|A Soldier's Diary||
Sunday, July 11, 1999
THE killing of 5 Sq Ldr Ajay Ahuja after his capture and the torture, killing and mutilation of bodies of Lt Saurab Kalia and five men of 4 Jat has generated a spontaneous wave of revulsion and outrage in the whole of India. The reactions range from a demand for retaliation in kind against any Pak soldiers captured by us to gearing up a global effort to have Pakistan declared a state indulging in savagery and terrorism. While the national anger is well taken, before formulating our response, we must first understand Pak motives behind this blatant display of barbarity. Pakistan could have denied having these soldiers in their custody as it has done so many times in the past. This display is obviously put across to a design. Firstly it is intended to induce fear in our soldiers and undermine their morale. Secondly it is designed to provoke us into anger which would harden out stand against any peace feelers from Pakistan.
The handing over of the six mutilated bodies just before the visit of Sartaj Aziz, the Pak Foreign Minister, was significant in this regard. As has happened so many times in the past, the Pak establishment has once again miscalculated the dynamics of our resolves and policy making. The visit was a well orchestrated attempt to minimise the global impact of Pak aggression into the Kargil area, by a display of willingness to defuse tensions. Apart from those who choose to believe anything Pakistan puts out , this gamble has generally failed. Pakistan is being increasingly isolated in the world community. Some of their staunch patrons have advised Pakistan to stop its aggression.
It is equally relevant to show to the world the vast difference between the treatment of soldiers taken prisoner by Indian forces and those in Pak captivity. After the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971, we had over 93,000 prisoners of war (PoW) in our captivity. This figure shot upto 100,000 when dependents and Pak personnel from civil services who chose to go into captivity rather than risk staying on in Bangladesh, were taken into account. A tremendous logistical effort was geared up to move this huge number safely away from the Bangladeshis, who were baying for their blood.
In India, most of these prisoners were housed in camps in the Madhya Pradesh Army area. Maj-Gen Santokh Singh Padda, the then General Officer Command-ing of the Army area, says," We made special arrangements to house the PoW as well as the dependents and the civilians. In almost all cases vacant Army barracks and even some specially vacated by own troops, were converted into PoW camps. Main concentration was at Ranchi and Ramgarh close by.
Dependents and civilians, including erstwhile officials of the East Pakistan government, were kept at Allahabad. In these camps officers, though housed separately, were permitted to utilise services of their batmen (known as sahayaks in the Indian Army). Charpoys, essential other furniture and bedding were provided.
Since this large requirement for charpoys could not be met out of our existing stocks, some of our men surrendered their own charpoys. "Rations on the scales applicable in our Army provided in addition to soap, toothpaste and such other items of daily need from mobile canteens, which regularly visited the camps. A special camp for senior officer, including Lt-Gen A.A.K. Niazi and the infamous, Maj-Gen Rao Farman Ali, was organised at Jabalpore under the direct supervision of my Headquarters. These officers were housed in two newly-constructed buildings intended to accommodate single officers of our Army. These suites were properly furnished. In all camps, open-air cinema shows were arranged periodically. Newspapers and radios, where possible, were also given. "In our treatment of the PoW, the Geneva Convention was strictly adhered to.While the PoW were questioned as provided for under the convention, there was no interrogation with physical force. In fact if anything, on humanitarian grounds, we did more than what was required under the convention. Though we gave every humanitarian care and consideration to the PoW, the military dignity and self-respect of the Indian soldiers who guarded them or otherwise provided some of the essential services, was never allowed to be compromised.
"In the Jabalpore camp, a Pak major-general accused a uniformed safai karamchari of having stolen his watch, which he vehemently denied. In a thorough search of the generals quarters, the watch was found in a cupboard in the bathroom where the general had forgotten it. In the presence of Niazi, I asked the general to apologise to the soldier whom he had falsely accused. He refused to do so. Niazi offered to apologise on his behalf. I insisted that the general would have to render an apology in person. He was eventually persuaded by Niazi to apologise. Even while strictly adhering to the Geneva Convention, it was absolutely essential to strike a balance between our responsibilities and due care of the prisoners." Lt Gen A.A.K. Niazi, in his book, The Betrayal of East Pakistan acknowledges the gist of what Gen Padda has stated. He says, "The behaviour of camp staff was respectful and no arrogance was ever visible in their attitude and behaviour. "
In late 1973, we started repatriation of the PoW held by us to Pakistan at Wagah. Being a Brigade Commander at Amritsar I was made responsible for the Indian side of this operation. Every morning a special train used to bring about 1000 to 1500 PoW to be repatriated that day. We used to receive the contingent at the Attari railway station and give them hot breakfast. Medical attention was provided to those who needed it. After organising them into lots of twenty and checking their documens, the PoWs were either transported or marched to the Joint Check Post (JCP). Facing the JCP, the PoW were comfortably seated on benches. While the PoW awaited their turn to go across, water and other refreshments were made available.
They were then sent across to Pakistan by a joint team comprising a representative each of the International Red Cross and the armies of both countries.
In a Pakistan born in hatred, soldiers and their commanders are indoctrinated in barbaric brutality. Body of Jamadar Nand Singh, VC, killed in an ambush near Bhatigiran, near Uri on December 12, 1947, was paraded around Muzzffarabad tied behind a truck and was later thrown in a refuse dump. In contrast to this sacrilege to valiant soldier, the body of Lt Col Raza who had gallantly led the counter-attack by 35 Frontier Force Regiment (Pak) against the bridgehead of 3 Grenadiers across Basantar river in December, 1971, was handed over with due military honour and a citation for gallantry. (Raza was given Nishan-e-Haider, the highest Pak gallantry award). Even at Wagah, the body of a Pak subedar who had died of a heart attack in transit, was handed over with the dignity due to a dead soldier.
I received most of the Indian PoW at Wagah JCP on December 1, 1972. Almost every one spoke of inhuman treatment, torture, use of physical force and other coercive measures such as solitary confinement and denial of food, medical aid and even minimal facilities for personal hygiene during sustained interrogation. Some of the Indian Air Force officers recounted that even though they were injured when they bailed out of their aircraft, they were made to stand for hours without food and water. Lt Col S.S. Chowdhary, 4 Grenadiers, taken prisoner, after a daring infiltration into Shakargarh on December 14, 1971, though seriously wounded in the head, was hit on the head with a rifle butt, dragged into a room and pushed against a wall. He too tasted solitary confinement, deprivation of food and items of daily use such as soap and toothpaste and intense coercive interrogation. The treatment of prisoners improved somewhat when word came of Pak PoW being treated very well in India.
We must understand the
civilisational gap between our outlook and that of the
Pak establishment. There also appears to be an attempt at
image enhancement behind such brutal treatment of
helpless prisoners. We must under no circumstances lower
ourselves to the level exhibited by some of the Pak
soldiers and their masters. We must never retaliate in
kind. Nevertheless we must make it quite plain with our
firm and determined action that the Pak military
establishment will pay heavily for such savage and
uncivilised behaviour. It is equally necessary to tamper
our self-righteousness and show to the world to violation
of human rights being constantly perpetuated by Pakistan
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