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Navdeep Dahiya


Bhumil Rastogi


Mrityunjay Pandey


Kundan Kumar


Manoj Kajla


Ajay K Raina



A group of soldiers is sitting tight in an ambush on one dark and windy night, somewhere in
the western theatre on Indo-Pak International Border. Past two 72 hours have been quite eventful
for this team of soldiers. Picked up from a peace station that is nowhere near the present theatre of
operations, a body of troops has been inducted straight into the battlefield. Nobody has had enough
time to think or realise as to what has actually been happening. The country, itself, has been taken
by surprise and in the era of snail mails and slow communications, most of the troops are not even
aware as to what has hit them. From a comfortable zone full of security and leisure, they have
landed straightway into a war zone. For many, it is some kind of a dream even though with every
passing moment, buzz of artillery salvos flying overhead is increasingly making the reality dawn on
these soldiers.
This is a group of ten soldiers and they are waiting patiently in an ambush. 48 hours ago,
when the unit of these soldiers had been getting off the train some thirty kilometres to the rear,
unknown to them, at that very moment, intense fighting had broken out on the outskirts of Lahore.
Our troops had moved swiftly and were knocking at the doors of the city that symbolises pride of
Pakistan. As a part follow up operations, this unit is now deployed deep inside the enemy territory,
securing the territory so occupied, through operations like ambushes and patrolling.
The age and service profile of this group is pretty varied. Their leader is an experienced man
who, though not battle hardened, has been an instructor in combat tactics. He is a cool and
composed man and he is here with his small team with one mission, i.e., to intercept any enemy
troops that may attempt to break into the softer elements of own forces. The youngest member,
however, is a novice who is yet to grow full beard. Fresh from basic training, he is raw and certainly
jittery. Between these two levels of maturity, lies the maturity profile of the group as a whole.
Having lost the prized territory, enemy is in full fury. Artillery and aircraft have been
bombarding own troops throughout the day and the previous night. Similar actions are on even at
this moment. The team is deployed spread over 100 odd metres as per lay of the ground and is split
into five teams of two men each. They have no electronic means of communications and strong
winds, coupled with ever increasing battle noises, have made it virtually impossible for the team
members to communicate with each other. Darkness, of course, has ruled out any visual
communication too. Use of lights is too tricky a mean to be resorted to in such a scenario. As a part
of the drill under such circumstances, a thin rope connects all five pairs in an omnibus circuit.
As part of pre-operation briefing a few hours ago, it has been made clear to every member
of the team that they will signal arrival of the enemy troops by tugging on the rope. They are
deployed linearly and a combination of two tugs at a time would mean enemys approach from their
left and that of three tugs will indicate enemy on to their right with various variations. The terrain
behind their team is such that no enemy would be expected to appear from that direction. The main
weapons of the team, therefore, are deployed towards the middle of the team and it is where the
team leader is also located. The aim is pretty clear and that is to let the enemy troops walk into the
killing area and then hit them with maximum firepower. In an eventuality wherein enemy troops are
seen out-skirting own position, the buddy pair that is located nearest to such a point of diversion,
will open fire. The team leader had rightfully anticipated the situation wherein the nonverbal
communication through a thin rope will not be able to do anything beyond alerting the team and in
a best case scenario, indicate direction of approach of enemy. The team leader, however, has a short
range radio set and with that piece of equipment, he is in touch with own base that is located a few
kilometres to the rear.

