LINE Of CONTROL
Tom Clancy's Op-Center
Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik written by Jeff Rovin
BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK
If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed" to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
TOM CLANCY'S OP-CENTER: LINE OF CONTROL
A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with Jack Ryan Limited Partnership and S & R Literary, Inc.
Berkley edition / June 2001
All rights reserved.
Copyright 2001 by Jack Ryan Limited Partnership and S & R Literary, Inc.
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Martin H. Greenberg, Larry Segriff, Robert Youdelman, Esq." Tom Manon, Esq." and the wonderful people at Penguin Putnam Inc." including Phyllis Grann, David Shanks, and Tom Colgan.
As always, we would like to thank Robert Gottlieb, without whom this book would never have been conceived.
But most important, it is for you, our readers, to determine how successful our collective endeavor has been.
- Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik
Slachin Base 3, Kashmir Wednesday, 5:42 a. m.
Major Dev Puri could not sleep. He had not yet gotten used to the flimsy cots the Indian army used in the field. Or the thin air in the mountains. Or the quiet. Outside his former barracks in Udhampur there were always the sounds of trucks and automobiles, of soldiers and activity. Here, the quiet reminded him of a hospital. Or a morgue.
Instead, he out on his olive green uniform and red turban.
Puri left his tent and walked over to the front-line trenches.
There, he looked out as the rich morning sun rose behind him. He watched as a brilliant orange glow crept through the valley and settled slowly across the flat, deserted demilitarized zone. It was the flimsiest of barriers in the most dangerous place on earth.
Here in the Himalayan foothills of Kashmir, human life was always in jeopardy. It was routinely threatened by the extreme weather conditions and rugged terrain. In the wanner, lower elevations it was at risk whenever one failed to spot a lethal king cobra or naja naja, the Indian cobra, hiding in the underbrush. It was endangered whenever one was an instant too late swatting a disease-carrying mosquito or venomous brown widow spider in time. Life was in even greater peril a few miles to the north, on the brutal Siachin Glacier. There was barely enough air to support life on the steep, blinding-white hills.
Avalanches and subzero temperatures were a daily danger to foot patrols.
Yet the natural hazards were not what made this the most dangerous spot on the planet. All of those dangers were nothing compared to how humans threatened each other here.
Those threats were not dependent on the time of day or the season of the year. They were constant, every minute of every hour of every day for nearly the past sixty years.
Puri stood on an aluminum ladder in a trench with corrugated tin walls.
Directly in front of him were five-foot high sandbags protected by razor wire strung tightly above them from iron posts. To the right, about thirty feet away, was a small sentry post, a wooden shelter erected behind the sandbags. There was hemp netting on top with camouflage greenery overhead. To the right, forty feet away, was another watch post.
One hundred and twenty yards in front of him, due west, was a nearly identical Pakistan trench.
With deliberate slowness, the officer removed a pouch of ghutka, chewable tobacco, from his pants pocket. Sudden moves were discouraged out here where they might be noticed and misinterpreted as reaching for a weapon. He unfolded the packet and pushed a small wad in his cheek.
Soldiers were encouraged not to smoke, since a lighted cigarette could give away the position of a scout or patrol.
As Puri chewed the tobacco he watched squadrons of black flies begin their own morning patrol. They were searching for fecal matter left by red squirrels, goatlike mark hors and other herbivores that woke and fed before dawn.
It was early winter now. Puri had heard that in the summer the insects were so thick they seemed like clouds of smoke drifting low over the rocks and scrub.
The major wondered if he would be alive to see them.
During some weeks thousands of men on both sides were killed. That was inevitable with more than one million fanatic soldiers facing one another across an extremely narrow, two hundred-mile-long "line of control." Major Puri could see some of those soldiers now, across the sandy stretch between the trenches. Their mouths were covered with black muslin scarves to protect them against the westward-blowing winds.
But the eyes in their wind-burned faces blazed with hatred that had been sparked back in the eighth century. That was when Hindus and Muslims first clashed in this region. The ancient farmers and merchants took up arms and fought about trade routes, land and water rights, and ideology.
The struggle became even more fierce in 1947 when Great Britain abandoned its empire on the subcontinent. The British gave the rival Hindus and Muslims the nations of India and Pakistan to call their own.
That partition also gave India control over the Muslim-dominated region of Kashmir. Since that time the Pakistan. s have regarded the Indians as an occupying force in Kashmir.
Warfare has been almost constant as the two sides struggled over what became the symbolic heart of the conflict.
And I am in the heart of the heart, Puri thought.
Base 3 was a potential flashpoint, the fortified zone nearest both Pakistan and China. It was ironic, the career soldier told himself.
