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Highlights| ‘Welcome Home Wing Commander’, tweets PM after IAF pilot’s homecoming

Abhinandan Varthaman release Highlights| After 58 hours, Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistani authorities on Friday and brought back home through the Wagah-Attari joint check-post.

By HT Correspondent | Mar 02, 2019 02:19 IST

Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistan as a “gesture of peace” through the Wagah-Attari joint check-post on Friday, two days after he was captured across the Line of Control after shooting down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 jet.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced on Thursday that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be freed on Friday after New Delhi sought his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release signalling a de-escalation in the spiralling tension with New Delhi.

Wing Commander Abhinandan was brought by Pakistani authorities 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 check post to return home.

 Watch| Hundreds gather at Attari-Wagah post to welcome IAF pilot

Follow Highlights here:

11:41 pm IST

Welcome home Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman: President Ram Nath Kovind

President Ram Nath Kovind tweets, “Welcome home Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman! India is proud of your courage and sense of duty, and above all your dignity. Wishing you and our entire Air Force every success in the future.”


10:13 pm IST

Welcome home Wing Commander Abhinandan: PM Modi

“Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram!,” PM Modi tweeted.

9:42 pm IST

Pakistan’s Foreign Office describes Abhinandan Varthaman as ‘POW’

Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced the returning of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India but described him as a “prisoner of war” (POW), according to PTI.

In a statement issued minutes after the pilot crossed over to India from the Wagah-Attari border, the FO said, “While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law.”

“The captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today,” it said.

9:40 pm IST

Good to be back: IAF pilot told officials

Good to be back, Wing Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman told officials after crossing over at Attari check post.

9:38 pm IST

IAF is happy to have him back: Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor

“Wing Commander #AbhinandanVarthaman has been handed over to us. He will now be taken for a detailed medical checkup because he had to eject from an aircraft. IAF is happy to have him back,” said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor at Attari-Wagah border.

9:34 pm IST

IAF pilot Abhinandan received by senior Border Security Force Officers

Dressed in a blue coat, grey trousers and white shirt, IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was captured by Pakistanis two days ago after his MiG-21 crashed in Pakistani territory, was received by senior Border Security Force officers at Zero Line that marks the India-Pakistan land border.

9:32 pm IST

IAF Group Captain Kurien accompanies pilot Abhinandan

IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was accompanied by IAF Group Captain Joy Thomas Kurien, Defence Attache to Indian High Commission in Pakistan, according to ANI.

9:30 pm IST

As Abhinandan returns home, defence minister says “Jai Hindi”

As IAF pilot returns home, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tweets “Jai Hind”.

9:27 pm IST

More visuals of IAF pilot from Attari-Wagah border:

9:20 pm IST

Abhinandan Varthaman crosses border

IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistani authorities at 9 pm.

Here are the first visuals:

WATCH | IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman back home after 2 days in Pak custody

9:14 pm IST

IAF pilot Abhinandan returns home

Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman gets hero’s welcome, patriotic slogans rend the air at Attari-Wagah border.

8:45 pm IST

Pak changes time of IAF pilot’s handover: Report

According to ANI, Pakistan has changed the timing of handover of IAF’s Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The handover might now take place at 9 pm tonight. Indian defence minister is keeping a close watch on proceedings.

7:35 pm IST

Welcome back to the country: Rahul Gandhi

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, welcome back to the country: Congress chief Rahul Gandhi at Mumbai rally, according to PTI.

6:48 pm IST

India’s brave soldiers made Pak bow under pressure: Sumitra

Hailing India’s efforts in bringing back Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan Friday said the brave soldiers of India made the neighbouring country bow under pressure, according to PTI report.

“It is for the first time in the history of our country that an Indian soldier is returning from Pakistan in such a way. We can understand that our brave soldiers made Pakistan bow and act under pressure.” She also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Varthaman’s release.

6:35 pm IST

Pakistan has not done us a favor: Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh

“It must be understood that Pakistan has not done us a favor by returning Wing Commander Abhinandan. Under the Geneva Convention, a serving soldier captured during conflict has to be returned.

