|By Col NN Bhatia (Retd)|
Capturing prisoners of war (POW) is as old as man kind and warfare. In the earliest history, men captured used to be either slaughtered or made slaves. The captured women and children were more likely to be spared but many times the purpose to capture women as concubines for sex, sexual abuse and pleasure. The first recorded usage of the phrase prisoners of war is dated around 660 AD.
A prisoner of war (POW) or enemy prisoner of war (EPW) or “Missing-Captured” is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by the enemy during or immediately after the armed conflict. Captor states hold POWs for any range of legitimate and illegitimate reasons.
They are isolated from the operations and released and repatriated on will or under international compulsions like economic sanctions, aid blockades in an orderly manner after the hostilities, to demonstrate military victory, to prosecute and punish them for the war crimes.
They are also exploited for their physical labour and as recruits or conscripts to collect military and political intelligence. The Chinese, North Koreans, Israelis, earlier Japanese and Pakistanis are also known from to indoctrinate prisoners to mold their political or religious beliefs.
About 56,000 soldiers died in prisons during the American Civil war. During World War I, about 8 million men surrendered and were held in POW camps until the war ended. At Tannenberg 92,000 Russians surrendered during the battle.Treatment to POWs till WW I was pathetic.
Many died in captivity for want of treatment and poor medical and hygiene conditions in the cramped POW Camps. But conditions improved due to efforts of International Red Cross and inspections of camps by the teams of the neutral nations. The US Military made prisoners of war and missing and captured personnel as POWs and instituted “Prisoner of War” Medals.
While some countries treat prisoners of war fairly well, the treatment in Germany, Japan, North Korea, Pakistan and China had been harsher. In China and North Korea it is believed that many prisoners of war were murdered, severely beaten, given summary punishments, brutal treatment and forced labour.
After the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, India had captured nearly 96,000 POWs from the erstwhile East Pakistan that included both military personnel and civilians.
Pakistan also had captured nearly 400-500 Indian POWs primarily in the western sector. Most of the Indian POWs were released by Pakistan in June 1972 and I was one of the officers detailed by the Army Headquarters to debrief them.
Like wise, all the Pakistani POWs were released by India after the Shimla Agreement without resolving intricate issues Kashmir, river water dispute, Siachin, Sir Creek and minority Hindus insecurity in Pakistan. That speaks volumes of poor Indian political decision making, conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy aftermath victorious war.
Since talks on any issue with Pakistan always remain inconclusive and meaningless as country lacks sincerity, moral courage and is perpetually in the denial mode, these 54 Indians are holed up in the Pakistani jails until death.
While capturing the POWs during the war is legitimate activity, the treatment of such war prisoners needs to be governed by the Geneva Convention, 1929. Both India and Pakistan are signatory to the Geneva Convention but who cares.
Indian Families Quest to Search Their Kith and Kin
In 1983, Mr G S Gill (brother of Wing Commander HS Gill whose plane was shot down over Badin on 13.12.1971 and Pakistan Radio gave news of his captured alive the same day), Late Dr R S Suri (father of Maj AK Suri), Late Mr Kaura (father of Capt Ravinder Kaura), Late Mr A K Ghosh( father of Major AK Ghosh), Mrs Damayanti Tambay (wife of Flight Lt VV Tambay) and Mr Surinder Gosain (father of Flt Lt Sudhir Kumar Goswami 8956-F(P)) were sent to Pakistan as official delegation.
They were conducted to only one Jail in Multan but could not locate any prisoner. Again in 2007 a group of 14 family members of the POWs were sent at the invitation of the then President of Pakistan but they could not locate them in the 10 prisons they were conducted to by the Pakistani authorities.
There are no specific reasons as to why these POWs could not be located in Pakistani jails but some logical thinking could be as under:-
- Prisoners were shifted from the jails being visited by the families.
- Over 35 years facials of prisoners and their relatives had under gone major change making recognition difficult.
