“Wg Cmdr Abhinandan says he is happy to be back,” says IAF spokesperson in a brief interaction with journalists.
Pakistan on Friday released Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured on February 27 after the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) violated the Indian airspace and downed his MiG 21 ‘Bison’ aircraft in an engagement on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir. He bailed out and landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Reports said he shot down a Pakistan F-16 before being hit.
On February 26, India bombed terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) biggest training camp at Balakot in Pakistan. This was preceded by the JeM’s car bombing of a CRPF convoy on February 14 that killed 40 personnel of the para-military force in Pulwama.
Major developments on February 28 as they happened: announcement of Wing Commander Abhinandan’s release and a joint armed forces press briefing
At the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meet in Abu Dhabi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj says, “The fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion. It cannot be. Just as Islam literally means peace,none of the 99 names of Allah mean violence. Similarly, every religion in the world stands for peace, compassion & brotherhood.”
Deputy Commissioner Amritsar Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon says India didn’t ask for the reason for delay in releasing the pilot.
When asked if he interacted with Wg. Cmdr. Abhinandan, Mr. Dhillon said the pilot said he was grateful to come back to the Indian soil.
An Indian Air Force spokesperson speaks. Welcoming Wg. Cmdr. Abhinandan, the spokesperson said he was handed over as per the Standard Operating Procedure.
Mr. Abhinandan will now undergo a medical check-up, since he landed after ejecting from an aircraft.
“Happy to be back, Wg Cmdr Abhinandan said,” says the spokesperson in a brief interaction with journalists.
And… Wg Cmdr Abhinandan walks out of Pakistan, crosses the border and arrives in India via Attari.
PaK Foreign ministry has released the following statement:
The captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today. He was arrested when his military jet MIG-21 crashed in Azad Jammu & Kashmir after being shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani airspace on February 27, 2019.
While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law. Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan announced his return as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India.
Wing Commander Abhinandan has reached Wagah. He is accompanied by Indian High Commission officials and Pakistan security personnel.
The border security personnel on both the sides verify papers.
Wg Cmdr Abhinandan to be handed over by 9 p.m.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is still in Lahore. He will be handed over to the Indian side by 9 p.m., say diplomatic sources.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is handed over to Indian High Commission officials at the Wagah border, reports IANS, quoting Indian officials.
Informed sources say the pilot was accompanied by Indian High Commission officials from Islamabad.
No clarity yet on whether the Wing Commander has been handed over or what is the cause of the delay.
Air Vice Marshal Kapoor and BSF officials to brief the press at the Indian side of the Wagah-Attari border.
Pakistan court rejects plea to stop pilot’s release
The Islamabad High Court dismisses a petition filed against the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
High Court Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard the case earlier in the day ahead of the pilot’s release, Samaa TV reports.
Justice Minallah tells the petitioner that the decision to release the pilot was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan during a Parliament session on Thursday and no parliamentarian raised any objections.
“So this is a policy matter and we must respect Parliament,” the judge says.
Abhinandan undergoes medical check-up at Wagah
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is undergoing a medical check-up at Wagah ahead of his handing over to Indian authorities, reports Dawn.
Associated Press says Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was taken in a convoy that set out from Lahore to Wagah earlier in the day, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers, their weapons drawn.
Pakistan daily Dawn says Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has reached Lahore, and is expected to be released shortly at the Wagah border.
PTI says he has Lahore in a convoy comprising vehicles of government officials, who will hand over him to the Indian officials at the Attari-Wagah Border crossing.
Foreign Secretary briefs Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs
Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefs the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs on the prevailing situation.
The committee, headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, meets in Parliament in the afternoon.
“The parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs will receive a briefing from the MEA on the current situation with Pakistan…”, tweets Mr. Tharoor.
Proud that India’s first woman Defence Minister is from Tamil Nadu: PM
“It makes every Indian proud that the brave Wing Commander Abhinandan hails from Tamil Nadu,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi says in his first comments on the IAF pilot.