This "heart" looked exactly like Dabhoi, the small town where he had grown up at the foot of the Satpura Range in central India. Dabhoi had no real value except to the natives, who were mostly tradesmen, and to those trying to get to the city of Broach on the Bay of Cambay. That was where they could buy fish cheap. It was disturbing how hate rather than cooperation made one place more valuable than another.
Instead of trying to expand what they had in common they were trying to destroy what was uncommon.
The officer stared out at the cease-fire zone. Lining the sandbags were orange binoculars mounted on small iron poles. That was the only thing the Indians and Pakistans had ever agreed on: coloring the binoculars so they would not be mistaken for guns. But Puri did not need them here.
The brilliant sun was rising behind him. He could clearly see the dark faces of the Pakistans behind their cinderblock barricades.
The faces looked just like Indian faces except that they were on the wrong side of the line of control.
Puri made a point of breathing evenly. The line of control was a strip of land so narrow in places that cold breath was visible from sentries on both sides. And being visible, the puffs of breath could tell guards on either side if their counterparts were anxious and breathing rapidly or asleep and breathing slowly. There, a wrong word whispered to a fellow soldier and overheard by the other side could break the fragile truce. A hammer hitting a nail had to be muffled with cloth lest it be mistaken for a gunshot and trigger return rifle fire. then artillery, then nuclear weapons. That exchange could happen so fast that the heavily barricaded bases would be vaporized even before the echoes of the first guns had died in the towering mountain passageways.
Mentally and physically, it was such a trying and unforgiving environment that any officer who successfully completed a one-year tour of duty was automatically eligible for a desk job in a "safe zone" like Calcutta or New Delhi. That was what the forty-one-year-old Puri was working toward.
Three months before, he had been transferred from the army's HQ Northern Command where he trained border patrols.
Nine more months of running this small base, of "kiting with tripwire," as his predecessor had put it, and he could live comfortably for the rest of his life. Indulge his passion for going out on anthropological digs. He loved learning more about the history of his people. The Indus Valley civilization was over 4,500 years old. Back then the Pkitania and Indian people were one. There was a thousand years of peace. That was before religion came to the region.
Major Puri chewed his tobacco. He smelled the brewed tea coming from the mess tent. It was time for breakfast, after which he would join his men for the morning briefing.
He took another moment to savor the morning. It was not that a new day brought new hope. All it meant was that the night had passed without a confrontation.
Puri turned and stepped down the stairs. He did not imagine that there would be very many mornings like this in the weeks ahead. If the rumors from his friends at HQ were true, the powder keg was about to get a new fuse.
A very short, very hot fuse.
Washington, D. C. Wednesday, 5:56 a. m.
The air was unseasonably chilly. Thick, charcoal-gray clouds hung low over Andrews Air Force Base. But in spite of the dreary weather Mike Rodgers felt terrific.
The forty-seven-year-old two-star general left his black 1970 Mustang in the officers' parking lot. Stepping briskly, he crossed the neatly manicured lawn to the Op-Center offices.
Rodgers's light brown eyes had a sparkle that almost made them appear golden. He was still humming the last tune he had been listening to on the portable CD player. It was Victoria Bundonis's recording of the 1950s David Seville ditty "Witch Doctor." The young singer's low, torchy take on "Oo-ee-oo-ah-ah" was always an invigorating way to start the day. Usually, when he crossed the grass here, he was in a different frame of mind. This early, dew would dampen his polished shoes as they sank into the soft soil. His neatly pressed uniform and his short, graying black hair would ripple in the strong breeze. But Rodgers was usually oblivious to the earth, wind, and water-three of the four ancient elements.
He was only aware of the fourth element, fire. That was because it was bottled and capped inside the man himself.
He carried it carefully as though it were nitroglycerin.
One sudden move and he would blow.
But not today.
There was a young guard standing in a bullet-proof glass booth just inside the door. He saluted smartly as Rodgers entered.
"Good morning, sir," the sentry said.
"Good morning," Rodgers replied. "
That was Rodgers's personal password for the day. It was left on his Govnel e-mail pager the night before by Op Center internal security chief, Jenkin Wynne. If the password did not match what the guard had on his computer Rodgers would not have been allowed to enter.
"Thank you. sir," the guard said and saluted again. He pressed a button and the door clicked open. Rodgers entered.
There was a single elevator directly ahead. As Rodgers walked toward it he wondered how old the airman first class was. Twenty-two?
Twenty-three? A few months ago Rodgers would have given his rank, his experiences, everything he owned or knew to be back where this young sentry was.
Healthy and sharp, with all his options spread before him.
That was after Rodgers had disastrously field-tested the Regional Op-Center. The mobile, hi-tech facility had been seized in the Middle East. Rodgers and his personnel were imprisoned and tortured. Upon the team's release. Senator Barbara Fox and the Congressional Intelligence Oversight Committee rethought the ROC program. The watchdog group felt that having a U. S. intelligence base working openly on foreign soil was provocative rather than a deterrent.