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The extraordinary story of the first Pakistani Prisoner of War to escape from India

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The extraordinary story of the first Pakistani Prisoner of War to escape from India

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Ikram Sehgal is well known for being a defence analyst and chairman of the Pathfinder group (which owns two of the largest security companies of the country). However, what is not common knowledge is that he is also the first Pakistani prisoner of war (POW) to escape from India.

Ikram Sehgal was an army officer and pilot in the army aviation, serving in what used to be East Pakistan–now Bangladesh–with the 2E Bengal (Junior Tigers) regiment, in 1971. In April of the same year, 8 prior months to the Indo-Pak war and the separation of East Pakistan, he was taken prisoner by his own regiment.

Even though the war had not officially started, the situation was tense and the Bengali regiment feared that it would be disarmed soon so they revolted and killed many of the West Pakistani soldiers serving in the regiment. Ikram Sehgal was taken captive and not murdered, presumably because he had served with this regiment previously in 1968, and because it was known that he was of half Bengali parentage.

After his own regiment turned on him, Sehgal was handed over to the Indian 91st Border Security Force Battalion. They suspected Sehgal was a Pakistani commando sent to gather intel on the brewing revolt in Bengal (now Bangladesh), so they tortured him for information. Eventually, Sehgal was sent to a POW camp in Panagarh, India.

The Indo-Pak war of 1971 had yet to break out officially, and India did not want to admit to its presence in Bangladesh in contravention with international law, as Bangladesh at that time was still a Pakistani province. Thus the hundred or so West Pakistani officers it had captured from Bangladesh were never declared. India hid the fact that it had taken Pakistani officers, including Sehgal, as POWs and kept them in Panagarh camp.

After spending 99 days as a prisoner in Panagarh camp, Ikram Sehgal finally escaped on the 100th day.

After his daring escape from Panagarh camp Sehgal was on the run for his life, as Indian authorities had caught wind of his escape. He headed for the Indian city of Burdwan (Bardhaman) on foot. However, his captors were hot on his tail so hitched a ride to Calcutta instead. His plan was to seek out an old flame in Calcutta, as she had given him her address years ago. But, in a case of bad luck she had moved and a tailor’s shop had taken up residence there.

Sehgal, not one to be deterred after he had already risked his life to escape captivity, sought out the American Consulate in Calcutta instead, as he knew they were Pakistani allies as well. The American’s couldn’t get him out of the country as they didn’t want to get in between India and Pakistan and cause an international diplomatic incident. But, they helped him get to an airfield, from where Sehgal flew to Delhi. Once in Delhi, he somehow managed to contact Pakistan’s Military Attache.

Sehgal finally found some respite from his Indian pursuers and was taken to a safe house. After recovering some of his strength he was sent off, in an undercover operation, involving Pakistani agents and their indian contacts to Kathmandu, Nepal. From there he boarded a flight to Bangkok, which took him back to Dhaka after 5 months of being in captivity.

Dhaka, unlike the more rural parts of Bangladesh, was still under Pakistani control at that time thus, after months of fear and torment, Sehgal was finally safe and free when he got to Dhaka.

This nerve wracking story of immense bravery was recounted by Ikram Sehgal himself in his book, ‘Escape from Oblivion: The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India‘.

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