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Indigenous no-state people

Eyewitnesses say IAF air strike in Balakot killed dozens of Jaish terrorists, a former ISI agent, ex-Pak army men

Francesca Marino

Rome: Eyewitnesses present at the site of India’s 26 February bomb strikes against a Jaish-e-Muhammad base say they saw up to 35 bodies being transported out of the the site by ambulance hours after the attack. The dead, they recounted, included 12 men who were said to have been sleeping in a single temporary shack, and several individuals who had earlier served in Pakistan’s military.

The sources, who work for local government authorities, declined to be identified as they are not authorised to speak to media, and said they feared reprisal. The eyewitnesses were contacted by this correspondent using encrypted communication.

A building, which according to residents is a madrasa is seen near to the site where Indian military aircrafts released payload in Jaba village, Balakot, Pakistan February 28, 2019

An image released by Reuters of a madrasa near the site where Indian aircrafts released payload in Jaba village. Reuters

“Local authorities reached the site soon after the bombing,” one witness said, “but the area had already been cordoned off by then by the army, who did not even allow police to enter. The army also took away mobile phones from the medical staff on the ambulances.”

A former Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) officer known locally as “Colonel Salim” was killed in the bombing, sources said, while a “Colonel Zarar Zakri” was injured. Mufti Moeen, a Jaish-e-Muhammad instructor from Peshawar, and improvised explosive device-fabrication expert Usman Ghani were also killed in the bombing.

The largest single cluster of fatalities, the eyewitnesses said, were 12 Jaish-e-Muhammad fidayeen trainees, who were living in a single temporary earth-and-wood building that was flattened in the bombing.

Conflicting Testimony

Eyewitness testimony from the region has been conflicting, with witnesses variously saying there were no Jaish-e-Muhammad fighters at Jaba top, and others insisting they were present. The testimony has also been divided on whether casualties were inflicted, with several local residents telling television and print journalists that the only victims were some civilians who received minor injuries.

However, the witnesses were only interviewed days after the attack, and several media outlets reported that they were not allowed unfettered access to all areas in Jaba, the village targeted in the raid.

Independent satellite imagery analysis conducted by Nathan Ruser of the prestigious Australian Strategic Policy Institute concluded that there is “no apparent evidence of more extensive damage and on the face of it does not validate Indian claims regarding the effect of the strikes”.

However, Indian Air Force officials have asserted that that synthetic aperture radar — which provides finer spatial resolution than conventional beam-scanning radar — reveals that they destroyed four target buildings below the ridge, where the Jaish-e-Muhammad has several buildings, including a seminary.

ANI tweeted out undated images of the said JeM installation at Jaba top. Twitter @ANI

ANI tweeted out undated images of the said JeM installation at Jaba top. Twitter @ANI

The images, however, have not been made public, making it impossible to independently verify these claims.

Islamabad has said the Indian raid caused little damage, other than to local vegetation.

Indian intelligence sources said two of the names mentioned by the eyewitnesses — Usman and Colonel Salim — had also figured in communications intelligence available.

At an intelligence assessment meeting held on 1 March, India’s Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) said its communications intelligence could confirm five dead, but placed estimates of the killed in the region of  20.

R&AW had identified the Jaba top seminary as a target, based on intelligence that personnel earlier stationed by the Jaish-e-Muhammad at villages along the Line of Control had been pulled back to that location, in anticipation of possible Indian Army retaliation after the Pulwama suicide bombing.

“There’s no doubt that bombs hit their targets,” a senior intelligence official said. “Though some of the numbers that have been appearing in the media are hyperbolic, I think the raid served its purpose, which was to make a point about our ability to strike at terrorist safe-havens, rather than extract revenge.” Some television channels reported that 300 people had been killed in the strike.

Past air strikes on terrorist targets have generally had a low deterrent effect, since the personnel at training facilities are generally small in the number and dispersed.

In 1998, the United States fired 75 cruise missiles at Al-Qaeda’s Zhawar Kili in retaliation of the bombing at the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, but killed only a dozen terrorists or less.

The author is an Italian journalist who has covered South Asia extensively. She writes regularly for Limes-Italian Review of Geopolitics and several Italian and Swiss media outlets. She won the Italian journalism prize, Il Luigiano d’oro in 2010. She is the Chief Editor of Stringer Asia, an online magazine on South Asia, since 1995.

First published in First

Indigenous no-state people

Abhinandan Varthaman Isn’t the Only POW in Pakistan, 54 Others Remain Forgotten in Time

New Delhi: As India mulled over the possible ways to bring back IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, Pakistan on Thursday said it will decided on according the air force pilot prisoner of war status “in a couple of days”.

“India has raised the matter of the pilot with us. We’ll decide in a couple of days what convention will apply to him and whether to give him Prisoner of War status or not,” Pakistani media quoted the country’s Foreign Office spokesperson Muhammad Faisal as saying.

