New Delhi: Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman landed in Delhi late on Friday and spent the night at the Central Medical Establishment, where he underwent tests.
According to sources, the Wing Commander also briefly met his family, who had flown to Delhi from Chennai to welcome him. Next he will undergo a debriefing as part of the protocol.
The Wing Commander was handed over to India by Pakistan at the Attari-Wagah border after being in captivity for nearly 60 hours.
A group of people had given Varthaman a rousing welcome at the Palam airport, from where he was taken to a medical facility for examination.
He was handed over to India at 9.10 pm at the Wagah checkpost and was accompanied by Pakistani rangers and the Indian air attache posted in the High Commission in Islamabad. He was wearing a civilian clothes - a dark jacket and khakhi trousers, walking proudly toward the gates that separated his captors' country from his homeland.
Reading out a brief statement, Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, told a posse of reporters that the pilot will be taken for a detailed medical examination as he was subjected to lot of stress during his nearly three-day captivity.
"He will be taken for a detailed medical checkup. The officer has had to eject from a plane which would have put his body under immense strain," said Kapoor.
In order to thoroughly understand the modalities involved and the protocol followed after a Prisoner-of-War returns home, News18 spoke to a high-ranking officer on the condition of anonymity.
“He is surely a brave man. He fought Pakistani F-16 fighter jets with MiG-21 which is ages old and was built in 1970s. India respects him for his bravery. But once our man is caught in enemy territory and taken in their custody, no matter what, the person has to undergo a thorough interrogation on returning,” the senior officer said.
When News18 contacted the official spokesperson of the Indian Air Force, he said, “The official statement on the issue is silent on his status. I am not sure whether he is considered a prisoner of war,” and further directed to check with the Ministry of External Affairs on his status.
Lt Gen (Retd) HS Panag told News18 that a PoW is first disarmed and then interrogated in order to “acquire whatever information we can out of him”.
“Upon release, it depends on the country what procedures and route they want to take. There is an initial interrogation that of course happens after a warm welcome. However, after that it’s for the authorities to decide,” he said.
Listed below is a broad set of procedures that Wing Commander Abhinandan will have to undertake post return.
1. Abhinandan will be directly taken to Indian Air Force Intelligence Unit as soon as he arrives.
2. He will be made to take several medical tests to gauge his fitness levels.
3. Scans will be conducted to check if he has been bugged by the Pakistani army.
4. The pilot will need to undergo psychological tests too. Since he has been captured by the enemy and lived through traumatic situations, defence establishment will explore possibilities of him being tortured to elicit national security secrets from him.
5. Another step, which is usually not followed, but may apply in his case is another round of questioning by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
“The Air Force intelligence do not usually hand their personnel for questioning to IB or R&AW. But his may be a different case,” the officer said.
“The most painful, yet mandatory step,” he added, “is debriefing to the IAF intelligence. We will have to find out what information was obtained from him during his captivity and ensure that he hasn't been recruited by the other side.”
The official said he was a close spectator of the way things were carried out when Kambampati Nachiketa, the pilot who was captured by Pakistan during the battle of Kargil, returned. He also studied the case of Air Marshal KC Nanda Cariappa, the son of the illustrious army veteran Field Marshal KM Cariappa, who also was captured by Pakistani forces in the ’65 war.
“They never spilled any beans to Pakistan when they were in captivity. But standard procedures have to be followed,” the officer added.
Another serving officer, who, at the moment is deployed in Punjab and did not wish to be identified, said, “He is our hero. He is the man who shot down the American pride of US (F-16) with a Russian vintage (MiG-21). There are punishments if we fail in battlefield. But this man has taken down a leading fighter jet and he will be awarded and not be punished. Small inquiries will be there, but we trust our man.”
The tri-forces of Indian Defense - Army, Air Force and Navy - addressed a press briefing on Thursday to show evidence of Wing Cdr Abhinandan having taken down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet.