Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was handed over to India on Friday night, has told officials that although he was not physically tortured by Pakistan officials, he went through a lot of mental harassment in their custody, news agency ANI quoted sources as saying. Varthaman, who was brought to Delhi after Pakistan released him through the Attari-Wagah border, underwent a series of medical tests as part of a "cooling down" process, officials said. Early Saturday morning, Varthaman met his immediate family members as well as several top officials of the Indian Air Force, they said.
Varthaman arrived in the national capital around 11:45 PM Friday and soon after he was taken to the Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services.
He was captured by Pakistani authorities on February 27 after his MiG 21 Bison went down during a dogfight with Pakistani jets. But before his plane was hit, Varthaman shot down an F-16 of Pakistan air force.
Wing Commander Varthaman is undergoing a series of medical tests as part of the "cooling down" process and it is expected to continue till Sunday. Once, the health check-up phase is over, debriefing sessions will be arranged for him, the officials said.
The handing over of pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India at Wagah was delayed on Friday as he was asked to record a statement on camera by Pakistani authorities before he was allowed to cross the border, according to sources. It was not clear whether he was made to record the video under duress. The video also had several jump cuts indicating that it had been edited heavily, apparently to fit Pakistani propaganda.
Sources: After returning from Pakistan, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has informed that though he was not physically tortured by the Pakistanis; he went through a lot of mental harassment. pic.twitter.com/x7C3lFsrSR— ANI (@ANI) March 2, 2019
At 8.30 pm (local) time, the Pakistan government released the pilot's video message to the local media in which he said as to how he was captured. "Recording of his video message caused a delay in his handing over," a source said.
In the video message, Varthaman said he entered Pakistan's space to "find a target" but his aircraft was shot down. "I was in search of the target when your (Pakistan) Air Force shot me down. I had to eject the plane which had sustained damage. As soon as I ejected and when my parachute opened and I fell down, I had a pistol with me.?
"There were many people. I had only one way to save myself: I dropped my pistol and tried to run.
"People chased me, their emotions were running high. Just then, two Pakistani Army officials came and saved me. Pakistani army captains saved from the people and did not let any harm come to me. They took me to their unit where I was administered first aid and then I was taken to the hospital where I further underwent a medical exam and received more aid," he said.
"The army personnel saved me from the mob. The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it," he said, while criticising the Indian media.
India has maintained that Varthaman's plane was downed when IAF planes foiled an attempt by Pakistan Air Force to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, a day after New Delhi had conducted counter-terror operations in Pakistan's Balakot. He bailed out of the aircraft but drifted to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where he was detained by the Pakistan Army.
Although there has been no official word as to what time he was brought to the Wagah border on Friday, but the sources say he reached Lahore after 4 pm. The Pakistani media reported that "his papers were being checked at the Wagah immigration" that was why he was not being "immediately" handed over to the Indian authorities.
Varthaman was handed over at around 9.20 pm (IST).
(With agency PTI inputs)