India has acknowledged that an Indian Air Force pilot is missing in action. In a video released by Pakistan, the blindfolded person has identified himself to his captors as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. India has lodged a protest at the acts of aggression by Pakistan on Wednesday — including the violation of the Indian air space by the Pakistan Air Force and targeting of Indian military posts — and objected to Pakistan’s “vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention”.
It is imperative that Pakistan declare the IAF pilot a prisoner of war and apply the Third Treaty of the 1949 Geneva Convention. The convention, to which both India and Pakistan are signatories, decrees that combatants of one side taken captive by the other, must be treated in a humane manner, should not be subjected to torture, their medical needs met, and that they must be treated with dignity.
Pakistan must return the IAF pilot home safely. But, in the aftermath of the “non-military pre-emptive strike” at Balakot by India, following the attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pulwama, the missing pilot also casts a wider responsibility.
He is a reminder that conflict between nations has a terrible human toll, that it is a price that is always too high to pay. It is a cost, moreover, that imposes a duty on all — government, political leaders, media and civil society — to speak carefully and act with sobriety. It needs to be recognised that the events over the last couple of days may be the beginning of a long haul and that in these times, every step has consequences.
The aerial strike on terror by the Indian Air Force inside Pakistan has undoubtedly set a new course in relations between the two neighbours. But the way forward will need to be negotiated day by difficult day. So far, across party lines, India’s political class has conducted itself with restraint. The same cannot be said, unfortunately, for studio-warriors on television, where, all too often, an unseemly and immature war-mongering is on display.
If there was no room for triumphalism after the Indian operation, there is less room now for panic or for calls for escalation. India’s TV warriors, and those who raise the pitch from their perch in social media spaces, must realise the obvious: It is all very well to talk up war and quite another to face its full impact. There will be next steps. A dossier was handed over to the Pakistan side on Wednesday with details of JeM complicity in the Pulwama terror attack and the presence of JeM terror camps and its leadership in Pakistan. Pakistan’s response, or lack of it, must be assessed in the light of a calmer day.
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