The Indian Air Force will receive Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at the Wagah border around noon, two days after he was captured while engaging in an aerial dogfight with Pakistani F-16s. The Wing Commander’s family reached Delhi from Chennai last evening and are not on their way to Amritsar. The Border Security Force, which is expected to stand guard during the pilot’s arrival, has not been told the “exact time and sequence” of the release.
Pakistani PM Imran Khan’s announcement on Thursday to release the IAF pilot came as a surprise amid escalating tensions between the two nuclear-armed countries after an intense aerial confrontation. Khan in his parliament speech called the IAF pilot’s release “a gesture of peace.
A delegation of IAF team will receive Wing Commander Abhinandan, captured by Pakistan during an aerial combat, at the Wagah border, official sources said. Abhinandan’s MiG 21 was shot and he bailed out after bringing down one Pakistani F-16 fighter during a dogfight to repel a Pakistani attack on Wednesday morning. He has been in Pakistan since then.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament on Thursday that Abhinandan would be released on Friday as a “peace gesture”.
Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp near Balakote deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday. It came 12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers.
A team of Indian Air Force officials will receive Wing Commander Abhinandan at the Wagah border on Friday evening, the sources said.
It is not clear whether Varthaman will be handed over to the International Red Cross or to the Indian authorities by Pakistan. India on Wednesday demanded immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot.
“We are happy that our pilot who had fallen across the Line of Control and was in the custody of Pakistan is being released. We are extremely happy to have him back. We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with the Geneva Conventions,” Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor, the assistant chief of Air Staff, told a news conference.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has offered to receive Wing Commander Varthaman at the Attari border.