Both India and Pakistan are engaged in cross border airstrikes in the wake Pulwama attack that claimed lives of over 40 CRPF soldiers on February 14.
The tensions between the two nations escalated on Tuessday when Indian Air Force carried out airstrike across LoC, bombing several terror camps. In retaliation, Pakistan Air Force o Wednesday February 27, violated Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch and Nowshera sectors. While Indian officials said that a Pakistani Air Force F-16 fighter jet was shot down in Jammu, Pakistan has claimed to have shot down two IAF aircraft and arrested two pilots.
According to the reports, the detained Indian pilot is identified as Abhinandan Varthaman. He was flying an MiG 21 Bison jet on Wednesday that was shot down by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) with the pilot taken into custody.
While the nation is praying for safe and sooner return of Varthaman, we recall a similar incident from Kargil War where an Indian Air Force pilot Kambampati Nachiketa was captured, tortured yet returned back from Pakistan with his head high and hand saluting the sky.
Who is Captain Kambampati Nachiketa?
Group Captain K Nachiketa who is the recipient of the Vayu Sena Medal and is currently an Indian Air Force transport pilot was one among the key names during the Kargil War of 1999. Nachiketa was a Flight Lieutenant during the Kargil Operations. He was one of the pilots from No. 9 Squadron IAF who went for an air mission in the Batalik Sector on 26 May 1999 during the Kargil War.
Life as prisoner in Pakistan during Kargil War
Armed with 80mm rockets, Nachiketa carried out an attack on an enemy concentration. He carried out a second attack on the target using the aircraft’s 30mm cannon. Subsequently the engine flamed out.
All attempts to re-light the engine failed and Nachiketa was forced to eject. After landing on the ground, it appeared that initially Nachiketa was able to gather his wits and evade immediate capture. However, after two to three hours, a Pakistani Army Patrol captured him.
Overpowered once his ammunition ended, Nachiketa was captured and thrown into the dark confines of a prison in Rawalpindi for eight days.
Ruthlessly tortured for information by the Pakistani soldiers, Nachiketa’s brutal treatment stopped only when a senior officer ordered his men to back off.
Nachiketa remained a war prisoner in Pakistan till June 3, 1999, when he was handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Pakistan due to the mounting pressure by the UN and international media.
Citing the incident he told an Indian news channel, “The aggressive jawans who had captured me were trying to manhandle me and maybe trying to kill me, because, for them, I was just an enemy pilot who had fired at them from the air. Fortunately, the senior officer who came was very mature. He realized the situation, that I was now a captive and I need not be handled that way.”
He further added, “Personally, I was aware I may not see a tomorrow back in India, but the hope was always there – that I would be back someday.”
He lived on, survived the torture of Pakistanis as a Prisoner of War (PoW), returned to India, got the Vayusena medal, and kept doing what he does best – flying planes for the Indian Air Force.