30 July 2014

We Don’t Seek Benevolence, But Don’t Malign us Either – Part II (Saf Shikan)

By Xeric
Also published @ defence.pk

Saf Shikan
Saf Shikan Post is one of the few posts at Siachen that is inaccessible by animal-transport. Hence, all the dumping of ammunition and food items is done through man-portering. Mostly, because the gradient of the post is untraversable by mules, but primarily because the approach to the post is over looked by the enemy sitting just a few meters away. Saf Shikan is located above 18000 feet AMSL at a gradient of approximately 30 – 40 degrees. An Officer’s 6 x 3 x 4 feet (L x W x H) igloo, men’s shelter made out of discarded jerry-cans and PSP sheets, and a 9 x 6 x 5 feet shell-proof bunker makes up Saf Shikan Post. Not that we couldn’t build more igloos or bunkers there, but then the area (approximately 25 x 10 feet) occupied by these three compartments is all that is livable at that height – a bit further away from these locations and it’s either a sheer fall into the abyss or an Indian sniper’s bullet will get you.

The movement to and from a bunker / igloo to another one is also interesting – a High-Altitude Rope runs along all the three housings which is to be held during ascend or descend even within the post due to the sloping ground. This is Saf Shikan Post which houses Officer (s) and few men for the next two months of their life.

With this short premise, I shall now share an experience which I had while I was there as an Artillery Observer. Saf Shikan is an important post. The why, I would not explain, but as it was important, it couldn’t stay out of communication for long periods – a phenomenon which is common at Siachen due to avalanches and other auxiliary issues that come with High-Altitude camping. Hence, it was decided that the old telecom wire utilized for line-communication would be replaced by a better and more robust cable which can sustain the harsh weather and frequent slides. Resultantly, a five-men-party was tasked with the uphill task (excuse the pun) of laying the cable over a stretch of approximately 35 kilometers.
In the rear areas, where the enemy couldn’t watch, they moved during day, and then during nights as they neared the post. It took them almost a month to reach the base camp from where it would take another week to reach Saf Shikan.

Just to put things in perspective, at Siachen you measure distance in terms of time and not lengths. The air is so thin that you can’t drink water immediately after getting up as you feel short of your breath. Even walking takes great effort; climbing a mountain while carrying weight is altogether a different story. If fired upon, instead of running to take cover, it’s better to stay and duck wherever you are, as you might get lucky and dodge the bullets, but running can cause your brain / lungs to suck upon its own fluids (HACE / HAPE) and cause sudden death.

So, the men would carry a bundle of cable weighing around 25 kilograms* for a couple of kilometers, dump it there and then go back to fetch another one to dump it even further, so on and so forth. After a colossal effort, the cable had now reached the foot of the mountain upon which sat Saf Shikan. Till here, the enemy couldn’t see our movement, but beyond it move had to be carried out on a moon-less night that too during bad weather (fog and blizzard) as the non-availability of moon light and heavy snow fall blinded enemy’s Night Vision Devices (NVDs), who otherwise would pick up our movement and targeted us with small arms and artillery. Already, twice in the previous three weeks our move-parties had been fired upon by the Indians. So we waited.

Then came the night when it snowed like hell and the cable-laying party was told to climb Saf Shikan. As was the norm before any movement to Saf Shikan, all the neighboring posts were made stand-to with weapons hot to counter any engagement by Indians. We too stood alert. I on the other hand sat outside my igloo with my rifle and an NVD looking down struggling to find the approaching men amidst the snow storm. The party gave us a test call from the mountain base and I instructed them to keep on sending their location as they climb. After four hours, I began to see some movement down the slope through the eye-piece of my NVD. The party was just a few hundred meters from us, yet it took them another two hours to reach us as the gradient short of the post was the steepest. While watching those men struggle through the storm and amidst the fear of becoming a sitting duck if the enemy picked their movement, those two hours passed in a blink of an eye.

Then came the feint shouts of “Allah – ho – Akbar… Allah – ho – Akbar” from both sides, as was the norm when a party was about to reach. As I saw the lead-man, I extended my arm out to pull him up. He held my hand, but surprisingly he was so heavy that I almost flung off the post. So I placed my rifle and NVD down and pulled the guy up with my both hands. It took me my entire strength to do so.
“Shabash! Shabash….bus pohanch gaye…pohanch gaye…Zaindabad,” I said as I hugged him and patted his back.
(Well done, well done, you have done it, Zindabad)
He was panting badly.