- The abnormal physical, psychological and medical conditions of the POWs.
- Many may have converted to Islam, changing their names and hence difficult to locate. Some may have adopted aliases or nick names.
- Having given up hope and feeling let down by own country, community and families, POWs might have become bitter, changed loyalties to stay put in Pakistan and work as spies.
- Many may have perished in sub-human conditions of the jails or become lunatics to recognize any one.
- POWs fear reprisals after the visit. The prison staff and intelligence agencies rough them on giving evidence /information.
- Family members from India looking for their kith and kin were shadowed by the Pakistani intelligence agencies and their hotel rooms bugged and searched limiting free interaction amongst prisoners and the visiting delegates from India.
- During first visit in 1987, only one prison in Multan was visited while during the second trip visit was limited to 10 prisons across Pakistan. There may be no Indian prisoners in these jails or they were shifted prior to the planned formal visits to those jails.
- Documentation in Pakistani prisons is done in Urdu and the visitors were not conversant with the language.
Capt Ravinder Kaura was missing believed killed in 1971 war in the western sector.
His parents had reconciled with his death but in 1989 or so one petty smuggler Mukhtiar Singh was released from Pakistani jail who in an interview with local papers mentioned that there were many inmates including Capt Kaura in the jail he was lodged in.
Ever since the news, the family was rest less to know about Ravinder’s welfare and get him released from Pakistani imprisonment. A few years back one Roop Lal was released by Pakistan and he too stated numerous Indian including defence personnel languishing in Pakistani jails.
He also said many were in poor health, under nourished, in shock and needed immediate psychiatric and long term complex rehabilitation programmes by specialists.
More than that, they needed to be united with their families urgently for their emotional needs. I also came in contact with Mr GS Gill whose brother Wing Commander Gill and Dr Ms Waraich whose father Major Waraich are still in Pakistani captivity.
Dr Ms Waraich was just one year old child when her father became POW in the western sector and now she has her own grown up children who have yet to see their grand father.
I learnt both from Mr GS Gill and Dr Ms Waraich that in 1983 and 2007 official delegations were sent to Pakistan to locate the missing personnel details of which are appended below..
Evidence That Indian POWs are in Pakistani Jails
Pakistani government says that there are no Indian prisoners in the Pakistani jails. But the legal, lawful, independent, impartial, authentic, documentary evidence from Pakistan, England, America and India, proves beyond reasonable doubts that certainly there are Indian POWs of 1965 and 1971 wars, who have still been painfully languishing in Pakistani jails for the last 40 years.
- Out of the 54 who went missing, 22 were pilots. Many of them were reportedly seen by Chuck Yeager, the famous former US Air Force chief, after the war while he was on an assignment in Pakistan. Yeager has mentioned this in his autobiography published in 1984.
- Kishori Lal, an automobile engineer-turned-spy now based in Ludhiana who had stayed in various Pakistani jails and was released in 1974, says that during his imprisonment in Kot Lakhpat Jail he had also met Flight Lieutenant Vijay Vasant Tambe and Major A.K. Ghosh, two of the 54 POWs.
- Maj Ghosh’s photograph behind bars was published in the in a December 27, 1971 Time cover story on the 1971 war is proof he was a POW.
- The name of Major Ashok Suri was mentioned on January 6 and 7, 1972 in Punjabi Darbar programme of Lahore. His father Dr. Ram Swaroop Suri of Faridabad had also received three letters from a Karachi jail on 7.12.1974, 26.12.1974 and 16.6.1975 stating that he was in Karachi jail along with 20 other officers
- Daljit Singh, repatriated on March 4, 1988, said he had seen Flight Lt. Tambay at the Lahore interrogation centre in February 1978.
