Major General Mrinal Suman, AVSM, VSM, PhD, commanded an Engineer Regiment on the Siachen Glacier, the most hostile battlefield in the world. A highly qualified officer (B Tech, MA (Public Administration), MSc (Defence Studies) and a Doctorate in Public Administration), General Suman was also the Task Force Commander at Pokhran and was responsible for designing and sinking shafts for the nuclear tests of May 1998.
One of the most disgusting sights seen in recent times was media coverage of General Pervez Musharraf's visit to India. A leading magazine had invited him as a distinguished speaker.
It was repugnant to see media personnel attempting to outdo each other in fawning over him. He was treated as a peace loving and moderate leader who is a well wisher of India. One TV personality went to the extent of eulogizing him as a beacon of peace for the sub-continent. Another correspondent had no hesitation in calling him as the most erudite Pakistani leader who is held in high esteem in India.
Not one media personality questioned him for initiating Kargil aggression, lest he be offended. No one cared to ask him about numerous Indian prisoners of war rotting in Pakistani jails. Nor was he asked to explain reasons for his failure to stop terrorist training camps and infiltration of jehadis into India. Worst, he was never castigated for the most barbaric and inhuman treatment meted out to Lt Saurabh Kalia and his patrol.
One wonders what thoughts must have passed through the minds of the parents of the late Lt Saurabh Kalia when they saw Indian media going overboard in lauding Musharraf as a sagacious leader and a man whom India can trust. Lt Saurabh Kalia of 4 JAT Regiment was just 22 years old when he was captured by the Pakistani Army on 15 May 1999 along with five other Indian soldiers. Saurabh's patrol was on the Indian side of Line of Control and was the first to detect Pak intrusions in the Kargil area. The patrol was kept in captivity for three weeks and their bodies were handed over to India on 9 June 1999. The state of their bodies bore testimony to the brutal torture which they had been subjected to.
The Pakistanis had indulged in dastardly acts of inflicting burn injuries on them with cigarettes, piercing their ears with hot rods, removing their eyes before puncturing them and breaking most of the bones and teeth. They even chopped off various limbs and private organs of the hapless Indian soldiers besides inflicting unimaginable physical and mental torture. After 22 days of torture, the brave soldiers were ultimately shot dead. A detailed post-mortem report is with the Indian Army.
Pakistan is a signatory to Geneva Convention that governs treatment of Prisoners of War. Article 13 mandates - "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest." Article 17 further stipulates that no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever.
Musharaf was never asked by the media to explain as to why the perpetrators of such heinous acts have not been brought to book to date. But, why blame media alone? Shockingly, inhuman and dastardly ill-treatment of gallant Indian soldiers has not stirred the conscious of India as a self-respecting country. The Government's response has been totally muted and apathetic. No political party has considered it worthwhile to pressurise the Government to demand explanation from Pakistan or take up the issue with international bodies for crimes against humanity. Although Indian human rights activists and bodies never tire themselves of crying hoarse over trivial and even concocted allegations against the Indian security forces, they did not find the abominable conduct of Pakistani soldiers worth condemning. As regards the Indian public, initial anger, indignation and revulsion have given way to indifference.
Instead of hauling Musharraf before international law commissions for crimes against humanity, India allows him to roam free in India to propagate his anti-Indian views. Even in the recent conclave, he humiliated India by calling terrorists as freedom fighters. It was nauseating, to say the least, to watch the media grovel before a vicious and remorseless enemy. Worse, the media scrupulously avoided asking him any discomfiting question, lest he be embarrassed.
Great nations are distinguished by their self-confidence and self-respect. India fares miserably on both counts. Had such treatment been meted out to Israeli soldiers, Israel would have made Pakistan pay dearly for it. In case US soldiers were brutalized in this manner, the US would have obtained custody of the guilty and tried them in the US for war crimes.
Our response to a matter of national shame has been indifferent and apathetic. It is only a soft state like India that utters a few protesting murmurs and thereafter receives the main perpetrator as a guest of India. It is inconceivable how Indian media could honour a man who dishonoured its soldiers.
Inviting Musharraf to participate in conclave of statesmen and thereafter giving him prime time coverage should make every Indian hang his head in shame.
A soldier is always prepared for the supreme sacrifice. Despite the immense pain of losing a son/husband/father, the family members of every martyr draw consolation from the belief that dying for the country is the ultimate honour for a soldier. However, they expect countrymen to remember and value their contribution to nation's security. Soldiers draw strength from the recognition received from their countrymen.
When the nation shows apathy to the fate of Saurabh's party or for the soldiers in Pakistani jails who are still clinging to the hope that India would secure their release, the complete soldier fraternity and their families start wondering whether the country cares for them at all or even whether it is worth dying for it. The nation owes an answer to Saurabh's and the parents of other martyrs for its abject apathy and failure to punish the guilty. A nation has to prove itself worthy of its soldiers' supreme sacrifice.
The glorification of Musharaf has certainly insulted the memory of innumerable soldiers who died for India's future. The media needs to do serious introspection. Not withstanding its desperation for sensational news, Indian media must remember that it owes allegiance to India and its interests.
Major General Mrinal Suman, (retd) AVSM, VSM, PhD directs the Defence Acquisition Management Course for Confederation of Indian Industry and heads its Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Service. A prolific writer, he is often consulted by policy makers and the Parliamentary Committee on Defence, and is regularly invited to address various industrial chambers in India and abroad. The views expressed here are his own.)