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IAF Pilot Abhinandan: Wing commander returns home, received by BSF officials

IAF pilot Abhinandan returns India via Attari-Wagah border. "Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians. Vande Mataram!" Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweets.

twitter-logo BusinessToday.In   New Delhi     Last Updated: March 1, 2019  | 22:34 IST
IAF Pilot Abhinandan: Wing commander returns home, received by BSF officials
First visuals of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walking towards Attari-Wagah border

Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was arrested by the Pakistani rangers on Wednesday, is back on Indian soil. He had to undergo an immigration process and a one-page visa has been issued so he could enter the country. People from all sphere of nation is hailing Abhinandan Varthaman's homecoming. Be it politician or Bollywood stars, all are welcoming the warrior, who was held captive by Pakistan for two days after his plane was shot down in a duel by Pakistani fighters. IAF pilot's capture in Pakistan occurred amid escalating military tension between the two countries. On Wednesday, IAF pilot Abhinandan's MiG 21 had shot down Pakistan's F-16 fighter jet before falling into an ambush which led to the crash of the fighter jet he was flying. Abhinandan landed on Pakistani soil after ejecting from his jet and was arrested by the Pakistani forces. However, it is believed India put back-channel diplomatic pressure with the help of allies to make Pakistan release the pilot immediately. On Thursday, Imran Khan announced in the Pakistan National Assembly that Abhinandan would be set free as 'peace gesture'. India has meanwhile maintained that Pakistan is obliged to release the pilot under the Geneva Conventions.

Catch all the latest updates on IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman 's release on BusinessToday.In live blog.

10:25pm:

10:12pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi also welcomed Abhinandan. He said the nation is proud of your exemplary courage.

10:10pm: Abhinandan's convoy is heading towards the Guru Ramdas Airport of Amritsar. He is likely to be taken to a military hospital in Delhi for treatment and check up.

10:05pm: People from all sphere of nation is hailing Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's homecoming. Be it politician or Bollywood stars all are welcoming the warrior.

10:00pm:

9:55pm: Home Minister Rajnath Singh welcomed IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, says entire Nation is proud of him.

9:50pm:

9:30pm: Pakistan has released a 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 and Kashmir after being shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani airspace on February 27, 2019." The statement added, "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."

9:18pm: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman handed over to India by Pak officials.

9:15pm: First visuals of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walking towards Wagah as he comes from the Batapur Army camp.

9:12pm: Abhinandan is being treated as a normal Indian citizen and has to go through all immigration procedures before crossing over to India. He will be provided a one page visa and allowed to cross over to India through Wagah Attari border.

9:11pm:

9:10pm: The process of handover has begun. IAF pilot Abhinandan will be back in India any time now.

9:00pm: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is keeping a close eye on proceedingsat Attari-Wagah border.

8:55pm: Media report suggested that Wing Commander Abhinandan has reached Attari-Wagah border after fulfilling the immigration documents. He will be taken to a military hospital in Delhi for treatment and check up.

8:35 pm: Air Force's Air Vice Marshal Ravi Kapoor and Air Vice Marshal Prabhakaran are in Amritsar to receive Wing Commander Abhinandan .

8:00pm:

7.56pm: Tennis star Sania Mirza welcomes the IAF pilot.

7.48pm: Two buses were reportedly seen going through the Wagah-Attari border.

7.40pm: There are reports of documentation issues that has delayed his homecoming.

7.30pm: Akhilesh Yadav says he is looking forward to welcoming the pilot.

7:15pm: Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht who was the pilot of the Mi-17 helicopter that crashed in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir on February 27 was cremated in Chandigarh earlier today.

7.05pm: As per latest information, three security personnel have been killed in an encounter with militants in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir.

6.50pm: Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs for one hour on pos-Pulwama scenario, India's strike in Balakot and the IAF pilot's release. He added that India did not negotiate for the Wing Commander's release.

6.46pm: Wing Commander crosses over to the Indian side.

