New Delhi: The government has acknowledged that IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been captured by the Pakistani forces after fighter jets of both nations engaged in an air battle on Wednesday morning, in a major escalation of hostilities.
In a demarche issued to the acting high commissioner of Pakistan, the Ministry of External Affairs said it expects his immediate and safe return.
The government also strongly objected to “Pakistan’s vulgar display” of the injured pilot in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody,” the government said in a statement.
Earlier in the day, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that the Wing Commander’s MiG-21 was shot down after he engaged Pakistani jets that violated Indian airspace. He had said the pilot was “missing in action” and the government was still ascertaining the Pakistan claim that they had him in his custody.
India also lodged a strong protest at what it called an "unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan", saying its jets targeted military installations in India.
The government said Pakistan had responded to its “counter terrorism action [aerial strikes carried out on Tuesday morning on Jaish camps] by using its Air Force to target military installations on the Indian side. Due to our high state of readiness and alertness, Pakistan’s attempts were foiled successfully.”
Amid the rising tension, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the chiefs of the three defence forces, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the Defence and Foreign Secretaries and intelligence officials.
Several opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, have expressed their anguish at the capture of the IAF pilot.
"I'm sorry to hear that one of our brave IAF pilots is missing. I hope he will return home soon, unharmed. We stand by our armed forces in these difficult times," Gandhi said.
DMK leader M K Stalin urged the Centre "to do everything necessary to get him safely back home at the earliest". The hashtags 'BringBackAbhinandan' and 'Abhinandan' were trending on the social media, where people were appealing for efforts for the safe return of the officer.
Taking to Twitter, the leaders said their thoughts are with the family and friends of the pilot and the whole country is standing with them.
National Conference leader Omar Abdullah said Pakistan should treat the pilot "as you would have us treat one of your men in uniform should he be unfortunate enough to be captured on this side of the border", while AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi said Islamabad must respect its obligations under the Geneva Conventions and treat him humanely.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the whole country "is proud of this brave son and everyone is hoping for his safe return." "We all stand united to keep our country safe and strong (sic)," the Aam Aadmi Party chief tweeted.