In the backdrop of the Indian government trying to secure the release of former naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death in Pakistan, the kin of Indians captured by the neighbouring country in the 1971 war have again raised the demand that efforts be made to know about their fate too.
There are 54 personnel from the armed forces who are believed to have been captured by Pakistan in the 1971 war and are Prisoners of War (PoW) in that country. Their whereabouts remain unknown till date. These personnel are said to have been occasionally sighted by fellow civilian prisoners in some jails across Pakistan and a letter has also been received from a PoW.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Simmi Waraich, member of the Missing Defence Personnel Relatives Association (MDPRA), said the union government has not made any effort to institutionalise the efforts to search for the soldiers believed to be held as PoW in Pakistan. Dr Waraich, whose father, Maj HPS Waraich of Punjab Regiment, is also among those who are believed to be a PoW in Pakistan, said, “Jadhav’s case has made the government act swiftly because of the media focus. “It is good that the government is making all efforts to get him back but the same should also be done for the 1971 PoWs so that it is finally known what happened to them,” she said.
“I have sent fax messages to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Defence regarding the PoW case but I have not even received acknowledgment from them. While we allow the US military to come to remote areas in the North East and search for the remains of their airmen who were killed in crashes in the second World War, we do not even have a missing in action cell in the defence ministry to look for our PoWs in Pakistan,” said Waraich.
After the 1971 war ended, the number of defence personnel missing in action and believed to have been taken prisoners stood at 40 but later this figure was revised to 54 in 1975. “A question was asked in the Lok Sabha in 1975 and the government gave the names of 54 persons believed to be in captivity in Pakistan and even gave the names of the jails in which they were supposed to be in custody. However, later when we asked where they had got this information from, we did not get any satisfactory answer,” she said.
In the case of her own father, a former IPS officer Ashwini Kumar, who was the manager of Indian hockey team in Munich Olympics in 1972, had managed to find out from a Pakistani team member about his whereabouts and had learnt that he was held in a jail in Dagai, near Swabi in Pakistan. “We were told at the time that the Indian PoWs were being rotated among four jails in Pakistan in the north west frontier region,” she said. Relatives of the Indian PoWs also visited Pakistan in 2007 after the then President Pervez Musharraf facilitated their visit but they failed to find any traces of the prisoners.
Damyanti Tambey, wife of Flight Lieutenant Vijay Tambey, who is believed to be among the 54 PoWs, has been fighting a case in the Supreme Court for the PoWs for the past several years. Speaking on phone from New Delhi, she said: “I also met the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar on the issue and he promised to do whatever he could but now he has also left. There is definitely a need to establish a missing in action cell to trace the whereabouts of the PoWs,” she said.