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July 17, 1999
Hello peace, goodbye war
Mahesh Nair in Kargil
On the eve of the deadline day for withdrawal of Pakistani troops, a major at a base camp in the Drass sector showed us a bottle of champagne carefully wrapped and kept in the cupboard.
"Are you going to pop your champagne tomorrow?'' I asked. "Do you seriously think that the Pakis will withdraw by tomorrow?" he retorted, adding, "we will drink champagne the day our boys come down from their battlefield."
Hours later as we struggled into army sleeping bags, there were shots heard in the still night. The wireless crackled and a metallic voice said, "No problem sir. Everything under control. The shots were not enemy fire. Two young, happy and excited boys of the Naga Regiment had fired in the air after a few drinks!"
Friday came and went and the deadline has been pushed to Sunday. Peace is going to take quite sometime to trudge across the border. The only practical way Indian troops can verify that Pakistani troops have actually withdrawn is to physically occupy their positions at the Line of Control. But that is not an easy job in the Muskoh valley, the ranges near Tiger Hill and the Kaksar sector.
The journey upwards in these areas is slow and dangerous. Landmines and booby-traps have been left behind by Pakistani troops. And even today the enemy is spouting fire -- the Sands Hill near Tiger Hill witnessed firing.
Meanwhile, the lull in fighting has triggered off other activities. Army officers are busy drawing a list of their unit men to be recommended for citations. "If we cross the August 15 deadline the poor chaps will get the awards only on January 26 next year," remarked an officer.
The defence ministry is also trying to cash in on the spoils. A group of media men were flown in to see for themselves the dead bodies of Pakistan armymen left in the snowy area near Tiger Hill. A prisoner of war has also been captured.
Overall, peace is coming home. For the second consecutive day Kargil, Drass and Batalik did not experience shelling. On the contrary, in Kargil, near the banks of the Suru river, a couple of hundred meters from where shells used to regularly land, a group of boys were playing football. Two foreign tourists have also landed at Kargil. As one army officer quipped, "thankfully Kargil is not the main headlines now. Politics has taken over."
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