Regular-article-logo Monday, 05 June 2023

Beyond Varthaman: It’s flashback time

As the daughter of a pilot slain decades ago said, 'We are all pawns in this terrible game of war and peace'

Upala Sen Published 03.03.19, 05:19 AM
Kargil Vijay Divas celebrations at India Gate in New Delhi

Kargil Vijay Divas celebrations at India Gate in New Delhi The Telegraph file picture

Last week could have been yesterday all over again, except that yesterday seems more far away than it actually is. Of course, when Kargil happened in 1999, Twitter was still a good seven years away. Facebook was five years away. Four years ago, in 1995, the then chief minister of Bengal, Jyoti Basu, had made the first mobile phone call in India to the then Union Telecom Minister, Sukh Ram, but mobile telephony was still a restricted elite show-off thing. VSNL had launched its public Internet services in 1995, but even if you were to discount every other limitation of the service, how many people had a PC even back then?


He did not speak

News reports from 1999 indicate that that May morning, IAF pilot K. Nachiketa took off from his base in the IAF’s squadron No.9. His task was to fly his MiG27M close to the LoC, photograph intruder-held positions in the Batalik sector and attack identified targets with 80mm rockets. His escort on an MiG21 was squadron leader Ajay Ahuja. Nachiketa fired at the target twice before he reported a snag. He ejected and landed inside Pakistan territory and was taken captive. A report in The Telegraph from that time quotes a Pakistani army commander as saying, “We are treating him according to the Geneva Convention.” Three days later, Nachiketa was paraded on Pakistan television, notwithstanding the Geneva Convention bar. The media reported: “Nachiketa looked calm, apart from a darkening welt on his forehead. He did not speak.”

Hercules, I suspect

Pakistan finally released him eight days later. Years after that, Nachiketa revealed how he had been manhandled by Pakistani jawans and would have been killed had it not been for the intervention of a senior officer. Squadron leader Ajay Ahuja did not return at all. As Nachiketa floated down in a parachute, Ahuja had hovered to spot the landing area of his colleague. Moments later he radioed his team leader, “Hercules, I suspect missile hit.” His MiG21 was most likely hit by a Stinger missile and he fell in Pakistan-held territory. When Pakistan handed his body to India, the post mortem reportedly revealed he had been shot in the head from point-blank range. It was also reported that Ahuja had suffered multiple punctured wounds over left and right thighs, rupture of right lung, injury to neck vessels, small intestine and left liver. Pakistan, however, maintained that Ahuja was killed in the crash.

We are all pawns

Another time, during the 1965 war, an Indian civilian aircraft was shot down by a Pakistan Air Force Pilot. It had been a mistake; the Beechcraft was carrying the Gujarat chief minister Balwantrai Mehta and some others, but Pakistan mistook it for a surveillance aircraft. A half century later, the Pakistani pilot, Qais Hussain, wrote an apology to the daughter of the long dead Indian pilot, Jahangir Engineer. Accepting the apology, Farida Singh replied, “We are all pawns in this terrible game of war and peace.”

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