More than two-and-a-half months after Sepoy Chandu Babulal Chavan crossed over from his post on LoC, the Army is still awaiting a word from the Pakistani side about his return. While Pakistan army has acknowledged the presence of Chavan in its custody during telephonic talks between the two DGMOs, it has been silent on any plans about his return to India.
Defence Ministry sources told The Indian Express that the two DGMOs had discussed the matter on November 23 and November 29. In both these conversations, the Pakistani side acknowledged that Chavan was in its custody but did not give any information about his return.
The Army has been concerned about the lack of response from Pakistan army, which it believes, is not following the protocol on inadvertent crossing of individuals across the LoC.
At one point late last month, the top brass of Army even discussed the idea of threatening to withdraw the Indian defence attaches from Islamabad, if Chavan was not returned by Pakistan army. That proposal was eventually shot down, but the Army is keen that the matter be raised at the diplomatic level as DGMO-level talks are not leading to the soldier’s release.
“We are aware that Chavan crossed over in the area of the same Pakistani battalion where we had hit them with our surgical strikes. We understand that the Pakistani soldiers may have roughed up Chavan out of anger. But we expected him to be returned within two weeks or so . But more than two months have passed now and there is no sign of his return,” a top Army official said.
Even Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had expected that Chavan would return in some days. On October 2, he said, “There is a well-established mechanism through DGMO which has been activated. Since the situation is tense now, it will take some days to bring the soldier back.”
Chavan, posted with 37 Rashtriya Rifles battalion, had “inadvertently crossed over” from his post on the LoC on September 29, hours after the surgical strikes by Indian forces on terror launch pads across LoC. The Army maintains that Chavan’s battalion was not part of the surgical strikes and the 22-year-old crossed over from the LoC in Mendhar sector after a tiff with his superior at the post.
Although Army officials informed their Pakistani counterparts about Chavan’s crossing over on September 29, Pakistan army formally acknowledged him being in its custody on October 13. Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN Maleeha Lodhi, had however said on October 2, that Chavan was captured “while trying to enter into Pakistani territory”. Beyond established norms for individuals crossing the LoC, the two countries are also bound by Geneva Conventions on dealing with enemy soldiers in their custody.