A WAR AVERTED

After the 1971 War, the border remained tense for quite some time, though a ceasefire was in force. The task of delineating the Line of Control (LC) on the ground, sector wise, by military representatives from both sides, had begun in March 1972. My unit 3 Bihar, was located in Tangdhar and we were part of 104 Brigade. In those days Nagaon and Kaiyan Bowl were part of 104 Brigade located at Tangdhar. Post the war, our Brigade Commander, Brig MML Ghai had claimed that we had captured the Kaiyan bowl. This was not strictly true. Kaiyan was a depression with high hills on all sides. We controlled the entry to it from three directions, but after the war, we found that a Pakistani section of nine men held the depression area. Instead of evicting them, we allowed logistic supplies to go to this section, through a narrow corridor, on humanitarian grounds. Some sort of friendship had developed between the Sikh battalion holding the Kaiyan bowl and the Pakistani section, and we were confident of throwing them out if the need arose. Unknown to us however, the Pakistanis had surreptitiously built up their strength to about a battalio and had dug in defences. Thus, in May 1972, when we attempted to evict what we thought was a section strength of troops, we were confronted with a battalion and suffered heavy casualties.

For the delineation process, led on the Indian side by Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, my CO, Lt Col SS Sahrawat was a member. The LC to be delineated in our brigade sector had been marked jointly by the Commander, Brig Ghai and my previous CO, who had moved out on posting as an instructor to the Defence Services Staff College. In the map, they had shown village Chak Mukam, located near the banks of the Neelam Ganga river as being in Indian controlled territory. This appeared to be doubtful to Col Sahrawat, as the unit was holding the Sari Ridge and Chak Mukam was a good four odd kms away from our nearest post, ‘Amar Singh ki Tekri’. On the other hand, the Pakistani post was just a few hundred meters away, across the Neelam River. Col Sahrawat asserted that we cannot exercise control over Chak Mukam unless we physically occupy it, but Brig Ghai rubbished that logic and stated that the village, being on our side of the river, ought to be under our domination.

To verify the facts, Col Sahrawat had twice sent patrols to the village, but in both cases the patrol had come under effective fire from the Pakistanis and had been forced to withdraw. Around this time, I had returned to my unit after completing the YO’s Course at Belgaum. That night, at 8 pm, I was leafing through a magazine in the officer’s mess shelter at Battalion Headquarters at Nagina post (now called Shararat), when another officer entered. He had fluffy hair and a slim waist line and I thought he was a Captain from a neighbouring battalion, who had perhaps come with a patrol. I wished him and we got on a discussion of the war and how we had captured the Wanjal feature on the night of 15/16 December. Suddenly the stranger asked
me if I had been to village Chak Mukam.

“Oh, a number of times” I boasted. It was a white lie, because I had been there twice only, in December 1971, immediately after the ceasefire, but which young officer does not give in to a bit of bragging, when talking of his war time exploits to his colleagues! At this time a few more officers came in to the shelter and they were all very deferential to the stranger. And then it hit me: the officer whom I had erroneously thought was a young Captain from a neighbouring unit was one other than my Commanding Officer, Col SS Sahrawat!

The Adjutant, Capt AD Singh, then introduced me to the CO. “Sir, he is Subaltern Rajinder Singh—we call him Rajee. He has just returned from the YO’s Course”. “Yes, AD, I have met him,” said the CO. “Fortunately, he knows Chak Mukam quite well. Send him on a Special Mission to the village. We need to know who actually controls that place”. And that is how I found myself next day, leading a patrol of 20 men to Chak Mukam.

The Adjutant briefed me after dinner. It transpired that our earlier two patrols could not succeed because of heavy firing from Lubgrian Post of Pakistan across the Neelam River, just opposite village Chak Mukam. We had laid claims to Chak Mukam in the delineation talks, but the Pakistanis had refuted our claim. “It is possible,” the Adjutant said, “that Pakistan has created a post at Chak Mukam”. I was briefed to move to“Brown Patch”— a post between Ghasla Top and Ring Contour and from there to plan my further move to Chak Mukam. I had spent time at Brown Patch earlier, and had patrolled up to Chak Mukam from there. As we did not set up a post at Chak Mukam, it remained dominated
by the Pakistan post at Lubgrian, from across the river.