It is past two now; that time of the night when sleep challenges everyone. There has been
no change in enemys stance. He appears desperate and frustrated. Intensity of fire has increased
manifolds and firing of small arms is drawing closer and closer. Sleep or no sleep, nerves are now
getting delicate with every passing moment. The team leader is anticipating some trouble that
generally comes in such situations where action is quite expected and eagerly awaited but it flirts
with you rather than indulging with you. Panic, riding on anxiety, is likely to creep in under such
circumstances. And that is what the team leader is apprehensive about.
0215h: Two tugs on the rope, repeated only once, indicate appearance of enemy on to
teams left but still some distance away. Everyone is now alert. Fingers have moved to the triggers
and barrels are now pointing at the pre-selected landmarks that can be seen under all conditions of
visibility. By doing that, weapons stand automatically aligned to the killing ground that, per se, is not
clearly visible at the moment. A sortie of fighters flies overhead and heavy small arms noises break
out in distance. Stage is now set for the rendezvous that comes in the life of a soldier only once or
twice and about which every man in uniform dreams of.
0217h: A communication is received on the radio set held with the team leader. He is not
able to hear it clear because of on-going ruckus but once he is sure about the message, his heartbeat
increases. For the first time in years, he is feeling the reckless speed at which certain nerves in a
human body tend to wobble. The message from the base indicates that another team from a
neighbouring unit had lost its way and may be headed in the direction where this team is deployed.
It translates into an ugly situation wherein the troops, heading towards the killing ground, are as
likely to be friendly as they are likely to be foe. With the state of internal communications and the
fact that even if the troops walking into the ambush may be friendly, any unwarranted action at this
point is sure to extract a violent response from other side, thus, causing fratricide, team leader is in a
dilemma. Chances of fratricide by either side, in case they are own forces, are equal and 50% in the
best case. Chances of buying causalities while attempting to establish identity of the incoming group
were also as high. Needless to say that actual identity of the other group notwithstanding, even their
fingers would also be on the triggers of their weapons. This is, what they call, a Catch 22 situation.
0219h: Two tugs on the rope, but repeated numerous times, indicate presence of enemy
within less than 50 metres. There is no cushion left now. A decision, good, bad or ugly, has to be
taken immediately. And the experienced soldier does take a decision at this moment. He has
decided to hold the fire and not to open shooting before the incoming team is positively identified as
foe. He would first do, what is called, Identification of Friend-Foe Drill. Such a decision can turn out
to be a great one or pure disaster and that only time can tell. As of now, the insurmountable
problem is as to how he communicates it to the other members of the team. He is in the rough
centre of his team. If he sends his buddy to tell other team members to hold their fire, chances of his
buddy getting killed by enemy troops are as high as those of him getting knocked down by own
0220h: Even though it is pitch dark, team leader can see the silhouette of a man walking
towards killing ground that lay in front of the former. Sounds of footfalls are now clearly audible too.
This also means that leading men of the incoming team have already crossed the point where first
buddy pair of own team is deployed. In other words, time is now ripe for a meaningful kill. In army
parlance, as shown in the movies originating the world over, FIRE means an executive order to
open fire. In our country, Hindi is the prime language used between leaders and men while training
for such eventualities. It is all racing in team leaders mind. They say, all your years of experience and
training come back flashing under such circumstances. The first man of the incoming team is now
directly in front of him, separated by a distance less than 25 metres and a tree trunk behind which
the team leader has deployed himself. And suddenly, the team leader shouts, Mat Karna Fire; Apne

ho Sakte Hain and in the next breath, he throws the challenge to the incoming team as per the
standard identification drill. There are some sudden movements; troops in front dash down and hug
the mother earth as per the training manual. The youngsters sitting in the ambush are stopped at
the last moment by their senior partners and fingers, though on triggers, do not move a whisker.
There is a pin drop silence and suddenly a voice shouts from the opposite direction. It brings in the
first part of the password for that particular night. The team leaders response brings the
complementary part of the password and suddenly, nerves cool down as if someone has just pulled
out the main plug. What follows is a big relief among two teams. And as both teams, now united,
redeploy in ambush once again, the team leader just closes his eyes and thinks what would have
happened had he decided to shoot straightway or worse, had he shouted, Fire Mat Karna; Apne Ho
Sakte Hain.

What, in your view, are the barriers to communication in the giving setting? And why?

Even though it was more of a compulsion, was the system of using a thin rope to
communicate within the team adequate and fool proof? Please elucidate.
What stands out as the quality in the team leader when it comes to communication in this
particular situation? Justification?
What, as per your assessment, could have happened had he actually used, Fire Mat Karna;
Apne Ho Sakte Hain despite all his good intentions? Any guesses and reasoning thereof?

The focus, as per our perception, needs to be laid on the following issues:(a)

Emotional state and related psychological barrier.


Physical barriers.


Sensitivity (of the leader) towards the recipients.


Inadequacy of means of communication or channel barrier.

Alertness (on part of the team leader) while receiving an important message from
the base amidst battle noises and distractions. Any other interpretation could have led to a
Conflicting Messages when we compare clear cut instructions given during the preoperation briefing and the strict order that needs to be issued after a prompt decision has
been taken.
Avoidance of use of long chain of communication by opting to shout rather than
sending a runner to inform everyone, thereby, endangering the safety of the latter.

Innovation to overcome adverse barriers to communication by careful selection of
words and that too under stress of a very high order.
Courage to take a calculated risk since there was a major feedback barrier (there
was no time and no one was expected to respond in any other way except by executing the
order) that would have prevented the acknowledgement of message and its correct receipt.

The hypothetical situation, wherein use of Fire Mat Karna; Apne Ho Sakte Hain is required
to be predicted, needs to be related to routine training vocabulary, and thus, to language barrier. It
would have, therefore, resulted in shooting because troops under pressure and in a near jittery state
of mind would have opened fire on hearing the first word, Fire itself and without leaving any scope
for rest of the sentence to reach anyone due to noise of bullets.

Communication works for those who work at it.