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Manoj Tandon

Rafale – A soldier’s perspective

Manoj Tandon

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Rafale deal

04:00 hours – Somewhere on India-China Border……Wing Commander W gets a message to scramble; Chinese multi-role attack aircraft were spotted intruding into Indian air-space….

 He immediately takes off with his wingman in his old warhorse Mig 21 knowing fully well that his aircraft with old technology was no match for the latest state of the art Chinese attack planes but then duty is duty and Indian Air Force never waivers when duty calls….

 Soon they had the Chinese formation in their visual range….Wing Commander engages the Chinese plane, due to superior air mobility; soon the Chinese plane is at his 6’O clock. His wingman shouts….Sir, Bandit at 6’O clock….wing commander goes into a sharp G turn….but it’s too late and too little, with missile lock in place the Chinese fighter releases its missile, W goes into a sharp G turn to avoid the missile, his Mig 21 shudders but slowly starts to turn…..W realises in his desperation that this plane has been flying since 1970s (since  40 odd years) and he is up against a plane with the latest technology. But then he is a typical Indian Armed Forces brave soldier…..how can he accept defeat….

 He watches in horror, as the missile comes at his plane with a loud whine….it’s like death approaching…..a loud bang……fragments exploding all around…..and then…..complete silence…..

 48 hours later….a beautiful ceremony, in full Armed Forces tradition, is going on…..W’s body is being cremated with full military honours…

Don’t worry I am not doing storytelling, I am just telling you the future….

While our politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, friends, social media friends (yes, this is a new category in this digital age), family members….are all busy jabbering at/with each other NO ONE and I repeat NO ONE is bothered about the implications of this waste of time.

And why should we, we are sitting in our cosy heated or AC’d drawing rooms, a nice cup of tea in our hands, enjoying the kebabs…..how does it matter if a highly trained, dedicated, committed fighter pilot of Indian Air Force loses his life, his wife becomes a widow, his kids orphans…..

Let me help you smell the salt:

The Current Situation

The Indian Air Force has an effective strength of 31 combat squadrons, although it has 34 combat squadrons in total. These include

  • 11 squadrons of the Su-30MKI
  • 3 each of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 (currently undergoing an upgrade)
  • 6 of the Jaguar (at the initial stage of an upgrade process) and
  • 6 of the MiG-21Bison.
  • In addition, two upgraded MiG-27 squadrons serve with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE).
  • It is believed that 3 squadrons continue to operate older MiG-21s and non-upgraded MiG-27s they are in the process of being phased out.

The Challenge

The IAF desires strength of some 42 combat squadrons by the period 2027-32 in order to meet the contingencies of a two-front war.

Assuming a current practical strength of 31 squadrons, there is an immediate requirement for 11 more to meet its desired force levels by 2027. However, 6 more squadrons of MiG-21Bison and the 2 MiG-27 will be phased out by 2025.

This leaves a short fall of anything between 13 to 17 squadrons out of the total desired number of 42 squadrons….

i.e. IAF will be operating at 30 % less fighting capability then it requires to be an effective fighting force…….and this will happen in less than a decade

Hope I have shaken you up a bit, hope some of you have now realised that we are carrying a time bomb, hope some of you have realised that there is a need for vigorous action rather than debates….

Else, our brave soldiers, our brave military personnel will keep giving their lives, more families will lose their sons, husbands, fathers…..while we while away our time in meaningless discussions…..

Wing Commander W’s wife, grief stricken, is sitting in the lobby of her house, …hoping to somehow trying to normalise life in her home….she switches on the TV…..a debate is going on…..in Lok Sabha

 My deal was better than yours, No No mine is better…..you are corrupt, no no your party is corrupt….

 She changes the channel, a TV anchor is shouting, the panellists are trying to talk over each other…..no you don’t understand….Rafale is this, Rafale is that…..

