IAF pilot captured by Pakistan is the son of a retired air marshal
Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose capture by Pakistan ratcheted up tensions between the two countries on Wednesday, has been a fighter pilot for 16 years and is the son of a decorated and senior officer of the air force.
Varthaman is an alumnus of the Khadakwasla-based National Defence Academy. He was an accomplished Sukhoi-30 fighter pilot before being assigned to the MiG-21 Bison squadron.
Varthaman’s MiG-21 aircraft was shot down by Pakistan on Wednesday morning, and he was captured by Pakistani armed forces. In a video shot and released by Pakistan in the morning, Varthaman was seen blindfolded and spelling out his name and service number, without divulging any other information.
In a second video released in the evening, Varthaman was seen sipping tea and saying that he was treated well. In the clip, he described the Pakistani armed forces personnel as “thorough gentlemen”. “This is what I would expect my army to behave as, and I am thoroughly impressed,” he said. When asked where he hailed from, and what his squadron was, Varthaman refused to give details, only saying he was from “down south”.
India took exception to Pakistan’s treatment of Varthaman and demanded his “immediate and safe return”.
“India also strongly objects to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions. It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody,” according to demarche issued to Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner.
The 38-year-old Varthaman, who is married and has two children, hails from Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvannamalai district but completed his education in Delhi because his father was posted in the Capital.
His father, Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, was a distinguished fighter pilot and played a significant role during the 1999 Kargil conflict, when he, as a Group Captain, was the chief operations officer (COO) at the Gwalior airbase, home to the Mirage-2000 fighters. A total of 31 Mirage aircraft took part in the conflict.
Air Marshal Varthaman retired as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command. He also held the charge of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Intelligence). He has also served as air attaché to France. In 2017, the government constituted a committee under the Air Marshal to assess the viability of building stealth fighters jointly with Russia.
In Chennai, as news of his capture spread, relatives and local residents thronged his house while on social media, tens of thousands of people, including prominent politicians, prayed for his safety. “We have come to express our solidarity with the family. It was through television news channels that we came to know about Abhinandan being held a captive in Pakistan. We are with the family at this trying time. We want the government to take immediate steps to secure his release without any delay,” said Kunthanathan, a relative.
Several politicians also sent out statements in support of Varthaman. “I’m sorry to hear that one of our brave IAF pilots is missing. I hope he will return home soon, unharmed,” tweeted Congress chief Rahul Gandhi.
Union minister Rajyavardhan Rathore tweeted: “As an Air warrior, Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman served the nation by defending it with total disregard to his personal safety. As a nation we pray for his continuous well being and early return.