Imran Khan’s “Peace Gesture” is a Big Bluff

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement that Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot, in its custody would be repatriated to India is good news. But only incurable Pakistan apologists (and of course the ignoramus) will believe Khan’s assertion that this release was being done as a “peace gesture,” because fact of the matter is that Islamabad had just no other choice whatsoever but to do this.  So while Congress leader Navjot Sidhu has rightly tweeted that a “nation rejoices,” but to hail the announcement made by Imran Khan that the IAF pilot’s release was a “goodwill gesture” is not only totally misleading but also completely inappropriate and downright gross. But there’s no need to get unnecessarily upset because it could well be the fertile comedian in Sidhu that has made him come out with such a hilarious tweet !

Geneva Conventions of 1949 lays down comprehensive instructions related to armed conflicts and Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s case comes well within the purview of this convention. Anyone conversant with its protocols will agree that Islamabad (which is a signatory to this convention) failed to ensure adherence to mandatory instructions contained in Convention III, which concerns issues related to treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). In its exuberance to humiliate the IAF pilot and hurt public sentiments in India, the Pakistan Army put a video on social media in which a crowd of civilians were seen mercilessly manhandling Wg Cdr Abhinandan while an armed Pakistan Army soldier pleaded meekly but did nothing to stop this physical abuse. This is in clear violation of Article 3 (a), which required Pakistan as the ‘detaining power’ to prevent any “violence to life and person” under its detention.

Furthermore, Pakistan was duty bound by Article 3 (c) of the Geneva Convention to protect the IAF pilot from “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” So, was it so urgent to present to him blindfolded and bound like a dangerous criminal before the media in a disheveled state with blood clots and grime on his face? First of all the Pakistan Army had no reason to vulgarly display Wg Cdr Abhinandan as some sort of ‘war trophy’. Even if the Generals couldn’t resist this temptation, couldn’t they at least ensure that his wounds were tended to, his blindfold was removed and he was unbound before being produced before the media? What has happened cannot in any way be passed off as an inadvertent faux pas; au contraire, it is abundantly clear that this was done on purpose with a perverse intent.

By saying “I want to now address India and say let sanity prevail. Let’s think sensibly. All wars in the world have been started on miscalculations on the time and the human cost of war,” Imran Khan may be attempting to sound like a great statesman and man of peace. But he has to give some very serious explanations as there is a wide disparity in what he is saying and what his armed forces are doing.  So if Khan sincerely doesn’t want the situation to escalate then he needs to explain the following:

  • When the IAF restricted their attacks to terrorist camps only, then why did his office announce on Tuesday that “India has committed uncalled for aggression to which Pakistan shall respond at the time and place of its choosing”?
  • Since he accepted that Wednesday’s violation of the Line of Control (LoC) by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters was “only intended to convey that if you can come into our country, we can do the same, ” wasn’t this an immature act that could enhance the risk of further escalating tensions?
  • If the intention of air space violation by PAF was only symbolic as Imran Khan goes on to claim then why did DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor confirm that on Wednesday “Our planes locked targets; then in open air we carried out strikes”? Doesn’t such an aggressive action increase the risk of escalation?

The truth is that Imran Khan had no other option but to return Wg Cdr Abhinandan since the Pakistan Army badly messed up this case. Though Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa has been repeatedly telling the world that there were no terrorist camps on its soil, the IAF air strikes against Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist camps has exposed Islamabad’s duplicity in its war on terror. For Imran Khan the situation was absolutely hopeless, while Pakistan’s long “all weather friend” chose to distance itself, France volunteered to move United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for declaring JeM chief Masood Azhar a ‘global terrorist’. Even the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) did not buckle under Islamabad’s threat of boycotting the foreign secretary meet in protest against India being invited as ‘guest of honour’.

One is not sure whether Imran Khan is genuinely keen to normalise relations with India, but then in a country where the military calls the shots, such feelings don’t matter at all. The reality is that there is no letup in spate of ceasefire violations along the LoC and this confirms the bitter but well known fact that Rawalpindi has no intention of giving peace a chance. In fact, PAF’s intrusion on Wednesday appears to be much more than just a show of strength as the Pakistanis claim. As reports have now revealed, it was supposed to be a massive retaliation by more than 20 combat aircrafts that was effectively thwarted by our alert air warriors. Why I’m convinced about this is because it’s inconceivable that Pakistani armed forces which never cease praising themselves for their exceptional professionalism would be so naïve as to violate the airspace of a hostile neighbour in a retaliatory act and then like school children get their thrills by carrying out airstrikes in “open air”.

Tailpiece: Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s release is the result of India’s refusal to make any compromises and its determined military and diplomatic pressure on Pakistan. Therefore, it is absolutely clear that both Imran Khan and his army chief Gen Bajwa are merely using the “peace gesture” explanation for this release as a ‘fig leaf’ to protect their political and professional modesty respectively.

Nilesh Kunwar
Nilesh Kunwar
Writer is a retired Indian Army Officer who has served in terrorism-infested areas of Jammu & Kashmir, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur. He is a 'Kashmir-Watcher' who keeps a close tab on the state's developments.

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