We must not forget that after 1971, we released over 90,000 PoW from Pakistan,” tweeted Minister of State for External Affairs Vijay Kumar Singh.

6:10 pm IST

Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor is expected to make a statement

Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor is expected to make a statement before the media shortly.

6:00 pm IST

Defence forces to remain on high alert across border despite IAF pilot’s return: Report

According to a report in ANI, the Indian Defence forces will continue to remain on high alert across the border despite IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s expected return from Pakistan soon.

5:53 pm IST

Arvind Kejriwal welcomes IAF pilot

“Welcome back Wing Commander Abhinandan. I salute your bravery and the courage of your family.

India is proud of you,” Arvind tweeted.

5:45 pm IST

Every Indian is proud of Abhinandan: PM Modi

PM Modi hailed Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman saying every Indian was proud of him and lashed out at political rivals for suspecting the armed forces which, he said, helped Pakistan, according to a report in PTI.

After inaugurating several government projects here, Modi said “I am proud that India’s first woman Defence Mininster Nirmala ji is from Tamil Nadu.

Every Indian is proud that the brave wing commander Abhinandan belongs to Tamil Nadu.” The events of the past two days, an apparent reference to IAF’s air strikes and the IAF shooting down a Pakistan jet, have demonstrated yet again the strengths of the country’s armed forces, Modi said.

“It has also brought our nation closer,” the prime minister said, an obvious pointer to the outpouring of support to Abhinandan and India’s armed forces from the people.

Also watch | Opinion I Why IAF pilot’s release may not immediately de-escalate tensions

Headline: Opinion I Why IAF pilot’s release may not immediately de-escalate tensions
5:34 pm IST

IAF to brief media soon

As people wait for the pilot to return home, Indian Air Force (IAF) will brief the media soon.

4:47 pm IST

IAF pilot’s parents get standing ovation in flight

The parents of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman were given a standing ovation when they de-boarded an IndiGo Chennai-New Delhi flight here. The family

In videos, the parents are seen alighting from the aircraft as co-passengers clapped and cheered them.

4:40 pm IST

Team of Indian Air Force to receive IAF pilot AbhinandanVarthaman

Visuals from Attari-Wagah border: Wing Commander AbhinandanVarthaman to reach the border shortly, to be received by a team of Indian Air Force.

4:30 pm IST

IAF pilot Abhinandan on his way to Attari-Wagah border

IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on his way to Attari-Wagah border. Pakistani officials have brought the Indian pilot to border crossing with India for handover. The officer will soon be handed over to the Indian Air Force at Attari-Wagah border.

4:23 pm IST

People gather around and make human chain to welcome officer

People gather around and make a human chain along both sides of road to border to welcome IAF pfficer despite restrictions imposed by police due to security concerns.

4:10 pm IST

Pakistan court dismisses plea to stop the release of IAF pilot

The Islamabad High Court on Friday dismissed a Pakistani citizen’s plea to stop the imminent release of the captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinanadan Varthaman, according to a report in PTI.

Pakistan detained the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot on Wednesday following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was downed.

3:47 pm IST

Pakistan to reopen 4 airports today

Four Pakistani airports will begin partial operations on Friday with a full resumption of commercial flights on Monday, following their suspension after military tensions with India erupted earlier this week, the Civial Aviation Authority said, according to news agency Reuters.

A spokeswoman said Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta airports would begin some flights on Friday with the remainder opening next week.

“These four airports will resume flight operations partially today,” she said. “The country’s airspace for all commercial flights will be re-opened on March 4 at 1.00 pm (0800 GMT)”.

3:40 pm IST

Every Indian is proud of brave IAF pilot: PM Modi

India’s first defence minister is from Tamil Nadu and IAF pilot Abhinandan is also from Tamil Nadu, we are proud of them,” said PM Modi in Kanyakumari.

3:38 pm IST

Elections to be held on time: Chief election commissioner

The general elections in the country will be held on time, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said Friday, amid tensions between India-Pakistan, reported news agency ANI.

