Authors: Amar Maruti Patil & Adithya Anil Variath
The recent escalation between two South Asian Nuclear Powers – India and Pakistan rattled the whole sub-continent and sent alarm waves across the whole world. It had major world powers keenly observing events unfolding between the two antagonistic nations. Terror attacks on India soil emanating from Pakistani soil is not new but as old as antiquity.
Right from the incursion of Jammu & Kashmir by armed tribesmen to this terror attack by Kashmiri youth radicalized and recruited by Jaish-e-Muhammad, the one distinguishing and defining moment post Pulwama terror attack is the unprecedented public outrage and political will to address the state-sponsored terrorism abetted by Pakistan and its Army. “Strategic Restraint” had become a bygone in the South Block with the political leadership ready to do away with restraint – political or strategic.
The pre-emptive non-military strikes carried out by Indian Air Force not just across the LOC but deep into Pakistani territory in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region was a defining moment and a break from tradition in dealing with cross border terrorism. This was the first time that air strikes were launched and terror hubs pampered and protected by the Pakistani Deep State struck. In response to these air strikes attacking terror installations, Pakistani establishment responded by launching air strikes on military installations in India. The F-16 fighter jets of Pakistani Air Force were chased by Indian Air Force as a response. In this chase, an Indian MiG 21 Bison fatally struck one Pakistani F-16 and in the action, the pilot had to eject as the damage was also caused to the Indian fighter jet. The pilot now trending across India and the whole word Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman landed in Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir after ejecting from his cockpit. He was first apprehended by the bloodthirsty locals and then the Pakistani Army interrupted the unlawful act of the locals and took Wg Cdr in their custody.
In a strange course of events, the whole process of Wg Cdr getting apprehended and attacked by locals and then ensuing Pakistani Army custody was recorded and video graphed and the recording was paraded shamelessly on social media. An emotion of anxiety, fear, angst, vengeance and cautiousness gripped the Indian citizenry. In this whole gamut of events while the whole country was praying for the safe return of Wg Cdr the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War was cited time and again in newspapers, editorials and TV debates. Whether the act of returning Wg Cdr amounted to a peace gesture or as stated in Indian Air Force briefing a gesture under the Geneva Convention? Whether the act deserved a much-touted Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan the World Cup winning captain of Pakistan Cricket Team who also happens to be its Prime Minister? Answering these questions would surely require us to be objective in our analysis of the International Law.
At the outset, it would be beneficial for the readers to point out that International Law in all its glory and magnificence with its inimitable prose and utopian conception is not binding and therefore in pure jurisprudential terms may not qualify as a Law. However, given the norm of that, a sovereign nation should keep its promise and words itself carries the weight of law. A dishonor of promise by a normal person would bring him no shame or isolation by the society at large however the dishonor of an obligation or promise in the comity of nations is a sure recipe for bringing ignominy to an entity at two levels as a country or establishment and as a citizen of that country.
Geneva Convention III relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (PoW) or International Humanitarian Law expressly lays down that Prisoners of Wars cannot be prosecuted. The Convention applies to all parties to an armed conflict, including civilians, injured combatants, and soldiers captured or no longer an active participant in the hostilities. Article 4(A)(1) of the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War defines “a prisoner of war” as “Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy: (1) Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces. (2) Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied.…..”, IAF Wg Cdr being a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict comes within this definition of a prisoner of war.
The Third Geneva Convention on PoW lists down 143 articles dealing with the rights of prisoners of war, and the corresponding obligations of the detaining power. The Convention is based on the principle that detention is not a form of punishment, but only intents to prevent further escalation and participation in the conflict. They must be released and repatriated without delay after the end of hostilities with dignity. Article 13 provides that prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated” and lays down that prisoners of war “must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.” A literal interpretation of the Article clears the smog and determines that the circulation of videos of the prisoner and humiliating treatment is a violation of the terms under Article 13. Article 17 says “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”
In the instant case of Wg Cdr, he was not just not protected from acts of violence but was also exposed to public curiosity. Moreover, the Pakistan establishment tried to score diplomatic points by spreading misinformation and propaganda videos about the well-being of Wg Cdr when in fact reports have emerged that he was not allowed to sleep for the first 24 hours of detention which is not just in violation of the Geneva Convention but also a blatant violation of human rights. He was further exposed to loud music and bright lights to disorient him and to extract valuable information from him. While the reality of Wg Cdr detention was aloof from the International World Order a concerted effort was made to showcase that in fact he was praising the Pakistani Army and claiming that it is a thoroughly professional army. Such maneuvering of events by the Pakistani Deep State brings to fore the nefarious designs and misinformation campaign in place. A Prisoner of War was used as a bargaining chip for deescalating tensions between the two Nations. It shows that the escalation of violence by Pakistan and its attempt to deescalate it on its own terms seems unilateral imposition of war and peace.
While Wg Cdr was safely repatriated to India his medical test reports are yet to come in. Where on one hand it is encouraging and nurturing terrorists to bleed India, on the other hand, it is trying to implant people in Indian media to project Imran Khan as the messiah of peace and humanity. The case for a Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan is not just preposterous and farfetched but also demeaning to the Institution of Nobel Prize itself. Imran Khan referred as “Taliban Khan” by many, for his subtle support for Taliban, is trying hard to show the International World Order that Pakistan is not the party escalating hostilities while actively nurturing terrorists on its soil.
One of Imran Khan’s Ministers has called for a religious war (Jihad) against a Kafir Hindu India (ignoring its own 4 million Pakistani Hindu Citizens). Such diabolical and inherent hatred is a case in point that the hostilities between India and Pakistan are here to stay and the sub-continent would continue to face its repercussions. No number of dossiers provided by India would address the terrorism issue nor would the temporary bans and an ostensible crackdown on terror by Pakistan would be able to fool India. Nobel Peace Prize is just a distraction to take away India’s attention from the root of this escalation the Pulwama Terror Attacks. Fulfillment of an obligation that too partly, is not a case for Nobel Peace Prize but for international introspection on state-sponsored terrorism.
With foreign help pouring in and no major world power objecting to India’s pre-emptive non-military strikes it seems that the International World Order has woken up to India’s right to defend its sovereignty and integrity by acting on home as well as foreign soil. With India’s break from tradition marks a paradigm shift from “Strategic Restraint” to Preventive Action, India needs to open more than one front to address Pakistan – educational, information, diplomatic missions, economic sanctions, et al. The key to engaging Pakistan is a united and strong Government back home and international commitment and cooperation at the global level.