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Lives on the line

For soldiers manning the floodlit fence dividing India from Pakistan, keeping militants at bay calls as much for patience and nerves as arms and ammunition. Snapshots from a day at the Uripura Complex on the Line of Control. Presley Thomas writes.

india Updated: Jul 31, 2010 23:14 IST
Presley Thomas

The guns may have fallen silent after India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire pact in 2003, but that hasn't brought peace to the deep gorges and lofty peaks along the 740-kilometre Line of Control dividing the two countries.

The first outposts in India's continuing war on terror are perched as high as 12,000 feet, manned by soldiers who keep their eyes and guns trained into the miles of loneliness around them, on the lookout for militants from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

A soldier's night vision lens, thermal imager and gun are his sole companions in his vigil to maintain the sanctity of the floodlit fence along this border.

It doesn't matter which side has more ammunition. It matters who has better nerves: mines lie scattered on the ground and bullets whiz in the air, and only someone who is infinitely patient yet alert and nimble lives to see another day.

Lieutenant Nikhil Basnet, 23, who joined the Army Aviation Corps in March 2009, is such a soldier. The young officer, the son of schoolteachers in Imphal, has survived enemy bullets and leapt out of the range of a hand grenade. This is all just another day in the office for him and others who patrol the Line of Control.

"On June 22, late at night, my men reported suspicious movements along the Line," said Basnet, who is recuperating from a bullet injury in his knee at the Northern Command Hospital in Udhampur, 300 km east of the border.

Basnet was injured when he set up an ambush at an area designated as a V-track on Banwant Top. He divided his men into three groups and sent them out to seek the infiltrators.

"Suddenly, three heads popped up out of the thicket in front of me," says Basnet, who shot two of the three militants.

"For a few seconds, no one reacted and we merely stared at each other. I saw one fall down, and I knew my bullets had hit the other terrorist in his hand and stomach."

Basnet was also injured in the exchange. The third terrorist, who was standing farther away, lobbed a hand grenade towards him.

"The grenade fell on me, and I knew I had just seconds to react," said Basnet, who scrambled out of the area just as the grenade exploded, giving him a back full of shrapnel.

That did not deter him from ordering other groups to continue hunting for the remaining militant. And it hasn't reduced Basnet's eagerness to return to his post once he recovers.