Addressing a rally in Kanyakumari, he says:
“I am proud that India’s first woman Defence Minister is from Tamil Nadu.
“I have flagged off the fastest train, Tejas, between Madurai and Chennai. This is one of the most modern trains and is a great example of ‘Make in India’ having been manufactured in the Integral Coach Factory of Chennai itself.
“The foundation stone for a railway line between Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi has also been laid today. This line got damaged after the disaster of 1964 but for over 50 years, no attention was paid to this line. But, better late than never!
“Under PM-KISAN, over 1.1 crore farmers have already got their first instalment in their bank accounts. Imagine, a scheme announced on 1st February has become a reality in the same month itself. We worked 24 hours non-stop to ensure that the scheme is rolled out in 24 days.
“The great Tiruvalluvar said: ‘When the rare chance comes, seize it to do the rare deed.’ In 2014, it was after 30 years that a party got a full majority in Parliament. The people’s message was clear — they wanted a government that takes bold and tough decisions.
“People wanted honesty, not dynasty. People wanted development, not decay. People wanted progress, not policy paralysis. People wanted opportunities, not obstacles. People wanted security not stagnation. People wanted inclusive growth, not votebank politics.
“We understand that if we want to increase the income of fishermen brothers and sisters, then we have to develop infrastructure associated with fisheries. The construction works of the Mukayur Fishing Harbour and the Poompuhar Fishing Harbour are almost completed.
“The Government of India is most sensitive to the safety and wellbeing of fishermen. Due to sustained diplomatic efforts, since May 2014, hundreds of fishermen have been released by the Sri Lankan authorities.
“India has been facing the menace of terrorism for years. But, there is a big difference now- India will no longer be helpless in the wake of terror. From 2004 to 2014 there were several terror attacks. The nation expected perpetrators to be punished but nothing happened.
“26/11 happened, India expected action against terrorists but nothing happened. Uri happened and you saw what our brave men did. Pulwama happened and you saw what our brave men did. I salute all those who are serving the nation. Their vigilance keeps our nation secure.
“There was a time when news reports would read- the Air Force wanted to do surgical strike after 26/11 but the UPA blocked it. Today, we are in an era where the news reads – armed forces have full freedom to do what they want.
“Influence of terrorists and terrorism has been curtailed and it is going to be curtailed even more. This is a new India. This is an India that will return the damage done by terrorists with interest.
“The events of the past few days have demonstrated yet again the strength of our armed forces. It has also brought our nation closer. The way the nation has supported our armed forces is extra-ordinary and I bow to every Indian for that.
“Sadly, a few parties, guided by hatred for Modi have started hating India. No wonder, while the entire nation supports our armed forces, they suspect the armed forces. The world is supporting India’s fight against terror but a few parties suspect our fight against terror.
“These are the same people whose statements are helping Pakistan & harming India. They are the same people whose statements are being happily quoted in Parliament of Pakistan and in the radio of Pakistan. I want to ask them- do you support our armed forces or suspect them?
“They should clarify- Do they believe our armed forces or they believe those forces who support terrorism on our soil? I want to tell them- Modi will come and go, India will remain. Please stop weakening India to strengthen your own politics.
‘Fulfilling dreams of Rajaji’
“Today we are fulfilling the dreams of Rajaji by creating an economy that is reform- oriented and people-friendly. India’s ranking for ‘Ease of Doing Business’ has come risen by 65 places. Now, it is possible to get a loan up to Rupees one crore in 59 minutes.
“We are betting on India’s youth and their talent. That is why, the Mudra Yojana was launched to give wings to the spirit of enterprise of young India. 15 crore people have got loans totaling worth over Rs. 7 lakh crore. Tamil Nadu is one of the top states under this scheme.
“India remembers 2009 and how the DMK and Congress allotted portfolios after the elections. Ministers were being picked not by the Prime Minister but by those who had nothing to do with public service. There was telephone bargaining for minister posts.
