A year after Staff College at Camberley (UK), I got the highly coveted field posting as Brigade Major (BM) of Poonch Brigade. It was even then considered a difficult yet prized initiation to soldiering ; A baptism by fire! Those were the days when the BM was the prima donna of a field formation, lording over his operational empire as the unquestioned principal staff officer. I mention Camberley because by a quirk of fate and coincidence of epic proportions, the Pakistani Staff Officer across the LOC turned out to be my staff college course and syndicate mate; Maj Shafat Shah. (He later also rose to be a Lt General and is currently Pakistan’s Ambassador to Jordan). I came to know of this from the Danish UN Peace Keeping officer, another Camberley graduate, who during those days, along with a small team, used to be stationed in Poonch.

In the early eighties, cease fire violations on the LOC mainly occurred in the Poonch sector but were not so frequent. The firing was normally restricted to single round of rifle or LMG fire from either side. The normal convention on the LOC was to fire a single warning shot towards the offending person who was in the process of violating the mutually perceived LOC. If the warning shot did not deter the intruder, the next shot would be for effect. In the absence of any fence at that time cattle crossing over by mistake or design was the main trigger for the violations.

At that time Flag meetings and interaction at sub sector level was routine. The procedure followed was that the country desirous of initiating the flag meeting would raise a white flag on a post nearest to our post on the LOC. This often was posts near the Betar Nallah where the proverbial eyeball contact was at its closest. The Pakistani ranger or sepoy would than hail the Indian side loudly and convey that a letter was to be delivered and indicate a time and place for the same. I would, on being informed, give the due clearance after consulting the Commander and higher ups. The letter would then be received which in a well laid down and flowery English would seek a Flag meeting to resolve a dispute. (sharing of water along pre partition canals, or lost cattle or complaint of firing and such issues). The Flag meeting once agreed upon would be held under elaborate and pristine tents or a Shamiana (Indian ceremonial tent shelter or awning, commonly used for outdoor parties, marriages, feasts etc) close to the LOC. Both sides bent over backwards to create a positive and dominant impression in trying to win the psychological war. The very newest tents and durrees/carpets with brand new camp furniture would be rolled out. The menu would be elaborate with the best cooks one could muster, would labour over choice dishes and gourmet snacks. The participating officers and jawans of both sides wore their dress number one with shining shoes and gleaming brasso! While the officers engaged in animated discussion and oneupmanship of the agenda items, the jawans of both sides postured and glared at each other in true alpha male style! The minutes of the meeting were exchanged and subsequently ratified by the MO directorate and came back duly signed for exchange at the LOC. A brigade major’s acumen and career often hinged on how well he had managed to push through a favourable draft. I must confess with glee that after one such marathon flag meeting, our UN friend conveyed that the staff officer of Pakistan army was posted out prematurely for signing on and accepting a very unfavourable recording of the minutes of the meeting! The flag meetings always ended with pious assurances of maintenance of tranquility along the LOC by both sides. But come early morning and I would be woken by one of the adjutants’ seeking permission to fire in response to a LOC violation and we would be back to square one!

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