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Perhaps the most spectacular instance of reporters getting in one another’s way came with the India-Pakistan war of 1971, which I covered on the Indian side, on the Jammu-Kashmir front. With a CBS team, I went to the forward lines in the Jammu sector, held by a Gurkha battalion, well dug in, and peering across the bed of a river called the Munnawa Tawi at the Pakistani front line, similarly ensconced on the other side of the river.

The occasional shell plopped down in the middle distance, but things were so quiet that the CBS reporter thought that this was an ideal occasion to do an on-camera piece. He stood up and began his spiel thus: “Here I am, on the south bank of the Munnawa river, behind me, which is the furthest forward position of the Indian Army. The Pakistanis are a mere four hundred yards away, across the banks of this dry river…” He was about to continue when a clump of shells, very much closer, drove us to into the safety of the bunkers.

After a few minutes he got up, and the cameraman positioned himself, and he started again. This time he had barely begun his first sentence when another clump of shells, ominously near this time, interrupted the proceedings again.

Considerably shaken, he tried a third time, and the same thing happened. By this time there was a certain amount of tension n the air, and by common accord the CBS team decided to call it a day. We dispersed and ran back to our vehicles, with shells landing—it seemed—right behind us.

The war ended just before Christmas, and on Boxing Day I was in Rawalpindi on the Pakistan side, reporting on the wake of Pakistan’s defeat. I came across some CBS staffers I knew. We began exchanging our war experiences. “And where were you on December seventeenth?” I asked, remembering the misfortune of the CBS team on the Indian side.

“Funny you should ask that,” was the reply. “We went up to the front, very near a dried-up riverbed. The Paks wouldn’t let us visit the very front line, so we asked the Pak artillery to fire away at anything they saw on the other side, so that the trip wasn’t entirely a waste of time.” In effect, through this insistence on filming the Pakistani guns and mortars, one CBS team had almost annihilated another.

Edward Behr, “Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?”



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Apr. 19th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
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