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Music over, guns boom: India and China win a make-believe war
- Hand in Hand: A ringside account
A soldier rappels down from a helicopter on to the roof of a building during the exercise. (PTI)

Yangmei Mountains (East of Kunming), Dec. 25: Martial music bounces off the hills of scanty green and red earth that are being cut to mine stone in this Yunnan outback.

War games here are set to background martial music. The music is inevitably from a brass band — not live — and it blares through big loudspeakers. The same number repeats itself till the generals arrive.

That is how it is here, on Point 2024, the highland on which the “forward observation post”, a tent made of camouflage canvas, is pitched. A banner in white-on-red makes it clear that this is not for a circus. It reads: “The Real Troop Training of China-India Anti-Terrorism Combat in Mountainous Terrain”.

Under it will be seated two lieutenant generals of the Chinese and Indian armies, a total of 12 major generals, a dozen brigadier-equivalents and Kunming’s vice-mayor.

Minutes ago, that audience and mediapersons, some of whom wear battle fatigues themselves, were in the “Joint Command Post”. That was set up by the Indian and Chinese contingents in the military academy in Kunming. The martial music played there, too, till the briefing for the “operation” started.

It helps being in a war game if you are put in the right mood for it. And martial music does the job fine. They played it even on the USS Kitty Hawk during the Malabar war games in the Bay of Bengal this September.

Obviously, every nation finds it difficult to go to war to a background score that plays, say, Buddhist meditative chants… buddham sharanam BOOM! BOOM!

At 0720 hours in the JCP — the Joint Command Post — the joint directing panel and the JCP officers are seated on either side of a sand model depicting the view before Point 2024. The terrorist camp — the target for Exercise Hand in Hand — that is to be obliterated is in a bowl between a chemical factory to the left and a graveyard to the right, an area identified as “the terrain south of Dabanqiao” where Kunming is to get a new aviation hub. Behind it rise four heights of the Yangmei San.

This zone depicts a border area between India and China. The setting is operatic. Back in the JCP, the joint directing panel comprising Chinese Senior Colonel Zhung Leu and Indian Brigadier D.S. Dadwal have instructed their forces to work jointly. The Chinese commander, Major Kan Zhao, and his deputy, India’s Major Abhishek Verma, give briefs on the manoeuvres.

The terrain is at an average altitude of 2,000m (Kunming is at 1,600m). A map of the terrain is Powerpointed to screens in front. The terrorist camps — tents of green — are immediately ahead of Point 2024 which affords a panoramic view of the entire battleground.

The operation plan is drawn up — Company Alpha to comprise two Chinese platoons and one Indian reinforced by a squadron of T96 tanks; Company Bravo, two Indian and one Chinese platoon. Support elements would include two Mi17 helicopters modified for ground attack, three wheeled self-propelled artillery guns (100mm each). The troops are to be deployed in “echelon” formation.

Recce has yielded the following intelligence: there are an estimated 56 terrorists in the camp. The camp has two possible approaches from the north and south and it is spread over at least four tents.

Alpha company will come from the right of Point 2024, north of the target, occupy a position near Point 2019 and barricade the road south-east of Point 2024.

Bravo company is to bring up the left wing, take a position east of Point 2021 and barricade the road north-east from the target to prevent the terrorists from escaping north. The tank elements will support both companies from the two flanks of Point 2024. A helo (helicopter) squadron for air strikes and transportation will be available.

When the war game was drawn up, it was proposed that the Chinese also bring in unmanned aerial vehicles that will photograph the terrain and transmit live images of the battle. For some reason, that plan was abandoned. The attack is to take place at “first light”, as soon as the troops can sight the target.

But it is really taking place in the morning so that the audience does not miss the action. “Op readiness” is reported by 0930 hours, as ordered.

At Point 2024, the chopping of rotor blades signals the arrival of the helicopters. The first one tilts forward, its nose pointing in the direction of the target almost half a kilometre ahead of it, and fires. Red dust kicks up in the line of tracers. The second follows suit.

A T96 tank and an SP (self-propelled) gun have taken position just under the tent, their barrels pointing at the “camp”. Troops are taking position ahead, behind sand berms, the shells will fly over them. For 15 minutes, thick pillars of swirling dust, the firing, whistling and explosions of shells compete with the clicks of cameras. It is so difficult for the untrained eye to follow the line of a shell as it is fired from the tank barrel to its point of impact!

By 0947, the three targets marked “A”, “B” and the core marked “” are destroyed. To the north, terrorists in two rugged white four-wheelers are trying to flee. Bravo company nabs one; the other vanishes northwards.

The scene shifts.

A 10-minute breakneck drive from Point 2024 to the next destination is so bumpy that hard-boiled eggs distributed to journalists in the bus pop out of plastic containers and rock and roll on the floor. There goes the breakfast. Not quite. In a thoughtful gesture for the half-a-dozen Indian journalists, Indian troops have packed puris and suji ka halwa. Starved of home food, it was like manna.

We are now at the “trading post”, which is in reality an abandoned military establishment of the People’s Liberation Army. It is a three-storeyed structure, a banner from roof to floor reads “Jin Yuan Trade building”. The terrorists who have escaped have taken about 10 staffers and traders hostage. The lower barracks to either side of the building have hoardings that read “China Construction Bank”, “Coca Cola” and “Heineken Beer”.

The terrorists in black tights and masks raid the building. Bravo company has chased them here. Their troops in three jeeps are ordered not to fire. The commander gives the order to hold negotiations.

The terrorist leader’s voice shrieks over the loudspeaker in Chinese (interpreted into English). He demands a helicopter within five minutes. The commander agrees — as subterfuge or in order to save lives?

As subterfuge. His RT (radio transmitted) order is played over the loudspeaker. “We will beat them at their own game,” he says. The helicopter, a transport version of the Mi17, hovers above, seven soldiers slither down — four Chinese, three Indians — first on the roof, and then, from the roof, through the windows and balconies. Firefights sound over the loudspeakers. But one hostage has been killed. The terrorists, those that survive, are caught.

Those caught are bundled into jeeps. A Chinese trooper carries an injured civilian on his back to a field ambulance that speeds into the playground.

“Op Hand in Hand” has climaxed. No one fires at the troops. The medals are gifted. The Chinese and the Indian soldiers celebrate after solemn speeches and a media conference. Lt General MaXiao Tian says the drill has had “many touching moments and unforgettable memories”.

It is noon in Kunming — 10am in India — Christmas Day, 2007, when the first India-China war game ends.

More martial music, this time from a Red Army band.

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