Editor’s Note: usindiamonitor only very recently came across this purely humanitarian issue of bringing home the remains of MIA American pilots who crashed in India. While the views here are those of the author and Families and Supporters of America’s Arunachal Missing in Action, we stand strongly in support of this cause and encourage action by every reader regardless of where you are. Obama’s pending visit to India brings fanfare-focused media attention but this is a real issue that deserves more exposure. These Americans who fought alongside the Chinese cannot be recovered now due to China’s stubborn stance and the inaction of US and Indian governments.
For many years (at least since 2004), the US Government has known, and has stated publicly, that the mortal remains of over 400 US airmen still lie unrecovered at their World War II crash sites in northeast India, primarily in Arunachal Pradesh. These aircraft crashed while flying back and forth between Assam and South China, in support of the Chinese war effort against Japan. In the years immediately after the war, the US military made efforts to locate these crash sites, so as to recover and repatriate these airmen’s mortal remains to the US for proper burial, but failed.
Starting early in the 21st century, however, an independent American investigator, Mr. Clayton Kuhles, became the first (and so far only) person to locate and document many of these crash sites, trekking to them personally and submitting their GPS coordinates to the US Defense Department. The families of these airmen (including my own) eventually became aware of Mr. Kuhles’ discoveries and pressed the Defense Department, which has a specialized agency for recovering US war dead around the world, to investigate these crash sites. For many months, that agency (known as JPAC) showed no interest at all in investigating Mr. Kuhles’ reports. But after considerable family lobbying and media attention, JPAC finally started negotiating with the Indian Ministry of Defence and reached an agreement with the Government of India (GoI) in early 2008 to permit recoveries to proceed.
The GoI permitted one crash site – the site of my uncle’s B-24 crash in the Upper Siang district – to be investigated, but after only a few weeks of investigation, abruptly stopped the operation. Since then the GoI has not permitted any of the 20 crash sites discovered by Clayton Kuhles in Arunachal to be investigated for human remains: this amounts to a virtual moratorium and a repudiation of Indian Government obligations under the Geneva Conventions, its pledged bilateral commitments to the US, and India’s own heritage of respect for the dead (especially respect for war dead).
What could possibly be the reason for this very hurtful moratorium, which has inflicted major damage on the humanitarian relationship between the US and India by convincing the families of these airmen and their supporters around the world that the Government of India cannot be trusted to live up to its promises ? The reason is the Indian Government’s fear of antagonizing China, which claims that Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory. Knowing of the Chinese Government’s past public denunciations of remains recovery operations as part of a US-India plan to contain China, the Government of India fears antagonizing China over an issue that the Government of India attaches very little importance to, and to which the US Government regrettably attaches very little importance as well.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China claims that the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is actually the Chinese region of South Tibet, and therefore part of the Chinese Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). South Tibet, in the view of the Chinese Government, consists of large parts of China’s Lhoka (Shannan) and Nyingchi Prefectures. The parts of Lhoka Prefecture that are located in South Tibet are parts of Lhunze County and Cona County. The part of Cona County located in South Tibet includes West Kameng District of Arunachal, where the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is located. The parts of Nyingchi Prefecture that are located in South Tibet are parts of Medog County and Zayu (Chayu) County.
Despite the Indian Government’s loud verbal denials of China’s claim, the Indian Government’s refusal to permit US remains recovery teams to investigate crash sites in Arunachal Pradesh undermines those denials by amounting to tacit recognition by the Indian Government of the validity of China’s claim: actions, after all, speak louder than words.