In Pakistan’s custody, IAF pilot is all about dignity, courage
He was blindfolded; blood covered and being asked hostile questions. But in the video put out by Pakistan, there was not a hint of fear in Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s voice. In the video, he identified himself calmly and in a dignified manner. He told his captors that he was a flying pilot, shared his service number, but politely refused to share more details.
“I am sorry sir, that’s all I am supposed to tell you,” he told the commanding voice that had asked him, “What else?”
But his remarkable composure was met with a stiff silence when he politely asked his interviewer whether he was in custody of Pakistan Army.
Hours later another video surfaced on social media, this time showing the same Indian Air Force pilot sipping tea and answering questions put to him by an off-camera “Major” present in room. The blood was gone and so was the blindfold. The soldier’s calm demeanour remained intact.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was part of the Indian Air Force’s Combat Air Patrol that engaged on-coming Pakistani fighters on Wednesday morning.
Pakistan had earlier said its air force shot down two Indian fighter jets and claimed to have captured two pilots. By evening, Pakistan’s military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor retracted this claim, declaring that it had only one.
Hours earlier, the Indian foreign ministry had summoned Pakistan’s envoy to Delhi and told him that the government expected the immediate and safe return of the pilot. New Delhi also protested Islamabad’s move to put out his photographs in public domain.
Through the day, Pakistan news outlets put out a series of videos.
In one, when the pilot was asked which aircraft he was flying, he bluntly tells his captor: “I am sorry Major, I am not supposed to tell you this. But I am sure you have found the wreckage.” He continued to sip the tea, which he said was “fantastic”.
The pilot steadfastly refused to answer any questions related to the mission he was on when his fighter jet was downed. “I am not supposed to tell you” was his stark response to his interviewer.
The 38-year-old has been a fighter pilot for 16 years and is the son of a decorated and senior officer of the air force. Wing Commander 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.
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.”