Pakistan to hand over captured pilot Abhinandan at Wagah border on Friday evening

Feb 28, 2019
NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistani army on Wednesday as he landed across the border after he ejected from his MiG when it flamed during action, will be returned to India on Friday, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told the Pak parliament on Thursday.

IAF officials will receive Abhinandan at the Wagah border post on Friday evening, sources said. He will be accompanied by the outgoing defence attache.

The Press Information Department of the Pakistan Government posted on the official Twitter account of the Government that Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliamentarians during the joint session on Thursday, "As a peace gesture we are releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan tomorrow," Pakistani news channels reported.

Prime Minister Modi chaired a high-level meeting Thursday evening, attended by chiefs of the three Services, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

A joint media briefing was also held by the Army, Air Force and Navy in the evening at which the officials gave the details of the military operations and emphasised their readiness to meet any eventuality.

On Imran Khan's announcement of the pilot's release as a gesture of peace, the Indian Air Force said that Pakistan's gesture was in compliance with the Geneva Convention.

"As far as the IAF is concerned, we are happy that our pilot - who is in Pakistan's custody - is returning... but we only see it as a gesture in compliance with the Geneva Convention," Air-Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor said at the joint briefing of the Army, Air Force and the Navy on Thursday.

The military chiefs also participated in another meeting with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary, Home secretary and the chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

Capt Amarinder Singh has tweeted, "Dear @narendramodi ji , I’m touring the border areas of Punjab & I’m presently in Amritsar. Came to know that @pid_gov has decided to release #AbhinandanVartaman from Wagha. It will be a honour for me to go and receive him, as he and his father are alumnus of the NDA as I am." Pilot Abhinandan's father Air Marshal (retd) S Varthaman said in a statement he was praying he would not get tortured in the neighbouring country and return home "safe and sound".

The pilot was captured by Pakistani forces after his MiG 21 Bison crossed the Line Of Control (LoC) and fell into the neighbouring country's territory, after a Pak engagement with Indian forces on Wednesday.

India had summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan, Syed Haider Shah, and demanded the immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot. And raised objection to the "vulgar display" of an injured personnel in violation of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Conventions.

On the release of the pilot, JK's PDP leader and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said: "The decision to hand over Wing Commander Abhinandan is a great gesture & shouldn't be seen in isolation. It also comes at a time when Pak could’ve chosen to further escalate an already tensed situation. I see it as a mark of reconciliation. Our leadership should reciprocate."

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to to Modi and conveyed solidarity of the people of the Russian Federation with the people of India in the fight against terrorism.

Meanwhile, Air Canada, which had suspended flights to india on Wednesday, has stated its flights to Delhi will resume from Toronto (AC 42) on Thursday night and from Vancouver (AC44) on Friday.

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