In return, he whispered something which I couldn’t understand. The blizzard was still strong and everything was hazy. I too was chilled to my bone. So I placed my ears near his lips.
“Mera pait…Sir…mera pait…mera pait Sir,” he whispered again.
(My stomach, Sir, my stomach)
My eyes widened, and as a reflex action my hands went towards his stomach, and all of a sudden I was struck by horror – he had tied the cable to his stomach and the entire weight of its hundreds of meters of length was resting on his stomach!

Approach to Saf Shikan Post is a roped-climb – How can you carry a cable when both your hands are struggling to keep you on your feet?

I then immediately held the cable tied to his stomach to give him some relief, but the counter pull was so great that I slipped off my feet. So I called for help. It took three men to untie the knot and hold the cable. Again, just to put the things in perspective, we tied the cable to the 200 - liter barrel we used to keep topped up with snow to be later used for melting into water, and even that flipped. We then tied the cable to something as strong as the will of the soldier who had carried it.

So people, such are the men we command – dedicated, motivated, self-less and brave. And it’s an honor.

I can just imagine the agony those men and especially that soldier had been through while they carried that cable to Saf Shikan Post through the wilderness of Siachen Glacier. Not because your taxes were short or as the rhetoric goes, the leadership ‘failed’ them, but because it had to be done, and well-done within the allocated time and resources.

The tired and fatigued they were, but they had to travel back to the base camp the same night. I requested the sector commander to let them stay but it was not allowed. Primarily for two reasons; One, Saf Shikan like other posts was already cramped up due to lack of space. Two, God knows when the combination of a moon-less night and bad weather would grace us so that we could have movement again. So the men went back and reached the base after a hike of another four hours.

Still, you know what, they gave much less than what their counterparts are sacrificing today in Operation Zarb-E-Azb. 

* 400 yards of this cable weighs 50 kilograms. Readers can now calculate the number of trips these men would be making to lay the cable.
P.S.
  • Name of the post has been changed and certain details omitted for the obvious reasons.
  • The pulley system previously installed at Saf Shikan didn’t work.
  • Those planning to have a field day about ‘Jernails’ over this piece, should understand that these men came from the same Pakistani lot who have ruined PIA, Pak Rails and Pak Steel, and just yesterday had killed three Ahmadis. Remember, it’s the leadership that makes the difference.
Read Part-1 here.
To Be Continued.

2 March 2014

Gayari (Siachen) Avalanche that buried 150 Pakistan Army Soldiers- 7April 2012

Via Flickr:

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At least 150 soldiers in a military camp were trapped after a massive avalanche hit snow-bound region of Siachen.

According to details the incident occurred in Giari Sector, the mountainous area of Siachen.

By 2 October 2013, Pakistan Army was able to recover 133 bodies, while search for the remaining seven continues.

31 August 2013

2013 Indo-Pak Standoff in the Purview of Indian Strategic Thinking / Regional Designs and Response Options for Pakistan


2013 INDO-PAK STANDOFF IN THE PURVIEW OF INDIAN STRATEGIC THINKING / REGIONAL DESIGNS AND RESPONSE OPTIONS FOR PAKISTAN

By Xeric
1.     General.    India has been aspiring for a global status since its inception. Establishing regional hegemony is hence the first logical step towards this end. The desire is primarily fuelled by a steady growth rate, worthwhile military might and a strong industrial base. Except China, other countries in the region had succumbed to the Indian influence in one way or the other; Pakistan however belongs to a different league. It has resisted all kind of initiatives by India to subdue it in the past and continue to do so. Hence, Pakistan had obviously become India’s centre of attention and is compelled to confront the Indian power projection beyond its borders. The recent tension along the LoC is the latest episode in the series of events. As these incidents are not isolated and have a definite connection with the Indian hegemonic designs, there is a need to study the same so that a coordinated response can be generated.
2.   Aim.    To analyse the current Indo-Pak standoff in the purview of Indian global aspirations and its implications for Pakistan with a view to suggest suitable response options for Pakistan.
3.      Scope.    The paper shall focus on the following:-
a.      Analysing the motives behind Indian strategic thinking and its implications for Pakistan.
           b.       Response options for Pakistan.