6.44pm: Indian Defence forces will continue to remain on high alert across the border despite IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman's release.

6.37pm: A special plane will be deployed to fly the Wing Commander to Delhi.

6.36pm: There were ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the LoC in Mendhar, Balakote and Krishna Ghati sectors at 6:00pm | ANI

6.30pm: Minister of State for External Affairs Vijay Kumar Singh said, "It must be understood that Pakistan has not done us a favor by returning Wing Commander Abhinandan. Under the Geneva Convention, a serving soldier captured during conflict has to be returned. We must not forget that after 1971, we released over 90,000 PoW from Pakistan."

6.19pm: Shah Rukh Khan says, "There's no better feeling than coming back home."

6.15pm: Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu compliments the IAF pilot.

6.09pm: India says handing over to be done only after the retreat parade is over.

6.00pm: Retreat parade underway on Pakistan's side.

5.53pm: Wing Commander's immigration process getting completed. One-page visa will be issued.

5.43pm: Actress Raveena Tandon said she is glued to the TV waiting for the pilot's return.

5.30pm: Official press meet scheduled for 5.35pm at Attari border outpost. Air Vice-Marshal Ravi Kapoor to give statement.

5.18pm: "Welcome home Abhinandan Varthaman," says TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee.

5.16pm: The High Commission delegation has reached the Wagah border to receive Abhinandan; the Air Force and Civil Hospital ambulance have also been deployed.

5.09pm: The Islamabad High Court has dismissed a petition to stop the release of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

4.53pm: Wing Commander's medical check-up is being conducted; he will cross India in minutes.

4.38pm: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman could cross India anytime soon. Visuals from Attari-Wagah border; Wing Commander Abhinandan to be received by a team of Indian Air Force.

4.35pm: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has reached the Wagah VIP lounge, reports News18.

4.32pm: At a time when Wing Commander Abhinandan is about to reach India from Pakistan, Pakistan has violated ceasefire in the Nowshera sector in Rajouri district at 4.15pm. Indian Army retaliating, reports ANI.

4.26pm: Visuals from Wagah in Lahore: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will soon be handed over to the Indian Air Force at Attari-Wagah border.

4.22pm: Abhinandan reaches Attari border: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman could cross the Wagah border anytime soon. The Pakistani convoy carrying the Indian hero has already reached the Attari border.

4.13pm: Wing Commander Abhinandan's parents get standing ovation in flight. Watch the video. 

4.05pm: When Uri happened, you saw what our brave soldiers did; when Pulwama happened, you saw what our brave air warriors did, says PM Modi during a political rally in Tamil Nadu.

4.00pm: 'Shocked over PM's conduct': Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia, during India Today Conclave 2019, says he is shocked over PM Modi's conduct after the recent confrontation with Pakistan. "I was shocked. You have conducted a successful strike. We congratulated our jawans and pilots. One of our brave hero shot down an F-16, then he gets shot down in Pakistani airspace. He has been held captive by Pakistan and you are holding a conference with poll booth workers of the BJP."

3.52pm: PM Modi slams Opposition: "These are the same people whose statements are helping Pakistan and harming India. They are the same people whose statements are being happily quoted in Parliament of Pakistan & in the radio of Pakistan. I want to ask them- do you support our armed forces or suspect them?" says the PM, reports ANI.

3.46pm: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman today held a security review meeting with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and the three services chiefs.

3.30pm: While India has cancelled the beating the retreat ceremony in wake of the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's release from Pakistan today, Pakistan has allowed its people to be present at the retreat ceremony.

3.12pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi says every Indian is proud that the brave Wing Commander Abhinanadan is from Tamil Nadu. "I am proud that India's first woman Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is from Tamil Nadu," says PM Modi.

3.08pm: "As tensions are high and uncertainty is prevalent between Indian and Pakistan, former PM Dr Manmohan Singh reminds us what is most imperative at this time - working towards improving the economic and social conditions for the citizens of both countries," say the Congress party.

