He spent 77 days on Indian territory, fighting and suffering at elevations of up to 5,400 m--on one of the highest battlefields in the world. He is a Pakistani soldier, and this is his own account of the combat near Kargil. His story contradicts Islamabad's official claim that it has never sent troops across the Line of Control that divides Kashmir. The 30-year-old soldier returned to Pakistan in mid-June for reasons he wouldn't specify. Thin, bearded and badly sunburned from exposure in the mountains, he spoke to TIME on the condition of anonymity, for fear of being court-martialed.In February, I was ordered to cross the Line of Control and climb some mountains that the Indians controlled. My commanding officers would not allow me to take my AK-47 rifle. I was against going to an Indian hill without a weapon, but I saw that everybody who was being sent across the LOC was going there empty-handed. We were told it was for the sake of secrecy.
It took us three days of walking and climbing to reach the Indian posts near Kargil. We found they were empty, and our job was to prepare some makeshift bunkers. All we had were tents.
The first five days were hell. The M-17 military helicopter did not come with our food supplies. We just had Energile [a protein-enriched food pack used in high-altitude warfare] and ice. Sometimes we ate ice with sugar. There was jubilation when the helicopter came with real food.
The skirmishes with the Indians started in May. In the early days we mowed down many of them. Those Indians were crazy. They came like ants. First you see four, and you kill them. Then there are 10, then 50, then 100 and then 400. Our fingers got tired of shooting at them. We felt sorry for them. Sometimes they came in such large numbers we were afraid of using up all our ammunition. There is no instant resupply, so you have to be very careful. We were always worried that we would use up all our ammunition on one attacking Indian party and would have none left when a new group came. But God was always with us. You could see lots of bodies strewn down below or in the gorges. They were just rotting there. We also suffered a lot of casualties, many more than officials in Pakistan are claiming. During my stay up there, 17 of my friends died while fighting the Indians.
There is so much exchange of fire that you cannot eat the ice now or drink the water, which is laced with cordite. Even the streams down below the mountains are contaminated. Lots of soldiers are facing stomach problems because of this. We had no proper bunkers, so we dug a 5-m tunnel into the snow. When the Indian shells started landing on us, we would crawl into this tunnel for safety. You don't get enough space to spread your legs in the tents. You always sleep sitting up. Sometimes there is so much firing, you cannot relieve yourself even if you want to.
On the ridges now we have disposable rocket launchers, surface-to-air missiles and machine-guns, including anti-aircraft guns. On one occasion I was positioned on a mountain facing the Drass-Kargil highway. It's fun to target the Indian convoys.
Our officers are very strict. A young soldier from Punjab died in front of me because of altitude sickness. The soldier came from the plains. He fell sick soon after coming up. He offered our commanding officer 200,000 rupees [about $4,000] to let him go down, but the offer was refused. He died four days later. We didn't know his name. I tried to find out, but they refused to tell me. If you die up in the mountains, there is no way to lift your body and take it down. Most of the time we slide the bodies downward. All the men who are fighting on those ridges know that they are in a hole from which they cannot come out alive. You can only return dead. There are a rare few like me, who somehow by fate got the chance to leave the mountains.