- A book published in 1980 from Lahore titled ‘Bhutto Trial and Execution’ written by Victoria Schofield, a senior BBC London reporter, covering the period of 1978 states that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was detained in Kot Lakhpat jail, Lahore (page No. 59) reads: ‘Bhutto’s cell separated from a barrack area by a 10 foot high wall, did not prevent him from hearing horrific shrieks and screams at midnight from the other side of the wall. One of Bhutto’s lawyers made enquiries amongst the jail staff and ascertained that they were in fact Indian POWs who had been rendered delinquent and mental during the course of the 1971 war.
- One Mohanlal Bhaskar of Firozpur, who was in Pakistan jails between 1968 and 1974 and was repatriated on 9.12.1974, wrote a book (I was a spy of India in Pakistan) has mentioned that he spoke to Indian POWs Mr. Gill of the Indian Air Force and one Captain Singh of the Indian Army and also mentioned that there were around 40 POWs of the 1965 and 1971 wars who are languishing in Kot Lakhpat jail and had no chances of release in future.
- Mukhtayar Singh, who was repatriated from Pakistan on July 5, 1988, said Captain Giriraj Singh was lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail. Singh also reportedly saw Captain Kamal Bakshi in Multan jail around 1983. He said Bakshi could be either in Multan jail or Bahawalpur jail. There are numerous other such eyewitness reports.
- Flight Lt VV Tambay’s name was published in the Pakistan paper Sunday Pakistan Observer on December 5, 1971. It said five Indian pilots were captured alive but Pakistan did not include their names in the list of POWs at the time of exchange of prisoners as per Shimla Agreement and the Indian government had committed a blunder and forgot to secure their release.
- Daljit Singh, repatriated on March 4, 1988, said he had seen Flight Lt. Tambay at the Lahore interrogation centre in February 1978.
- The name of Flying Officer Sudhir Tyagi, whose plane was shot down near Peshawar on December 4, 1971, was announced over Pakistan Radio the next day. Ghulam Hussain S/o Hayat Dutt, who was repatriated from Pakistan on 24.3.1988, said that he had met Flying Officer Tyagi at Shahi Quila, Lahore in 1973.
- Flt. Lt. Harvinder Singh’s name was announced on 5.12.1971 on Pakistan Radio that he had been captured alive.
- Capt. Ravinder Kaura’s name was announced on Lahore Radio on 7.12.1971 during the war time and Mukhtayar Singh, who was repatriated on 5.7.1988, said that Capt. Ravinder Kaura was in Multan jail around 1981 and then later shifted to Kot Lakhpat jail. Rajesh Kaura believes his brother Capt Ravinder Kaura is alive in Pakistan.
- Wing Commander H.S. Gill’s plane was shot down over Badin on 13.12.1971. Pakistan Radio gave news of his captured alive the same day.
- Flt. Lt. Sudhir K Goswami’s plane was shot down over Sargodha on 5.12.1971 at about 7.00 p.m. The same day at 11.30 p.m. Radio Lahore announced his capture.
- Maj. SPS Warraich’s name was reportedly announced on 5/6th December, 1971 as being captured alive after he and Maj. Kanvaljit Sandhu were captured on 3.12.1971 from the Hussainiwala sector. He was subsequently reportedly seen in Multan jail in January 1972. Again he was seen in 1988 by Mohinder Singh s/o Banka Singh, who was repatriated on 24.3.1988. He said he saw him again in Kot Lakhpat jail in February 1988.
- Time magazine of London, dated December 24, 1971, carried a photograph of Indian prisoners behind the bars. The said photograph turned out to be that of Major A.K. Ghosh, who was not returned by Pakistan Govt. with the rest of the POWs.
- 2nd Lt Paras Ram Sharma’s father heard his son’s particulars being announced on Pak Radio on Jan. 2, 8 and November, 29.
- L/NK Ram Lal (Retd.) (No. 9071130) of erstwhile 2 JAK Militia after his return from Pakistan said that he had met 2nd Lt. Paras Ram Sharma in Lahore jail for 5 days from 20.4.1973 to 24.4.1973 while awaiting his repatriation to India.
