India was on tenterhooks as news poured in about the arrest of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistani Armed Forces on Wednesday.
After the Pulwama attack, the IAF conducted strikes in Balakot across the Line of Control (LoC) on Tuesday. Following this, the Pakistani and Indian air forces were locked in aerial combat, as tensions escalated.
Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said Pakistan attempted to target military installations or bases in India but was “foiled successfully”.
Referring to the aerial combat, Kumar said, “In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts.”
Shortly after, Pakistan Armed Forces Spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted a picture of an Indian pilot he identified as Abhinandan Varthaman.
Ghafoor said, “There is only one pilot in Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics.”
Ghafoor’s tweet drew a sharp response from the Indian government.
Kumar released an MEA statement where India demanded that the pilot be repatriated to India immediately.
“India strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions,” said the statement.
Before Pakistan officially confirmed that Varthaman was in its custody, videos and images of him surfaced, injured and bleeding after being attacked by a mob.
Although Indian officials have not yet released information on the pilot’s identity and do not directly say it is an IAF pilot in those videos, the statement alludes to those graphic images and videos saying Pakistan failed to provide him with protection.
As a result, India has accused Pakistan of failing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions.
The Geneva Conventions are a set of four international treaties that dictate a code of conduct during wartime. Both, India and Pakistan have signed them.
Specifically, the Conventions state that a country must treat prisoners of war (POWs) fairly, protect them from harm, and provide them with medical care that is in their best interest.
The Geneva Conventions have popped up between India and Pakistan before, especially in the context of PoWs.
Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa
Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa, then 26, was the only prisoner in the 1999 Kargil War.
As an IAF flight lieutenant, Nachiketa was conducting strikes on enemy targets when his aircraft’s engine failed after being hit by a missile.
He was forced to eject. On landing, he got into a firing episode with Pakistani forces, who eventually arrested him.
Speaking to NDTV, Nachiketa said the officers who captured him were violent and aggressive.
However, a more senior officer intervened. “The office who came was very mature. He realised that I am now a captive and need not be handled that way,” said Nachiketa to NDTV.
However, Pakistan decided to release him.
Former High Commissioner to Pakistan Gopalaswami Parthasarathy said, “I insisted that in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, Nachiketa would have to be accompanied by the officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).”
After eight days, Nachiketa was brought to India.
Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja
Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja was also captured by Pakistani forces the same time as Nachiketa.
Ahuja had taken off from Srinagar in a MiG 27 fighter jet to bomb a Pakistani supply base in Batalik Sector.
HuffPost reports that because Ahuja had a GPS in his aircraft, he was tasked with locating Nachiketa when his plane crashed.
Although Ahuja knew that the area he was flying over had missile launchers, he continued to look for Nachiketa. However, his aircraft was hit. After Ahuja ejected from his place, he was taken as a prisoner of war and shot dead.
In reference to Ahuja’s killing, the MEA published a press release stating that Pakistan violated the Geneva Conventions.
“Members of Pakistan Armed Forces and armed personnel under Pakistani control have committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, in the course of the military operations currently underway on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC),” reads the statement.
“These included the tortue, inhuman treatment, and wilful killing of the Indian Air Force pilot at (i) whose plane was shot down on 27th May, 1999.”
The release notes Ahuja at (i).
Captain Saurabh Kalia
In that same press release, the MEA also mentions Lieutenant Saurabh Kalia, an officer of the Indian Army who was captured while patrolling on the Indian side of LoC.
Six officers, including Kalia, were captured on May 14, 1999, during the Kargil War.
Times of India reports that while in Pakistani custody, Kalia and the other officers were tortured for days. Their bodies were handed over to Indian authorities after.
Kalia’s eardrums and eyes were punctured. His limbs were amputated, as well.
Although Kalia’s family pleaded with the government and Supreme Court to take up the matter as a war crime, it was not successful.
The 1999 MEA press release said that because Pakistan did not give Kalia the full protection he was entitled to, the country had breached the Geneva Conventions.
K C Cariappa
In an essay for Outlook India, former PoW K Nanda Cariappa recalled his time as a Pakistani prisoner.
Cariappa was a 26-year-old Air Marshal taken into Pakistani custody in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. His mission was to take out enemy targets in the South of Lahore.
However, in aerial combat, his plane was hit and caught fire. He was forced to eject from his aircraft.
“Within moments, I was surrounded by troops who ordered me to raise my hands in submission and stand up,” Cariappa writes.
He was administered some first aid and placed in a military hospital in Lahore for a week. Cariappa was then moved to the hospital in Rawalpindi, a designated camp for PoWs, and finally placed in solitary confinement.
Recalling his time there, Cariappa writes, “ I was not subjected to ‘third degree’ treatment, but I was told that I had better answer all questions because if I did not, there would be no hesitation in ‘putting me away’!”
He was released a year later on January 22, 1966, when an agreement was signed between Pakistan and India for disengaging their respective troops.
Lieutenant Dilip Parulkar
Flight Lieutenant Dilip Parulkar’s plane was shot down during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. He was subsequently taken prisoner.
Members of the Pakistani Armed Forces physically assaulted him before a senior officer stepped in to diffuse tensions. However, Parulkar had already sustained head injuries and lost consciousness.
When he woke up, he found himself in Rawalpindi to be interrogated, reports Better India. However, in December 1972, he was released to Amritsar.
These six aren’t alone; there are believed to be as many as 54 armed forces personnel in Pakistan custody. They are known as “The Missing 54”.
They were captured after the 1971 war and are believed to be languishing in Pakistani jails. Their whereabouts remain unknown till date.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius