A journey to the LoC on each side reveals the plight of civilians and why both India and Pakistan are to blame.
If Spy Chronicles, written by two spy chiefs together, that too an Indian and a Pakistani, was improbable, so too is Happymon Jacob’s entry into the sanctum sanctorum (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army or his unprecedented access to the line of control on the other side. No wonder, in his latest book, Line of Control, Jacob calls it “the most gripping and adventurous journey” of his life.
The Line of Control (LoC) is more than a researcher’s dull academic exercise; it is at once moving and sometimes funny with unforgettably colourful characters who light up the narrative. Those of us who have served in Jammu & Kashmir have a fair idea of what is transpiring on our side so it’s hardly surprising that when Lance Naik Hemraj was beheaded, a Cabinet Minister with knowledge of the border remarked that both sides indulged in such activities. But Jacob has an advantage as he could research “ceasefire violations from the other side as well.”
The LoC is an assumed, notional line not demarcated on the ground. “What India means in New Delhi,” says Jacob, “is poles apart from what it is to a person living 100 metres from Pakistan.” The Indian state appears to be present only through the barrel of the gun. Nationalism feels oppressive and compromises patriotism. There are villages that have been cut in half and the LoC runs through some houses.
As Jacob says, for civilians on the LoC, it is like living in front of a firing squad. In a standoff like this, there are no saints. Civilians are the biggest casualty on both sides. There are generations who have lived and died on the border with no other option. They are the sacrificial lambs of our respective national pride and prejudices.
The LoC then is one of the most dangerous places on earth which marks the collective failure of both India and Pakistan. If a Kashmiri is always wary of tension between India and Pakistan how much more deadly is it for those inhabiting either side of the LoC?
Jacob’s visit to Lahore is interesting and there are repeated references to the “midnight calls” and uninvited visitors to the Pearl Continental Hotel where he is put up, pointing at “the dark underbelly of Indo-Pak relations.” Pakistan surveillance has always been aggressive and hence counterproductive as an intelligence tool whereas New Delhi, as Jacob puts it, is “not all that spook friendly.”
Much of the book is classic Jacob territory: Pakistan and Kashmir. He believes that peace between India and Pakistan is in our national interest. Despite being tailed on a daily basis, Lahore signifies everything he loves about Pakistan.
He is at his best while describing the city whose lanes and bylanes remind him of Old Delhi — happening and welcoming. He is welcomed by Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ and treated as a special guest by the military. Somewhere he regrets that alcohol was not easily available in Pakistan but the three nights he spent with Ambassador Aziz Khan in Islamabad would have provided him his fill of nectar apart from all the beer he had with his ‘fauji’ friends.
The affable Aziz Khan, who was posted in Delhi at a crucial time during Gen. Musharraf’s tenure, regrets how he missed the bus on Kashmir. As he puts it, “between India and Pakistan you can never tell what might happen tomorrow… If only the leadership showed more courage.” General Musharraf was by far the most reasonable Pakistani leader on Kashmir in the last 30 years.
Making it happen
Operation All Out will no doubt have its success but as Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway and her predecessor the former Prime Minister Bondevik said during their visits to India, there can be no military solutions to such problems. As Jacob rightly says such chances just don’t come by — if you are determined enough you must make them happen. Pakistan sadly remains in denial about terrorism and cross-border infiltration limiting its repeated references to Kashmir to self-determination which the Kashmiri understands is well beyond his grasp.
Jacob’s connections took him to the LoC and other inaccessible areas including the very ‘top’ in Pakistan — as close as 25 metres from where power flows there.
The GHQ, he says, conveyed a sense of imperiousness and power. The Army, which is ruthlessly professional, has a pride of place in Pakistan. As the first Indian to enter the sanctum sanctorum, including the office of the Chief of General Staff who runs it, this is the ultimate intellectual pilgrimage. If you have been there you have almost seen it all in Pakistan. Jacob’s honest portrayal is a must read for those interested in Kashmir and the India-Pakistan relationship.
The Line of Control: Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies; Happymon Jacob, Penguin/ Viking, ₹499.