Book Review: The line of control, Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani armies by Happymon Jacob.

Happymon Jacob writes a very engaging book. I purchased this book yesterday evening and could not put it down until I had finished it. I needed about 6 odd hours to finish the book but not once did I feel bored or tired. In fact when I picked up this book I was in the midst of reading two other books, Kamleshwar’s ‘Kitne Pakistan‘ and Zaki Chehab’s ‘Inside Hamas’, but once I started reading this book, I had no desire to go back to these 2 books!

Here are my main takeaways from the book;

1. The book not only deals with the lives/experiences of the officers and jawans living on both sides of the LOC but also provides a glimpse of the lives lived by the civilians inhabiting these areas. The author writes with great empathy and understanding of their day to day trials and tribulations, caught as they are between the high politics of both nations.

2. One important reason why everyone needs to read this book is to understand the importance of terrain with reference to the LC. When the great nationalists come and froth on TV every night arguing as to how we should go around destroying every available bunkers of the Pakistanis (interestingly a few of them are former infantry officers), we need to understand that India does not dominate all heights in all sectors. Further the foliage and elephant grasses create operational problems when one seeks to check infiltration (of course, ably assisted by the Pakistani army). The author also brings out the reasons for many CFVs, which can mostly be characterized as driven by tactical and local factors, though sometimes they may be strategic too.

3. While the chapters and anecdotes about his visits to Pakistan make for an interesting and fun read, and can be categorised as ‘adventure’, but the curious Pakistan watcher in me was left wanting for more. You drink but you are not quenched. Many of the things that Pak army officers say in the book are well known to even cursory Pak watchers. Well if the author is not self censoring himself then reading the book only reinforces my long held view that come what may, Pak army will always continue to see itself as a force whose fundamental interest/job is to challenge India’s rise in every possible way. Of course, their tactics will vary based on situational exigencies. No where did I get any hint of any major rethink by the Pak army about their views on India. “Inshallah we will prevail” continues to remained a belief and dogma. So looks like people like us who have not visited Pakistan have not missed much. After all all you then have to do is to you need read the Hilal every month (Thankfully it is available online for free) and you know all you need to know about the thinking of Pak army.

4. Where I differ with Happymon Sir is what he writes in the last chapter. I understand he comes from a left leaning persuasion but I find his concern about the rise of so called nationalism in India, way of the mark. My humble disagreement with him is that he is conflating xenophobia and religious intolerance with the noble sentiment that is nationalism. A nationalist is one who thinks about his/her nation first. And if you indeed think about the interests of your nation first, you would surely be clinical in analysing what those interests are and how to best achieve them. Borrowing the Kautilyan lexicon, it might involve sam, daam, dand bhed! I would consider myself as a hard nosed nationalist believing in the motto of “India First”, and I can see how the jingoistic stupidity of the so called nationalist media restricts freedom of action for the executive in achieving our national priorities and interests. So I would characterise their use of nationalism for higher TRPs as ‘faux nationalism’ (rather than nationalism) and those championing this faux nationalism as ‘pretender nationalists’ (rather than nationalists)!

All in all an excellent read. It also made me nostalgic about my own trip to LC. It was like re-living those moments again, including the lovely chai and pakoras!

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