The last time Pakistan captured an Indian pilot was in 1999
The last time an officer of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was taken into custody by Pakistan was on May 27, 1999.
Flight lieutenant K Nachiketa was carrying out strikes against enemy posts from his MiG 27 fighter aircraft during the short, sharp Kargil war. He had just locked on to a target and fired the powerful 30mm cannon of his bomber when his engine flamed out. He was forced to eject and when he did, he found himself in enemy territory.
While it is not clear how Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a MIG 21, landed in Pakistani territory, what is clear, from official statements from Pakistan and Indian officials who asked not to be named, is that he is in Pakistan’s custody.
Nachiketa said in interviews after his release that he was tortured in Pakistan. In an NDTV interview in 2016, the pilot said, “The torture was quite bad. There comes a point where you think ‘death is simpler’, but fortunately for me, the third-degree part, which is the last part, didn’t start for me.”
Nachiketa spent eight days in custody before he was handed over to the then Indian high commissioner, G Parthasarathy. Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister at the time.
Recalling the time when he was called to take charge of the “prisoner of war” — who ought not to have been tortured under the Geneva Convention — Parthasarathy said on Wednesday he saw red when he was told that the media would be present at the time of the handover. “I told them, I will not allow and officer of the Indian Air Force to be made a media monkey out of,’’ the former high commissioner said.
Nachiketa was handed over to the representatives of the International Committee of Red Cross, who in turn drove him to the Indian high commission in Islamabad. He was driven across the India-Pakistan border by an air attaché. The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then air chief, Air Chief Marshal Anil Tipnis spoke to him before he left Islamabad.
This time around, Pakistan has said it was left with no option but to hit back after India’s air strike on Tuesday but that it wanted peace, and released two clips of Vardhaman. India condemned Pakistan’s treatment of the pilot, calling it “vulgar display” and demanded his immediate return.