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Peaks and Troughs

Subedar Tahir Jan spent five months on various Indian ridges in Kargil. His last few weeks, till July 6, were at Tiger Hill when he and a few of his colleagues, who survived, abandoned it in the darkness of the night. Here is his eyewitness account:

Peaks and Troughs
I left Gilgit for Kargil in February. The task was specific. We were supposed to build bunkers at the Indian ridges across the LoC. In winter, the Indians usually abandon these posts.

We were given white tents, snow-shielding uniforms and other accessories. It was a huge operation. All the units of the nli were sent to the ridges. In the early days it was a gigantic task—to trek through several feet of snow, climb the ridges and build bunkers.

Till April, nobody from the Indian side detected our presence. There was some air patrolling, but our camouflage was so good that their air-surveillance failed to detect our presence.

And then one day we saw them coming towards us from the plains below. We waited for them to come near us. Then we mowed all of them down. The Kargil war had begun. At that time, our main task was on dumping the ammunition. We paid less attention to food which we later regretted.

We knew those were not our ridges. But we were about to teach India a lesson. Avenging the insult which we had been through at Siachen.

In the beginning, we had the upper hand. What happened there in the next few weeks was horrifying. The Indians went mad. Their guns rained on us. And from below there was this constant stream of men. They climbed the mountains like ants.

The last few days were like mad. I don’t remember having even a few seconds to chat.

Then the situation started changing. We were running out of ammunition. The food too was disappearing fast. There were severe delays in the supplies, which were cut off by the constant barrage of the Bofors.

We were at least 35 km inside India. On the adjoining hills, there were incidents when some of my colleagues threw stones and boulders on the Indians coming from below. They had run out of ammunition.

I still can’t forget several of my colleagues who got injured while fighting the Indians. We knew we could not rescue them or shift them to any hospital. Everything was cut off. We left them there in the night promising to take them home in the morning. But we knew that they wouldn’t be able to survive the night.

The plight of our wounded colleagues strengthened the resolve of those of us at Tiger and nearby ridges who had somehow survived the fighting. We were clear that we were left with no other option but to die.

The gorges and nullahs near us were filled with the stench of death. We didn’t even have time to give our colleagues a proper burial. We would just recite a kalma and bury our dead in the snow. We couldn’t do anything else.

And then came the withdrawal orders. Since we were very deep within India, we received these orders very late. By this time Lalik Jan, who was injured on the Tiger Hill, asked the others to leave. The same happened on other ridges. Col Sher Khan died in an attack on the Indians hiding behind boulders at one of the ridges. He had no other option.

Because he knew that if he didn’t charge at them first, the Indians would attack him at night.

Being a senior soldier, I had to carry out the withdrawal orders. But the young soldiers who had already seen the deaths of many of their colleagues were angry. They kept crying. They didn’t want to leave those ridges. In fact, they were willing to die fighting with stones.

It took me a hard time to convince them, to remind them that they didn’t have enough ammunition.

We left those ridges with a heavy heart. All of us were crying. But the withdrawal wasn’t easy. We were completely cut off from our side. So we left the ridges during the night. And for the next few nights we maintained this routine—travelling only during the night and hiding during the day.

But before climbing down we destroyed the weapons which we knew we couldn’t carry. There was chaos and panic everywhere.

This short journey back to Pakistan, however, was worse than fighting on the ridges. Without food and water, we lost several of our colleagues to the Indian guns. In fact, the ones who managed to reach Pakistan were the luckiest ones."

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