Military & Aerospace

India's Losses and Gains in Post-Independence Wars - III
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The Pakistani side advocates the use of observers for settling local disputes while India suggests bilateral settlement of such issues.

Day by day, the atmosphere was getting more vitiated and charged with hatred, leading to stray sniping at the prisoners’ camps. But there were no casualties. In Dacca, the situation was aggravated by hordes of armed guerillas seeking to avenge war crimes and lack of sufficient strength with the Indian Army to protect the prisoners, especially in the first to days of liberation. On account of this the local commander in Dacca allowed the prisoners to keep their personal arms till adequate security arrangements could be made. This invited sharp comment in the foreign and Indian press. The immediate task of the Indian fords was to evacuate the prisoners from Bangladesh. There was also adverse comment in the Indian press about some senior military commanders fraternizing with their Pakistani counterparts in captivity. Onlookers felt it was strange that adversaries in a war which had ended only two days before should meet and behave with such cordiality and understanding, and they started talking about the “Generals’ Club.”

What they failed to appreciate was that about 25 years earlier the higher commanders on both sides had belonged to the same army, and some possibly to the same units, and as such comparing notes on the events since partition was understandable. But in this case it was perhaps carried too far. Niazi was given the same honor and privileges he enjoyed in command, and this was uncalled for, especially in an atmosphere charged with hostility. Indians were apt to step out and display their “fair-minded” and “humane” treatment of the enemy beyond the limits of prudence, and this created unsavory impressions. It would have sufficed to show such normal courtesies to the vanquished as admissible under the Geneva Convention.

To keep prisoners away from sensitive border areas, it was decided to organize some 50 camps in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Cantonment accommodation lying vacant because troops had moved out to participate in the fighting was barricaded and modified to house them. A large infrastructure of administrative staff to run these camps was set up at short notice, and about 25 paramilitary and territorial battalions were mustered to provide security.

The position of the UN observer group is peculiar. On the Pakistani side, the line of control continued to be manned by them, while on the Indian side they are idling.

Movement to these camps started soon after the ceasefire, by both surface and air transportation resources, and the last prisoner left Bangladesh about the first week of February. It goes to the credit of Indian organization that the entire evacuation ran like clockwork, and there were no incidents of escape en route. Efforts were made to keep the basic homogeneity of units intact in captivity for better discipline and humane management.

Creature comforts in the way of food, clothing and accommodation were provided strictly in accordance with the Geneva Convention, at times at the cost of our urgent requirements. For instance, the entire stock of blankets with the Indian Army was issued to the prisoners while our troops had to be outfitted for winter by urgent procurement of substandard blankets from the market.


Facilities were provided for worship in each camp. Copies of the Quran were distributed freely. Public address systems were installed to broadcast news BBC, Radio Pakistan and All India Radio as well as musical programmes. Senior officers were allowed the use of transistor radios. Along with selected newspapers, a news bulletin specially published for the prisoners in Urdu was distributed freely. They were encouraged to write to their families in Pakistan and arrangements were made for ex-change of mail through the International Red Cross. In fact, so zealous were the Indians in making the prisoners comfortable that members of the International Red Cross committee commented after visits to various camps that the “treatment of prisoners was consistent with or even better than the Third Geneva Convention to the extent that Indian troops guarding the prisoners and elsewhere were housed and fed under less comfortable conditions.”


  1. Asian Recorder, Vol XVIII, No 3, p. 10566.

The prisoners were not obliged to do any work beyond maintenance, and commenting on the entertainment facilities the committee said that “everything was spotless.” At the back of each ward, there was a recreation room with indoor games, English and Urdu books, newspapers and magazines. Film shows were held from time to time. Radio Pakistan’s daily news bulletins were broadcast over the camp public address system.

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Commenting on the facilities for worship, the committee said “there was a mosque and an imam in each enclosure. Prayers took place five times daily. Every facility was afforded to the Muslims for prayers.” The discipline among the prisoners was good but there were a few attempts at escape.1 Some escapees found their way back to Pakistan, a few sought refuge in Nepal, and the others were recaptured. The total number of successful escapes was however only 24, which was insignificant considering that there were more than 90,000 captives in all.

On the other hand, the Indian prisoners in Pakistan were housed in the civil jail at Lyallpur along with criminals. Living conditions were very poor and facilities for worship and recreation were virtually nonexistent.

There were also four incidents of mob violence2 in which the prisoners tried to overwhelm their guards, seized their arms and made a break for freedom. These outbreaks were controlled by the timely use of force. Although Bhutto made much of these incidents by dubbing them “wanton attacks by brutal Indian guards on the unarmed prisoners,” the courts of inquiry appointed to investigate the incidents concluded that the use of force was unavoidable under the circumstances. In these incidents 31 Indian officers and other ranks were injured.

On the other hand, the Indian prisoners in Pakistan were housed in the civil jail at Lyallpur along with criminals. Living conditions were very poor and facilities for worship and recreation were virtually nonexistent. The Red Cross superintending team did not visit the jail until some months had elapsed, in which time some improvements had been made. Seriously sick and wounded repatriated to India however spoke well of the medical attention the Pakistan authorities provided and felt that on the whole their treatment was ethically correct and humane. After the conflict, India declared 1,006 personnel, believed to by taken prisoners of war, missing. Pakistan accepted the existence of only 639 as prisoners. Four of these died in captivity, and the rest eventually returned to India. Some personnel declared missing in the first instance, in the absence of positive proof of death in action, had since rejoined their units or were found later, wounded.

The number unaccounted for is 274. The Pakistan Government has denied any knowledge of them and stressed that it had no more Indian personnel in its custody despite the fact that those who were repatriated reported having seen some of the missing men in Pakistani prisons. Pakistan assured India that it would make another thorough search or the missing. The result of this search has brought no results so far.

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