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Welcome back, Abhinandan: A look at how his homecoming unfolded

Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (ANI)Premium
Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman (ANI)

  • Abhinandan Varthaman crosses over into India at the Attari-Wagah border after spending two days in Pakistan's captivity
  • The IAF wing commander will now go for a medical check up and then fly to Palam airport in Delhi in a special plane

Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has crossed over India at the Attari-Wagah border after spending two days in Pakistan's captitvity. His Mig-21 Bison fighter jet was shot down by the Pakistan Army after an aerial skirmish between the countries' air forces at the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.


Live updates and developments on Abhinandan's return:

01 Mar 2019, 11:12:40 PM IST

Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan, says PM Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday welcomed Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman back to India, saying the nation is proud of his exemplary courage.(Read More)

01 Mar 2019, 10:56:09 PM IST

Abhinandan's dignity, poise and bravery have made us all proud: Rahul Gandhi

Congress president Rahul Gandhi welcomed IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan, who returned to the country after almost three days of captivity in Pakistan, and said his dignity, poise and bravery have made all in India proud.(Read More)

01 Mar 2019, 10:07:19 PM IST

Narendra Modi welcomes Abhinandan

01 Mar 2019, 10:06:12 PM IST

Heavy Shelling by Pakistan at LoC even as Abhinandan Varthaman returns

The firing and mortar shelling continued overnight in several sectors of Poonch and Rajouri districts, the official said adding the Indian Army retaliated strongly and effectively. (Read More) 

01 Mar 2019, 09:55:28 PM IST

Happy to have Abhinandan Varthaman back from Pakistan: IAF

"We are happy to have him back," said a top IAF officer Friday night shortly after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to Indian authorities by Pakistan at the Attari-Wagah border. Reading out a brief statement, Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor, assistant chief of air staff, told a posse of reporters that the pilot will be taken for a detailed medical examination as he was subjected to lot of stress during his nearly three-day captivity. (Read more)


The air vice marshal did not take any questions from the media. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 09:51:19 PM IST

Union home minister Rajnath Singh reacts to Abhinandan return

01 Mar 2019, 09:50:31 PM IST

Pakistan’s Foreign Office describes Abhinandan Varthaman as ‘POW’

Pakistan’s Foreign Office announces IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's return to India, but describes him as a “prisoner of war" (POW), according to PTI. “While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law. The captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today," read a statement issued minutes after the pilot crossed over to India at the Wagah border.

01 Mar 2019, 09:47:20 PM IST

Rahul Gandhi reacts to Abhinandan return

01 Mar 2019, 09:45:22 PM IST

It's Good to be back, Abhinandan first words after return

Good to be back, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman told officials after crossing over at Attari check post.

01 Mar 2019, 09:43:20 PM IST

Abhinandan going for a medical check-up

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who barely crossed over into India at the Attari-Wagah border, has been taken for a medical check-up, following which he will fly to Palam airport in Delhi aboard a special plane.

01 Mar 2019, 09:38:07 PM IST

Nirmala Sitharaman reacts to Abhinandan's return

01 Mar 2019, 09:30:40 PM IST

Latest visuals from the Attari-Wagah Border

01 Mar 2019, 09:26:23 PM IST

Abhinandan Varthaman crosses over into India

Indian Air Force's Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has crossed over into India after spending two days in Pakistan captivity.

01 Mar 2019, 08:48:36 PM IST

Handover of IAF pilot might now take place at 9 pm 

Pakistan has changed the timing of handover of IAF's Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman twice. Indian defence minister is keeping a close watch on proceedings. The handover might now take place at 9 pm tonight: Sources

01 Mar 2019, 08:29:37 PM IST

Watch: People at the Attari-Wagah border await Abhinandan's arrival from Pakistan

People celebrate ahead of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's arrival at the Attari-Wagah border on Friday.

01 Mar 2019, 08:21:06 PM IST

Enthusiastic crowd at Attari wait for the return of their 'hero'


A large number of people from different walks of life thronged the Attari border Friday to witness the return of their "hero" Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who is expected to touch home soil after his release from Pakistan. Wing Commander Varthaman, son of a decorated IAF veteran, was captured by Pakistan after his jet went down following a strike by an enemy missile.

01 Mar 2019, 08:00:54 PM IST

Waiting for Abhinandan, a long, anxious one

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. 

01 Mar 2019, 05:56:42 PM IST

Indian Air Force's Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor to brief media soon

01 Mar 2019, 05:31:37 PM IST

Elections in India come at critical time amid tensions with Pakistan: DBS Group  

India's general elections come at a critical juncture for its economy amid tensions with Pakistan, a top Singapore bank has said.