- Balwan Singh, an Indian prisoner who returned home to India on 3.10.1998 after 9 years in Pakistan prisons, claims to have met Indian, POWs of the 1971 war. He said there were seven jails in which the POWs were rotated. He distinctly remembered one of the POWs as Jagdish Raj who was being kept in Fort of Attock Jail with other POWs (L/NK Jagdish Raj figures in the list of 54 POWs)
- General Chuck Yeager of USA, who was on deputation with the Pakistan Air Force for training Pakistani pilots, has written a book of his role during the Indo-Pak war and has written in his book that he had interviewed about 20 Indian pilots in the Pakistani jails.
- Shri Rooplal Saharia had been in various Pakistani jails for 26 years from 1974 to 2000. He says that there were many Indian prisoners of war languishing in various Pakistani jails
- Shri Bhogal Ram of Kashmir had been in Pakistani jails for about eight years. In the year 1999 he had come to Rajkot to meet me and brief me about what he had seen in the Pakistani jails. Shri Jagsheer Singh and Arif Mohammed, who had returned on 10.8.2004 after five years in Pakistani jails, say that there are many Indian prisoners of war who have become very weak and have been passing very critical and painful life in the Pakistani jails.
- Shri Devinder Singh of village Sanbaura, Tehsil-Hira Nagar, District, Kathua, Kashmir, was arrested in Pakistan on December 20, 1989 and returned to India on March 17, 2005 through Wagah Border along with 10 other Indian prisoners. He says that 100 Indian prisoners were languishing in Pakistani jail in a very painful condition. Many of them had become lunatic and insane and had been painfully waiting for their release since 1971 Indo-Pak war.
- Leading human rights activist Ansar Burney claimed on 28 Apr, 201 as reported by the PTI that he had traced an Indian POW captured during the 1971 war in a jail in Pakistan. Burney said the Indian prisoner named Surjit Singh was arrested in 1971 and his family had been searching for him since then.
- In an NDTV recording on 25 August 2012 over the prisoners prominent Pakistani human rights lawyer Mr Awaish Sheikh had confirmed many people are in Pakistani jails and he would keep fighting for their release. He was lawyer for Surjit Singh and was fighting for Sarabjit Singh till attacked and killed deliberately in Pakistani jail and many others held illegally in both the countries.
- He had assured me repeatedly personally and through emails that he was willingly fighting cases of release of prisoners held in both the countries free provided families give the power of attorney in his favour and details of the prisoner(s).
Since May 2012, I am deeply involved in the release of the Indian POWs held in Pakistan for over 40 years.
I again request the Pakistani authorities that legally, ethically and morally there is sufficient evidence of the unfortunate Indian POWs holed up in Pakistan.
Pakistani leadership will do a great service to humanity and would acquire praise worthy statesman ship to unite these unfortunate victims of the war with their families in the twilight of their lives. Same holds good for the Indian leadership, too to release, if there are any Pakistani POWs on the Indian soil.
If our governments do not relent, there is need for media, intelligentsia, human right activists, lawyers, educationists, Sufis, cultural, social and music groups, students- in fact the common masses of both the countries to unite peacefully in’ The Sub-Continent Spring’ like ‘The Arab Spring’ to improve bilateral relations and confidence building measures.
To avoid face-saving, brinkmanship should be avoided. There would be no nemesis to either side by simultaneously exchanging prisoners at Wagah border for which nothing more is required than the positive will at both the ends.
References Ms Sonya Fatah article ‘40 yrs on, why are we unable to account for 72 prisoners of war?’ in the TOI dated 6 Aug 2012. Ms Tammy Swafford article ‘Madrigal for the Unaccounted’ published in The Daily Times, Pakistan NDTV Show recording held on 25 Aug 2012 Personal contacts with Mr GS Gill, Dr Simmi Waraich, Ms Sonya Fatah and Mr Awais Sheikh, eminent Pakistani lawyer fighting for the release of the prisoners held both in India and Pakistan. Weakileaks on POWs.