 She wants to scream…..NONE of you even know what a plane is, what Air Force is, what a fighter plane is, you all know NOTHING but discuss as if you THE expert……

 And worst still you don’t know how it feels to be sitting in a cockpit with a missile tearing down towards your plane, you know you are going to die because of people, we voted for,  were too busy in scoring points with each other……

 She screams, picks up a paper weight lying on the side table and throws it towards the TV screen….the missile hits the target…….again…..

Manoj is the Founder and Managing Partner of TMTC, a Growth Consulting Company and an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and IIM Lucknow

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Manoj Tandon

A visit to LoC -A Seminal Event Part-3

Manoj Tandon

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The Solution

My proposed solution is based on reading about J&K, its history, meeting people there, seeing our

forces in action etc.

Here is the solution (I am trying to keep it as succinct as possible but then I am sure readers will be able to fill in the gap themselves):

The solution to the problem clearly needs to be handled at multiple levels in parallel. They include:

  • On-ground military warfare
  • Information warfare
  • Political and Constitutional Warfare
  • Cultural War
  • Policy Level – Outclassing Pakistan

 

You may have noticed that I have used the word, “warfare”, it is deliberate, when you say War….it brings to the mind images of urgency, do or die, charge/attack etc.

That is the minimal level at which this problem can be solved nothing less will work.

Now, let’s take all the above one by one and understand what they mean:

  1. On-ground military Warfare:
  • The multiplicity of forces like Army, CRPF etc. is not a good idea. Usually it results in turf wars, territory marking, lack of coordination, uncoordinated response etc. This is war, and Army is trained, has the skills, reach (including border areas) and equipment to fight it. Either remove or make all others subordinate to Army command. Preferably remove all other forces, it is very tough to work in a structure which is “force fitted” with each other. Let me give you a simple example why? Did you notice that when CRPF convoy was ambushed in Pulwama, no senior officer went to J&K only our Home Minister went for a few hours, however, the Army Corp Commanders were all there.

 

Why, because they are trained for such situations

  • Stop questioning the Army for everything they do. Yes, we all are humans and there will be times when they will transgress their authority. Treat those incidents as per the Army rules & regulation. Don’t try to make Army a Devil and “poor” citizenry as oppressed. I was there; they are by no stretch of imagination, “oppressed”.
  • If an army officer is court martialled when they do something unbecoming of their position, so should Police, CRPF and all others be. Have you ever heard of a para-military person getting sacked for mistakes?
  • Equip the army with the best of equipment required in a zone where low intensity war is being fought such as Drones, real time satellite feeds, high resolution cameras, night vision equipment, highest quality sniper rifles and so on

2. Information Warfare:

As I mentioned earlier, with the prevalence of smart phones while mis-information can be spread easily one can use the same tool as the instrument for spreading the information we want people to read. Setup an Information Warfare cell, obtain all the cell numbers in use in J&K and use it to inform the citizens, tell them how India cares for them, tell them how our enemies are using them for their own purposes etc. Use their own thought and community leaders to spread the message of peace and harmony.  

 

Tell the parents of the kids who have been indoctrinated that the only end of such persons is death. On the other hand if they work for the country a good life will become available without shedding an ounce of blood.

 

3.  Political and Constitutional Warfare

For far too long we have debated about Article 370 and 35 A. These articles have to go. I know that many local parties believe and have made statements like if these Articles go, Kashmir’s accession will have to be re-discussed.

 

Here is what will happen (it has happened the same way in every part of the world); for some time there will be massive created disturbances. Deal with it by using Military forces (augment them, if necessary).

 

The overall goal should be clear; J&K is a part of India and if anyone comes in the way, he will be treated like a person committing sedition.

 

Slowly, things will settle down. Along with eliminating these articles announce massive tax relief to businesses who invest in J&K (things like 10 year tax holiday etc.). Make it so lucrative that it becomes worth the risk

 

Till such time, as necessary, keep heavy military presence so that no one can disturb and act as an impediment for things to happen there.

 

Allow Indians all over the country to buy properties, open businesses, set-up other units in the state.