In a report on India's economy, the DBS Group said that despite some reforms, a welcome improvement in the business climate and a discernible decline in governance lapses, growth has been lacklustre.

The savings-investment gap remains large, external vulnerabilities loom against an improved but still modest buffer to absorb shocks, and financial sector stress remains high, according to a DBS Group Research team.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to govern with strength and has considerable popularity, but a recent spate of state election setbacks and some fledgling governance scandals have dented the aura of inevitability from the elections, said the report.

"A spike in political tensions vis-a-vis Pakistan is another complicating factor," said Chief Economist Taimur Baig and Economist Radhika Rao at the DBS Group Research. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 05:09:34 PM IST

Pakistan Parliament condemns as 'aggression' India's counter-terrorism operation  

Pakistan Parliament's joint session today passed an unanimous resolution strongly condemning as "aggression" India's counter-terrorism operation in the country.

The resolution was moved by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who earlier announced that he was to skipping meeting of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation over the invitation to Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj.

Indian fighter jets bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday. In the operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for suicide attacks were eliminated. The House rejected as "self-serving" and "fictitious" India's claims of having destroyed terrorist facility and causing heavy casualties.

01 Mar 2019, 05:05:19 PM IST

IAF team to receive Abhinandan

01 Mar 2019, 04:40:40 PM IST

Abhinandan brought to Waga border  

Pakistani officials have brought the Indian pilot captured from a downed plane to a border crossing with India for handover.

The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was taken in a convoy that set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the border crossing at Wagah on Friday, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers, their weapons drawn.

On the Indian side of the border, turbaned Indian policemen lined the road as a group of cheering Indian residents from the area waved India's national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome him back.

Islamabad has said the handover is a gesture of peace that could defuse tensions and avoid another war between India and Pakistan. (AP)

01 Mar 2019, 04:28:53 PM IST

Captured IAF Wing Commander Abhinanadan Varthaman taken to Wagah border: PTI

01 Mar 2019, 04:04:57 PM IST

Pakistan court dismisses plea to stop Abhinandan's release  

The Islamabad High Court on Friday dismissed a Pakistani citizen's plea to stop the imminent release of the captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinanadan Varthaman.

A Pakistani citizen had filed the petition in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to stop the imminent release of Varthaman, saying he committed crime against the country and should be put on trial here.

The petition in the IHC sought the court's order to stop Prime Minister Imran Khan's government from handing over the Indian Air Force pilot.

The petitioner said the Indian pilot had violated the airspace of Pakistan to bomb the country and therefore he committed crime against Pakistan and should face trial. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 03:58:48 PM IST

Every Indian is proud of brave pilot Abhinandan: PM Narendra Modi

01 Mar 2019, 03:56:50 PM IST

Elections to be held on time: EC  

Amidst the ongoing Indo-Pak tension, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Friday said that the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will be held on time.

"The election in the country will be held on time," Arora told reporters in Lucknow, according to a news report by PTI. Arora was responding to a question about the poll schedule in the wake of tensions between the two countries.

Elections are likely to be announced anytime this month.

01 Mar 2019, 03:46:58 PM IST

What PM Modi said at a rally in Kanyakumari  

Addressing a rally in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I am proud that India’s first woman Defence Minister is from Tamil Nadu. It makes every Indian proud that the brave Wing Commander Abhinandan hails from Tamil Nadu."

He said that while the country had been facing terrorism for years, there was a big difference now as the country 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," PM Modi said.

01 Mar 2019, 03:43:22 PM IST

Pakistani to reopen four airports today  

Four Pakistani airports will begin partial operations on Friday with a full resumption of commercial flights on Monday, following their suspension after military tensions with India erupted earlier this week, the Civial Aviation Authority said.

A spokeswoman said Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta airports would begin some flights on Friday with the remainder opening next week.

"These four airports will resume flight operations partially today," she said. "The country's airspace for all commercial flights will be re-opened on March 4 at 1.00 p.m. (Reuters)

01 Mar 2019, 03:24:15 PM IST

Cancelled Attari-Wagah retreat ceremony because of military requirements: BSF

BSF said the daily retreat ceremony held at the Attari-Wagah border along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab was cancelled due to administrative requirements in the wake of IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's release post noon at this frontier.

The public will not be allowed in the ceremony area that is located in the Attari of Punjab along the Indo-Pak border, a BSF official said.

They said the decision has been taken in view of "military requirements" where Varthaman captured by Pakistani forces will be handed over to senior Indian Air Force officials. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 03:13:48 PM IST

China welcomes release of IAF pilot 

China has welcomed Pakistan's decision to release the Indian Air Force pilot and encouraged the two countries to engage in more counter terrorism cooperation and dialogue for the regional peace and stability.

