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Hand in hand on Xmas in Kunming

Kunming, Dec. 24: Majors Amit Kanwal and Ye Zhaohui are, as of now, this Christmas Eve, poring over maps to finalise battle plans for tomorrow morning’s raid on a terrorist camp in the mountains that hold this south-east China city in a lap with the Dianchi Lake (see graphic).

They will fight the terrorists in their shelter in the highlands, a peak named Point 2024, and push them back. The terrorists take hostages and the skilled troops they lead will attempt to free them. The terrorists have established base between Indian and Chinese troops on the border.

The only difference is that Kanwal will have Chinese troops under his command, Ye will have Indians under him.

Like plums in a cake, Indian and Chinese troops are embedded in the army units that each of the two company commanders lead in war game “Hand in Hand 2007”. In Kanwal’s company of 90 men is a platoon of 30 Chinese troops from an armoured recce company of the Peoples Liberation Army. In Ye’s, there are 30 soldiers of the 15JAKLI (Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry) of the Indian Army.

Competition has been beaten down, put on the backburner as it were, so that it is all sweetness and light tonight’s Christmas in Kunming.

Exercise Hand in Hand, the first India-China joint war drill that climaxes tomorrow, for which 10 witnesses have been flown down by each government today, has been designed literally for the soldiers of the two forces to work and war together.

They are never pitted on national lines.

It is Charm Offensive versus Charm Offensive.

So it was in the basketball match between Company Alpha (Ye’s) and Company Bravo (Kanwal’s) this evening — three Chinese and two Indians/or three Indians and two Chinese in each team. So it was in the volleyball match yesterday. In the tug of war, too, there were 20 from each company, 10 from each country.

“This is a historic moment. We are witnessing the first ever joint exercise between our two armies,” the leader of the Indian observer group, deputy chief of army staff Lieutenant General Susheel Gupta, told his Chinese counterpart.

“This will enhance our mutual understanding leading to trust,” Lieutenant General Xiong Zuoming, deputy chief of general staff of the PLA, responded.

There is no confirmation yet that Hand-in-Hand will be a regular feature. Lt General Gupta said “hopefully” the Chinese would send a force for a drill in India in 2008 that will be bigger.

Lt General Xiong said at the banquet for the Indian delegation that “in today’s world, there are a lot of factors of uncertainty and instability and due to these our two armed forces have to work together to find a way to deal with these problems”.

“Personally, I am greatly interested in your suggestion,” he said earlier. “Our attitude is very positive and we will have a very serious and careful study of your suggestion and give you our feedback.”

The words from each side were carefully chosen. Each general appeared to be speaking extempore and not from written speeches. It is arguable if they deviated from the script.

The banquet followed meetings the observer groups held in Kunming’s five-star Jin Jiang Hotel on Beijing Street, just above the lobby where crooners sang romantic numbers from Bryan Adams — “…let’s make a year to remember, January to December…” — as families from across the city sat down to dinner.

The Chinese are emphasising that this is a year of firsts — the visit by then Indian Army chief (General J.J. Singh in May), the annual defence security dialogue (in November) and now the first war game.

“China and India are looking after their fences, turning the Himalayas, the highest mountains of earth, into a friendly border,” an editorial in the state-run China Daily newspaper concluded.

The generals noted how the troops had overcome the “barriers of language”. In a spontaneous response, jawans of either side embraced or took one another on their shoulders and cheered during the games of volleyball, basketball and tug of war.

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