I moved with my patrol to Brown Patch the next day. After a day’s rest, I moved to Chak Mukam by night, and reached well before first light. The CO was to move to Thako Cahk in Jammu for delineation talks and I wanted to complete the task well before that time.

We moved silently to Chak Mukam and by 5 am. had surrounded the village. We entered the village at first light and caught everyone by surprise. We took into custody seven men in khaki dress, who were sleeping in a house. Two to three men managed to escape, but we got their weapons. The prisoners were tied up and blindfolded and on questioning, we found that they were from 14 Azad Kashmir Rifles of Pakistan. By 11 am, the villagers were
collected and moved to a mosque at the centre of the village. About half an hour later, I got a call on my radio set.

“One five for Two Alpha, what the f***s you are doing? Where are you?”My CO shouted over the set.
“One five, task given to me accomplished. I have occupied village Chak Mukam, taken seven Pakistani soldiers prisoner and now the villagers have been collected together and I am teaching them the National Anthem”

Another voice now got on to my frequency. “Shut up, you rascal. Stop this nonsense. DO NOT START A NEW WAR ON YOUR OWN. As per message intercepted from across the border, Pakistanis are about to bring down heavy artillery fire on you.”

My CO then got back on line. “One Five for ‘One-O-Four, let me handle this; I will retrieve the situation”.
“One-O-Four for One five, get this rascal out immediately. I want him to be marched up to me”.
“Roger One-O-Four. Hullo, One Five for Two Alpha, leave the place immediately and move to Rakhi”.

I was determined to stay put. “Two Alpha for One Five, local villagers want us to stay put. They are complaining about the Pakistani soldiers and their high handedness. They are…”

The CO cut me short. “One Five for two Alpha, just shut up. Pakistani artillery fire will come down on you in ten minutes. Get out of the place before it begins. Now move”.

I freed the prisoners on my COs instructions and moved to Rakhi post. On arrival, I was told to move to move to Brown Patch. A lot of movement had taken place by this time. My battalion HQ had moved to Left Shoulder, between Ghasla Top and Brown Patch and my company commander, Major CMP Sinha with his company HQ was at Brown Patch. It was now a different kind of a situation — War without firing, as I  later learnt — A real hand to hand war.

When I reported to Brown Patch, Maj. Sinha told me to move to Left Shoulder, where the new GOC, Major General SK Sinha was arriving to personally assess the latest situation around Chak Mukam. I was also told that Pakistan had inducted a large number of additional troops in the Lipa Valley and they were all occupying the lower slopes, probably in wait for launching an attack to recapture the Ghasla Top -Ring Contour ridgeline from us. Maj. Sinha also told me that Brigadier MML Ghai was particularly incensed with me for the whole fiasco.

Next day, exactly at 7.30 am, I met my CO in his office and briefed him on what had happened. I also handed over what all we had collected from the village, which included an urdu magazine and a newspaper published from Muzaffarabad in POK.

“Making the villagers sing the National Anthem has apparently incensed the Pakistanis,” the CO told me. “All radio intercepts indicate an attack building up on us in a day or so. But you do not worry. You have done your job.” The Brigade Commander however, was not so forgiving. He arrived half an hour later and lambasted me on the spot. His harangue came to an end only because the GOC was arriving shortly and he and the CO had to receive him.

At this time my CO, wanting me out, sent me back to Brown Patch. On reaching there, I found that Pakistani soldiers were holding positions some 300-400 meters short of Brown Patch, within the range of our small arms. They were about 400 to 500 men, shoulder to shoulder — I had never seen anything stranger than this in my life. After the Kaiyan Bowl incident, we had orders not to open fire unless approved by the Corps HQ. It was then that a thought struck me.

