to be vigilant 24×7.

Forward posts on both sides of the border have names laced with humour and hatred. Indian soldiers at Rak Ki Haveli Post call Pakistan’s post a rat post because, as an officer said, they consider Pakistani soldiers tamed like a rat. Every border sector is divided into grids so that officers can be held accountable for movements in their designated areas. There are four to seven forward posts each with five to eight soldiers every kilometre.

Army sources say infiltration attempts have risen over the past year. An officer says infiltrators were trying to enter in small groups, using GPS, cutters, insulators and folding ladders. A 50m tunnel was found at Chapriyal on the Jammu border. This is a kind of cat-and-mouse fight. The more difficult you make the fence to cross the more new ways they [militants] try to find to sneak in, says a soldier. Besides, the passes and folds in the mountains help the infiltrators.

But senior military officers say the fence has reduced infiltration by 80 per cent. Militants have become so desperate that, despite knowing it is almost impossible to cross the fence, they try it, only to get arrested or killed at the border or somewhere in the state. The average life of a militant once he enters the valley is less than a year, says Lt Col Gopi.

With the fighting between the Pakistan army and the Taliban rages, vigil is the word for the Indian Army. As the patrolling team returns to the bunker, a whistle goes off. It’s the turn of another team of soldiers to go out patrolling.

(2010, THE WEEK)

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