Asked how China views Pakistan's decision to release Abhinandan and whether Beijing played any behind-the-scenes role in it, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters: "Well, from the start China has been calling upon the two sides exercise restraint and take measures to ease tensions, engage in dialogue to resolve the differences".

"I have taken note of the developments. China welcomes the goodwill signals released by the Pakistani side. De-escalation serves the common interests of both the countries. We encourage the two sides to engage in more dialogue for the peace and stability in the region," he said. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 02:49:02 PM IST

Pakistan ignores India's request to send back IAF pilot by air  

Hours after Pakistan announced its decision to release Indian Air Force (IAF) 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, official sources said.

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 who was captured by Pakistan during an aerial combat on Wednesday.

Varthaman will now return home through the Wagah border which is around 25 km from Lahore in Pakistan. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 02:41:53 PM IST

How Abhinandan had attempted a daring escape after crash  

Abhinandan's plane came down on Wednesday after a dogfight with a Pakistani jet.

The pilot shouted pro-India slogans, and after realising he was in enemy territory, attempted to flee, firing his pistol in the air to deter Pakistani villagers who were chasing him, the eyewitnesses said.

"During that half a kilometre run, he fired some more gunshots in the air as well, to frighten the guys but to no avail," said Muhammad Razzaq Chaudhry, 58, one of the eyewitnesses.

"Then he jumped into a small stream. Then, he realised that he could not escape, he took out some documents and maps from his uniform and tried to swallow some, tear apart and immerse the rest."

Abdul Majeed, 40, said he was one of a number of villagers who had beaten and thrown stones at the pilot.

"While in the stream he once again pointed his revolver at us and fearing that he may shoot directly at us, I threw a stone at him," he said.

"Some of us did thrash him... because he had given us a tough time. But later we handed him over to the army personnel." (Reuters)

01 Mar 2019, 02:33:02 PM IST

Daily retreat and flag-lowering ceremony at Attari-Wagah border cancelled for today: BSF

01 Mar 2019, 02:28:11 PM IST

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to stay away from Wagah border  

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday welcomed IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman back home while choosing not to receive him at the border to ensure that the military protocol is not violated in any way.

"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," the Chief Minister said in a statement. (IANS)

01 Mar 2019, 02:27:08 PM IST

Scores assemble near Attari border for IAF pilot's return from Pakistan

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01 Mar 2019, 02:23:44 PM IST

Happy with release of IAF pilot, but Pak needs to do lot more: V K Singh  

Union minister and former Army chief V K Singh on Friday said he was happy that Pakistan was releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, but the neighbouring country needs to do a "lot more".

The Centre is taking "appropriate measures" and "such steps are not revealed", the minister of state for External Affairs told reporters on the sidelines of an event in his Lok Sabha constituency. He was asked about the Centre's next step amid the escalating tension between India and Pakistan.

"A lot of things are done in line with the Geneva Convention. We are happy that he is being released. If they call it a gesture of peace, we are happy for that too, but they need to do a lot more," he said. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 02:11:50 PM IST

States should stop backing terror organisations: Sushma Swaraj

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday raised a pitch at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to build pressure on the countries that support terror outfits and fund them to stop doing so.

Swaraj said, "If we want to save humanity,we must tell the states who provide shelter & funding to terrorists, to dismantle the infrastructure of the terrorist camps and stop providing shelter & funding to the terror organisations based in that country."

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. File photo: Mint
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External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. File photo: Mint
01 Mar 2019, 01:44:06 PM IST

Masood Azhar is in Pakistan, admits foreign minister Qureshi  

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has admitted that Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Maulana Masood Azhar is in Pakistan.

Azhar has masterminded several attacks in India and his group is the one blamed for the 14 February attack on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) bus in Pulwama that killed 40 personnel.

Qureshi’s admission came in an interview with CNN overnight on Friday.

When asked if Pakistan is willing to name Masood Azhar as a terrorist under UN norms, something that India has been trying for, Qureshi said: “We will be open to any step that leads to de-escalation and if they have good solid evidence, please sit and talk, please initiate a dialogue and we will show reasonableness."

01 Mar 2019, 01:35:56 PM IST

IAF pilot's return our diplomatic victory: Amit Shah  

BJP President Amit Shah Friday said creating situation for return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from Pakistan was a diplomatic victory, ahead of the expected arrival of the captured pilot.

