New Delhi: After an almost a day-long wait, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot held captive by Pakistan for two days, crossed the border to return home late on Friday evening. (Also read: ‘He Spoke Bravely, We’re Proud of Him)
The IAF official looked calm as he waited for a while in Pakistani territory along with Indian High Commission officials from Islamabad and Pakistan Rangers before getting the final nod for him to cross over.
Varthaman was received by senior Border Security Force officers at Zero Line that marks the India-Pakistan land border. The BSF then handed him over to the IAF. The IAF said it was happy to have him back and the pilot would now be taken for a detailed medical checkup.
Soon after the news came out, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweeted ‘Jai Hind’.
Pakistan changed the time of the handover twice during the day. Initial reports said Varthaman would be handed over in the morning. Then, procedural delays were cited as the reason for shifting the handover to around 4 PM.
Later, that time was then shifted to around 9 PM while the eventual return of the IAF official happened closer to 9.30 PM.
Soon after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the pilot would be released as a “peace gesture”, India had sought permission to send a special IAF flight to bring him back, but Pakistan had turned down the request. It said, instead, that Varthaman would be handed over at the Wagah-Attari border.
A huge crowd had been gathering at the Wagah-Attari border ahead of Varthaman’s return.
Varthaman’s MiG 21 had crashed on the other side while he chased down Pakistan’s F16 jets early on Wednesday morning in the latter’s bid to attack India’s military installations. Several videos emanating from Pakistan showed him injured while some had him being interrogated while the officer said he was being treated well.
In the wake of these videos, the IT Ministry had to direct YouTube to remove around 11 videos that had such content.
From claiming that it had two IAF pilots, Pakistan eventually confirmed that one officer was in its custody. India also confirmed the same later while requesting the neighbouring country to follow the Geneva Convention.
By Wednesday evening, the Indian High Commission in Pakistan had reportedly issued a demarche to Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked for an immediate and safe return of the Wing Commander. (India Calls to Follow Geneva Conventions Following Pak’s Claim of Pilot in Custody)
A similar demarche was issued to Pakistan’s acting High Commissioner in New Delhi on Wednesday by the Ministry of External Affairs to lodge a strong protest against the bid by the Pakistan Air Force to target Indian military installations.
India sought for humane treatment of Varthaman, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. The nation also registered its protest over unauthenticated videos on social media and said Pakistan had violated the Geneva Convention by releasing such videos.
The Geneva Convention outlines the basic rights of wartime prisoner, including civilians and military personnel, establishes protection for the wounded and sick, and gives measures to safeguard civilians in and around a war-zone.
Meanwhile, India’s armed forces didn’t make much of Khan’s ‘peace gesture’ and during a joint press briefing the same evening, they said the neighbour was just acting in consonance with the Geneva Convention.