The CEC is in the Uttar Pradesh capital for the past two days to review poll preparations in the state.

“The election in the country will be held on time,” Arora told reporters here when asked about the poll schedule in the wake of tensions between the two countries.

He said as per a new notification of the commission, candidates will have to give details of their properties abroad, besides those in the country.

Also watch | Opinion I ‘Return of IAF pilot marks a new phase in Indo-Pak relations’

3:34 pm IST

Release PoWs from 1971 war too: Punjab CM urges Pak

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who had earlier decided to go and receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman at the Wagah border, later said that he will not do so in order to ensure the defence protocol. He has urged Pakistan to Release PoWs still in captivity from 1971 war.

3:12 pm IST

2,000 travellers still stranded in Bangkok after flights disrupted

About 2,000 travellers were still stranded in the Thai capital Bangkok on Friday and it will take a few more days to get them home after flights were disrupted by the latest conflict between Pakistan and India, airline officials said. according news agency Reuters.

Thai Airways International canceled more than a dozen flights to European cities -- including London, Paris, Milan, Zurich and Frankfurt -- after Pakistan closed its airspace on Wednesday amid rising tensions with India.

“There are still about 2,000 passengers,” Thai Airways President Sumeth Damrongchaitham told reporters at a briefing to announce the company’s financial results.

3:10 pm IST

China welcomes release of IAF pilot

China on Friday welcomed Pakistan’s decision to release the Indian Air Force pilot and encouraged the two countries to engage in more counter terrorism cooperation and dialogue for the regional peace and stability, reported news agency PTI.

2:42 pm IST

Happy with release of IAF pilot, but Pak needs to do lot more: V K Singh

Union minister and former Army chief V K Singh on Friday said he was happy that Pakistan was releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, but the neighbouring country needs to do a “lot more”, reported news agency PTI.

The Centre is taking “appropriate measures” and “such steps are not revealed”, the minister of state for External Affairs told reporters on the sidelines of an event in his Lok Sabha constituency. He was asked about the Centre’s next step amid the escalating tension between India and Pakistan.

“A lot of things are done in line with the Geneva Convention. We are happy that he is being released. If they call it a gesture of peace, we are happy for that too, but they need to do a lot more,” he said.

2:30 pm IST

Attari-Wagah border beating retreat ceremony cancelled

Ahead of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s return to India, the Attari-Wagah border beating retreat ceremony has been cancelled, said Amritsar DC, adding, “IAF pilot Abhinandan is more important than the retreat ceremony,” reported Hindustan Times’ Surjit Singh.

2:05 pm IST

People dance near Wagah border to celebrate IAF pilot’s homecoming

People were seen dancing to Punjabi beats so as to celebrate the homecoming of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, reported Hindustan Times’ Surjit Singh. The pilot is expected to cross over at the Wagah border at around 3-4 pm.

2:00 pm IST

Petition filed in Pak court to stop the release of Indian pilot

A Pakistani citizen on Friday filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court to stop the imminent release of the captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinanadan Varthaman, saying he committed crime against the country and should be put on trial in Islamabad, reported news agency PTI.

1:43 pm IST

Pak says no to India’s request to sent back IAF pilot by air: Report

Hours after Pakistan announced its decision to release Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, India conveyed to Islamabad that it wants him to be sent back via aerial route and not through the Wagah land border, official sources said according to news agency PTI.

However, late in the night, Pakistan communicated to India that he will be returned through the Attari-Wagah border.

The Indian defence establishment was also mulling over sending a special aircraft to Pakistan to bring back Wing Commander Varthaman who was captured by Pakistan during an aerial combat on Wednesday.

Varthaman will now return home through the Wagah border which is around 25 km from Lahore in Pakistan.

1:36 pm IST

Students skip school, college to welcome IAF pilot at Wagah

“I want to join the armed forces, I am very impressed with the way Abhinandan Varthaman handled himself specially in the captivity of Pakistani forces. It was commendable. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that. I told my father that I wanted to be at Wagah when he comes back to India,” said Saundarya Puri, a 15-year-old class 10th student who came with her father to welcome the IAF officer, reported Mint’s Gyan Varma.