 

It will start only as a trickle but as people see it happening more and more will join in and the local youths will start getting gainful employment (it’s a known human tendency that if one can get a good life without holding a gun, no one would want to risk their lives).

 

Over a decade or so, even if 20 % more J&K youths get decent jobs, others will start falling in line and will automatically start getting de-alienated from terror outfits and hate mongers.

 

Of course, for all this constant vigilance of top class and well equipped fighting force will be required so that the engine starts moving like a well-oiled machine. Once the critical mass is reached and crossed, things will automatically start falling in place.

4. Cultural War

An average Kashmiri still does feel not completely amalgamated in India. There is a kind of a glass wall in between. All this needs to change with some vigorous action. A kid growing up in J&K should feel, learn and be exposed to the same things as a kid in UP, Punjab, Tamil Nadu etc.

 

Force the closure of all religious fronted schools meant for indoctrination of young kids. It is against our constitution.

 

Reserve seats for Indians from other parts of India to study in J&K tertiary educational institutions.

 

Essentially do any and everything to expose J&K residents to Indians from other parts of India and vice-versa.

 

This, in addition to people buying property, setting up businesses, providing employment for local youth and then mixing with each other will go a very long way in removing doubts, developing an emotional bond and creating a feeling of oneness.

5. Policy Level – Outclassing Pakistan

Let’s face it; Pakistan is a failed state economically. It spends money on its defense beyond normal affordable limits (18 % of its GDP) end essentially lives off the dole it receives from donor countries.

 

India, on the other hand, is a thriving, growing, democracy.

 

So, how does that help?

 

We need to use our economic muscle to outspend and outclass, out class Pakistan so that at best it becomes a minor irritant neighbor.

 

We should raise the defense budget to a level where we have state of the art technology, equipment, BVR and other such war preparedness that Pakistan becomes irrelevant to India.

 

Cold war ended the same way and this is our cold war.

 

Just outclass Pakistan in every way possible, stop trade with them, wherever it works push Pakistan’s economy in a corner.

 

Eventually, they will capitulate. This is, of course, not a short term strategy, but the way things are going, it will become very effective within 1 or at most 2 decades.

 

Series Conclusion

First of all, let me offer you something, I will give you a monthly compensation of INR 5 Lacs per month but with only one condition you can be killed anytime, will you take it?

 

I asked this question to around 100 of my friends and all declined.

 

A soldier gets far far less than this and he still goes and fights

 

Why?

 

It is not the money, facilities or for the canteen.

 

It is for the “Izzat”, “Izzat” of their platoon, company, battalion, brigade, Division, Corp and the nation.

 

Please don’t use and abuse him just to feel good….

 

Gentlemen, there comes a time in every nations life when we have to make a tough choice. We are approaching that.

 

Will our politicians, for vote bank politics, keep sacrificing our country’s’ interests or will they, for once, forget their differences, come together and deliver the hammer blow to all those who want to see our country divided.

 

Because remember, if we don’t stop them in their tracks in J&K, tomorrow they will do the same in Pathankot and day after in Delhi….

 

The CHOICE……is ours.

 

Jai Hind

 

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Manoj Tandon

A visit to LoC -A Seminal Event Part 2

Manoj Tandon

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LoC

The Problem of J&K

As I have mentioned previously, I spent a lot of time meeting the locals, local businessmen, local professionals, soldiers, and ordinary people on the streets to get a sense of the atmosphere and what is going on.

Before I go into my findings, please allow me to give you some insights into J&K, what is terrorism etc. Trust me, you will appreciate the situation much better after gaining this understanding.

The perspective building

Have you even wondered about terrorism, why it happens and what can be done to control and eventually eliminate it from this world? Let’s face it, it helps no one. Even the terror organizations and terrorists don’t gain from it (at least we have not seen any real example of them benefitting from it).

By the way, terrorism is also known as low-intensity conflict.