3.03pm: Welcome move, says VK Singh: "Returning of Wing Commander Abhinandan is a welcome move, however, it is the first of many steps that Pakistan must take to reinforce their commitment to peace. We need an affirmative & verifiable action by Pakistan against terrorism," says Union minister VK Singh.

2.57pm: The closure of Pakistani airspace has affected 400 flights daily: Flights have partially resumed at the international airports of Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Islamabad, reports Dawn.

2.40pm: 'Democracy is a battle of ideas': Former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti says "crackdown followed by banning of Jammat-e-Islami (JK) is condemnable". "Why is GoI so uncomfortable with Jamaat e Islami? Radicalised Hindu groups representing fringe elements are given carte blanche to spread misinformation & vitiate the atmosphere. But an org that has worked tirelessly for Kashmiris is banned. Is being anti BJP anti national now?" she asked.

2.30pm: Stand by our soldiers, says Capt Amarinder Singh. "Interacted with jawans at the BSF Post in Dera Baba Nanak. Such an amazing feeling to be where my heart belongs. We all stand by our soldiers at this time & are always ready to serve our nation," says the Punjab CM. "Would love to go (to receive Wing Commander #AbhinandanVarthaman ) but there's laid out protocol whenever anybody comes back like happened to Prisoners of war in '65 & '71, they had to first go for medical & then be debriefed. I think same process will be followed here," he told ANI.

2.20pm: Beating retreat ceremony cancelled: The beating retreat ceremony, which is usually held every day where soldiers of both of the sides participate in a parade, has been cancelled.

2.06pm: Pak ignores India's request for aerial route to Abhinandan: Hours after Pakistan announced its decision to release Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, India conveyed to Islamabad that it wants him to be sent back via aerial route and not through the Wagah land border, PTI reported. However, late in the night, Pakistan communicated to India that he will be returned through the Attari-Wagah border. The Indian defence establishment was also mulling over sending a special aircraft to Pakistan to bring back Wing Commander Varthaman.

2.03pm: For Varthamans, flying MiG-21 is family tradition: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistani F-16 plane before his MiG-21 Bison was hit during a dogfight. His father Air Marshal (retd) Simhakutty Varthaman also flew the MiG-21s and was an IAF test pilot, who retired five years ago, a family friend told PTI. Abhinandan's grandfather was also in the IAF. In an interview to PTI, Wing Commander (retd) Prakash Navale, who was a course-mate of Abhinandan's father at the National Defence Academy (NDA) during 1969-72, said the first time he saw the young pilot, held captive by Pakistan, was when he was a three-year-old toddler.

1.49pm: Celebrations at Wagah: Celebrations break out at the Wagah border as the reports of Wing Commander Abhinandan has been brought from Islamabad to Lahore. He will be crossing the Wagah border around 4pm.

1.30pm: Mirage-2000 vs F-16 Falcon: Which is a better fighter jet? The Mirage 2000 is mainly known for its capability of carrying out bombing operations while the F-16 has an edge in air-to-air combat. Read more here.

1.27pm: I carry the greetings of 1.3 billion Indians, says Sushma. "Our Muslims brothers and sisters are a microcosm of the diversity of India itself," says Sushma Swaraj.

1.23pm: Sushma Swaraj at OIC: "God is One but learned men describe Him in many ways".

1.20pm: 'Fight against terror is not against any religion': "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."

1.15pm: 'Terrorism and extremism are driven by distortion of religion': External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj at the OIC: "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."

12.54pm: Guterres welcomes Pak's decision on Abhinandan: The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan's decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

12.40pm: Abhinandan to cross border today: Deputy Commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon, Amritsar, told ANI that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will cross the border today but the details regarding his arrival can't be revealed.

12.31pm: Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to be brought to Delhi from Attari, reports India Today. Media reports suggest Abhinandan will arrive at the Wagah border between 2pm and 4pm where he will be received by Group Captain JD Kurian.

