A scrawl by a young army officer on the remnant of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fired by Pakistani soldiers on an Indian position captures the mood along the Line of Control (LoC).
“En RPG fired at BT. Why? Inki itni himmat!” it says, with En standing for the word ‘enemy’ and BT for a post called ‘Big Tree’.
Pakistani provocations appear to have compelled India to shed its restraint and pursue a more aggressive approach, evident from the Army lifting a self-imposed restriction on bringing in artillery and commanders on the ground being told to be on the lookout for rogue border action teams (BAT).
Toughening its stance along the troubled border, the Army used 120mm mortars -- held by light artillery regiments -- for the first time in Poonch sector in early September after violations by the Pakistani army peaked in intensity and numbers. HT spotted an artillery battery equipped with these heavy mortars at a post called Forward Defended Locality 490, which was moved closer to the LoC on September 18 as hostilities grew.
“We fired 120mm mortars on two different occasions to good effect,” revealed Brigadier Navdeep Brar, commander of Poonch-based 93 infantry brigade. Battalion/ brigade commanders cannot order 120mm mortar fire and the go-ahead has to come from the Northern Army commander in Udhampur. Pakistan, however, uses the destructive weapon freely.
India’s response to border violations has been forceful and has seemingly compelled Pakistan to tone down its belligerence. Guns have been silent along the LoC since Indian and Pakistani commanders met at Chakan Da Bagh -- a border trading point on Poonch-Rawalakot road -- on September 21 to reduce rising hostilities that had left the ceasefire in tatters.
But there’s always a possibility of BAT raids. Terrorists suspected to be backed by Pakistani special forces form such teams, responsible for Indian soldier Hemraj’s gruesome beheading and the cold-blooded murder of five other soldiers in separate cross-border assaults two years ago.
“I have asked battalion commanders to stay ready for BAT raids. It gives us the opportunity to kill them,” said Lieutenant General RR Nimbhorkar, commander of the Nagrota-based 16 Corps.
HT visited several forward posts and found the LoC to be tense, but quiet. It may appear to be a good starting point for the upcoming dialogue between the two director generals of military operations for which dates are being worked out. But just for how long the fragile will peace hold is a question commanders find difficult to answer.
“No one knows when the guns start booming again. It can happen tonight, it may happen tomorrow. But they will be in for a shock if they go back to their old ways,” said Brigadier HS Sahi, commander, I20 infantry brigade located at Bhimber Gali.
His men defend a 45-km meandering stretch of the LoC and also man positions along the fence behind it, the second tier of the Army’s counter-infiltration grid.