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'Good to be Back': IAF Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman Returns Home From Pak After Agonising Wait

After the pilot's release, the Pakistan Foreign Office described him as a Prisoner of War.


Updated:March 2, 2019, 7:10 AM IST
'Good to be Back': IAF Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman Returns Home From Pak After Agonising Wait
Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as he is released by Pakistan authorities at Wagah border on the Pakistani side, Friday, March 1, 2019.

New Delhi: After a day-long wait for his release, Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, having spent nearly 60 hours in Pakistan captivity, was handed over to Indian authorities late on Friday evening.

The release came a day after Pakistan PM Imran Khan, addressing a joint session of parliament, in a "gesture of peace" aimed at de-escalating tensions between the two nations announced the Indian pilot's return.

Hoping to give a hero's welcome to Wing Commander Varthaman, thousands of Indians gathered on the border carrying the tricolour and garlands since morning. But as the day wore on and night fell there was no sign of the pilot, who was captured on February 27 by Pakistan following a dogfight between the two air forces in which his MIG-21 was shot down.

Procedural delays and issues relating to documentation held up the release of Abhinandan to Indian authorities by Pakistan for several hours, official sources said. Initially the Indian authorities indicated that Wing Commander Varthaman would be handed over to India at around 4 PM and later they suggested that he would be released at around 6:30 PM.

However, he finally emerged at 9.10 pm Indian time at the Wagah checkpost on the Pakistani side, accompanied by Pakistani rangers, the Indian air attache posted in the High Commission in Islamabad.

After the pilot's release, the Pakistan Foreign Office described him as a Prisoner of War.

"While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law," said Pakistan's Foreign Office.

"It is good to be back in my country," was the first reaction of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as he set his foot back on Indian soil. This was stated by an official quoting Varthaman after he received the pilot at the Attari-Wagah border soon after his release by Pakistan.

Varthaman is being flown to Delhi and will undergo debriefing Saturday, which will include his physiological as well as a physical check-up in the presence of officials from the military and Intelligence agencies.

Vice Chief Marshal R G K Kapoor read out a brief statement before a large posse of reporters in Attari, near Amritstar, on the other side of Wagah.

"Wing Commander Abhinandan has just been handed over to us. He will be taken now for a detailed medical checkup. This check up is mandatory as he had to eject from an airplane which would have put his entire body under stress," said Kapoor, who did not take any questions.

Welcoming the pilot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Varthaman was an inspiration for the country.

Capturing the nation's mood, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharama tweeted: "Jai Hind".

Several political leaders, including Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee also welcomed the IAF hero back home.

Tensions between India and Pakistan flared up after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir on February 14 by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad.

Amid mounting outrage, Indian Air Force carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting what it said was JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, Pakistan retaliated with a large air formation, comprising 24 fighter jets, including F-16s. Varthaman was in one of the eight MIG-21s that took on the invader and shot down an F-16, according to officials. During the dogfight, his plane was hit and he bailed out, landing in PoK, where he was taken into custody by the Pakistani army.

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| Edited by: Ashutosh Tripathi
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