(Paras Jain/Mint)
(Paras Jain/Mint)

Protocol governing Varthaman’s return sketchy, say analysts

  • Rules governing the pilot’s return are sketchy, especially since neither India nor Pakistan is at war, say experts
  • The Pakistan Army confirmed that one IAF pilot was in their custody

NEW DELHI : Hours after Pakistani jets violated the Line of Control (LoC) on Wednesday morning, prompting the Indian Air Force (IAF) to engage them, India confirmed that a MiG-21 was lost and the pilot was “missing in action".

Under international laws on diplomatic relations, however, the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s return cannot be guaranteed. While the Geneva Convention clearly spells out protocols for prisoners of war, the circumstances leading to the IAF pilot’s capture by Pakistan are not classified as “war". The only “protocol" that the two nations can now follow is that of goodwill.

“We have lost a MiG-21 and the pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed he is in their custody. We are looking into this," Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor said in New Delhi.

The centre did not disclose any further information, but experts argued that the rules governing the captured pilot’s return were sketchy, especially as neither India nor Pakistan had “officially declared war".

“There is a laid down protocol under the Geneva Convention, which states that prisoners of war have to be taken care of by the country that has held them captive. Their medical and other needs have to be adhered to and, in the past, both India and Pakistan have followed it. However, that is in case of an ongoing war. In this case, we don’t know how to act because neither country has declared war," said Air Vice Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak.

Drafted in 1949 in the aftermath of the Second World War, the Geneva Convention comprises “four treaties and three additional protocols that establish the standards of international law for humanitarian treatment in times of a war".

Flight Lieutenant Kambampati Nachiketa, who was on a bombing mission on 27 May 1999 during the Kargil War, and had ejected after his engine flamed out. He was released eight days later by Pakistan. He was part of Operation Safed Sagar, which was launched by the IAF to bolster the Indian Army’s Operation Vijay. However, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja of the Indian Air Force’s Golden Arrow Squadron was shot by the Pakistan Army after he ejected safely in Batalik, during the Kargil War.

In another instance of cooperation between the two countries, India had agreed to release 93,000 Pakistani prisoners after the two countries signed the Shimla Agreement in 1972, almost a year after the 1971 India-Pakistan war, which had also seen the release of then Squadron Leader K.C. Nanda Cariappa (retired as Air Marshal), who was captured during the 1965 war, under Pakistan president Ayub Khan.

“The only way out for him (Abhinandan) is to escape custody, but there is no diplomatic law. There must be an agreement between the two nations under which he is returned and the two nations can agree on it diplomatically and militarily. So the hope is for Pakistan to show some magnanimity in this case," Kak said.

A video was circulated in Pakistan on Wednesday morning showing Abhinandan giving his name, designation, service number, and religion, but refusing to divulge any further information. The Pakistan Army confirmed that one IAF pilot was in their custody.

India took strong objection. “India also 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 Convention," the Union ministry of external affairs said on Wednesday evening.

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