Chandu Babulal Chohan, who was captured by Pakistan. (Photo: Twitter)
New Delhi: Even as India and Pakistan exchanged fire across the Line of Control in Kashmir on Saturday, indications are that Pakistan will formally treat captured Indian soldier Chandu Babulal Chohan as a Prisoner of War (PoW) and accord him the treatment prescribed under the Geneva Convention.
"There are strong indications that he will be treated as a PoW by Pakistan," a source said.
This will deal a blow to the hopes of the Indian government and the Army who are working for an early release of Chohan — who hails from Maharashtra — and are in touch with Pakistan.
Sources said Pakistan is viewing Chohan as an active combatant captured after India announced to the world that it had carried out surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). While the Indian Army has already contacted the Pakistani Army at the DGMO-level on Chohan’s case, chances of any release of Chohan at this stage are bleak.
For one, Pakistan is yet to officially confirm that the Indian soldier is in its custody despite the Indian Army taking up the matter. But the game was given away by Pakistani media on Thursday evening which flashed the soldier’s name, his age, state of origin in India (Maharashtra) and his father’s name even before the Indian Army confirmed he had inadvertently crossed the LoC.
Indian Army sources had earlier said that Chohan, a soldier "from the 37 Rashtriya Rifles had inadvertently crossed over to the other side of the LoC" with his weapon. Sources had however specified that Chohan had nothing to do with the Army’s surgical strikes on terror launchpads in PoK.
Chohan had apparently crossed the LoC sometime during the day on Thursday in circumstances shrouded in mystery amid speculation that he was upset and disoriented.
Indian Army sources had earlier said that "such inadvertent crossing by Army personnel and civilians are not unusual on either side. They are returned through existing mechanisms".
In times of peace, if anyone inadvertently crosses over, Indian and Pakistani Army local commanders get in touch through flag meetings at the LoC and hand back the people. If required, the DGMOs of the two Armies can also get in touch. In October 2011, for example, an Indian Army helicopter with four Army personnel on board flew by mistake into PoK and landed there. Pakistan handed back the men and helicopter.
The terrain along the LoC is mountainous and heavily forested and it is entirely possible that people lose their way and stray across.
It is precisely this that can provide a ray of hope to Chohan. Sources indicated that Chohan could be released by the Pakistanis whenever there is an exchange of prisoners in similar circumstances.
"If a Pakistani Armyman strays across the LoC and is captured by the Indian Army under similar circumstances, then chances of Chohan being released will brighten. As of now, indications are that he will not be released by the Pakistanis in the current scenario of hostility," sources said.
"The Pakistanis realise that Chohan cannot provide them with sensitive information as he would not have been privy to it by virtue of his rank. At best, they can use the circumstances of his capture for some propaganda. But they will jail him and use this for a contingency some day when they may have to get one of their own Army personnel freed by India," sources pointed out.
In July 2012, India handed back a Pakistan Army soldier who had sneaked across the LoC allegedly to meet his girlfriend.
In August 2014, Pakistan handed back an Indian soldier who had been swept away by the river Chenab into PoK.
In September 2015, Pakistan handed back an Indian civilian woman who had strayed across the border inadvertently into PoK.