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What Happens When a Prisoner of War is Held: From Lt Gen (Retd) Panag Who Captured India’s First POW

Calling war a 'two-way street, Lt Gen (Retd) HS Panag said the ugly face of war has hit India in less than 24 hours.

Rounak Kumar Gunjan | News18.com@Rounak_T

Updated:February 28, 2019, 8:45 PM IST
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What Happens When a Prisoner of War is Held: From Lt Gen (Retd) Panag Who Captured India’s First POW
File photo of Mirage air crafts. (Image: AFP PHOTO)
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New Delhi: The recent aerial dogfight between India and Pakistan has raked up memories of the 1971 war, the last time the IAF had conducted aerial strikes across the border. Apart from India’s decisive victory, the war is also remembered as one when India arrested its first prisoner of war. And the man who made that arrest was Lt Gen (Retd) Panag.

Speaking to News18.com, the veteran recalls the moment in detail.

Edited excerpts:

Do you think India could have done better through regular communication?

There is certainly an information warfare going on. And as things are, I think India has been losing the perception battle.

They have briefed the public via media in detail; they have laid out what they want. After the conflict that took place at around 10:20 am yesterday, he had tweeted by mid-day and at 1:30 pm there was a detailed press conference.

We were being informed about what had happened by the DGISPR in Pakistan rather than our own spokesperson.

I would say that in 1971, 48 years ago, public relations department of the Ministry of Defense was regularly briefing defense correspondents and some of them were attached to units at the front line. It was much better managed. During the Kargil war, the armed forces had set up a formal information warfare cell headed by a Major. And he kept everybody informed, regular briefings were being held.

Here, we were happy to announce that the country must run and business as usual was declared. Once you have embarked on a strategy, you must have all other things in place.

I would say in the last 60 hours, we have lost the perception battle, hands down.

What happens when a prisoner of war is captured?

Immediately, what happens is he is considered a prisoner of war; he is dis-armed and then he is interrogated to acquire whatever information we can get out of him. There are set procedures laid down where we note down his serial number, his unit.

We then follow the protocol laid down in the Geneva Convention.

Geneva Convention is applicable for any type of war or armed conflict. Abhinandan is currently a prisoner of war.

Can you take us through what happened in 1971 when you rescued a Pakistani prisoner of war?

The first prisoner of war in 1971 was captured by me and he was a Pakistan Air Force pilot. This incident happened on November 1971. We were in confrontation with Bangladesh in a place called Chaugacha. War had not been declared and, therefore, the IAF was not deployed for our help. We were on the eastern side of the river and the Pakistan was on the western. At mid-day on 22nd against the setting sun that four Pakistan's aircraft were flying towards the eastern side targeting our tank. We shot down three and one of the pilots descended roughly five-six hundred meters from where we were. I was chief operation officer of the unit head. Naturally, our soldiers ran to him and in the heat of the moment I was sure the soldiers will rough him up though they were aware of the Geneva Convention. I ordered the soldiers to back off.

What is your personal analysis of the situation and what is the way ahead from here?

We must remember that the entire nation, especially the news channels, were clamouring for war for the last 3-4 years. And if you clamour for war, this is what happens. The ugly face of war has hit us in less than 24 hours. War is a two-way street. Pakistan also has a professional army. There is no need to be euphoric over minor victories. You must seek what end result you want and must constantly work towards it. That is what war is about. Around 2,000-3,000 died in 1971, and with today’s high tech weapons it would be nothing less than 7,000-8,000. Are we ready for that?

(This interview was conducted before Pakistan announced its decision to release IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman on Friday and before the joint press conference by the Indian Air Force, Navy and Army.)

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