Another Indian Propaganda Gimmick: The Lurking Ghost of Indian PoWs

Written By: Brig (Retd) Mehboob Qadir

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Moved by this startling disclosure, I started off in earnest but regrettably that Indian officer turned out to be more an insensitive self-seeker rather than one genuinely concerned. It was so distressing to see men playing with tender human sentiments in this blatant manner.

Alastair Sloan likes to be known as an investigative journalist whose forte is turning out to be selective advocacy rather than a wholesome pursuit of truth. His professed passion, one believes, is ‘human rights’ a going commodity that is commercially saleable these days, but more often an ill-defined preoccupation based on imbibed prejudices. He wrote an article on the subject in the Newsweek’s July 24, 2015 issue.1 In the article, Alastair Sloan falsely asserted that 54 Indian PoWs are still held by Pakistan and languishing at same hidden place. He is now scheduled to visit New Delhi next month, quite expectedly, to dig deeper for his write-up for perhaps another magazine this time. A respected colleague from US sent me the following questions whose answers were being sought by Mr. Sloan:-

1 If India released 90,000 Pakistani prisoners at the end of the conflict, why were 54 prisoners overlooked going the other way, as it was especially given Pakistan was hardly in a strong negotiating position at that time?

2 How could a release now affect relations? Real catch is built into the second question which is loaded with the suggestive presumption that those unfortunate souls were, allegedly, still held by Pakistan. There could be nothing more preposterous. This approach is illegitimate by conception and therefore unexceptionable. We will come to this a little later.

This matter was also broached with me by a retired Indian Army officer more than a year ago. He seemed to be a campaigner for these mysterious Indian men, claimed to be held by Pakistan variously by the Indian and other foreign media, certain affected families and quite a few others who have a stake in it one way or the other. Moved by this startling disclosure, I started off in earnest but regrettably that Indian officer turned out to be more an insensitive self-seeker rather than one genuinely concerned. It was so distressing to see men playing with tender human sentiments in this blatant manner.

For the families of these men it is a real agonizing situation. I know how unbearably painful it can get. I had been a prisoner in Indian camps after the same war. However, the matter has been scandalized, made a slander tool and pasted on every wall in town, obscuring the real issue. The issue was humanitarian and needed to be discussed objectively for the sake of their families and not for point scoring. It is hideousness at its worst. I have been on quite a few important positions of considerable access to information in GHQ, field formations and elsewhere after 1980 and have never heard or seen anything about these allegedly held 54 Indian PoWs of 1971 war. Such a thing can never be kept under wraps that too for 44 years. A whole lot of officials of all descriptions have replaced many more ever since but not a single word about that? Amazing! Pakistan is not a Gulag or Andaman exile. We do not run Gauntanamos or Pul-e-Charkhi either.

In my assessment the trouble with this whole issue is that there are underlying presuppositions by their interlocutors and the likes of Alastair Sloan which defeat fruitful interaction ab initio. It is like hanging the wretch first and his trial later:-

1. The notion presumes that Pakistan has retained the alleged PoWs with an ulterior motive. None has defined what could that be and how would it be served?

2. Sadism of the idea is so irresistibly appealing to the ravenous media and professional spin masters that they are not prepared to grant any decency and compassion to Pakistan. This pre-cooked thick stew about our perceived conduct is lapped up readily as it sells easily. Media is voracious and the story tends to feed just the juice that it yearns for. Even a modicum of civility allowed to Pakistan would unspin the whole evil weave which could end the success run of quite a few news howlers.

3. Acts of grace, humanitarian consideration and responsible conduct by us are either conveniently ignored or trashed as freaks. Rescue of Indian citizens from the teeth of Yemeni battle zone early this year, sustained efforts for months by Ansar Burney Trust Pakistan to free Indian Commercial Navy men along with ours from Somali pirates last year and unscathed return of Indian Army helicopter which strayed into sensitive Siachen Sector, alongwith its crew the same day, are not ordinary acts. They need outstanding character and not hollow humility or empty talk. But we are not given to thumping our chest for what we do to help fellow men in distress. We are generous and not petty, unlike what Mr. Sloan and his sort would prefer us to be painted. That is why such commendable acts of compassion by Pakistan do not make news.

Pakistan is a victim of manufactured perceptions, a massive failure of its successive leaderships to rise to the occasion, their feet of clay when faced with challenging situations and immense disjointedness in our ability to present the country’s case effectively. Pakistan is not going to be everybody’s punching bag hung in the public park for long. We will regain our dignity and will regard those well who understood our difficulties and stood by us.

4. Very frequently Pakistan releases Indian fishermen in their hundreds who were found fishing in disputed waters in Rann of Kutch bay. One has to see expressions on their faces for being well treated in detention as Pakistan understands they were victims of India’s proverbially obstinate deep state which is repeatedly refusing to settle the long standing issue of demarcation of sea boundary. We have never killed an Indian held in our custody, but invariably receive tortured dead bodies of ours from India. Imagine India holding back a few years old child from his Pakistani parents on utterly frivolous officiousness.

5. India seems to have been washed in Ganges waters and clean as a snow flake forever from any act of atrocity, impropriety or breach. Pakistan too is not Rwanda nor a Roman Colosseum where ferocious men must kill, maim and destroy. Their inclination seems to be to judge the whole of us by the beastly few who were imposed upon us from abroad, are their proxies and bequeathed as the humanity’s garbage.

6. It is well known but still begs repetition that by now notorious and again scandalized Bombay terror attack was tried by the Indian courts. After six years of grueling trial and thousands of pages of high legal hairsplitting along with concerted efforts by their otherwise efficient and nearly prescient intelligence and investigating agencies, the court found it hard to link the tragic incident with Pakistan. However, what was thrown up before and continues to bounce in the media around the world was conjecture and favourite sensation despite the tragic and needless loss of lives. India has still to produce tenable evidence in our trial court to enable us to convict Lakhvi. It is quite apparent that Indian establishment prefers political mileage over the blood and sufferings of her citizens; their grief, tragedy and searing pain, notwithstanding. Pakistan is a victim of manufactured perceptions, a massive failure of its successive leaderships to rise to the occasion, their feet of clay when faced with challenging situations and immense disjointedness in our ability to present the country’s case effectively. Pakistan is not going to be everybody’s punching bag hung in the public park for long. We will regain our dignity and will regard those well who understood our difficulties and stood by us.

Journalistic theatrics of Alastair Sloan’s article are understandable. How else would the Newsweek lift his write up? Whereas this case needs genuine concern and a very thoughtful application. An obsession for ratings and lust to whip Pakistan anyway is futile. We can be angry but not callous.

The writer is a retired Brigadier and former Director of ISPR. He contributes regularly for national print media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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