The 38-year-old was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday after his MiG-21 Bison crashed during an aerial dogfight with a Pakistani jet.

‘The Missing 54’

While the debate over POW status to Varthaman escalates, 54 other Indians soldiers, officers and pilots continue to be held by Pakistan as POWs since the 1971 conflict, although the Pakistan government has often denied their presence on its soil. The 54 POWs have come to be known as ’The Missing 54’.

‘The Missing 54’ are the soldiers and officers of Indian armed forces who were given the status of missing in action (MIA) or killed in action after the 1971 Indo-Pak war. However, they are believed to be alive and imprisoned in various Pakistani jails. They include 30 personnel from the Indian Army and 24 from the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The 30 Army personnel include one Lieutenant, eight Captains, two Second Lieutenants, six Majors, two Subedars, three Naik Lieutenants, one Havaldaur, five gunners and two sepoys from the Indian Army. The remaining 24 from the Indian Air Force include three Flight Officers, one Wing Commander, four Squadron Leaders and 16 Flight Lieutenants.

This list was tabled in the Lok Sabha in 1979 by Samarendra Kundu, Minister of State of External Affairs, in reply to a question raised by Amarsingh Pathawa.

The families have approached both the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross in their 48-year-long campaign, but neither body was able to offer assistance.

On the contrary, during the 1971 war, India had taken almost 90,000 Pakistani troops as POWs. However, all of them were released as part of the Simla peace agreement.

Until 1989, Pakistan had completely denied holding the prisoners. However, then prime minister Benazir Bhutto finally told visiting Indian officials that the men were in Pakistani custody. The POW issue had also figured in the discussions between Bhutto and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during their meeting in Islamabad in December 1989. She had also assured Gandhi that she would “seriously look into their release”.

Years later, former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf back-tracked on this, formally denying their existence in Pakistan.

However, there has been compelling evidence of the presence of 54 POWs in Pakistan’s custody.

In 1972, Time magazine published a photo showing one of the men behind bars in Pakistan. His family believed he had been killed during the war, but instantly recognised him, The Diplomat reported in 2015.

In her biography of Benazir Bhutto, British historian and former BBC correspondent Victoria Schoffield reported that a Pakistani lawyer had been told that Kot Lakhpat prison in Lahore was housing Indian prisoners of war “from the 1971 conflict”.

Victoria Schofield in her book Bhutto: Trial and Execution also wrote, “Besides these conditions at Kot Lakhpat (jail), for three months Bhutto (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) was subjected to a peculiar kind of harassment, which he thought was especially for his benefit… His cell, separated from a barrack area by a 10-foot-high wall, did not prevent him from hearing horrific shrieks and screams at night from the other side of the wall. One of Mr Bhutto’s lawyers made enquiries among the jail staff and ascertained that they were in fact Indian prisoners-of-war who had been rendered delinquent and mental during the course of the 1971 war.”

“An American general, Chuck Yeager, also revealed in an autobiography that during the 1971 war, he had personally interviewed Indian pilots captured by the Pakistanis. The airmen were of particular interest to the Americans because, at the height of the Cold War, the men had attended training in Russia and were flying Soviet designed and manufactured aircraft,” The Diplomat wrote in 2015.

On September 1, 2015, the Supreme Court also asked the Centre about the status of these 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistan jails since 1971.

“Are they still alive?” the Supreme Court had questioned.

“We don’t know,” Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for External Affairs and Defence ministries, told a bench of Justice TS Thakur and Justice Kurian Joseph.

“We presume that they are dead as Pakistan has been denying their presence in their prisons,” he said.

The provisions of the Geneva conventions apply in peacetime situations, in declared wars, and in conflicts that are not recognised as war by one or more of the parties. The treatment of prisoners of war is dealt with by the Third Convention or treaty. More specifically, the 3rd Geneva Convention of 1949 lays down a wide range of protection for prisoners of war. It defines their rights and sets down detailed rules for their treatment and eventual release. International humanitarian law (IHL) also protects other persons deprived of liberty as a result of armed conflict.

Human Rights

Indian Air Force jets crossed LoC, claims Pakistan

Pakistan on Tuesday claimed that the Indian Air Force jets
crossed the Line of Control (LoC), following which the former “scrambled”
The claim comes in the wake of tense relations between the two countries
in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack, claimed by Pakistan-based
outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Indian Air Force violated Line of Control. Pakistan Air Force
immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts gone back.
Details to follow.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) 1551138140000
“Indian Air Force violated Line of Control (LoC).

Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled. Indian aircrafts gone back. Details to
follow (sic),” the Spokesperson for the Pakistan Armed Forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor, tweeted on Tuesday.