Air force installs statue of Indian pilot shot down over Kashmir

November 13, 2019

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Karachi: Students take a selfie in front of the statue of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose plane was shot down earlier this year, at the Pakistan Air Force Museum on Tuesday.—AFP
Karachi: Students take a selfie in front of the statue of Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose plane was shot down earlier this year, at the Pakistan Air Force Museum on Tuesday.—AFP

KARACHI: Pakistan has put on display a statue of an Indian pilot whose plane was shot down over Kashmir earlier this year, invoking the ire of India’s media.

The life-sized statue of Wing Commander Abhinan­dan Varthaman — complete with his signature moustache — has been installed in an exhibit at a museum in Karachi run by the Pakistan Air Force.

Varthaman’s plane was shot down in a dogfight over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir in February during clashes which brought nuclear-armed India and Pakistan to the brink of a new war.

After his capture, the Pakistani military released video showing him sipping a cup of tea and politely refusing to answer questions. His stoic and courteous demeanour — and comment that the tea was “fantastic” — catapulted him to hero status in India.

He was released several days later in a peace gesture from Pakistan aimed at defusing tensions.

The statue stands in a gallery named Operation Swift Retort.

The exhibit includes parts of the fuselage and tail of Varthaman’s aircraft, a Mig-21, as well as a tea mug — though apparently not the same one the pilot was seen sipping from.

The gallery also contains images re-enacting the moment his plane was shot down, and photographs showing him being handed back to India at the Wagah border crossing.

A mess receipt jokingly charging Varthaman for the tea — at the cost of one Mig-21 — is also framed in the exhibit. Images of the mocking receipt went viral in the days after his capture.

“I feel very proud of my country seeing Abhinandan’s statue at the gallery,” said Samiullah Bari, a 10th grade student visiting the museum at a school trip.

Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2019