“My family is 130 crore Indians. I will live for them, I will die for them. I am not in public life to further a dynasty. I am here to do whatever I can for the growth of India. I seek your blessings to create an India where the dreams of the poorest of poor are fulfilled.”
Pakistan ignores India’s request to send back Abhinandan by air
Hours after Pakistan announced its decision to release Abhinandan Varthaman, India conveyed to Islamabad that it wants him to be sent back via aerial route and not through the Wagah border, official sources say.
However, late in the night, Pakistan communicated to India that he will be returned through the Attari-Wagah border.
The Indian defence establishment has also been mulling over sending a special aircraft to Pakistan to bring back the Wing Commander. He will now return home through the Wagah border, which is around 25 km from Lahore.
Pakistan to reopen airspace
“We will open our airspace at 6 p.m. [6.30 p.m. IST] today” for flights at the Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta airports, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman Aamir Mehboob tells AFP.
The rest of the airspace would be opened “gradually”, he says.
Amarinder not to receive to Abhinandan
Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh (retd.) decides not to receive IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at the border to ensure that the military protocol is not violated.
“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,” he says in a statement.
After his offer to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on February 28 evening to welcome the Indian Air Force pilot back on Indian soil at the Punjab border, he thought it over and concluded that it might contravene the protocols laid out in such cases, he says.
“When any prisoner of war from the 1965 or 1971 war came back, he was first sent for medical examination, followed by a debriefing, which was likely to be the case with Wing Commander Abhinandan too,” he notes.
It would be more proper for him not to go to the Attari border, around 285 km from Chandigarh, to receive the officer, the Chief Minister says.
But the Chief Minister has extended a very warm welcome to pilot Varthaman, saying the whole nation is proud of the way he stood up to questioning by the Pakistan armed forces during captivity.
He tweets, saying “I wholeheartedly welcome Abhinandan Vartaman back home. Though I would have loved to go and receive him. I did not do so in view of the existing defence protocols. Hope to see you soon officer!”
Retreat ceremony at Wagah-Attari border cancelled
The daily retreat ceremony at the Wagah-Attari border, conducted by the BSF stands cancelled for today, according to a BSF official.
A senior official of the force says the martial ceremony has been called off due to administrative requirements in the wake of IAF pilot’s release post noon at this frontier post.
The general public will not be allowed in the ceremony area that is located in Attari of Punjab along the Indo-Pak border, the BSF official says.
Officials say the decision has been taken in view of “military requirements” as Wg. Cmdr. Varthaman will be handed over to senior Indian Air Force officials.
The BSF conducts the ceremony in coordination with Pakistan Rangers. It involves lowering of the flags of the two countries along with foot stomping manoeuvres of the troops.
According to Amritsar Deputy Commissioner Shivdular Singh Dhillon, a senior team of the IAF will receive the Wing Commander.
Pakistan lodges strong protest with OIC
Pakistan registers its strong protest with the OIC over the invite to India. “India has no legal and moral rights to participate in OIC,” says the Pakistan Foreign Ministry.
Sushma Swaraj speaks at OIC meet
Ms. Swaraj says at the OIC meet:
“I stand here as a representative of a land that has been for ages a fountain of knowledge, a beacon of peace, a source of faiths and traditions, and home to religions from the world & now, one of the major economies of the world.
“I carry the greetings of 1.3 billion Indians, including more than 185 million Muslim brothers and sisters. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are a microcosm of the diversity of India itself.
“In the past four years, few relationships have seen as much engagement, or has been so transformed, as India’s relationship with UAE and, indeed, with the entire Gulf and West Asia Region. In a sense, it is a return of history.
“India shares much with you. Many of us have experienced the dark days of colonialism. Many of us saw, the light of freedom and the bright ray of hope at the same time. We have stood together in solidarity, in our quest for justice and dignity.
“Terrorism and extremism bear different names and labels. It uses diverse causes. But in each case, it is driven by distortion of religion, and a misguided belief in its power to succeed.
