Abhinandan Varthaman, IAF pilot Wing Commander who was captured by Pakistan, has been handed over to officials of the Indian High Commission at Wagah border near Lahore on Friday evening. Pakistan had detained him following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was downed on February 27. "Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been handed over to us. He will now be taken for a detailed medical checkup because he had to eject from an aircraft. The IAF is happy to have him back," said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor at Attari-Wagah border.
India on Wednesday summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan and demanded immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot who was detained by Pakistan following an aerial engagement by air forces of the two countries. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing a special joint sitting of the parliament on Thursday announced that Pakistan will release the pilot.
The government due to security reasons had not announced any time or place to hand him over to Indian authorities.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of different projects in Kanyakumari, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said every Indian is proud of Abhinandan Varthaman.
Tensions between India and Pakistan escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's (JeM) biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early on Tuesday. It came 12 days after 40 CRPF personnel were killed when a Jaish-e-Mohammad suicide bomber rammed a vehicle carrying over 100 kg of explosives into their bus in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir on February 14.
Following the bombing of the JeM training camp, the Pakistan Air Force carried out a retaliatory aerial combat, unsuccessfully targeting several Indian military installations.
Wait for Abhinandan
They waited, hundreds of media personnel at the Attari border that separates India from Pakistan and millions of Indians glued to their TV sets and social media accounts for some news, any news about IAF officer Abhinandan Varthaman coming back home from captivity.
The day slipped into sunset and then night but the wait for Wing Commander Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday and was released on Friday, continued.
Long after nightfall, as the skies opened up and drenched Amritsar, there was no sign of the Indian Air Force pilot.
As analysts painstakingly debated each nuance of India, Pakistan relations in TV studios, anchors went hoarse keeping up the constant commentary and journalists looked for information on when and how he would be handed over to India, the government decided to keep it all under wraps.
Patriotism was the mood of the day. There was garba in Ahmedabad, dancing in Bangalore, a sand sculpture of the officer in Puri and 'yagnas' in several places.
Frenzied celebrations broke out at the Attari-Wagah border checkpost in the morning itself with hundreds of people waving the tricolour, getting their faces painted and shouting slogans in anticipation of his safe homecoming and hoping to catch a glimpse of the brave-heart.
The daily retreat ceremony at the border front was cancelled for the day by authorities, worried that it could become a security nightmare with an estimated 20,000 people gathering at the spot.
(With PTI inputs)