Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned home from Pakistan on Friday, two days after he was taken into custody by Pakistan Army when his MiG 21 fell in PoK.
Wearing blue blazer and grey trousers, he crossed over into India from the Attari-Wagah border at 9:20 PM. He was handed over by the Pakistan Rangers to the BSF following paperwork.
Initially, Varthaman was to be released earlier in the day. However, sources said that Pakistan changed the timing of handover twice. Instead of releasing him at announced time, the Pakistanis took him to some unknown place, where they made him speak to ill about Indian media in a propaganda video. From the it appears that it had 3 dozen edits atleast.
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Abhinandan was accompanied by an officer of the Pakistan Foreign Office and Indian Defence Attache Group Captain Joy Thomas Kurien.
Announcing the release, Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor said that as per standard operating procedures, Wing Commander Abhinandan will be taken for a detailed medical checkup as he had to eject after his plane was shot and his body would have suffered “deep stress.”
“Abhinandan has just been handed over to us. As per standard operating procedure of IAF, he will now be taken for detailed medical check-up, this is mandatory because the officer had to eject from an aeroplane which would have put his entire body under great stress. IAF is happy to have Wing Commander Abhinandan back,” he told media here.
Thousands of people waited for hours at the Attari-Wagah border to greet the IAF officer. Waving the tricolour, they kept chanting slogans praising his bravado.
On Wednesday, Abhinandan, flying the MiG 21 Bison, was chasing Pakistani F-16 fighters which had transgressed into the Indian airspace, and in the process, his plane crossed over to the Pakistani side and was shot down.
Abhinandan ejected safely but was taken into custody by the Pakistan Army upon landing.
Before his plane was shot, he had hit a Pakistani F-16.
On Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the release of Varthaman, calling it a “peace gesture”. India used diplomatic and military pressure to ensure that Pakistan releases Varthaman unconditionally, top sources said in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made no compromises on the Pakistani proposal for holding talks, the sources added.
India mounted pressure on Pakistan through the international community, with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval holding talks with the US and other P-5 countries, the sources said.
The External Affairs Ministry also exerted pressure on Pakistan through the Arab world, they said.
Hours before Abhinandan’s return, Prime Minister Modi told a rally in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu: “Every Indian is proud that the brave Wing Commander Abhinandan belongs to Tamil Nadu.”
(With inputs from Sayanha Kshatri)