Varthaman's MiG 21 was shot and he bailed out after bringing down one Pakistani F-16 fighter during a dogfight to repel a Pakistani attack on Wednesday morning. He has been in Pakistan since then. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament on Thursday that Varthaman would be released on Friday as a "peace gesture".

Speaking at the India Today Conclave, Shah said, "Creating situation for return of pilot Abhinandan in such a short span of time is our diplomatic victory". Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday. It came 12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir, killing 40 soldiers.

A team of Indian Air Force officials will receive Wing Commander Abhinandan at the Wagah border on Friday evening. It is not clear whether Varthaman will be handed over to the International Red Cross or to the Indian authorities by Pakistan. "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 R G K Kapoor, the assistant chief of Air Staff, told a news conference Thursday. (PTI)

01 Mar 2019, 01:25:54 PM IST

Abhinandan to be handed over to Indian high commission staff later today  

Abhinandan Varthaman will be handed over to Indian high commission officials later Friday, a person familiar with the developments said. 

01 Mar 2019, 01:25:03 PM IST

Abhinandan's parents get standing ovation on board flight to Delhi  

It may have been after midnight when the Chennai-Delhi flight came to a stop at the tarmac but there was no scramble to get bags from the overhead bin or rush towards the exit because all eyes were focused on one couple -- the parents of IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.

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 they couple gets off first.

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.

01 Mar 2019, 01:19:34 PM IST

Locals celebrating at Wagah border

Locals celebrating before Abhinanadan's return
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Locals celebrating before Abhinanadan's return (Photo by Pradeep Gaur/ Mint)
01 Mar 2019, 01:17:30 PM IST

Abhinandan likely to be handed over to India at around 3-4 pm

A diplomatic source told AFP the handover was expected between 3-4 pm.

01 Mar 2019, 01:13:40 PM IST

Wagah readies to welcome Abhinandan

Wagah is readying to welcome Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who has managed to capture the imagination of the country after his fighter jet was hit and his subsequent capture by Pakistani forces. He is going to return to India via Wagah later this afternoon.

Varthaman was captured by Pakistani forces on Wednesday after his aircraft was hit when IAF jets intercepted an attempted intrusion by Pakistan's air force. All eyes are on Wagah through where he is expected to return to India.

The mood at the border point on Friday morning was jubilant with hundreds of locals as well as those from nearby cities and villages turned up to welcome Varthaman. Several carried garlands and India’s flag as they congregated at a designated crowd spot. (Read more here)

Hundreds of locals as well as from nearby places have gathered at the Wagah border to welcome Abhinandan.
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Hundreds of locals as well as from nearby places have gathered at the Wagah border to welcome Abhinandan.
01 Mar 2019, 01:08:10 PM IST

In 1999 also Pakistan had released an IAF pilot through Wagah  

In 1999, during the Kargil War Indian Air Force pilot K Nachiketa was brought back through Wagah border. He was on a bombing mission on 27 May 1999 during the Kargil War, and had ejected after his engine flamed out. He was released eight days later by Pakistan.

01 Mar 2019, 01:07:52 PM IST

IAF team to receive Abhinandan  

Deputy Commissioner Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon, Amritsar told ANI that a senior Indian Air force team from Delhi is here, they will be the ones to receive him.

01 Mar 2019, 01:06:05 PM IST

People gather at Attari, await Abhinandan's return

Hundreds of people flocked the Attari border Friday to catch a glimpse of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who is expected to touch home soil after his release from Pakistan. Wing Commander Varthaman, son of a decorated IAF veteran, was captured by Pakistan after his jet went down following a strike by an enemy missile. Varthaman's MiG 21 was shot and he bailed out after bringing down one Pakistani F-16 fighter during a dogfight to repel a Pakistani attack on Wednesday morning. He has been in Pakistan since then. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in Parliament on Thursday that Varthaman would be released on Friday as a "peace gesture".

Patriotic fervour prevailed at the border with border residents singing songs, beating drums and carrying the tricolour in their hands.

Barely one-km away from the Indo-Pak border, people sang patriotic songs and raised slogans like "Bharat Mata ki Jai".

A Sikh youth from a nearby area 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," said the youth carrying garland.

Security arrangements have been further strengthened here, with Punjab Police personnel also deployed in numbers.

Amritsar's Senior Deputy Mayor Raman Bakshi, who was also present here, could not stop himself from singing patriotic songs.

Raising pro-India slogans, a group of youths sang the popular patriotic song, "Is desh ke yaaron kya kehna, yeah desh hai veer jawanoon ka". Many youth among the crowd said Pakistan should stop aiding and abetting terror or else be prepared to face consequences. (PTI)

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