My mind wanders to Poonch in the mid 80s . I was the Brigade Major (BM) of this frontline brigade at Poonch. Even two decades back Poonch was considered a very hot and sensitive sector, nearly the only place on the LOC where fire exchanges took place between India and Pakistan. But the scale and pattern of it was so different that, in today’s environment it would be laughable. The established SOP was that when a civilian or Pak solider inadvertently or deliberately ventured close to the perceived LOC, a single warning shot was fired in the general direction of the incident, upon which the intruder generally withdrew post haste. Failing which, a second shot aimed for effect quickly resolved the matter. Whereupon a flowery emergency signal embellished with details of the event dramatically, would be sent by yours truly to the military operations directorate at Army HQ, with information to all intermediaries. The rush of adrenalin and self pride when I signed the special situation report (sitrep) with a flourish is still fresh in my mind. We averaged about two to three such sitreps a quarter.
An incident of that time bears recounting. Once the Pakistani sector commander opposite us, sought an urgent flag meeting to resolve an old water sharing dispute. The meeting was approved, and the date for the meeting was fixed. It was to be a Sub Sector level (Brigade) meeting on Pak side of LOC. The place agreed upon was close to the now famous Chakan di bagh area. In the wee hours of the morning of the appointed date of the meeting it rained heavily. Soon all rivers and nallahas in the region were in spate. On arriving at the Betar Nallah along with my brigade commander en route to the flag meeting which was across the nallah we found the rope bridge which spanned the nallah had been washed away and the water was gushing many feet high. Fording over the nallah bed was well nigh impossible.
My commander was an astute and bold gentleman and opined that not reaching the flag meeting due rain would bestow an unacceptable tactical advantage to Pakistan who would infer that at times of rain Indian forces could not cross the nallah. We then commandeered a ramshackle army bulldozer which was stranded on the home bank. A very reluctant and petrified driver was ordered to cross the raging nallah with me, the commander and an army Jawan perched precariously on the dozer. Water was flowing over the tracks of the dozer as we drifted down stream in a dangerously swaying dozer hanging on to dear life. At one stage the engine spluttered and nearly gave way but mercifully it remained running. At grave risk of being washed away, we finally reached the far bank, where a vehicle sent by the CO was waiting for us. We clambered on to the jeep in relief and sped away to the flag meeting site.
However more excitement was in store for us, as the Darungli Nallah which at normal times was fordable in 4×4 jeep was also in spate, with water level high and the current too fast for fording. The water was only waist deep and we could have crossed over with the help of a rope stretched across. However the flag meeting venue was just a few hundred meters away beyond the next track bend and time was running out due to our Betar Nallah adventure. As per plan we were dressed in our finest olive green uniform, immaculately pressed with brand new shoes smart belts and eppaulets. It was unthinkable to arrive at the flag meeting with a wet and crumpled uniform. That’s when the unmatched initiative and jugaad of the army came to the fore. Without much ado three burly and tall Sikh soldiers scooped us up on their shoulders, and in waist deep water waded across nonchalantly and deposited us across the swirling nallah. Further ahead in a typical example of meticulous contingency planning by the army we saw tucked away and well hidden in a grove two washer men with the coal irons and tables standing by to ensure that a final crease could be put on our uniform. Since we were getting late we rushed towards the flag meeting site on a trot, and on crossing the bend slowed down to a leisurely but smart pace and with a regal bearing and a well intentioned swagger crossed the LOC at the exact appointed time. The Pakistani Brigade Commander received us and on greeting us, asked affably “it has been raining heavily, hope you did not have much trouble coming over?” My commander with a barely discernible twinkle in his eyes looked around and replied, “No none at all whatsoever”!! Lt Gen Sudhir Sharma,PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VSM,(Retd) is the Chairman of MitKat Advisory Services, India’s leading premium risk consultancy.