It is important that we all think about it because for some reason the solution has eluded even the best of people and sometimes an outsider can think of things which a person in the middle of things cannot, and anyway there is no harm in trying…Have you ever wondered why even after being the most powerful country in the world US lost Vietnam, Russia lost Afghanistan, India lost in Sri Lanka, and now US in Afghanistan, Iraq (Post 9/11) etc. in control, Russia with Ukraine, India is trying with Kashmir etc. and everyone is struggling.

Clearly, something is not right in this scenario.

  • Traditional Warfare – A perspective:

The traditional warfare had some clear parameters:

  • The fighting entities were known, definable, and had a form. You knew the enemy, you knew its strength, and it was definable.
  • Both sides knew what they were fighting for, the prize was clear
  • Both sides knew where the other side was fighting-land, sea, air etc.
  • Using which weapons etc.

For the reasons above you could define the objective, work out an appropriate strategy, organize your military, train your men, ensure that support systems are in place and then fight.

From time immemorial, this is how wars were fought; think Alexander and his campaigns, think Ottoman Empire, think Mughals coming to India after defeating Ibrahim Lodhi and so on.

Whether it was the Second World War (Hitler’s desire to dominate the world), or Pakistan attacking India repeatedly to win Kashmir, India attacking East Pakistan to split the country. Wars have always been fought like the above.

  • Why do these new age, low intensity wars happen?

Quite honestly, there are no clear reasons for these new age low intensity wars, let me elaborate on this by giving you some examples and the reasons for these conflicts.

    • Punjab Crisis of the 80’s: It started as a political movement (very dormant though), which turned into a hostile situation after the advent of Bhindranwale and subsequently became very violent. All for the desire of having a separate Sikh country “Khalistan”.
    • Kashmir issue: India divided Pakistan and created Bangladesh. Pakistan wanted revenge. Kashmir was in a dispute but it was a very dormant problem till from 1947 to 1971. Since then Pakistan worked very hard to plan, strategize, and facilitate the creation and nurturing of terrorist organizations to foment trouble in Kashmir. The problem still continues. End objective – break Kashmir away from India (the way India did to Pakistan).
    • Afghanistan War of Russia: Russia decided to prop up the communist regime against growing insurgency. Purpose regional expansion during the cold war era. Result: Lost the low intensity war.
    • Vietnam War: US wanting to prevent the spread of communism. Fought a low intensity conflict with the North Vietnamese forces. Result: Lost the low intensity war.
    • Iraq and Afghanistan War of this century: To retaliate against the World Trade Center bombings, flush out Bin Laden; destroy terrorist organizations in the Middle East and Arab world. Result, billions of dollars in spent, Saddam Husain removed, Bin laden eliminated, no end of terrorism, no clear victory and finally had to withdraw.

What I have given are a few examples but what can be seen clearly is that there is no consistency in the reasons for fighting these LIW (low intensity wars).

  • Unequal “balance” of power but not unequal “ambition” of power

No terrorist organization is as powerful as US, or for that matter India, if you add up all the armaments, technology, men, material etc. but that has not stopped them to dream of ruling Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan or any such territory.

In modern day warfare, a very interesting situation is emerging. The war is between two sides in which one side is clearly stronger in terms of manpower, armaments, experience, technology and resources, however, it is still unable to inflict a crushing defeat on the enemy which is by all conventional counts, much weaker.

The reasons are that the way power, or balance of power is measured is no longer applicable or relevant anymore.

The definition of Power in modern day low intensity conflicts (mostly Anti-Terrorist Warfare) is not just measured by the number of tanks, artillery or for that matter men, it is in fact measured by many other factors including the ability to create surprise, stealth and close range damage to the enemy etc.

This unequal balance of power does not mean that the ambition, desire, goal or objective of the weaker arm is in anyway less than that of the stronger side.

How and why does this happen?

Looking at a very high level, it happens because the contours of war in low intensity conflicts are completely different. For example in Kashmir, the battlefield is the entire state, there is no boundary, there is no differentiation between enemy, civilian and military personnel, a building and people living in Srinagar are as vulnerable as personnel in a military base in Uri. Battle can happen on the boundary, inside the boundary or outside the boundary…

All the strategy, tactics of war, developed over hundreds of years, if I may take the liberty of saying so, have gone for a toss.

