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IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returns home: A timeline

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was in Islamabad's custody for nearly 60 hours, was released at Wagah Border by Pakistani authorities on Friday.

IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returns home: A timeline Varthaman ejected across the Line of Control and was captured by local residents who later handed him over to the Pakistan Army.

Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was in Islamabad’s custody for nearly 60 hours, was handed over to Indian authorities at Wagah Border by Pakistan on Friday. Attired in civilian clothes, he walked across the Zero Line at 9.20 pm as the Pakistan Rangers handed him over to the BSF. He was whisked away by IAF personnel, and the hundreds who had gathered there to welcome him failed to catch a glimpse.

Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Shivdular Singh Dhillon told reporters that the pilot said he was happy to be back in his country.

Amidst heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had Thursday announced that the IAF officer would be released on Friday. The Wing Commander was in Pakistan Army’s custody after his MiG-21 aircraft was hit by ground air defence weapons when he engaged with Pakistan’s jets that had violated Indian air space over Nowshera and Krishna Ghati sectors of Rajouri and Poonch districts in Jammu and Kashmir.

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Varthaman ejected across the Line of Control and was captured by local residents who later handed him over to the Pakistan Army.

Watch video: Modi says ‘pilot project complete’

The Indian Air Force expressed happiness over Vardhaman being repatriated to India. “It is a gesture in consonance with the Geneva conventions,” Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Pakistan Air Force aircraft (PAF) violated Indian airspace in J&K and attempted air strikes but caused little damage on the ground as the bombs fell in uninhabited areas near military installations.


India had on Tuesday conducted non-military pre-emptive air strikes on a terror camp in Balakot, in the wake of Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF men were killed. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, in a press briefing, had earlier said that the Balakot airstrikes were not against Pak military and only against JeM terror training camps. He had said it was a pre-emptive step against further terror bids in India.

March 2 (Saturday)

*A day after his release, the Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman met Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday at RR hospital in Delhi. The Indian Air Force pilot is understood to have explained Sitharaman the details about his nearly 60-hour stay in Pakistan, PTI reported.

* The IAF pilot underwent a series of medical tests as part of a “cooling down” process, PTI quoted officials as saying. He also met his family members and several top officials of the IAF, officials said.


March 1 (Friday)

* Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was in Islamabad’s custody for nearly 60 hours, was released at Wagah Border by Pakistani authorities on Friday.

The move was widely seen as a de-escalation of tensions between the two neighbouring nations. Abhinandan was handed over to Indian officials at the Wagah-Attari border, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed. Dressed in a suit, the IAF Wing Commander was accompanied by a woman and Pakistani rangers till the border.

* Earlier in the day, Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s parents received a standing ovation from co-passengers when they took a flight to Delhi. In a video circulating on social media, co-passengers cheered and clapped for the parents and tried to shake hands with them. Abhinandan’s father Air Marshal (retired) Simhakutty Varthaman is a decorated IAF officer and has been honoured with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM), a military award for “most exceptional order” in peace-time service. His mother is a doctor.

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Read | Abhinandan’s return announcement in consonance with Geneva conventions: IAF

February 28 (Thursday)

* The father of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman said he was proud of his son’s bravery, and hoped for his safe return. “Thank you my friends for your concern and wishes. I thank God for his blessings, Abhi is alive, not injured, sound in mind, just look at the way he talked so bravely…a true soldier…we are so proud of him,” Air Marshal (retired) Simhakutty Varthaman said.


* Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said the country was willing to consider the return of the captured IAF pilot if it leads to “de-escalation” of tensions with India.

* India demanded the immediate, and unharmed, return of the IAF pilot and asserted that there was no question of any deal, government sources told The Indian Express.


* In his first statement since the capture of the IAF pilot, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India “will fight, live, work and win” as one, and nobody can create hurdles in its march towards development. Later, at an official function, the Indian Prime Minister said, “Abhi abhi ek pilot project pura ho gaya. Abhi real karna hai, pehle toh practice thi (Just now one pilot project has been completed. Now we have to make it real, earlier it was just practice).”

* Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would be released on Friday.


* The Indian Army, Air Force and Navy held a joint press briefing on the security situation between the two countries at 7 pm today. Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor said there is enough evidence to show that F-16s were used in this mission through their electronic signatures. Pakistan, however, had claimed that no F-16 was part of the operation.

February 27 (Wednesday)

*Pakistani Air Force entered the Indian air space as part of ‘retaliatory’ action against India’s ‘pre-emptive’ airstrikes against JeM terror launchpads in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region on Tuesday. The Indian side also retaliated.

* Pakistan claimed that it has two IAF pilots in its custody, with the MEA adding that the government is ascertaining the details.

*Hours after Pakistan claimed “strikes across LoC from within Pakistani airspace”, the Pakistan Army also released a video that showed an IAF pilot identifying himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan.

*The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) released a statement objecting to “Pakistan’s vulgar display of injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.”

* The MEA later summoned acting High Commissioner of Pakistan to lodge a strong protest at the “unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan against India, including violation of the Indian air space by Pakistan Air Force and targeting of Indian military posts.”

*Hours after claiming that Pakistan had captured two Indian Air Force pilots, a Pakistani defence spokesperson said that they had only one Indian pilot in their custody. A fresh video released by Pakistani official media showed the pilot saying that he is being “treated well by the Pakistan army”.

*Pakistan’s defence spokesperson said that the pilot was being treated “as per norms of military ethics”.

* Later Wednesday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the “sole purpose” to carry out strikes across LoC was to tell India that “if they can come here, we can go there too”. In his address to Pakistan, Khan said two Indian MIG-21s which “crossed the LoC” were shot down.

First published on: 28-02-2019 at 23:17 IST
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