OUR MISSING 54 POWs

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By Sarang Thatte.

After the 1971 war, the Indian government captured almost 93,000 Pakistani prisoners, who surrendered during war in East Pakistan before the Indian Army. On the West Pakistan battles, Pakistan had made Indian soldiers Prisoner of War (POWs). After the war ended on December 16, 1971, both the countries had released the war prisoners under the Shimla Agreement in August 1972. Yet, between this initiative, 54 Indian soldiers (20 officials who were included) were forgotten. While at the time the radio and various newspapers had talked about their life and prison term. Today, 48 years have passed since the war – but no clue has been found for these 54 missing Indians, neither has Pakistan freed them from their prisons. The government and the army declared it as Missing in Action – MIA, as they have not been located even after a series of partially attempted efforts. Today, the family and relatives of 54 Missing do not know whether they should be considered as dead or should they continue to shed tears in their waiting!

Many of the relatives of these 54 Indian war prisoners took the initiative and took the challenge to collate all evidences and try to persuade the Govt on both sides of the border to locate the Missing 54. With the information received from many such documents, letters, newspapers, radio broadcasts and correspondent’s accounts along with statements made by prisoners released from Pakistan since 1971, it had been noticed that there was sufficient confirmation of the survival of the Missing 54. Some families even made the Missing Defense Personnel Association. Today, unfortunately many parents and wives are no more alive but have left behind children who continue to carry the baton of search. Perhaps many families have now assumed that this search will never see a closure. Unfortunately, the successive Governments in India took no stern steps.

We need to have a Judicial Commission to investigate the fate of Missing 54. This Commission needs to coordinate with the International Red Cross and the offices of United Nations Peace Keepers among other agencies in the Pak Govt. When an aircraft goes missing over the sea surface, an all-out effort is made to search and rescue the survivors but in this case the Missing 54 have remained missing with no closure. The Government of India needs to undertake a massive media blitz to display the photographs of the Missing 54 on social media and even in Pak media. This will enable the common citizen of Pakistan to recognize the missing faces, if ever they have seen them earlier in Pakistani Jails ! This is the last straw in this search in a haystack of lies and misinformation so aptly nurtured by the Pak authorities.

Pakistan also believes that it is possible that the prisoners may have changed their names or be mentally unfit to give out his name. It is presumed without doubt that in Pakistan prisons, torture is a routine phase for prisoner. Our POWs have had horrific days of languishing under harsh conditions in a Pakistani prison, where conditions after the war must surely not have been humane ! The Government of India has given a list of 54 missing soldiers and officials and pictures to Pakistan. In India, the relatives of these missing 54 are not ready to believe that they were killed – after all the ray of hope remains, as Pakistan does not speak openly on their condition. Even if any of them is dead in Pakistan, the Pakistan government should give this information to the Indian government / International Red Cross.

Today, many families have grown up sons and daughters who never saw their father. In their mind, they still carry the thought that their father is currently in jail in Pakistan – missing in action! When will this war of uncertainty of these families be resolved ? The Indian government has talked to many Indians, who had come back from Pakistan’s jails, and they have talked about the Prisoners of War in Pakistan’s jails – but no evidence had been found. A photo had appeared in International Time Magazine, which has been claimed to be Major AK Ghosh. A small team from India visited Multan Prison in 1983. However, the Pakistan Government refused to show the prisoners of all categories in their jails. Then how should it be considered that transparency has been shown in this whole incident? The ray of hope is still present in families.

Now, 48 years have passed since the war, most of the soldiers then were between 20 to 25 years of age. Today the prisoners must be over 68 – an able-bodied Asian lives much longer than that. It is difficult what must be the mental condition of the POWs, because an English historian Victoria Schofield mentioned in a biography book on Benazir Bhutto that a Pakistani attorney was aware of the shouting of the Indian soldiers in Kote Lakhpat Jail. The voices used to come in the night. After Wing Commander H Gill’s MiG-21 was shot down, it was reported on Pakistan radio that an ace Indian pilot has been detained. This radio broadcast was done on 13th December 1971. No further news of the Pilot came thereafter. Likewise, American General Chuck Yeager had interviewed Indian pilots for his autobiography after the 1971 war, in which he has narrated some instances with names. This was never investigated beyond.

For the first time in 1978, the government released a list of 54 war prisoners, which included 2 Second Lieutenants, 1 Lieutenant, 7 Captain, 6 Major, besides 2 Subedars, 3 Naib Subedars, 1 Constable, 3 Gunners, 2 Soldiers, 1 Wing Commander, 4 Squadron Leaders, 16 Flight Lieutenants, 3 Flying Officers and 2 Naval Officers. Of the 54 missing war prisoners 3 soldiers of 1965 war are also included. This distribution has 27 from Army, 24 of Indian Air Force, 2 from Indian Navy and one Border Security Force. In 1989, the then Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had admitted that there were Prisoners of War in Pakistan. Whereas, all the Pakistani Prime ministers before and after had denied there presence in Pakistani Jails. Since the war, there have only two occasions when the families from India got the opportunity to visit Pakistani prisons. However, they could not locate anyone, but some guards of Jails had admitted that Indian prisoners were in their prison. It is assumed that Pakistani officials rotated these war prisoners in seven different jails to avoid detection. In one media report, it was mentioned that these war prisoners were lodged in the secret rooms located under an airport in Pakistan.

Victory Day is celebrated on the16th of December, as a celebration of Indian Army’s victory in the 1971 War. Yet, in order to remember the Missing 54 in this war, the government has not yet announced the Missing In Action Day. While it is customary to celebrate this type of day in some countries. The government has to take Pakistan on the international stage for the right position of Missing 54 along with other issues. The families still await after 48 years of desperate and agonizing wait. India must get a closure to this pain and anguish …
( image courtesy internet )

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