IAF Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, Captured By Pak, Returns To India

After a suspenseful wait lasting hours, Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman finally returned home from captivity in Pakistan on Friday.

IAF Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, Captured By Pak, Returns To India

Ending several hours of tense waiting, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman finally returned to India to a rousing welcome at the Attari-Wagah joint check-post in Amritsar on Friday night.

The Indian air force officer, who was expected to return much earlier, crossed into the Indian side after 9.15 pm.

"Wing Commander Varthaman has just been handed over," said an Indian official.

After the Pakistani officials handed him over, Indian officials took him over to the Indian side at the land check post.

He had earlier undergone a  medical check-up at Wagah in preparation for the handing over.

The official formalities, including the signing of necessary documents and a medical examination by the International Committee of Red Cross, were also completed, reports said.

Hundreds of people had gathered at the border check post from early in the morning to welcome the 35-year-old Wing Commander, who was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan.

The IAF officer was captured after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets on Wednesday near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.

On Friday morning, India's Acting High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia arrived at the Pakistan Foreign Office in Islamabad for a briefing on the imminent release of Wing Commander Abhinandan.

Wing Commander Abhinandan is to be accompanied back by India’s air attache, who was headed to Lahore with the IAF pilot’s travel documents, Pakistani media reports said.

The  Pakistani authorities brought him from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over first to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) under rules of the Geneva Convention before being brought to the JCP on Friday afternoon.

The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the JCP and the 553-km long International Border with Pakistan in Punjab, was at high alert, with Punjab Police and other security agencies stationed and additional personnel since early Friday morning.

The border Retreat ceremony was also cancelled for the day in view of his return.

Varthaman will be debriefed by defence and security officials after his return before he is taken to New Delhi from the Amritsar airport.

On Thursday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the country will free Varthaman as a "peace gesture".

Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad's biggest training camp near Balakot inside Pakistan early Tuesday.

It came 12 days after 40 CRPF personnel were killed when a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying over 100 kg of explosives into their bus in Pulwama distrit of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14.

Following Tuesday's cross-LoC airstrike by India, the Pakistan Air Force carried out retaliatory aerial strikes targeting Indian military installations. However, they failed to hit any target.

(With inputs from agencies)