Major General (retd) Neeraj Bali is a former infantry officer who served three tenures in Kashmir. He is now the head of an education trust based in Pune.
I SERVED for three years on the Line of Control, between 1982 and 1985, as a post commander. This wasn’t a pleasant business back then, just as it isn’t one today. The Pakistanis would shoot at us and we’d shoot back — there was mostly no clear reason why the firing and mortar shelling began. There used to be these stone walls guarding the walkways around the posts; we’d keep even the peepholes plugged up, in case a bullet came through. Even fetching water from the nearest stream could be dangerous.
There was no insurgency then but the LoC had divided communities and villages in 1971; people would stray across every now and then, and that would start problems. There were cattle-smugglers. Both sides launched spies to conduct reconnaissance.
Life in a bunker there was about as mind-numbing as it gets. All we had were kerosene lamps. As post-commander, I was entitled to a bukhari, a kerosene heater, which made my little dugout quite cosy, but at some risk of being poisoned by carbon monoxide if I left it on all night.
The BBC news used to play on my radio — the same news over and over and over again. I’ve seen people go literally crazy, staring at the same faces for weeks and months on end. I kept myself sane by doing a three-year journalism course, and another three-year course on short-story writing.
I saw the first sign of change in 1985, when a black-and-white television set arrived, which we used to run off batteries. Today, there are generators and even mobile phones at posts. I saw just how important securing the LoC was later in my career, as I battled insurgents in Kashmir. It was clear we couldn’t fix this until we could shut off the flow of terrorists from across the border. The fence was a good step; it was the first time we stopped blaming the Pakistanis, and did something to address the problems.
But there are three problems even the best fence will not solve. First, terrorists cannot work without overground support. Second, we just aren’t investing enough in intelligence and policing. Finally, we need a reorientation of approach.
For the people of Kashmir, the Army, the paramilitaries and the police are the problem today. Their behaviour fuels resentment and anger. We need to train forces to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. As someone who served on ground, I know it can and must be done.