Pakistan sends captured Indian pilot back home in bid to defuse tension

Published March 2, 2019
LAHORE: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (left) waits for his return to India at the Wagah border crossing on Friday night and (right) an Indian convoy is seen transferring the pilot on the outskirts of the northern city of Amritsar, after he was handed over by Pakistani officials.—Reuters
LAHORE: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (left) waits for his return to India at the Wagah border crossing on Friday night and (right) an Indian convoy is seen transferring the pilot on the outskirts of the northern city of Amritsar, after he was handed over by Pakistani officials.—Reuters

LAHORE: The Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot who had been in Pakistan’s custody for about three days crossed over to his homeland at the Wagah border late on Friday evening, a move aimed at de-escalating tensions between Pakistan and India.

The Punjab Rangers handed Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman over to the Indian Border Security Force as anxiously awaiting India media was keen to talk to him.

A senior official of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and Pakistan’s Foreign Office Director India Desk (Foreign Affairs) Faaria Bugti accompanied the Indian pilot at the Wagah border crossing during his handing over to the Indian authorities.

In new video, Abhinandan says he was trying to find target when PAF plane shot his aircraft down

An Indian official told the media that the pilot needed a medical check-up as his ejection from his plane might have caused severe stress to his body. In reply to a question, he said: “IAF pilot Abhinandan was smiling when he crossed the border. He is happy to be back and we are happy to have him back.”

Varthaman was arrested when his military jet MIG-21 crashed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir after being shot down by the Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani airspace on Feb 27.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had on Thursday announced his return as a “goodwill gesture” aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India, was present in Lahore at the time the Indian pilot was handed over to his country.

Just before his return home, the Indian pilot in his another video message disclosed that he was trying to “find a target” when the Pakistan Air Force shot his aircraft down. “Then I ejected and when I fell many people surrounded me. I had a pistol but I dropped it seeing so many charged people. I tried to run to save my life. Then two Pakistan Army captains came there and rescued me. I was taken to their unit where I was provided with first aid and later shifted to hospital. The Pakistani Army is a very professional service. I have spent time with the Pakistan Army and I am very impressed.”

Talking about the Indian media’s habit of creating hype over petty issues, Vart­h­aman said: “The Indian media usually exaggerates. It plays out petty issues to mislead the people.”

LAHORE: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (left) waits for his return to India at the Wagah border crossing on Friday night and (right) an Indian convoy is seen transferring the pilot on the outskirts of the northern city of Amritsar, after he was handed over by Pakistani officials.—Reuters
LAHORE: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (left) waits for his return to India at the Wagah border crossing on Friday night and (right) an Indian convoy is seen transferring the pilot on the outskirts of the northern city of Amritsar, after he was handed over by Pakistani officials.—Reuters

This was his second video message. Earlier on Wednes­day, he had praised the Pakistan Army for saving his life. “I am treated well here and I will not change my statement if I go back to my country. Officers of the Pakistan Army looked after me very well. They are thorough gentlemen.”

The Indian pilot was brought to the Wagah border amid high security. As his handover to the Indian authorities was expected in the afternoon, the delay sparked rumours. When the Indian official was asked whether Pakistan provided any explanation for the delay, he replied: “No explanation was sought and none was given. The documents (about the pilot’s handover) were being completed.”

After the pilot’s handover, the Foreign Office issued a statement saying: “The captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today. While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law.”

It said that PM Imran Khan had announced his return as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2019

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