Military Literature Festival 2021: Mystery of Missing Personnel of the Indian Armed Forces

By Sri Krishna

Indian Army

New Delhi: Even as the nation celebrates the fifty years of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war which led to formation of Bangladesh, the spectre of the plight of 834 Indian defence personnel who are reportedly lodged in Pakistan jails continues to be hanging even though the issue was officially closed in 1974.

Despite two years of wrangling with Pakistan there was no forward movement and from Missing in Action (MIA), they have been included in the killed in action category so that the family is able to avail of benefits.

Participating in a discussion on book titled “Missing in Action,” by journalist Chander Sota Dogra at the Military Literature Festival in Lucknow, the author suggested that the two countries could set up a Commission similar to the one by US and Russia called the Joint American and Russian MIA and POWs Commission with cells in Moscow and Washington which try to get to the bottom and is still continuing the search.

She felt that a similar Commission could be set up between India and Pakistan to probe into this matter and veterans can be interviewed in both countries as there is great camaraderie. The matter of many Indians continuing to be in Pakistani jails came to light when an Army officer Major Suri’s father was probing about his son’s whereabouts as he was in the injured list.

However, Pakistan sought to close the matter by saying that many of those in Pakistan jails were security persons which is an euphemism for spy and so don’t come under Geneva Convention.

As Dogra said “one of the ways that Pakistan government got around the matter was to call them security persons aka spy and with a straight face denied having any POWs.”

According to Dogra, the liberation of Bangladesh needed to have a leadership and Mujibur Rehman was supported by India. “India had a backchannel deal with Pakistan leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto under which the return of the 93,000 Pakistan POWs would be for the return of Mujibur Rehman who was kept in Miyanwali Jail in Pakistan and only a handful of persons knew of this deal with even the military being kept in the dark,” Dogra said.

She said that 93,000 Pakistan POWs were captured in the Eastern sector and 545 on the Western front while 600 Indian soldiers were captured and on December 1, 1972, the prisoners from both countries were repatriated.

However, there continues to be a question mark on the missing army personnel though she said that “by 1974 the POW chapter was closed between India and Pakistan.”

Moderating the discussion, Captain Yashika Tyagi became emotional and said “after the 1971 war, we magnanimously repatriated 93,000 Pakistan POWs but shamelessly and simply forgot the 54 soldiers of the 1965 Indo-Pak war who are still in Pakistan captivity. They have been kept faraway and why we have not brought them back. What was the need for Pakistan to hold them and not return all the POWs? We should get over Geneva Convention.”