The nearly 90,000 Pakistan Prisoners of War (PoW) in Indian custody after the 1971 war were housed in various PoW camps spread across the country. Jabalpur, Agra, Allahabad, Ramgarh etc were some of the locations where these prisoners were housed and guarded by the Indian Army. It was certainly not an easy task to keep guard over such a large body of men, even if they were spread all over the country in camps, and often there were attempts to escape by the Pakistanis or there were local rebellions due to disciplinary issues which resulted in casualties.
In March 1972, 50 years ago, the then Defence Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram made a statement in Lok Sabha acknowledging that there had been two cases of Pakistani prisoners trying to escape in one station involving three PoWs. Two escaped from the camp and another who tried to overpower a sentry on duty was shot dead. In September 1972, a more serious incident happened in Camp Number 35 at Allahabad where six PoWs were shot dead after an altercation with Indian sentries and this resulted in a visit by a team of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) to inquire into the incident. The ICRC was always given unfettered access to the PoW camps by Indian Army and they routinely visited the various camps to see how the prisoners were being treated and were satisfied.
As per the ICRC report, the incident on October 13, 1972 took place when 30 PoWs were doing fatigue duty inside the camp cleaning out the garbage and vegetation and they rushed upon the sentry on duty, seized his weapon and fired at him, injuring him. A second sentry killed the PoW who had seized the weapon and another accompanying him. More PoWs attempted to attack the sentries and climb the watch tower which housed a machine gun resulting in firing by the sentries and at the end of it all six PoWs lay dead.
The Pakistani PoWs had contested this version and blamed the incident on a verbal altercation between a prisoner and a sentry which resulted in the PoW being shot dead along with others and that the mayhem ceased only when the Camp Commandant Col RA Bhola reached the spot and ordered ceasefire, the Pakistanis claimed. It was claimed that at least two to three PoWs were shot dead in cold blood and the ICRC team stated this to the Group Commander of the Camps, Brig Man Singh.
These isolated incidents notwithstanding, the gigantic task of keeping the thousands of Pakistani prisoners in custody for nearly three years was well accomplished by the Indian Army. It is quite surprising that virtually nothing has been written about this task in the 50th year of the 1971 victory and there is total silence on this aspect. Unlike the 54 Indian PoWs who are missing after 50 years of the war, every Pakistani prisoner held by India was accounted for.
IAF An-32: A lifeline to Kargil in winters
The An-32 aircraft of the IAF have once again played an important role in ensuring that the people of Ladakh, particularly in Kargil, did not remain cut-off during winters. As per information available with us, in the winter of 2021-22, as many as 4,468 civilian passengers were airlifted by the IAFs workhorse, An-32, in around 90 sorties.
The An-32 operated on the Jammu-Kargil and the Srinagar-Kargil sectors. This year the booking for the seats aboard the aircraft was made online and this further helped the people of Ladakh to plan their journey onboard the military aircraft. This is a paid service and every year the Ladakh administration asks the IAF to operate these flights as only the An-32 can land at the Kargil airpor and no civilian flight has been cleared yet.
36 years of the missing An-32
Speaking of the An-32, it is 36 years since a brand new An-32 went missing on March 26 while being ferried from Muscat in Oman to Jamnagar in Gujarat. The aircraft was on the last leg of its ferry from Kyiv in Ukraine and was one among the three aircraft being ferried. While the other two aircraft reached safely the third one, with tail number K2729, did not reach and has not been found till date. There were seven personnel on board, including three crew. There has been a lot of speculation on how it went missing, from being low on fuel to a mid-air collision with a US fighter aircraft operating from an aircraft carrier nearby, but none has been proven.