IAF Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman returns to India: Two days after he was caught in Pakistan, Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India late Friday night. Attired in civilian clothes, Abhinandan was handed over to Indian officials at the Wagah border and was whisked away in a convoy by Indian officials, away from the public glare. He walked across the Zero Line at 9.20 pm, about four hours later that he was reportedly scheduled to return.
According to a report in news agency PTI, the IAF pilot’s return was delayed as he was asked to record a statement on camera by Pakistani authorities before he was allowed to cross the border. The recording released on the official Twitter handle of Government of Pakistan was later deleted. It was not clear whether he was made to record the video under duress. The video also had several jump cuts indicating that it had been edited heavily. “Recording of his video message caused a delay in his handing over,” a source said.
In the video message released an hour before his arrival in India, Varthaman said he entered Pakistan’s space to “find a target” but his aircraft was shot down. He also said that the Pakistani Army is “very professional” and looked after him well.
“I was in search of the target when your (Pakistan) Air Force shot me down. I had to eject the plane which had sustained damage. As soon as I ejected and when my parachute opened and I fell down, I had a pistol with me,” IAF pilot Abhinandan can be seen saying in the video. “There were many people. I had only one way to save myself: I dropped my pistol and tried to run.”
He also added that he was “saved” by the Pakistani Army when the locals tried to attack him. “People chased me, their emotions were running high. Just then, two Pakistani Army officials came and saved me. Pakistani army captains saved from the people and did not let any harm come to me. They took me to their unit where I was administered first aid and then I was taken to the hospital where I further underwent a medical exam and received more aid,” he said.
“The army personnel saved me from the mob. The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it,” he said, while finishing with some comments criticising the Indian media.
India has maintained that Abhinandan Varthaman’s plane MiG-21 Bison was hit by ground air defence weapons when he was in the process of thwarting the PAF’s intrusion in the Indian airspace. While Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called his release as a “peace gesture,” India maintains that the move was in “consonance with Geneva Convention”.
The repatriation triggered celebrations across the country where people had waited hours, glued to TV sets to watch the return home. In his first remarks on the IAF pilot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed him back. “Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram!” he wrote on Twitter. A slew of leaders including Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal, Nirmala Sitharaman, Arun Jaitley also tweeted about Abhinandan’s return.
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