Kambampati Nachiketa
Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee shakes hands with Indian Air Force pilot Kambampati Nachiketa.Getty

Back in 1999, an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot was taken into custody by Pakistan during the Kargil conflict. Now, 20 years later, the situation is alike.

Flight Lieutenant Kambampati Nachiketa, piloting a Mig-27 fighter aircraft, was tasked to protect the war-hit Batalik sector on May 27, 1999. Nachiketa had to eject from his aircraft after an engine failure at high altitude. The next thing he knew, he was in Pakistani territory. What happened next was a sensational effort by the Indian side to get one of their men back home.


Nachiketa was 26 years old when the Kargil war took place between arch-rivals India and Pakistan. He had spent eight days in custody before he was handed over to the then Indian High Commissioner, G Parthasarathy. In his testimonies, Nachiketa said that he was saved from Pakistani fire by a senior military officer, but over the next couple of days, he was subjected to intense thrashing and interrogation in an attempt to secure sensitive information.

Speaking to NDTV in 2016, Nachiketa said, "The 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 on their locations from the air... Fortunately, the officer who came was very mature. He realised the situation that I am now a captive and now I need not be handled that way. So he was able to control them, which was a big effort because they were very aggressive at that stage."

Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister of Pakistan at the time. Sharif announced that as a gesture to India, he was releasing Nachiketa to enable him to return to his nation. Nachiketa was then handed over to the officials of the International Committee of Red Cross, who in turn drove him to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. The then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then air chief, Air Chief Marshal Anil Tipnis spoke to him to welcome him back, while thanking him for his services to the country. 

Kargil war
1999 Kargil War.Getty

In the same war, another Squadron leader, Ajay Ahuja, flying a MiG-21, was shot down. The officer was trying to locate Nachiketa in spite of being aware of the danger to his life owing to the existence of Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) in the area. Tragically, Ahuja paid the price for his bravery. His aircraft was hit and damaged severely. Though the officer ejected safely, he was killed by the enemy in captivity.

The fresh confrontation came a day following the aerial strike carried out by the Indian Air Force on terror camps of Jaish in Pakistani soil. The IAF used 12 Mirage aircraft and dropped 1000 kilograms of bombs on the terror launch pads across Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). The JeM has claimed responsibility for Pulwama attack, in which 40 paramilitary troopers were killed.

At a briefing in New Delhi, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "The pilot of that MiG-21 is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed that he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts." Kumar also confirmed that a Pakistani fighter jet was shot down by Indian fighters.

Earlier, Pakistan had claimed that it had captured an Indian Air Force pilot after shooting down two Indian Air Force fighter jets on Wednesday. However, Pakistan later clarified that only one Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, has been captured. 

The Pakistani government also released a video claiming it was of one of the "arrested" pilots. In the video, a man wearing a flight suit is heard saying he is Wing Commander Abhinandan. He is blindfolded and asks whether he is in the custody of the Pakistani military. He says he has a right to know and refuses to answer further questions.