Surprising civility in parts of deadly Kashmir border
New Delhi academic Happymon Jacob gives a rare insight into tensions on both sides of 'Line of Control', the border between the two parts of Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan
India and Pakistan have fought four wars since 1947, including an initial conflict that started within months of independence. The war continued for over a year before India went to the United Nations for help.
The two armies settled down in their respective positions, which became known as the Line of Control that divides the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two regions, one controlled by India and the other by Pakistan.
Professor Happymon Jacob, who teaches at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, is one of very few academics who have had the opportunity to be embedded with armies on both sides. His latest book ‘The Line of Control’ recounts his travels with the Pakistani army on their side of this troubled boundary line.
Jacob’s journey with Pakistan Army officers within firing-range of the Indian Army gave him a chance to witness the conflict between the two South Asian countries.
He has studied the general animosity between the two nations and written about the lives of soldiers and civilians on the Kashmir border.
Jacob, right, shared the following exclusive excerpt from his book with Asia Times:
“‘That’s your notorious jungle post.’ Brigadier Noor was pointing at an Indian Army post perched on the upper reaches of the Pir Panjal mountain range, not too far from the Indian town of Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
“I peeped out the window of the army jeep in the foothills of the mountain range. ‘Notorious,’ because according to him, the men in the post, hidden away behind the dense foliage, fired at Pakistani soldiers and villages at will, causing death and destruction. ‘Why would they do that?’ I retorted. ‘Marzi hai [because they feel like it],’ Noor responded, adding, ‘It’s a free-for-all on your side, no one cares.’
“Noor was not wrong. On the (Line of Control), troops often fire for the heck of it. On the (international border) outside J&K, they never fire except during wars. What he didn’t say, however, was that both sides do so. The ‘at will’ firing has diverse origins: pure boredom and factors arising out of a military culture of establishing one’s moral ascendancy, among others.
“‘Are you ready for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure? Are you the adventurous type?’ said Noor. A moment ago, he had asked his driver and gunman to sit at the back and gestured me to sit next to him after occupying the driver’s seat himself. Would I have been where I was on that day if I were not adventurous?
“I was being driven along the Pakistani side of the (Line of Control) by the brigade commander, whose men manned the line, fired at the Indians and took cover when the Indians returned fire. The Indian posts were a little more than a kilometer away, from where the Indian Army soldiers would observe enemy movement through the peepholes.
“Perhaps they were looking for a good target and an appropriate time to fire.
“Noor insisted on taking a circuitous route, across inhospitable terrain. The jeep made its way over a pebbled road, raising dust and dry leaves, maneuvering past cattle and potholes. Curious kids who were playing in the mud waved at us, the occasional brave one saluting the men in uniform.
“The faster road to the trading point was right below the Indian posts and was under constant Indian firing. “It will be a pity if you were to be shot by your country’s army,” Noor said half-seriously, explaining why he was taking the longer route instead of the much better paved and shorter route.
“I turned to Noor in the driver’s seat to gauge the seriousness of his statement and thought to myself that ducking ‘friendly fire’ while on ‘enemy territory’ was a sensible suggestion. I promptly agreed, not that I had much of a choice. Besides the famed ‘jungle post’ there were several Indian posts, including KG Top, that could target our vehicle.
“Frankly, I took his words lightly at first, but he seemed serious and recollected how a patrol party was fired at a few days ago and how the village in front of us has been under constant fire. “Let’s hope there will be no firing today.”
“His words weren’t fully reassuring. “This is what life on the line looks like. I thought it was important you got a taste of the tension around here.” ‘What if they [the Indians] fire?’ I was worried. He said his men were alert in the Pakistani posts, which would be noticed by the Indians, and there was therefore a likelihood of calm. It sounded like he was taking a huge chance. ‘But if they fire, we will retaliate’.
“After close to 40 minutes on the worn-out road, and under the constant gaze of the Indian and Pakistani forces, we arrived at the Tatrinote–Chakan Da Bagh trading point. Indian trucks were just about to cross over to ‘our’ side and to offload goods in special compounds earmarked for the purpose.
“The Indian drivers would be allowed to drive their trucks into the compound on the Pakistani side but would not be allowed to leave the compound.
“Noor invited me to join him in the officials’ gallery to watch the gate-opening ceremony. The army men manning the gate on either side stomped the ground in preparation for the opening of the gate. Once the gate was opened, there was a great deal of cordiality: smiles, handshakes and pleasantries. The two army majors acknowledged each other, the quarantine officers shook hands and Trade Facilitation Center (TFC) personnel double-checked the lists of items.
“The officers on the Indian side looked warm and cordial and seemed to be displaying a certain amount of deference. The presence of a senior officer — a brigadier — on ‘our’ side seemed to have made a difference.
“Interestingly, it is part of the protocol that junior officers salute seniors irrespective of which side they belong to, and soldiers from the two sides refer to each other as ‘Your Excellency’.
“In both Ferozepur and Wagah–Attari, the junior officers from one side take permission from seniors on the other side, if senior officers were to be present, to start the parade ceremony.
“I wanted to walk up to the gate — around 20 meters from where we were seated — and say hello to the Indian Army officers (Noor told me that one of the officers on the Indian side was a major). I would have to do it from across the tall iron gate on the Pakistani side.
“I was fascinated by the idea of walking up to the Pakistani gate, get it opened, walk to the middle of the ‘no man’s land’ between the two gates marked by a white line on the ground, request the Indian Army major to walk down to the ‘no man’s land’ for a chit-chat.
“He might come out. I would introduce myself as an Indian academic from New Delhi. What would his response be when I say I am an Indian? Would Noor accompany me? Would the major salute the brigadier? Would the three of us share chai (tea) and pakoras (fried snacks)? What would the conversation be like? What would the major go back and report about seeing an Indian with a Pakistani brigadier on the enemy side of the (Line of Control)? But more importantly, would they then get back to their respective sides and later start firing at each other?
“I decided against making that 20-meter trip. Bit too complicated, I thought to myself.
“This is a classic case of the theater of the absurd. Consider this: the civility and cordiality between the two sides is amazing at the trading point, including how deference is shown to senior officers on the other side. The men who shake hands and call each other ‘Your Excellency’ will shoot to kill if they were a kilometer away. This was a cordon sanitaire, an area where there could be no firing, with firing breaking out all around it.”
– This excerpt from ‘The Line of Control: Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies’ has been reprinted with permission from Penguin Viking.