Two days after he was captured by the Pakistan Army, Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman Friday is home. He was handed over to Indian officials at the Wagah border in Punjab. Abhinandan’s parents — his father is an IAF veteran — had travelled to Amritsar from Chennai this morning to meet him on arrival. However, the pilot was whisked away in a convoy by Indian officials away from the public glare.
Abhinandan was captured on the morning of February 27 after his MiG21 Bison aircraft was shot down by Pakistan. The IAF was responding after Pakistan violated India’s airspace over Nowshera and Krishna Ghati sectors of Rajouri and Poonch districts and attempted air strikes. Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistan Army after his parachute landed across the Line of Control (LoC).
Marking a significant step towards de-escalation, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had said his country would release the IAF pilot as a “goodwill gesture”. In the Pakistan Parliament, he said: “I want to say that Pakistan wants peace. We want stability and peace to ensure development. This tension does not benefit either Pakistan or India. …Nobody wins in a war. That too between two nations which have a very destructive weapon.”
The video released by the Pakistan Army of Abhinandan having a cup of tea was the only communication of the pilot’s health and safety.
Tension between the two nuclear-armed countries escalated after the Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed carried out an attack in Pulwama on CRPF personnel. At least 40 jawans were killed in the attack.
India, after vowing to ensure Pakistan is isolated at an international level for harbouring terrorists, had conducted air strikes on a JeM camp in Balakot on February 26.
A day later, Pakistan had attempted to breach the Line of Control (LoC); little damage was caused after bombs fell in uninhabited areas near military installations. In the aerial engagement, India had shot down a Pakistan F-16 jet. While Pakistan claimed it never deployed an F-16 aircraft — which would be in violation of US sale conditions — the Army Thursday provided evidence of an AMRAAM missile which can only be fired from this type of jet.
Express Explained | Global diplomacy in India-Pakistan
The last two days have also seen global diplomacy with the P5 nations — US, UK, France, Russia and China — urging India and Pakistan to show restraint and de-escalate. Sources told The Indian Express that New Delhi had made it clear that there was no deal to be made and there was no room for negotiations but added that there would be consequences if the pilot was harmed or not released.
India has also said there is no connection between the release of the IAF pilot and its crackdown on terrorist groups, their proxies, their infrastructure and cross-border terrorism. New Delhi has said it conducted a “non-military counter-terror pre-emptive” strike deep inside Pakistan, but it was Islamabad which had tried to hit Indian military installations.