Imagine the era when swords gave way to guns or when horses gave way to armored vehicles; it is that level of change plus much more.

And this is precisely the reason why the side which is apparently weaker is not really weak, in fact if one looks carefully and reanalyzes the strength of two sides; one may come up with startling results which easily defy the common intuitive thinking.

This is also the reason why a man on the street wonders quite often that why is it that India and Indian army is not able to solve the Kashmir problem once and for all and is not able to understand the complexities of a low intensity conflict.

All the above enable the terrorist organizations to have huge ambitions. They know that if they play their cards right they can create trouble even against the toughest of opponents.

  • Availability of Technology

Today, technology used in armament is available everywhere. In the past, the two big cold war powers (or power groups) openly supplied arms and ammunition to its “camp” countries. Now, all of that is available to anyone who can pay. Also, even though the cold war got over, the supply chains still exist. Hence even when a country does not want to share its technology, supply chain components (embedded inside) ensure that the technology does become available to all.

Add nuclear technology and the threat from it to the above and you have a potentially very explosive situation.

  • Power Games – Mixing of Religion and Politics

The genesis of most of the low intensity conflict or terror wars lies in some people’s lust and hunger for power.

To give credibility to their malicious intent, the whole thing gets cloaked in the wrapper of religion.

Let’s look at some examples; Pakistan wanted Kashmir, it tried to win via conventional war in 1948. They won it partially but could not do so completely. Instead they learnt the “art” of terror and used this knowledge and experience to brilliantly learn how to create an atmosphere of terror and unrest in Kashmir.

  • It has tacit or open support of ordinary civilian population.

You can analyze, study any such conflict, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Punjab and so on, you will notice that at least some percentage of local civilian population believed or believes or was convinced into believing the “cause” of the militants.

  • Corruption

According to some reports, here are some of the things in relation to J&K:

  • Jammu and Kashmir has received around 10 per cent of all Central grants despite having only 1 per cent of the country’s population.
  • A Kashmiri gets eight times more money from the Indian Government when compared with citizens from other states of India.

Now, what do the above figures tell you? If someone took such good care of you would you revolt against it? Or is it that many of the above figures are only paper figures in the sense that all this money doesn’t reach the people they are intended for.

Clearly, the question therefore is, where is the money going?

  • Media and Human Right Activists

What do you think the media should be doing and what do you think it is actually doing?

Many decades back media was meant for news and whatever money it made was nice, today media is an industry to make money; if it also is able to give news in the correct perspective, it is nice.

This is a strong statement not intended for everyone. But there are enough of the wrong kind to do sufficient damage to whatever efforts the govt. is putting in.

Add the so called “human right activists” who believe that terrorist, who disturb peace, have human rights but those who try to stop them have none.

And the recipe for disaster is ready.

Hope you have got the full perspective on the issue by now, so, let’s talk about the situation today…

