After a delay of over five hours by Pakistan, Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman finally touched down the Indian soil on Friday at 9.20 pm with a confident face followed by a graceful walk.
A smile on Abhinandan's face characterised with a thick gunslinger moustache with thin mutton chop beard was observed in the videos as soon as he was seen entering India. He shook hands with the Border Security Force personnel who were present at the heavily-guarded Wagah Border to receive him.
Wearing blue blazer and grey ‘khaki’ trouser, Abhinandan was accompanied by an officer of the Pakistan Foreign Office and Indian Defence Attache Group Captain Joy Thomas Kurien. He was handed over by the Pakistan Rangers to the Border Security Force (BSF) following the paperwork.
The official Twitter handle of the Defence Ministry’s spokesperson posted, “For the honour of the Nation, you kept duty ahead of your personal safety. Wearing India Colours on your sleeve, you showed calm and poise in adversity. #Abhinandan you created history and in you, we find the best of the Indian Armed Forces. Bravo #AirWarrior, more power to you.”
Wing Commander Abhinandan returned home from Pakistan on Friday, two days after he was taken into custody by the Pakistan Army when his MiG 21 was shot in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Pakistan, upon the release of Abhinandan, claimed that the personnel was "treated with dignity and in line with international law" while in captivity.
Referring to the IAF Wing Commander as a 'Prisoner of War' (POW), Pakistan noted: "While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr Imran Khan announced his return as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India."
The decision to release Abhinandan was announced by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in the national assembly, who labelled it as a “peace gesture” to India.
The IAF officer became the human face of the conflict between the two countries when the Pakistan Army put out a series of videos that showed him in its custody.
In few videos doing rounds on social media platforms, Abhinandan was seen blindfolded and blood covered and yet, responded to questions from the Pakistan Army with remarkable calm, composure, politely and dignity.
On Wednesday, Wing Commander Abhinandan, while 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 Pakistani side and was shot down.
He 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, terming his decision “a peace gesture.”
In a latest updated, Abinandan has reached Delhi around midnight from Amritsar. An enthusiastic crowd had gathered outside the Palam airport to welcome him. He would be taken straight to Army's Research and Referral Hospital here for a thorough medical check-up, sources said.