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Published On: Fri, Mar 1st, 2019

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walks back with head held high

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abhinandan backATARI (Wagah Border) : Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India on Friday evening via Wagah border to a hero’s welcome after being held by Pakistan for over 48 hours.

Abhinandan was captured by Pakistani forces after his Mi-G-21 crashed on Wednesday morning during an aerial combat with Pak F-16 jet, which had entered the Indian air space with intention of targeting military installations in Jammu and Kashmir. Abhinandan was captured moments after he shot down Pakistani F-16 foiling its mission.

The breathless countdown for the homecoming of Abhinandan — who became the centrepoint of escalating tensions between the two fractious neighbours with his capture after his plane was downed — began on Thursday when Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in parliament that he would be released the following day as a gesture of peace.
Patriotic fervour prevailed at the border throughout Friday with residents singing songs, beating drums and carrying tricolour. They sang patriotic songs and raised slogans like ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. A youth was seen carrying a huge garland, while an elderly man was seen beating ‘dhol’. “If permitted, I want to welcome the Wing Commander with this garland,” said the youth carrying garland. Many were also seen with tattoos of Indian flags on their faces.
A large number of people from different walks of life thronged the Attari border on Friday to witness the return of their ‘hero’ Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Excited citizens carrying tricolor, raising patriotic slogans and dancing to ‘dhol’ beats waited with bated breath to catch a glimpse of the IAF pilot. Abhinandan will now be taken for a medical check-up by Red Cross doctors and medical officials from Indian Air Force. After the checkup, he will be taken to Amritsar airbase, to be flown to Delhi’s Palam airport. His family will be waiting for him at Delhi’s airport.

Sources say Pakistan changed the time twice. As security personnel and media crew waited for Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s homecoming after two days in Pakistani captivity, “procedural delays” and “documentation problems” were cited as the reason for the hold-up.
To restrict the crowds, an elaborate flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah crossing between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, which draws thousands of spectators on both sides, was cancelled.
Retired Group Captain Tarun K Singha, who has known the Varthaman family for decades, said that the image of a calm, composed Abhinandan that many saw after his capture by the Pakistani Army just shows the genes that the wing commander inherited from his mother, Dr Shobha Varthaman (in pic), who has worked in many conflict zones all through her career as a doctor with Medicine Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders).

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The 38-year-old was blind-folded, his eyes bleeding over his handlebar moustache and his hands tied behind his back.

A video showed him dragged from a pond, surrounded by locals. The alarming videos were taken off as Pakistan was accused of violating the Geneva Convention.

A video later showed Abhinandan Varthaman sipping tea, his wound looking less severe but eyes still swollen. He calmly answered questions, refusing to speak on his mission while praising his treatment by the Pakistan Army.Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement that he would be released helped lower the temperature after rapid escalation this week.
According to sources New Delhi had asked for permission to send a special IAF flight to bring back the captured IAF pilot from Islamabad, say sources, but Pakistan rejected the request. Sources say India wanted to bring him straight back to Delhi and whisk him away for a debriefing and medical check-up.
World leaders had urged both countries to step back as hostilities peaked over the past few days as India sent fighter planes to strike a terror training camp in Pakistan and Islamabad tried to target Indian military installations in response. President Donald Trump told the world media on Wednesday in Hanoi that “reasonably attractive news was coming from India and Pakistan”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he spent “a good deal of time” on the phone speaking to leaders on both sides. The confrontation erupted in the days following the February 14 Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, in which over 40 soldiers were killed. India’s air strikes on Tuesday targeted a huge Jaish training facility in Pakistan’s Balakot.(With Inputs From Amritsar Bureau).

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