12.13pm: 'Pakistan should be represented at OIC': Former Pakistani President and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari says foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi should attend the OIC meet. "I am a democratic man and if the house thinks that foreign minister should not attend then I can't say anything. But disengagement is not a solution. The foreign minister should attend the OIC meeting. Pakistan should be represented there," says Zardari, reports Dawn.

12.00pm: Standing ovation for parents of India's hero: IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman's parents, Air Marshal (retd) S Varthaman and Dr Shobha Varthaman, were given a standing ovation as passengers made way for them in the early hours of Friday, ensuring that the couple gets off first, reports PTI.In photos and videos shared by passengers on social media platforms, the couple, who came to Delhi on their way to Amritsar to bring their son home, can can be seen acknowledging the clapping, cheers and thank yous with nods of their heads.

11.45am: Pak foreign minister not to attend OIC conclave: Pakistan Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said that he will not attend OIC's foreign ministers conclave, reports Dawn. He had earlier said: "I requested them to review the decision (of inviting Sushma 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."

11.30am: Imran Khan has shown statesmanship, says Mehbooba Mufti: Pak PM Imran Khan has exhibited real statesmanship, says former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti. "It is time for our political leadership to step up and take measures to de escalate the current situation. People of J&K are living under unimaginable duress. How much longer will we suffer for?"

11.20am: People throng to Wagah border: People have started gathering at the Attari-Wagah border to celebrate the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan.

11.05am: China cancels all flights to and from Pakistan: China has cancelled allflights to and from Pakistan and rerouted its international aircraft flyingover the Pakistani airspace due to the regional tensions, official media said.The closure of Pakistan's airspace in response to escalating tensions withIndia disrupted major routes between Europe and South East Asia and leftthousands of air travellers stranded worldwide. Flights from the Middle Eastthat usually overfly Pakistan and the Pakistan-India border will have tore-route over India, Myanmar or central Asia to enter China, civil aviationexperts told Global Times (PTI).

10.50am: Petition filed in Pakistan court against the release of Abhinandan: As India awaits the arrival of its brave Wing Commander Abhinandan to India from Pakistan, an activist has filed a writ petition in a Pakistan court to challenge his release, reported Times Now. Creating a situation for return of pilot Abhinandan in such a short span of time is our diplomatic victory, says Amit Shah at the India Today Conclave 2019.

10.43am: Amit Shah at India Today Conclave 2019:

  • Maximum number of terrorists has been eliminated under BJP govt led by Modi.
  • Track record of our government has been best in dealing with terror since Independence.
  • Opposition resolution post air strikes gave ammunition to Pakistan.

10.35am: 'Pak PM should have criticised Pulwama': Imran Khan should have criticised Pulwama attacks at least once; how can we trust him, says Amit Shah. The BJP chief says "the mistake Jawahar Lal Nehru made in Kashmir can't be easily solved".

10.31am: Ami Shah at India Today Conclave 2019: Hitting out at the Congress party, BJP chief Amit Shah, during India Today Conclave, says the Opposition was wrong in equating India with Pakistan. India is yet to give response on the Pulwama attack, says Shah.

10.25am: India to share F-16 evidence with the US: India will be sharing this evidence with the US to emphasise that the neighbouring country is misusing assets it may have acquired under the 'fight against terrorism' banner in 2008, say reports. The fighter jets, as per the sale agreement, can only be used for counter-terrorism operations, not to attack any country.

10.16am: Abhinandan to cross Wagah border around 3pm: The time for Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's arrival at Wagah border has been changed from 10am to between 3 to 4pm (Pakistan time).

10.00am: How Abhinandan will be brought back?: As per the standard of procedure, Abhinandan will be brought to the Wagah border by the Army. He will be handed over to civilian authorities and representative of Indian High Commission at the Wagah border. Then the civilian authorities will be handing him over to the Indian Border Security forces.

9.49am: Man with working Pak SIM arrested: The Border Security Force in Ferozepur, Punjab, has arrested a UP resident near the border outpost, Maboke, and seized a mobile phone with working Pakistani SIM card from his possession, reports ANI.

