Obligation or favour?
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's announcement on Thursday citing the release of Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman did drop as a surprise considering a rather quick response by them to repatriate the detained pilot. The detention of Abhinandan following an intense aerial dogfight between the Air Forces of the two nations sent India into a frenzy; especially after the release of videos and pictures of Abhinandan by Pakistan on social media. The aerial confrontation – largely labelled as a demonstration of Pakistan's capability to self-defence – was enough to proclaim 'active hostility' between the two South Asian countries who are also signatories to the Geneva Conventions. While Abhinandan's capture was a sad remark for India, opinions were quickly channelised towards the pertinent Geneva Conventions for dealing with the unforeseen adversity. India's direct stance to the matter of their captured pilot was to be assured of Pakistan's honest compliance by the norms of the Conventions. However, Pakistan, without even uttering a word regarding the Geneva Conventions, brought India to a state of momentary happiness when it announced the repatriation of the Wing Commander. Imran Khan in his parliamentary speech labelled the IAF pilot's release as "a gesture of peace". His repeated public assertions strongly inviting dialogue opportunities to resolve the recent, as well as the perpetuated Kashmir issue, possibly would get an image boost following his peace gesture. But the relevant point here was the Geneva Conventions – which regulate norms regarding POW (Prisoner of War). Though, neither India nor Pakistan has acknowledged Abhinandan as a POW but even then, the 'active hostility' part sticks and therefore, Pakistan's gesture, by norms, was a mere exaggeration. Geneva Conventions could be pivotal to Pakistan's decision to expedite the release process since disrespecting laws of international committee certainly do not augur well on the global pretext. In a debriefing event on Thursday evening at South Block, New Delhi, Army, Air Force, and Navy, besides showing evidence of Pakistan's utilisation of F-16s after abject denial regarding the same was put forward Pakistan. The debris of AMRAAM (American Long Range Air-to-Air Missiles) to target Indian military installations was evidence enough to project Pakistan's lie. Earlier, they had also cast confusion over the capture of two IAF pilots instead of one. While the debriefing leaked restricted information regarding the escalated tensions with the neighbouring country, the higher officials of our defence services simply labelled Pakistan's "gesture of peace" as a necessary step in consonance with Geneva Conventions. Surfacing a video where the pilot is beaten up, served tea, interrogated (though without violence as seen), was all to inform India of the captive pilot – which violates the Convention's norm that bars airing pictures of captured prisoners on television. The Ministry of External Affairs strongly condemned the release of such video and pictures which was presumably done with the intention of humiliating the captive – violating Article 13 of Geneva Convention III which cites that POWs must be "humanely treated" at all times. Pakistan's attempt to humiliate the pilot by releasing such a vulgar video was quickly mended by removal of the same. The third protocol of the Convention which relates to the treatment of POWs "applies to all cases of declared war or any other armed conflict (such as this) which may arise between two or more of the signatories, even if the state of war is not recognised by them". This makes Pakistan obligatory of treating WC Abhinandan properly and also holds it responsible for violating the underlying norms of the Convention. Further, as per Article 118 of Convention III, POWs "shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities" which certainly does not put Pakistan in any position to label Abhinandan's release as a gesture of peace. It is rather an obligation, again. But to say the least, nations have a history of violating such conventions and overlooking the details articulated owing to the existing armed hostility. It is only here that Pakistan, and Imran Khan, get the credit of not choosing to violate the Convention and rather expedite the repatriation process. Abhinandan's home and the conflict, though floating in the ambiguity, saw a fragment of peace in his arrival back home. Running down the peculiarities in the Convention sure adds to India's argument in this POW situation yet it also cites Pakistan's willingness to promote peace, quite literally, especially after urging India to hold dialogue over the Pulwama incident for which India provided substantial information on JeM to Pakistan. War-mongerers will aggravate the situation with the peculiarities in the statements of both nations but pursuing peace is paramount; of which Abhinandan's expedited repatriation is a step in the right direction.