“I should be in college today attending my classes but I decided not to go today and instead come to Wagah to see Abhinandan Varthaman. I have seen his videos on social media and it is difficult to believe what he has done for India. If he can do so much, I can at least greet him when he crosses over to India from Pakistan,” said Lucky Singh, an 18-year-old student of diploma in electrical engineering.

1:27 pm IST

Will not receive IAF pilot at Wagah to ensure defence protocol: Punjab CM

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh will not receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthman at the Waghah border to ensure that the defence protocol that is usually followed in such cases is not violated in any way.

“I would have loved to go, since both he and his father were from the National Defence Academy, like me, and it would have been an extremely happy and nostalgic moment for me to receive the brave officer,” said the Captain Amarinder Singh on Friday in a statement.

Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh will not receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthman at the Waghah border to ensure that the defence protocol. ( AFP File Photo )
1:20 pm IST

IAF pilot may be handed over during beating retreat ceremony: Amritsar DC

“There is uncertainty yet about timing of arrival of Abhinandan, but it seems sure that he will return after 400 pm. He may be handed over to India during the beating retreat ceremony, “ said Amritsar DC Shivdular Singh Dhillon, reports Hindustan Times’ Surjit Singh.

Amritsar DC Shivdular Singh Dhillon briefs media ( Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo )
1:15 pm IST

In 1999, Pak had released IAF pilot K Nachiketa through Wagah

In 1999, during the Kargil War Indian Air Force pilot K Nachiketa was brought back through Wagah border. He was on a bombing mission on 27 May 1999 during the Kargil War, and had ejected after his engine flamed out. He was released eight days later by Pakistan.

In 1972, India had agreed to release 93,000 Pakistani prisoners after the two countries signed the Shimla Agreement, almost a year after the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The war also saw the release of then Squadron Leader K.C. Nanda Cariappa (retired as Air Marshal), who was captured during the 1965 war.

1:10 pm IST

IAF team from Delhi to receive pilot at Wagah

“Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will cross the border today, can’t tell you exact time since there are certain formalities. A senior Indian Air force team from Delhi is here, they will be the ones to receive him,” said Deputy commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon, Amritsar, reported news agency ANI.

12:40 pm IST

‘What if India attacks us again?’: Pak minister opposes IAF pilot’s release

In a speech in Pakistan Parliament, minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed opposed the release of Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, expressing apprehension that India could launch an offensive after he is sent back, reported news agency ANI.

“During (former Prime Minister) Vajpayee’s time this was not the situation. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has a different thinking. People say Modi planned this attack keeping in view the Lok Sabha elections. What if India attacks us again after we hand over to them the IAF pilot. I want to tell you, Modi is sitting there. What if he attacks tomorrow. Every Muslim residing in India is looking towards Pakistan,” he said.

12:20 pm IST

State Home Guards in Chennai organise special thanks giving prayer

A special thanks giving prayer was organised on Friday by state Home Guards at Kalikambal Temple in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai ahead of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s release by Pakistan.

11:55 am IST

Pak Foreign Minister to skip OIC meet over India’s attendance

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will skip the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meet over India’s attendance.

11:52 am IST

Abhinandan Varthaman handed over to Indian High Commission

IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman has been handed over to Indian High Commission in Pakistan. He is expected to cross between 3-4 pm.

11:25 am IST

China opens up airspace in response to India-Pakistan crisis: Chinese media

China has permitted foreign airlines to use its airspace after Pakistan shut down its skies following military tension with India this week, a state media report said on Friday.

Civilian flights were severely disrupted – before being stopped altogether – after fighter jets from India and Pakistan engaged near the India-Pakistan border on Wednesday. About 800 flights use the India-Pakistan air corridor every day, according to Reuters.

The Civilian Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) stepped in with a contingency plan for both domestic and foreign airlines on Wednesday to use Chinese air space to reroute flights.