9.40am: Abhinandan to cross Wagah around 2pm: According to the reports, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman may cross the Wagah border after 2pm, reports India Today. The Indian Air Force Wing Commander will be brought through back the Wagah-Attari joint check-post in Punjab's Amritsar.

9.33am: Govt asks YouTube to remove 11 videos linked to Abhinandan: The IT Ministry asks YouTube to remove 11 video links pertaining to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, reports PTI. The ministry asked YouTube to remove the clips following directive from the Home Ministry. A Google (which runs YouTube) spokesperson told the news agency the company complies with "valid legal requests from authorities wherever possible, consistent with our longstanding policy and act quickly to remove such material".

9.22am: Capt Amarinder Singh may receive Abhinandan: Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh has sought permission from the Centre government to receive the Wing Commander at the Wagah Border. "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. (sic)," he tweeted.

9.15am: Abhinandan to reach Wagah border around 12pm: Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman may likely reach Wagah border around 12 noon today, reports News18. The entire country has been waiting with bated breath for the release of the braveheart Wing Commander.

9.00am: Pak F-16 jets were closed to Northern Army HQ, Vaishno Devi: Pakistan used its Air Force to target military installations on the Indian side on Wednesday and its F-16 fighter jets were close to Northern Army HQ and Vaishno Devi shrine when IAF chased them away, reported India Today, adding that these jets targetted places in Resai district, which is quite far away from the Line of Control.

8.50am: 'Imran responded to popular sentiment': Pakistani actor Jamal Shah has said that the Imran Khan government's decision to release Wing Commander Abhinandan was a response to public sentiment. "I would have done the same. A majority in Pakistan wanted to do that [send him home]. Imran just responded to popular sentiment," Shah told IndiaToday.In.

8.45am: Major ceasefire violation in 4 areas: Pakistan has violated ceasefire at several areas of Jammu and Kashmir, including Gawahalan, Chokas, Kiker and Kathi posts in Uri sector last night. One civilian was injured and is currently in a hospital for treatment, reported ANI. Read more.

8.30am: Senators urge Trump to address India-Pak conflict peacefully: Two influential American Senators has urged the US President Donald Trump to pursue a peaceful resolution to the India-Pak conflict including working with regional actors to apply pressure on New Delhi and Islamabad to address the underlying causes of the dispute. In a letter, Senators Jerry Moran from Kansas and Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire said that there is an urgency surrounding the dangerous situation between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region, reported PTI.

8.20am: Gesture as part of Geneva Conventions, says IAF: "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 RGK Kapoor, the assistant chief of Air Staff, said on Thursday.

8.00am: IAF to receive Wing Commander Abhinandan: A delegation of IAF team will today receive Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan during an aerial combat, at the Wagah border, official sources said, reported PTI. It is not clear whether Varthaman will be handed over to the International Red Cross or to the Indian authorities by Pakistan.

7.45am: Sushma to attend OIC conclave: Sushma Swaraj reaches Abu Dhabi to address OIC conclave. 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 an OIC meeting as guest of honour. Pakistan had earlier tried to get Swaraj 'disinvited' from the OIC meet following India's air strike on the terror camp in Pakistan.

7.30am: Firing stops in Kupwara: The firing has now stopped. A search operation is underway. More details awaited.

7.15am: Ceasefire violation by Pakistani troops: One civilian was injured on Friday morning in a ceasefire violation by Pakistani troops along the LoC in Uri sector of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said, reported PTI. Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked firing towards Indian posts and villages in Kamalkote area of Uri in Baramulla district on Thursday evening, the officials said. They said the intermittent firing continued throughout the night.

7.00am: Encounter breaks out in Kupwara district: An encounter broke out on Friday between militants and security forces in Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir, officials said, reported PTI. Security forces launched a cordon and search operation in Babagund area of Kupwara following information about presence of militants there, the officials said. They said the search operation turned into an encounter after militants opened firing towards the security forces, who retaliated. There are no reports of any casualties so far.

Edited by Manoj Sharma

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