“The fight against terrorism is not a confrontation against any religion. It cannot be. Just as Islam literally means peace,none of the 99 names of Allah mean violence. Similarly, every religion in the world stands for peace, compassion & brotherhood.
“India has always embraced and found it easy to embrace pluralism since it is embedded in the oldest Sanskrit religious text The Rg Veda and I quote ‘एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति’, which means ‘God is One but learned men describe Him in many ways’.
“This is not a clash of civilisations or cultures, but a contest of ideas and ideals. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often said, it is a struggle between the values of humanism and the forces of inhumanity.”
Hundreds flock to Attari
Hundreds of people gather at the Attari border to catch a glimpse of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
People sang patriotic songs and raise slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai“.
A youth was seen carrying a huge garland, while an elderly man was seen beating a ‘dhol’ “If permitted, I want to welcome the Wing Commander with this garland,” says the youth.
Security arrangements have been further strengthened, with police personnel deployed in good numbers.
Amritsar’s Senior Deputy Mayor Raman Bakshi is seen raising pro-India slogans and a group of youths is singing, “Is desh ke yaaron kya kehna, yeah desh hai veer jawanoon ka”.
Many youth among the crowd say Pakistan should stop aiding and abetting terror or else be prepared to face consequences.
Pompeo hopeful of India-Pakistan de-escalation
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he had “good conversations” with Indian and Pakistani leaders and is hopeful that the rising tensions will come down between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Over the last two days, Mr. Pompeo spoke to the leaders of the two countries, including Minister Ms Swaraj, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.
“We were and continue to be very engaged with the issue between India and Pakistan,” Mr. Pompeo tells reporters travelling with him from Hanoi to Manila on February 28.
He says,“I spent a good deal of time on the phone last night talking to leaders in both countries, making sure there was good information exchanged, encouraging each country to not take any action that would escalate and create increased risk.
“I had good conversations, and I am hopeful that we can take down the tension there, at least for the time being, so they can begin to have conversations that don’t portend risk of escalation to either of the two countries. So we’re working hard on that.”
From our archives:
This is the story of Gurbachan Singh, India’s Ambassador to Morocco in 1969.
India was first not invited, then invited and finally asked to stay away from the final session of the foundation of the OIC in Rabat, Morocco.
Pak. Foreign Minister to skip OIC meeting
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi announces that Pakistan will not attend the OIC meeting of Foreign Ministers, reports Dawn.
India has been invited to the OIC meet, in which External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is scheduled to speak today.
“I wrote to OIC to take back the invitation to India and if they won’t be able to do this I won’t be able to participate. I have decided that I won’t be going to OIC. We have 19 resolutions there which also includes Kashmir issue, therefore our lower level officials will be present to defend Pakistan’s resolution, in short if someone tries to give India an observer status we can oppose it,” Dawn quotes him as telling a joint session of Parliament.
The media outlet reports that Mr. Qureshi requested them to review the decision to invite Ms. Swaraj. “UAE said that when we extended the invitation, Pulwama had not occurred. If it had, case would have been difference. Now we have extended invitation it would be hard to retract but they would still consult.”
It is for the first time that India has been invited to a meeting of the OIC, an influential grouping of 57 Islamic countries, as the guest of honour.
Mr. Qureshi on February 28 said the OIC was “our home” so he would go there but will not hold talks with Ms. Swaraj.
Earlier, he had said that he would boycott the meeting if Ms. Swaraj participates.
Abhinandan to reach India via Wagah at 4 p.m.
Wg. Cdr. Abinandan is expected to come via the Wagah border crossing near Amritsar at 4 p.m. along with Group Captain J.T. Kurian, Air Advisor in the Indian High Commission, according to defence sources. According to the PTI, the government has not announced any time or place of the handover due to security reasons
China cancels all flights to and from Pakistan
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 Chinese media reports.
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 have told Global Times.