  • While the Jammu region is pre-dominantly Hindu and hence terrorism is more contained, however the Srinagar region (aka the Valley) has more Muslims (since Hindus have been driven out by terrorists). The Valley is more prone to terror attacks because of support from the locals. In Jammu area, the issue is mainly of cross border terrorist movement. The insurgency is not within the area. In the Valley, however, the problem is external as well as internal. I was told that an average child in the Valley is indoctrinated from the age of 2-3 (whenever he first goes to school). A typical Valley resident is told at least twice in a week by the local expert in Islam that this life is nothing; it is when you die as a jihadi you get to have virgins, alcohol and a great time. By the time the kid grows to be a young man, his indoctrination is complete. He is ready ti give away his life for the future beautiful world waiting for him when he dies as a Jihadi.
  • Does the above sound illogical to your intelligent mind…..it did to mine but the reality on the ground is that many of the people believe it. And 20 % of indoctrinated population is enough to create trouble.
  • Every time our Army tries to take some effective steps, the human right groups intervene. Human Rights applies to both sides equally – it is the right of the residents of the Valley not to be questioned without legal process but then when someone throws stones (paid by Pakistani organizations at the rate of Rs. 500 per day) or storms into Army camps, do Army personnel not have any human rights? Are we saying that one side can throw stones, fire bullets, explode bombs but need to be given human rights but at the same timeour own Army personnel don’t deserve it. A very seriously flawed logic that needs to be re-examined.
  • There are some political parties who consider J&K as their fiefdom; problem is that successive Indian Governments have allowed them to be like that. Their interests lie in fomenting trouble, so that a huge amount of money flows into the state and a large percentage of that flows into their coffers. It is called political corruption. It is nothing new and it happens in every democracy in the world including ours.
  • The biggest problems are Article 370 and Article 35A. These articles have made sure that J&K remain an isolated island state within India. As a result, J&K and its people never got physically, culturally, and mentally integrated with India.
  • Last but not the least, social media, and smart phones. Suddenly, there are very potent tools available to the enemy to spread misinformation and convert every jihadi into a spy on the ground. We noticed that whenever a military convoy passed, pictures were getting taken. I am sure that within hours our enemy knew how many soldiers, how many guns etc. were travelling on the road.

In summary,

  • The Valley is the hotbed of terrorism, Jammu is not. This is because of the local populations support or lack of it
  • Indoctrination starts at a small age. By the time youth is attained, it is complete
  • Smart phones and social media is being used effectively to spread and collect information
  • Political parties are taking advantage of the situation to fill up their coffers
  • Articles 370 and 35 A have given too much to the local J&K bigwigs
  • Human Rights groups do not understand that the human rights apply to both sides, equally.

Additionally our forces are divided between army, CRPF, local Police and many other such organizations. Same problems is with our intelligence agencies

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Manoj Tandon

A visit to LOC – A Seminal Event Part-I

Manoj Tandon

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LoC

PREAMBLE

In every person’s life, there are some events that become seminal or life-changing. Recently I was fortunate enough to experience one of them.

I got a chance to go to Jammu and Kashmir to the Line of Control (LoC).

Now, before I talk about it, let me tell you about why I consider it to be a seminal event.

From the time I was a young boy, I wanted to join Armed Forces, I could not try joining it because like many other parents, my parents did not want to risk their son’s life.  Although who knows – maybe I would not have been selected. It’s not easy.

I fulfilled my dream vicariously, I used to get all the books I could find on war, in the library issued, and used to read them, The books took me to Alexander the Great, battles fought by the Mughals, the British, World War 1, World War 2, Korean and Vietnam Wars, India’s wars of ‘48, ‘62, ‘67, ‘71, ‘84, ‘99 and so on (BTW, in case you are confused about ‘67 and ‘84, I am referring to Nathu La and the occupation of Siachen wherein we hammered the Chinese and Pakistan armies respectively).

As everyone should, I respect what the armed forces do for their countries.

With a view to sharing my experience of going to the LoC, I have written this series of articles.

During this visit, I walked around, I spoke to a man on the street, I met with youngsters, businessmen, soldiers, army leaders and everyone who I thought I would like to hear from you.

It was an eye-opener.

As I said before, I met many average citizens, professionals, soldiers and officers and I asked them the same question – what do YOU think is the solution to the Kashmir problem?

Here are my reasons for asking this question:

  • In my professional career, I have realized that if you ask people anything formally, they will either give you a politically safe answer or will not tell you anything substantive. On the other hand, they are more open when they know that you are asking a genuine question, in a trustworthy manner for a genuine purpose.

 

Secondly, and this is very important:

  • The solution to a majority of the issues and problems are available within. Someone somewhere knows how to solve the problem. One just needs to give them a patient hearing and understand what they are saying. To be honest, people used to think I am a very intelligent consultant, actually I simply used to spend a tremendous amount of time talking to my client’s employees to discuss the problem and its potential solution. More often than not, I found the solution within – no need for big and expensive surveys, data collection, analysis etc.
  • I wanted to find the solution of the J&K problem within J&K and its people. I think I found one, which I will come to in the last part of this article.