“Sir,” I said, addressing my company commander, “if we have orders not to open fire, I think, they too have their orders on the same lines”
“So,” said Maj. Sinha.
“Let us physically throw them out”. My exuberance had got the better of me.
“How”? Maj. Sinha had an amused look on his face.
“We will tell them to go back, then physically push them out if they do not listen”. Even to me this, sounded so unmilitary like.Maj. Sinha burst out laughing. “You think we are participating in a wrestling championship here youngster, or facing a fully armed enemy?”

That silenced me. At 11 am, we received a message from the CO, asking Maj Sinha to talk to the Pakistani Commander on the spot and ask him to move back otherwise we would open fire. We collected some 40 men and moved down slope towards the Pakistanis. Negotiations began when we were just 50 meters short of them. Rest of our men were on alert in all our localities.

We kept talking for 15 minutes. The Pakistani officer became abusive and his soldiers started shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. This irked me. I had a stick in my hand. I lifted it and ran towards the Pakistani officer, shouting choicest Punjabi abuses at him. I could hear my
company commander asking me to get back, but I was full of rage. Then a few of my men also followed suit.

Lo and behold! The scene transformed thereafter. The Pakistani soldiers started running back. Seeing this, the company commander ordered all other men from Ring Contour, Brown Patch and Ghasla Top to start physical assault with sticks. And everywhere, the Pakistanis were on the run. Maj. Sinha then apprised the CO about this latest development, who in turn apprised the GOC.

“I want such spirited men in my Division,” was the GOCs response. He then told the CO to stop short of Chak Mukam village. Accordingly, we stopped short by about 200 meters and took up positions. So did the Pakistanis. At places we were just lying five meters away from each other.

Meanwhile, Pakistani opened up another front towards Ghasla Top from their post at Shishaldi feature. GOC at Left Shoulder saw this happening and he asked our Medium Machine Gun to open fire, but in the air. Pakistani soldiers ran away and our men moved down and occupied more advantageous positions. Thus, the game spread to entire Lipa Valley. Everywhere, both sides got into the act of physically grabbing land by positioning men. This wrestling match continued till next 15 days when the LC was finally agreed to on the ground, during a flag meeting at ‘Amar Singh Tekri’. I was present there along with my CO, who was head of our delegation.

AFTER THE 1971 WAR, THE BORDER REMAINED TENSE FOR QUITE SOME TIME, THOUGH A CEASEFIRE WAS IN FORCE. THE TASK OF DELINEATING THE LINE OF CONTROL (LC) ON THE GROUND, SECTOR WISE, BY MILITARY REPRESENTATIVES FROM BOTH SIDES, HAD BEGUN IN MARCH 1972. MY UNIT 3 BIHAR, WAS LOCATED IN TANGDHAR AND WE WERE PART OF 104 BRIGADE. IN THOSE DAYS NAGAON AND KAIYAN BOWL WERE PART OF 104 BRIGADE LOCATED AT TANGDHAR.

Eight months later, in February 1973, while driving from Chowkibal in J&K to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, to attend Captain AD Singh’s marriage, my CO in a happy mood, told me, “Rajee, you know your act of charging the Pakistanis at Brown Patch had averted an Indo-Pak war.”I did not know it then, but the GOC had basically come to assess the ground situation and approve an attack plan to throw out the Pakistanis. A brigade had concentrated for the attack near the Niti Pass, some 10 km behind our road head, but all that changed with my charging the Pakistanis with a stick.

“What made you do that,” my CO asked?
“Sir, irritation at our Commander’s abuses” was my instant response.
“Yea! I thought so,” said the CO.
Oh, to be young and foolhardy. As a 21 year old, caution is not in your USP. And that is what makes us win our wars.

An alumnus of the NDA and the DSSC, Col Rajinder Singh was commissioned in 3 Bihar in June 1971. He is a prolific writer on defence and security matters and has authored two books: “Kashmir: A Different Perspective” and “The ULFA Insurgency in Assam”. He has also coauthored “Victory India” with Col Vinay Dalvi. He can be contacted at rajee749@yahoo.com

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