Reasons Behind Indian Strategic Thinking
4.         The Indian hegemonic designs in the region are linked with her ambitions to become a global player. These designs could take any shape from subduing its smaller neighbours through economic strangulation to expansion of its military might beyond that required for protecting India from internal/external threats. This intimidating attitude emanates from a specific kind of Indian thinking that prevails among their elite and has been further discussed in the succeeding paras:-
a.     Comprehensive National Power (CNP).  India’s CNP is on a rise and ranks among the top ten countries. Out of the six countries that borders India, five are smaller in size, economy and military strength than India. This coupled with the fact that India has border disputes with China and Pakistan, allows India to exert its influence beyond its borders. Also, the Indian ability to invest in its military might due to its soaring economy have enabled her to farther its hegemonic designs. It is hence out of compulsion that India by virtue of her immense CNP undertakes force/power projection in the region.
b.       Counter Weight Against China.  India has been selected by the West as a counter weight to China. Hence, India is encouraged by the West to project its power potential in the region.
c.       Pak-China Energy Corridor. China is constructing an energy from Gwadar to its Xinjiang through the Karakorams. In order to safeguard the same, China is likely to continue with its show of force in Leh region, hence giving India an excuse to flex its military muscles.
d.      The 'Muslim Bomb' Factor.   The fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power is not taken well by the West. In the garb of our relevance in WoT, the possibility of a western intervention to take over our nuclear weapons has gone remote. However, India comes up as an alternative option to do the dirty work for the West.
e.      Discrediting Pakistan. The Indian ‘Akhund Bharat’ notion has taken a back seat since Pakistan became a nuclear power. Moreover, the outcome of four wars with Pakistan has made it clear to India that Pakistan cannot be turned into an Indian annexe. However, India will not refrain from maligning and discrediting Pakistan in the international community. The stigma of so called cross border terrorism and harbouring ‘terrorists’ who are fond of infiltration into India through the LoC is an exceptional excuse with India to achieve this aim. Hence, incident at the LoC are continue to happen.

5.         Recommendations/Response Options for Pakistan
a.    Pakistan should put its immense human resource to use, primarily by reducing the number of its non-productive cadre. This can be done by improving upon its education sector and expanding the industrial base. By creating congenial environment which will allow Foreign Direct Investment, we can enhance our CNP which in turn will fuel our growth both in economic and military terms.
b.       Pakistan  should  assist China  in  enhancing its  global  outreach. This can be done by allowing China to add Gwadar to its ‘Strand of Pearls’. The suggestion of turning Gwadar into a free port on the lines of Hong Kong by the current government is a correct step which will help us achieving this aim. Moreover, by following this approach we would not be required to bank only upon China as a free port will allow us to act as a global pier for sea trade.
c.     We should provide China will all the assistance in terms of securing and protecting the energy corridor through the Karakorams. Raising of a special force for the protection of the corridor, as suggested by the current government will facilitate the same. Moreover, constituting an independent and efficient authority/body to specifically look after the transit through the corridor should also be looked into so that the trade through the corridor is not hindered due to bureaucratic hurdles.
d.     Perceptions weigh more than reality. Whereas the western powers seem convinced that we have an efficient mechanism in place to ensure security of our strategic assets and prevent them from falling into wrong hands, but the same needs to be projected for the consumption of western public too. Revealing limited details regarding the safeguards we employ for the protection of our nukes can be the first step in this regards. Use of social media in conjunction with electronic media to fight back the misperceptions regarding the safety of our nukes will also pay rich dividends.
e.       Pakistan should endeavour to remain relevant to the global equation. After the pull out of the US troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan is likely to lose its relevance and hence the limited support it gets from the west both in economic and diplomatic terms. The focus will thus shift from terrorism in Afghanistan to ‘terrorism’ in Kashmir and across the LoC. Hence we must remain prepared to respond to any action by India to malign us by orchestrating infiltration attempts at the LoC through a superior external and diplomatic manoeuvre. Since an open confrontation with India is not in our national interest, we need to focus on gathering support from the international community when it comes to resolution of the Kashmir issue especially regarding the status of the freedom fighters who are portrayed as terrorists by India. Moreover, any further blame game by India whereby it accuses Pakistan for stirring up tension on the LoC must be dealt with promptly by arriving at a consensus between the civilian government and the military hierarchy. Piecemeal and conflicting responses where our military, government and media took divergent views of the situation at the LoC needs to be curbed. Making use of the platform of National Security Council in a pragmatic manner can help us in mounting a unified response to India.

5.         Conclusion. With the possibility of India becoming a regional and then a global power well in sight, we are likely to continue to face a hegemonic India in the future too. Even though India will not be able to subdue us militarily, but its efforts to discredit and malign us among the international community will surely gain momentum. Unless our leaders, civil society, military and media develop a national census on how we are to react to the Indian designs, we are likely to be left behind in the region and thus lose our relevance. Hence, we must develop the capability of presenting a unified response to any aggression, be it military or diplomatic, if we want to survive a dominating India. This is only possible if all pillars of the states, military and media inclusive are taken on board.