Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian pilot captured by the Pakistan army after his jet crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on Wednesday morning, should be extended all courtesies accorded to prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, sources in the Indian Army said.
“Abhinandan was captured today by the Pakistan army during the ongoing conflict and he is now a POW, no matter whether it is declared war or not,” an official at the army headquarters said.
“He should be extended all courtesies as per the Geneva Conventions.”
Late on Wednesday evening, the external affairs ministry objected to Pakistan’s “vulgar display” of the captured fighter pilot in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions.
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” the ministry said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan had aired a video of the IAF pilot. The clip shows the pilot being roughed up by local people, suffering facial injuries and blindfolded.
The video also shows him being questioned by Pakistan army officials. When asked to identify himself, he says his name is Abhinandan, gives his service number as “27981” and says his religion is Hindu. Quizzed further, he says he cannot reveal anything more.
Later, in another video in the evening, the pilot is seen having tea and praising the Pakistan army for looking after him well.
The last time an Indian fighter pilot was captured by Pakistani troops was during the 1999 Kargil war. Kambapatti Nachiketa, who had ejected across the Line of Control and taken prisoner, had spent eight days in Pakistani captivity.
On June 4, 1999, even as the Kargil war was on, Nachiketa was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which escorted him back to India.
Nachiketa had landed in knee-deep snow after the Pakistani air defence shot down his MiG-27M. He was immediately surrounded by a patrol of the Pakistan army and taken prisoner. Three days later, Nachiketa was paraded on Pakistan television.
The Geneva Conventions strictly bar airing pictures of captured prisoners on television.
The official at the army headquarters said that when soldiers from Pakistan or China had in the past inadvertently crossed over into Indian territory, India had accorded them POW status and treated them as per the Geneva Conventions.
“A POW should be treated the way the country which has captured him treats its own army soldiers,” the official said.
An army veteran said India had treated Pakistani prisoners of war in 1971 according to the rules laid out by national conventions.
“We had given them all the amenities as per Convention rules which included access to canteen stores, postal services, medical attention and religious freedom. Each prisoner also got a Quran,” he recalled. “Some of them had expressed a wish to watch the Hindi blockbuster Mughal-e-Azam and we showed it to them.”
The Geneva Conventions, formally adopted on August 12, 1949, provided the foundation for international humanitarian laws in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Article 13 of the Geneva Conventions says “prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity”.
Article 14 states that POWs are “entitled in all circumstances to respect for the persons and their honour”.
The conventions also say that POWs must not be subjected to physical or mental torture and must be evacuated from the combat zone as soon as possible.