I went, I saw and my heart got conquered

Stray dogs (all dogs for that matter) have a habit if they are walking and they come across a smell, sound or anything that is different from what they are used to they go still and start barking.

This dog was barking continuously, the sentry of the post, not realizing that the dog is barking for a reason, was throwing stones at him to quieten him. He finally lost his patience and took the dog inside the hut.  Little knowing that this action would result in him losing his life.

The last obstacle gone, the Indian assault force attacked the Pakistani post and overran it within 30 minutes.

Mission Accomplished.

 Now, for those of you who felt that why Indian forces did this – well, Pakistanis were using that post and route to send terrorists into India. In the last 50 days, 10 of them had tried to cross over. Our valiant and vigilant army men had got them all but then they decided to eliminate the root cause – after all, for how long can we just be “decent” men?

And they did, like true patriotic Indians….and good soldiers.

Shocked? Confused?

Be so, because that’s the reality on the ground in J&K, that’s the life of an army man there. Putting their life on the line every day, hour and minute. Living away from their families, loved ones, and friends. Some of their children are infants, some are in school, and some are in college.

Now think how many times you’ve felt that my child needs guidance, a father’s support and presence. I guess almost daily.

Now

Think, these guys are sitting in a war zone (let’s not get diplomatic or pseudo here, it “IS” a war zone), knowing that their kid needs their father but can’t have him.

Shocked, Confused and a tad bit sad?

Well, you should be. That is the least you can do for our men in the military.

For obvious reasons, I am not going to talk about where I was and who all I met. But, let me tell you what I saw. During the visit, we went to a few frontlines where active/passive engagements happen off and on.

As Day One dawned, our train pulled into the Jammu station. As soon as we got out, there were two big sturdy Army personnel waiting to pick us up. The salute they gave us was something to remember, we didn’t know how to respond except for responding with a Jai Hind.

For the first time in my life, a Jai Hind “felt” like Jai Hind.

After reaching the place where we were staying, what struck me was that amidst all the military and security presence, there was serenity in the Army station. It was the HQ of the unit we were visiting.

On the way, we were passing through a village and an old man who was riding his bike to work got off the cycle and gave a crisp salute. Surprised, I asked my escort who he was. I was told that he was a retired soldier. Such is the discipline and training of our army that even after retiring the pride in being an ex-army person does not go away.

After getting fresh and having breakfast, we started our journey towards the LoC.

After an hour-long drive on roads which were narrow, sharp drops alongside the roads (with no protection if the vehicle went off the road) having non-stop very sharp turns (we needed anti-motion sickness medicine to keep us going, this is when, I have done many holidays up on the hills never needing any medicine). I developed a new respect for army drivers and their control over their vehicles!!

We finally reached the LoC.

We were received by soldiers with a salute, and I responded with a loud Jai Hind (by now I had started to learn…J), the first thing they give you is Lukewarm water to drink; in that cold it felt heavenly.

After a warm cup of tea, we were off and moving.  After walking a bit, we came to an Observation Post near what is called the AIOS (Anti Intruder Obstruction System).

Observation Post is basically a two-level hut kind of a structure. It is manned by 3 soldiers, one on top is the sentry with gun watching for intruders, one resting at the bottom level and one doing housekeeping. The duties rotate every 6 hours.

I was told that once they are posted here, they live like this for 2-3 months.

Imagine a lonely post, in the middle of a jungle, on top of a hill, completely isolated, very cold, devoid of all other life forms, with risk of a terrorist being around trying to sneak into India, fully armed, trained and ready to kill.

Your life is 6 hours of alert sentry duty, then 6 hours of sleep/rest, then six hours for cooking/cleaning/housekeeping…..nothing else…it goes on and on like this ….

