Sunday, August 27, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Fire and cover along LoC
From Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

ALONG THE LINE OF CONTROL, Aug 26 — The muzzle flashes and tracers whizzing overhead light up the night as Pakistani machineguns fire from across the Line of Control (LoC). “Keep your heads down. Stay in cover,’’ comes the calm advice of a young Major commanding the outpost, as Indian gunners open up in retaliation.

For the next half an hour or so, there is no let up on either side. Heavy machineguns and automatic grenade launchers on either side of the LoC spit out vengeance.

In pitch darkness, aimed fire is not possible. Weapons have either been zeroed in on bunkers and other targets during the day or gunners try to bear on muzzle flashes. There is no knowing on either side what damage has been inflicted on the other. For an officer directing small arms fire, it is a difficult task to fathom where his bullets or grenades are exactly landing.

Change in the intensity of enemy fire or a specific sound when a bullet strikes an object are the only hints through which some deductions can be made.

This is the order of the day, rather than the night. “Pakistani guns open up religiously every night,” says the Major, commanding a company of an infantry battalion deployed along the LoC. ‘’During the day things are generally quiet unless they detect our movements,” he adds. Another factor for night action is that during the day, posts and bunkers are visible and would attract effective fire. Movements on the forward slopes during daytime can be suicidal. Also, rifles are not used in cross-border firing as they do not have the requisite range and are ineffective against fortified bunkers.

“Heavy machineguns, the 12.7 mm type which were mounted on tanks have been deployed here along with 30 mm automatic grenade launchers — one weapon which scares the daylights out of the Pakis,” he points out.

“A post may not come under direct fire, but this does not mean a cool night,” the officer says. “Another post may be under heavy fire and then requests are radioed in for diverting the enemy fire. Then we also have to open up,” he adds. Heavy firing is also an indication of infiltration bids.

At times, mortars and artillery also come into play, giving the Indian artillery units, deployed in the rear, a chance to display their firepower. The intensity of the Pakistani fire along the LoC can be gauged from the fact that Pakistani forces along the LoC fired about 20 lakh rounds of small arms last year.

The countryside in Indian territory is dotted with lit areas wherever there is habitation, while on the Pakistani side there is darkness even though there are villages and settlements close to the LoC.

Given the terrain and the dense vegetation in this sector, it is easy to see how militants are able to infiltrate easily. Straight ahead from our post is Haji Pir Pass, the site of one of the most decisive battles ever fought by the Indian Army. The pass was returned to Pakistan after the Tashkent agreement, it is now the key point of pushing in militants.

“No movement beyond a few feet can be detected in the dark. Also, the dense vegetation offers a lot of cover, a JCO says. “We can only perceive some movement on account of some sound and if it is at a distance, aimed fire is not possible. There is every chance of an infiltrator getting away,” he adds. Although night vision devices are in use, unmanned sensors for detecting movement are still not available.

Further, the terrain in this sector is not tough to negotiate. Possible approach routes are mined, but mines shift or get upturned during rains. Tracts quite close to the LoC are cultivated.

Manning bunkers made of stones, corrugated tin sheets and mud, the troops have to be on the alert all through the night. The bunkers may offer protection from small arms fire and splinters, but a hit of an artillery shell would be the end of it all. During the day it is observing enemy positions, replenishing arms, weapon cleaning and positioning and administrative work.

The enemy fire is not the only hazard which the troops face. Long treks from base camps, inclement weather and isolation are among other challenges. The routes are arduous and in winters the posts remain snow-bound and cut off for months.

“We have a system of posts, counter infiltration teams and surveillance teams to man the LoC,” a Lieutenant Colonel points out. “Due to heavy responsibility in some sectors, isolated posts, perforce, have to be manned by relatively small number of troops,” he adds. Officers explain that it is these isolated posts which face the threat of surprise attacks by Pakistani forces.

“We are deployed in a unique war-like situation. There is eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation with Pakistani regulars and regular fire from the front and a proxy war in the rear,” a Colonel remarks. “The soldier is at risk while en route to his unit, while with his unit or while proceeding towards home,” he adds.

The view of the volatile situation along the LoC is that both sides are testing each others’ defence preparedness and grit. Resulting in casualties planned or retaliatory, on both sides of the LoC.

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