“The notice came after Beijing Capital International Airport cancelled all flights to and from Pakistan on Wednesday and Thursday, including connecting flights,” the North China Air Traffic Management Bureau, under the CAAC, was quoted as saying by the state-controlled tabloid Global Times.

11:05 am IST

China cancels all flights to and from Pakistan: Report

China has cancelled all flights to and from Pakistan and rerouted its international aircraft flying over the Pakistani airspace due to the regional tensions, official media in Beijing reported on Friday, according to news agency PTI.

The closure of Pakistan’s airspace in response to escalating tensions with India disrupted major routes between Europe and South East Asia and left thousands of air travellers stranded worldwide.

Flights from the Middle East that usually overfly Pakistan and the Pakistan-India border will have to re-route over India, Myanmar or central Asia to enter China, civil aviation experts told Global Times.

10:57 am IST

IAF pilot’s return is our diplomatic victory: Amit Shah

“Creating situation for return of pilot Abhinandan in such a short span of time is our diplomatic victory, said Amit Shah at a media conclave, reported news agency PTI.

10:47 am IST

How to trust Pak PM, he didn’t once criticise Pulwama attack: Shah

“Pakistan PM should have criticised Pulwama attacks at least once. How can we trust him,” said BJP chief Amit Shah at a media conclave.

“Opposition resolution post air strikes gave ammunition to Pakistan. Track record of our government has been best in dealing with terror since Independence”, he further said.

10:15 am IST

Security heightened at Attari- Wagah border

Punjab Police personnel has been deployed outside Integrated Check Post (ICP) Attari in a huge number.

10:05 am IST

Crowd gathers at Wagah border to receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman

People reached Wagah border in Amritsar with drums, garlands and flags to receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.

People started arriving in Attari, around 30 km from Sikh holy city of Amritsar, since 6 am. Their numbers swelled by 9 am, reported news agency IANS.

“We have come here to welcome our country’s hero back home. We will give him a grand welcome. He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis,” Jitender, a resident of Amritsar, who arrived in Attari with his friends, said.

Crowd gathers at Wagah border to receive IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman ( Sameer Sehgal/HT Photo )
9:50 am IST

US again asks Pak to deny safe havens to terrorists

The US has reaffirmed its demand that Pakistan abide by its UN Security Council commitments to deny safe havens to terrorists and block their access to funds as it welcomed Islamabad’s decision to release the captured Indian Air Force pilot.

9:45 am IST

‘Over in 90 seconds’: Officers detail India, Pak air duel along border

The dogfight between Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, flying a Russian made MiG-21 and a Pakistan Air Force US made F-16 over the skies of the Nowshera in Rajouri District of Jammu Province on Wednesday lasted just 90 seconds, a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer said on condition of anonymity.

The 90 seconds will perhaps go down in the history of aircraft encounters.

In the 90 seconds, the Pakistani fighter fired two US AMRAAM missiles and an aging MiG-21 shot down a fourth generation F-16 fighter — a feat that will go into the history books considering the asymmetry between the two fighters. Soon after, the MiG, piloted by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down.

9:40 am IST

Visuals from the Attari-Wagah border

9:35 am IST

US welcomes Pak’s decision to release captured Indian pilot

The US on Thursday welcomed Pakistan’s decision to release captured Indian Air Force pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, from their custody.

“We welcome Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment that Pakistan will release on Friday the Indian pilot held in its custody,” a State Department spokesperson told PTI responding to a question on the announcement made by Khan in the Pakistani parliament.

9:30 am IST

IAF pilot fought captors, swallowed documents before being captured: Report

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman raised patriotic slogans, fired in the air and stuffed his mouth with documents when he landed on Pakistani soil after ejecting from his fighter jet, says the headman of a village on the other side of the border.

The Indian Air Force pilot, who has been the centre of global attention since his capture after a MiG 21 Bison he was flying was shot during an aerial dogfight with Pakistani air force on Wednesday, will be released on Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced in Parliament.

9:25 am IST

IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to be released today

Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman is likely to be released by Pakistani authorities on Friday and brought back home through the Wagah-Attari joint check-post.