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January 12, 2013

At LoC, we’re like goalkeepers in penalty shootouts, say jawans


Rage, shame and betrayal make for a combustible mix and in Rajouri, just 10 km from LoC, the Indian Army is oscillating between the three. Of these three, rage is the most visible on the faces of soldiers ambling through the crowded streets of this border town. The desecration of their comrades' body has cut deep.

This insult is something that every man in uniform takes as a personal blow. The Army is working overtime to calm down troops thirsting for revenge. "We shall strike but at a time and place of our choosing. Now is not the time," said an angry Capt Martand Singh.

Major Rajdeep Chauhan vented his frustration: "There's constant pressure of being a goalkeeper in a penalty shoot-out. They keep coming at us, sometimes as regulars in Kargil and at others as fidayeen. But our job seems to be to sit tight and follow the rules."

However, cowardly as the mutilations were, the Army is also internally feeling humiliated by how easily the Pakistani forces could come in, kill their men, and exit without loss. In military terms, it's a slap in the face. This shame is perhaps the reason why for days now the Army has been suggesting how this attack was carried out by some specially trained forces of the Pakistani army.

As journalists made a beeline for this dusty town, few among the officers in command missed the fact that it was a defeat and not a victory that got the Army attention from the country. Even as the Army licked its wounded pride, something happened on Thursday that only increased their fury. Two articles appeared in national journals, which appeared to pin the blame for the entire chain of events on the Army itself.

The articles by two Delhi-based journalists known for their access to intelligence agencies seemed to suggest that it was the Indian Army that had precipitated the Pakistani attack because of its disregard for rules that govern the LoC ceasefire.

What has particularly shocked the men in olive is the naming of a junior commander in Uri. Brig GS Rawat has been painted as a "latter day out-of-control Dirty Harry". One of the stories says he is an officer known to be aggressive. It has reference to his past record. "What does that mean? That brigade commander on the LoC should be docile? To name a brigade commander is bizarre; it makes it seem as if he is fighting his private war," said Major AS Tomar, who just finished tenure on the LoC.

Many like Maj Tomar see a subtle government hand in this, designed almost to absolve the government in Delhi or Srinagar of any responsibility for the latest setback to their Pakistan policy. This narrative nudges towards the Uri incident as a latter day mini Kargil that justifiably provoked a Pakistani retaliation.

As you look up from the main bazaar in Rajouri, to the east loom the Pir Panjal range. For many Army men their entire deployments are based on this single task of ensuring that no militant is able to cross them to enter the Valley. And here is what many do not realize.

The Army men deployed here have two tactically different tasks. One is to man the LoC to hold the Indian territory, and the other to detect and kill small groups of militants who infiltrate. So each unit deployed has two very different modes and threats to tackle.

While the debate in Delhi and Islamabad is over ceasefire violations, which generally means firing by small arms, both countries are silent on whether Lashkar terrorists crossing over from POK into India constitutes ceasefire violation. "A raid on a Pakistani post by an Indian Army team is aggression befitting retaliation in kind. But an encounter in which Lashkar terrorists, all Pakistan nationals, kill two Indian soldiers isn't a ceasefire violation?" asked an outraged Capt Rajan Singh.

(Names of officers changed to protect their identities)


Times of India

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