As Modi government mulls over the next step in its conflict with Pakistan, one big question remains hanging in the air: How can India bring back Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman unscathed from Pakistan’s custody and by what time. India has already communicated to Islamabad that “no harm” should be done to the pilot, and the Pakistan Army has in response indicated it will make sure that the pilot receives “humane treatment.” The video of the pilot having a cup of tea was also released soon after which indicated that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was safe.
Sources told IE that while the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war guides treatment of military personnel in each other’s custody, there is an informal understanding between Pakistan and Indian Armies — as well as BSF and Pakistan’s Rangers. Even as the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war directs the treatment of military personnel in the opponent’s custody, the IE report suggests that an informal understanding exists between both Indian and Pakistan armed forces as well as the first line of defence on the borders – BSF as well as Pakistan’s Rangers.
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About three such crossings take each year On an average, sources quoted in the report say, and personnel are returned to their sides within hours or a few days as soon as identities are verified. The personnel are typically handed over post their medical examination. While the Geneva Convention does not list the minimum time period by when the personnel should be returned to the government, in this case, the IAF, both New Delhi and Islamabad concur that it should be done within a “reasonable” period.
The Indian side has officially told the Pakistan government that the government expects “immediate” and “safe return” of the the IAF pilot. This case is reminiscent of the 1999 kargil conflict, when Indian Air Force Pilot Kambampati Nachiketa was taken hostage by the Pakistan army and he was released and handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Pakistan and returned home through the Wagah border after eight days of captivity in Pakistan.
As per sources in the report, if Pakistan wishes, it can return Wing Commander Abhinandan within 7-10 days or it could take its time keeping the IAF pilot as its insurance against another retaliation by the Indian side. The diplomats have been directed to work extra hours to ensure the release of the Indian Air Force pilot “at the earliest”. It is being also suggested that the pilot could be released sooner than expected as many are seeing Pakistan’s soft approach to ‘peace and dialogue as Pak Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wish to assert a “moral high ground” over India in the midst of global attention.
“Releasing him early will give him a moral victory and he may be eager to grab that accolade,” a source was quoted as saying in the report. Many are seeing the custody of the pilot in Pakistan as a way of de-escalating tensions down between the two nuclear-powered countries.