“Being a soldier requires more than courage, it is sacrificing yourself for something greater than yourself”
Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman received a grand welcome from the entire nation after he was repatriated to India. After being in Islamabad’s custody for nearly 60 hours, Abhinandan was handed over by Pakistani authorities at Wagah Border around 9.30 PM on 1st March 2019.
What were the events that lead to capture? What is the Geneva convention? How does this event affect the relations between India and Pakistan?
On 14th Feb 2019, a JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed) suicide bomber rammed a van loaded with 350 kilograms of explosives into one of the buses carrying 35-40 soldiers out of a 78-vehicle CRPF convoy. While 44 CRPF jawans were martyred in the attack, there were several others who were injured badly. Pakistan denied allegations of Islamabad’s involvement in the Pulwama terror attack, disclaiming its link with terrorist attacks is an often-repeated excuse by India.
India retaliated by revoking Pakistan’s ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status for trading and raised custom duties to 200%. Both the countries also recalled their top diplomats.
The complete nation bewailed the death of soldiers killed in Pulwama, many including family members of the ill-fated jawans demanded strong action against the Pakistan-based terror outfit.
India Responds: Balakot air strikes
India retaliated by the attacking on the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad. Twelve Mirage 2000 fighter jets, struck joint training camps of LeT and JeM inside Pakistan and completely destroyed them by shelling 1,000 kg bombs. As confirmed by the Indian Foreign Secretary it took 19 minutes to complete the operation. Also, the air strikes by the Indian Air Force on the town of Balakot neutralized about 300 militants.
The message communicated by the government was that India would respond not just through diplomatic efforts to apply pressure on Pakistan, but also militarily.
Pakistan army spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor was the first one to officially confirm that the Indian Air Force had intruded in Pakistan from the Muzaffarabad sector. However, he denied such an attack and claimed that there wasn’t any impact of the attack on Pakistan’s infrastructure.
IAF pilot Abhinandan’s capture by Pakistan
Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured on the morning of February 27, 2019, after his MiG21 Bison aircraft was shot down by Pakistan. The IAF was responding after Pakistan violated India’s airspace over Nowshera and Krishna Ghati sectors of Poonch and Rajouri districts and attempted air strikes. Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistan Army after his parachute landed across the Line of Control (LoC).
Soon after the capture, multiple videos went viral on the social media, the initial series of videos showed him facing assault, allegedly by a group of civilians; another showed the wing commander in a bloody figure identifying himself on camera. This video was considered a violation of the Geneva Conventions. However, after this, another video surfaced that had him re-assuring everyone that he was being well-treated.
India made clear to the Pakistani diplomats, that Pakistan is obligated by the Geneva Conventions, to which Islamabad is a signatory to treat a combat prisoner with dignity.
What are the Geneva Conventions?
The Geneva Conventions are a set of international treaties that ensure that the countries at war, must conduct themselves in a humane way with non-combatants as well as with combatants such as civilians, medical personnel, prisoners of war, wounded and sick soldiers. All countries are signatories to the Geneva Conventions. Geneva Conventions have four treaties and three additional protocols that regulate the conduct of countries in case of armed conflicts.
The 4th Article of the Geneva Conventions makes it illegal for any country to “torture” any military personnel or a guerrilla fighter. It specifies that a prisoner is only required to give his/her name, date of birth, service number and rank. The article further specifies that the prisoner cannot be further interrogated. This law applies from the time, the military personnel is captured until the time of his/her release or repatriation.
The Geneva Conventions are enforced by a system of “Protecting Powers” which ensure that the rules of the conventions are being followed by the parties who are in conflict. In theory, each party must designate states that are not part of the conflict as their “Protecting Powers”. In practice, the International Committee of the Red Cross plays this role usually.
Return of the IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan
After the capture of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan, India summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan and demanded the immediate return of the Indian Air Force pilot. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on 28h Feb 2019 that the captured pilot will be freed as a “goodwill gesture” after India demanded his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release.
The Wing Commander was in Pakistani captivity for over 60 hours before his ordeal came to an end on Friday.
What’s next for India and Pakistan
Wing Commander Abhinandan’s safe return to India doesn’t necessarily imply that India will change its hard stance against Pakistan. Many security analysts believe that India’s air strike in Balakot was a big shift in its defense policy with its neighboring country. Former Army Chief Bikram Singh said clear timelines have been provided by India to Pakistan to act against terror groups. If Pakistan refuses to act, India will continue putting pressure over Pakistan via economic, diplomatic and defense routes.
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