Happymon Jacob was given the unique opportunity to see the border between India and Pakistan from both sides. He travelled with the armies of both countries to study and write about what is effectively ground zero – the location where entrenched animosities as well as sudden surges of comradeship are enacted. The Line of Control between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most fortified places on the planet.
Here are a few incredible learnings from Happymon’s experience at the borderline –
From Studying Conflicts to a Soul-Stirring Experience
“Besides being an intellectual pilgrimage, travelling with the men in uniform along the site of one of the most treacherous theatres of conflict in the world also turned out to be a lesson in humanism, one that touched me deeply and personally. To be able to view the LoC from both sides is what made it riveting. And experiencing the two sides of a live, bloody conflict transforms one’s understanding of conflicts, in an irrecoverable way, even for an academic whose job it was to study conflicts.”
Getting access to sensitive information
“Once you get referred to a senior general by his contemporary, access problems tend to disappear. And if you do your homework well, retired officers will happily engage in hours of conversation. There was also a constant attempt at process tracing or reverse engineering—to use several interviews to trace back to the origins of events, operations and the run-up to them.”
Asking pertinent questions
“The art of interviewing is all about asking the right questions, especially when dealing with retired military officials who were once in the thick of the action. Questions need to get to the heart of the matter but also take into account that one is dealing with individuals who cannot, and will not, tolerate sensitive questions. This careful balancing act is at the root of any great interview.”
Operating around the environment of secrecy
“Government, contrary to what many people assume, is not an omniscient monolith—more often than not one agency/department doesn’t know about the work of others, and they hardly ever talk to each other. Inter-agency coordination, in my experience, is often an exercise in skilfully dodging questions and hiding facts. Each agency/force/department works in its own silo, jealously guarding its interests and domain knowledge, and unwilling to share it with anyone else. “
Stark Contrast in Security Measures
“Having been on a tour of the border areas with the BSF for the past several days, I was taken aback by the visible contrast between the posts on either side of BP No. 1. Border posts tend to have similar appearances, especially in the nearby locations. In J&K, for instance, posts and bunkers are typically well-fortified to withstand bullets and even shells. However, in places like Rajasthan or Gujarat, where no shots are ever fired across the line, posts are often made of ordinary material that would hardly withstand shells fired by the adversary.”
Risks are a Part of your Duty
“The men who serve along the LoC have the luxury of not having to live there for the rest of their lives, unlike the villagers. But they are also, in a sense, the victims of the failures of our political classes. Young men in their early twenties are sent to man the LoC, to kill, be killed and see villagers on either side get killed. For some, it’s just a job; some others feel the pain but are helpless. The LoC, then, marks the collective failure of the Indian and Pakistani nations. It’s tragedy, hubris and hypernationalism all rolled into one, making it one of the most dangerous places on earth.”
This vividly told, fast-paced first-person narrative brings the Line of Control to life.