Reporting The Other Side

With calm on Kashmir frontier, troops have one eye on ‘enemy,’ other on TV

By: Izhar Wani

They are stationed high in the Himalayas to guard against the enemy, but with peace reigning on the Kashmir frontier Indian troops have one eye on Pakistani positions and another on their TVs.

“This is the best company at this isolated place,” said Major Rohit Yadav, pointing to a television set that brings the latest Bollywood movies and music to his 3,350-meter (11,000-foot) high bunker at the Sonapindi post.

India and Pakistan bitterly dispute control over Kashmir, but calm has been the rule on the frontier, known as the Line of Control, since the nuclear powers entered a historic truce in November. “Everyone on the LoC is enjoying the truce. Even the people in those mountains,” Yadav said, gesturing towards the neighbouring summits under Pakistani control.

The more than 500 soldiers posted at Sonapindi in Kashmir’s northern Machil sector had grown used to regular skirmishes with Pakistani forces, who according to New Delhi were trying to push in rebels to join the insurgency against Indian rule. Pakistan denies the charge, although it calls the Kashmir rebellion a legitimate “freedom struggle.”

Yadav’s deputy Captain Sachin, who like many Indians uses only one name, said the truce has allowed troops to move freely, even within sight of Pakistani gunners. “Earlier there used to be heavy exchanges every hour,” Sachin said.

After a day of keeping tabs on the peaceful peaks, soldiers turned to their cassette player to relax to the quick-paced rhythms of Hindi-language pop.

Troops sipped tea as their lay on their beds, their heads resting beneath racy pinups of Bollywood actresses. “Before the ceasefire our fingers used to be on triggers. Now there is no tension. We are enjoying music and television,” said Balram, a soldier.

But Yadav made clear the troops were still on alert, even if they had more time to relax. “There is no tension but our job has hardly changed. Round the clock we are on the lookout for militant infiltrators,” said Yadav, whose men killed six suspected rebels earlier this month after they crossed the LoC.

Indian officials say movement across the frontier has gone down over the past year amid peace moves with Pakistan, but Yadav believed rebels were trying to push in more fighters in the summer when the LoC is not layered with thick snow.

Yadav also expected more infiltration as India nears completion of nearly 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) of fence to keep out rebels.

Pakistan, which like India claims all of Kashmir, has protested but done little to stop the construction of the barrier, which features Israeli-designed ground sensors.

“Militant groups are trying to push in maximum number of their cadres before the fencing gets totally operational,” Yadav said as he peered across the LoC with his binoculars.

Sachin said the ground sensors helped to detect rebels, but that troops only fired on rebels once they were on Indian-administered land so as not to jeopardise the ceasefire. “We engage them only when they are in our territory,” he said.

The frontier truce was one of the most dramatic gestures in a go-slow peace process between Pakistan and India.

Both India and rebel groups say the ceasefire does not affect operations inside Indian Kashmir, where the insurgency has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1989.


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