The Beijing Capital International Airport cancelled all flights to and from Pakistan on Wednesday and Thursday, including connecting flights, according to a statement sent to the Global Times by the North China Air Traffic Management Bureau.
Sushma likely to raise terrorism issue at OIC
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is in Abu Dhabi to attend the foreign ministers’ meet of the OIC,where she is expected to raise the issue of terrorism, amidst Indo-Pak tensions following the Pulwama terror attack.
Ms. Swaraj will attend the inaugural plenary of the two-day meeting on Friday. It is for the first time that India has been invited to a meeting of the OIC, an influential grouping of 57 Islamic countries, as the guest of honour.
“EAM @SushmaSwaraj arrives in #AbuDhabi for the Ministerial Meeting of @OIC_OCI. India has been invited by HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister of UAE as the ‘Guest of Honour’,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi is also attending the meeting. Earlier he had said that he would boycott the meeting if Swaraj participates.
Our correspondent Vijaita Singh reports:
A alleged bedsheet seller has been apprehended by the Border Security Force (BSF) in Punjab’s Ferozepur, along Pakistan border.
The man has been detained on the basis of suspicion by a BSF patrol that has been put on a heightened alert, following the air strikes by Indian Air Force in Pakistan’s Balakot earlier this week.
The suspect, identified as Mohammad Shahrukh (21), a resident of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, was found in possession of a mobile phone, which had some suspicious numbers, a BSF official says.
“During questioning, his answers were incoherent and contradictory. He has been handed over to police for further investigation and questioning,” says the official.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has admitted that Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar is in Pakistan.
In an interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour, Mr. Qureshi says, in response to a question of whether Azhar is in Pakistan, “He is in Pakistan, he is very unwell. He is unwell to the extent he cannot leave the house. If they give us solid, inalienable evidence, which is acceptable to the courts of Pakistan, so that we can convince the people.”
Mr. Qureshi also says Pakistan will be open to any step that leads to de-escalation. “If they (India) have good solid evidence, please sit and talk, please initate a dialogue and we will show reasonableness,” he says.
Pak. violates ceasefire in Uri sector, civilian injured
One civilian has been injured in a ceasefire violation early today by Pakistani troops along the LoC in Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir, officials say.
Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked firing towards Indian posts and villages in Kamalkote area of Uri in Baramulla district on Thursday evening, the officials say.
They say the intermittent firing continued through out the night. One civilian has been injured in the firing.
Indian Army responded to the Pakistani firing in adequate measure, the officials add.
U.S. welcomes Pakistan’s decision to release Wg Cmdr Abhinandan
The US has welcomed Pakistan’s decision to release captured 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 tells PTI.
Simultaneously, the US urges both India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions.
The U.S. continues to urge both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, including through direct communication. Further military activity will exacerbate the situation, the State Department spokesperson says.
”We reiterate our call for Pakistan to abide by its United Nations Security Council commitments to deny terrorists safe haven and block their access to funds,” the spokesperson says.
Behind the scenes: How world leaders averted an escalation
A series of visits, phone calls and backroom diplomacy by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE may have been behind Imran Khan’s decision to announce the unilateral release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. The move appears to have averted an escalation in the situation between India and Pakistan for the moment.
Release of Indian pilot by Pak would be a “very much welcomed” step: UN
The release of the Indian pilot by Pakistan will be a “very much welcomed step”, spokesperson for UN chief Antonio Guterres says late on Thursday, stressing that the message to India and Pakistan from the world body and the international community is to de-escalate tensions.
“The reports of the promise of the release of the Indian pilot by the Pakistani authorities would be a very much welcomed step,” spokesperson for the UN Secretary General Stephane Dujarric tells reporters.
“We would encourage both parties to do whatever they can to de-escalate the situation and this is the message that has been passed on by the UN and by the international community as a whole,” he says.
Encounter underway in Kashmir valley
An encounter has broken out between militants and security forces in the Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials say. Security forces have launched a cordon and search operation in Babagund area of Kupwara following information about presence of militants there.