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Pakistan must return Abhi unharmed, promptly

February 27, 2019 20:28 IST

'It is the bounden duty of the Indian government to leave no stone unturned to have the pilot back urgently.'
'If that is not done in the desirable manner, it could well be a trigger for much more serious a conflagration in the subcontinent,' says Group Captain Murli Menon (retd).

MiG-21 fighters

Downing of our MiG-21 Bison and capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan are part of the expected uncertainties of war.

Though we are yet short of a 'declared war', Pakistan would be expected to adhere to the Geneva Convention and humanitarian considerations to return the pilot immediately.

Footage in social media about Wing Commander Abhinandan being manhandled by locals is abhorring indeed. Similar treatment was meted out by the Pakistanis to some downed pilots during the 1971 war too.

But they did return Flight Lieutenant Nachiketa during the Kargil air ops unharmed. This happened just before my arrival in that country as the Air Adviser in December 2000.

What is even more concerning for me personally is that Abhinandan is the son of my illustrious coursemate Air Marshal S Varthaman (retd) whose last assignment was as CINC EAC, AF.

Abhi grew up in our AF camp at Jodhpur in front of us and is like my own son.

There have been many such downing of fighter pilots in the annals of air battle history, including in Syria and elsewhere. Unfortunately, these air warriors have become instruments of enemy country angst and diplomatic haranguing.

It is the bounden duty of the Indian government to leave no stone unturned to have the pilot back urgently. If that is not done in the desirable manner, it could well be a trigger for much more serious a conflagration in the subcontinent.

Traditionally, of course, India and Pakistan have been rather 'gentlemanly' in their wartime targeting and treatment of POWs.

Civilian areas were generally not targeted from the air and POWs (including the 93,000 in Bangladesh) were treated humanely.

Personal interaction with some of our own 1971 War POWs such as Wing Commander Mally Grewal and Group Captain Dilip Parulkar tells me that Wing Commander Abhinandan ought to get a decent deal. But diplomatic pressure has to be kept up till he returns home safe and sound.

The frenzy of war-like operations and understandable distraction of the establishment with it cannot reduce our focus to have our pilot brought home.

The International Committee of the Red Cross needs to be involved too and apprised of how the Geneva Convention has already been flouted by Pakistan by way of blindfolding and manhandling the pilot.

Another aspect to be addressed is to assess if any valuable intelligence has been compromised in the downing of the Bison aircraft and suitable remedial action taken, which the IAF is well seized of.

The main worries are in terms of technology divulged, IFF codes, personal pilot weaponry, marked maps etc. These security aspects are fairly routine and are not more vital than the return of our war hero Abhinandan who seemingly has scored our first 'kill' by shooting down a PAF F-16!!

Group Captain Murli Menon (retd)
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