Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who became the face of the two-day military standoff between India and Pakistan who was captured by the Pakistan army after he shot down a Pak F-16 fighter jet, returned to India on Friday night.
He was handed over by Pakistan to India at the Wagah-Attari border around 9:20 pm after a delay of several hours. The delay, Indian officials, said, was because the Pakistani military decided to shoot a video of the pilot “for propaganda purposes”. A highly edited video was tweeted by the Pakistan government, but it was subsequently deleted.
The Wing Commander also briefly met his family, who had flown to Delhi from Chennai to welcome him. Next, he will undergo a debriefing as part of the protocol.
Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, told reporters that the pilot will be taken for a detailed medical examination as he was subjected to a lot of stress during his nearly three-day captivity.
“He will be taken for a detailed medical checkup. The officer has had to eject from a plane which would have put his body under immense strain,” said Kapoor.
The ongoing tensions on the border between India and Pakistan since the Pulwama attack pushed the two nuclear-powered South Asian adversaries closer to conflict than at any point in the past two decades.
Although Pakistan PM Imran Khan mentions the release of Abhinandan Varthaman as a ‘peace gesture’, India has clearly stated that this will not help in de-escalating tensions until Pakistan keeps substantial action against terrorist camps hiding in its territory.
The government will persist as Islamabad shows no signs of dismantling terror infrastructure and acting against operatives such as Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar,.The Pakistan-based JeM has claimed responsibility for the February 14 terrorist attack in Kashmir that sparked the current tensions at the border.
Not a peace gesture
India is not seeing the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan as a peace gesture and made it very clear that it will not go for any deal or negotiations following the capture of the IAF pilot.
Getting the wing commander back was India’s objective, without any deal or negotiations. His return will not mean that India will go slow with its demand for Pak-based terror infrastructure and terror financing.
The Indian government is still focused on the larger challenge which is how to tackle cross-border terrorism immediately from Pakistan. The release may have been secured by the United States and other countries that have put heavy pressure on Pakistan. The very fact that India decided to maintain the public posture that the air strikes were a preemptive, intelligence-led, non-military strike focussed entirely on JeM camps did lead the global support work in India’s favour.
The US is seeking more information from Pakistan on the potential misuse of American-made F-16 fighter jets by it against India in violation of the end-user agreement, the State Department has said.
Publicly available documents reveal that the US has imposed nearly a dozen restriction on Pak related to its use of F-16.
The two nuclear-armed nations clearly have insights that a full-fledged war is not a desirable option for any. India is on a high-powered route for development with several projects worth millions and Pakistan trying to overcome a collapsed economy.
With its military buildup over those decades, India now exceeds Pakistan on most numerical measurements — fighter jets, troops, tanks and helicopters.
India far surpasses Pakistan in other measures, too, especially in the military budget, $64 billion to $11 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)
The Modi government wants Khan to walk the talk on investigating the February 14 Pulwama attack and crack down on terror infrastructure. India, sources stressed, wants immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists and their proxies.
The very fact that Pakistan chose to respond to a counter-terrorist strike targeting a military installation, means they have just in a sense, admitted that they are willing to escalate the tensions, to protect their proxy assets. India should, thus, be prepared to expect more such ‘rogue behaviour’. The tone is clearly set that India is not prepared to talk to Pak unless they demonstrate a firm commitment to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure.
India will continue to push at a multilateral level to get Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist. India will portray this as an incomplete matter until Pak takes concrete steps to stop harbouring terrorists who secure safe havens within Pakistan. For Pakistan, the next course of action is to enforce United Nations sanctions on JeM and actively take steps to prevent cross-border terrorism.