And you live like this for 2-3 months non-stop.

Try doing this in the comforts of your home, always concerned that there could be someone lurking outside trained and fitted to kill you if the situation demands – if you can last out a week; please pat yourself on the back.

I can’t do it……respect to the Indian Army men.

I was told that a few months back, the Pakistani army had hit this area with missiles and mortars, but the soldiers fought bravely and pushed them back.

Near the post there is a small temple where the soldiers pray once in a while for the wellbeing of their loved ones, and also before going into an ambush/fight.

By this time, walking up and down on the narrow strips of land on the mountain, I was tired, thirsty and hungry. We had great food waiting for us in the small makeshift army mess. It was announced in typical army way – one of the cooks came to our sitting area, saluted and announced, “Sahab, bhojan prastut hai!”. During lunch, the local commander and his team regaled us with the local stories of various happenings. We also spoke about what the Army is doing, what problems they face and what needs to be done to defeat the menace of terror.

We were shown Pakistani posts across the border, we saw them watching us, we saw how our units watch them (using high-resolution cameras, telescopes and forward observation posts), in addition to seeing the various interesting mapping techniques being used.

You know, it is amazing how your adrenalin level shoots up when you know that you are being watched (and maybe you are in the crosshairs of someone’s gun sight).

We came to know about an Indian sniper, who, using a sniper rifle with an effective sniping range of only 600-700 yards shot and killed a terrorist at a distance of 1,000 yards in a single shot (imagine if he had a modern sniper rifles with a kilometer’s range).

On the second day, we had lunch at a place where a few months back Pakistani’s had fired missiles. Kudos to the Army that within a month they had rebuilt the place and made it functional again.

When on the ground, one realizes how in real life small things can be used as effective deterrents against the enemy, for instance, you recall the example I had given of the stray dog near the Pakistani post….well the Indian army has come up with a unique way of surveillance; they have trained stray dogs to roam around in the potential Terrorist ingress areas.

Army personnel keep an eye on them and wherever they see any odd behaviour of the street dog, they know that there is some intruder there….a simple, innovative and effective technique to prevent unwanted persons to enter our country.

Now, wherever we moved, in the war zone, there was a military vehicle moving in the front and one behind us. I was curious to know why? It turns out that the purpose of the vehicle in the front is to ensure that there are no mines embedded in the road and the one at the back is supposed to be a rear end protection.

Everything has a logic here, things that look simple like stray dogs, vehicle movement pattern… everything is designed to protect human lives.

During the trip we met a young, strapping six-foot tall military doctor. Since he manages the medical help of the entire area, he is called upon to help at many odd hours.

A few days back, there were some casualties in a base post which is just 200 meters from the Pakistani post. He had to walk down a sharp steep hill, at a gradient of almost 70 degree for 1 km at 3 am in the middle of the night in pitch dark to give first aid and then bring the soldier back up the hill before putting them in a chopper for detailed treatment. One soldier died and one they could save.

Such are our brave soldiers who guard our borders day and night.

The living conditions of our Army men are tough; it is cold, rainy, wet, and quite inhuman.

The fact that even with these conditions they are able to maintain a cheerful, optimistic and can-do attitude is a testament to their mental toughness, training and leadership.

I found all of them to be friendly, hospitable and warm-hearted; When I spoke to them about their wives, children or parents I could see that soft look coming in their eyes – a sense of longing, a sense

of sadness that comes when someone misses their loved ones.

They are tough, they are strong, they are up for a fight anytime day or night, they are solid men but then as we all know even the best of men are also humans and like humans, they miss their families and it pains them when a bullet hits them.

Therefore, whenever you hear negative about the army in J&K, please ignore it.

I met them in battle conditions, they are tough, fit, ready for a good fight but very good to talk to and even if one agrees that there have been some acts of transgression, omission and commissions please remember they are constantly in fear of their life.

If they do slip up once in a while, it’s because they are humans.

Try living like them for a month or a week – you will know yourself.

 

 

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