It was a day of frenzy at the Wagah-Attari border with thousands of people and media persons waiting with tricolours, garlands, and cameras to give Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman a hero’s welcome. After nearly three days in captivity and a long day completing formalities at the Wagah checkpost on the Pakistani side, the Indian Air Force pilot finally entered India at 9.20 pm. Wearing a dark jacket and khakhi trousers, he walked proudly toward the gates that separated his captor’s country from his homeland.
He was soon whisked away by Indian authorities for more formalities. Amritsar’s Deputy Commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon told reporters that upon his return, the pilot smiled and remarked, “I am happy to be back in my country.”
The DC said the Pakistani authorities “brought Wing Commander Abhinandan to the joint check post at Attari and he crossed over the Zero Line at around 9:21 pm. After going through some formalities at the Wagah-Attari border, he was handed over to the BSF authorities.”
Before the pilot was driven away in an IAF vehicle, escorted by the Punjab police, Vice Chief Marshal R G K Kapoor read out a brief statement. Without taking questions, Kapoor said: “Wing Commander Abhinandan has just been handed over to us. He will be taken now for a detailed medical checkup.”
Kapoor said: “This check up is mandatory as he had to eject from an airplane which would have put his entire body under stress.”
People in the know said he was being flown to Delhi and would undergo debriefing on Saturday, which will include his physiological as well as a physical check-up in the presence of officials from the military and intelligence agencies.
Leaders cutting across party lines welcomed the pilot’s return and lauded him for his poise and courage and for making the country proud.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed him and tweeted, “Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians.” Earlier, addressing a public rally in Tamil Nadu, Modi said, “every Indian is proud of brave pilot Abhinandan.”
Sources in Pakistan said the handing over was delayed as the pilot was asked to record a statement on camera by authorities there before he was allowed to cross the border.
It was, however, not clear whether he was made to record the video under duress. The video, which the Pakistan government released at 9 pm, had several jump cuts indicating it had been edited.