Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returned to India to a hero’s welcome late on Friday evening after spending two days in Pakistani custody.
His return was not without its share of waiting though, as the time when he was expected to cross the border to India was pushed from afternoon, to evening, to late evening.
The formal handover by the Pakistani Rangers to the Border Security Force (BSF) took place shortly past 9 pm at the Attari Border in Punjab. A sizeable media contingent and people waving the Indian tricolour had gathered there since the morning, awaiting his impending arrival.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had on Thursday declared the decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan as a gesture of peace amid mounting pressure from India and the rest of the world.
Mig 21 Bison Takes Down Pak F-16
Wing Commander Abhinandan was taken into captivity by the Pakistani forces after ejecting from his MiG 21 Bison. The aircraft he was flying crashed in enemy territory after being hit on the morning of 27 February.
He had managed to bring down a Pakistani F-16 fighter moments earlier. This is said to be the first recorded instance of the much superior US-made jet being downed by a MiG anywhere in the world.
The IAF fighter jet was part of a group of MiG 21 aircraft that was chasing away aircraft of the Pakistani Air Force that dropped bombs on Indian military installations in the Nowshera sector in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district.
Surgical Air Strike On Balakot
The Pakistani action was in response to India’s air strike inside Pakistan on 26 February. Mirage 2000 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force had dropped laser-guided bombs on the biggest training camp run by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in Balakot, Pakistan.
Soon after the strike, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had described it as a “pre-emptive strike” on a “non-military” target in which “a large number” of terrorists, trainers, and commanders had been killed.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) strike in Balakot was the first time that India had struck inside Pakistan since the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Indian officials had pointed out that the camp was located on top of a hill, in a densely-forested area, away from civilian population. The camp was headed by Maulana Yusuf Azhar, the brother-in-law of JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar.
This was in retaliation to the Pulwama terror attack on 12 February that had killed at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. They were part of a big convoy that was travelling from Jammu to Srinagar.