Pakistan released Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India on March 1. While there’s no official word on the time he was brought to Wagah border, he arrived in India around 9.20 pm, according to PTI.
In a speech at Parliament, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said they released Abhinandan as a “peace gesture”. He also made statements agreeing to cooperate with India for any investigations; he also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to de-escalate tensions and avoid an all-out war.
Abhinandan’s arrest came after the IAF and Pakistani Air Force engaged in aerial combat on the Line of Control, after tensions rose following the Balakot strikes.
In this incident, Abhinandan’s aircraft was lost and he was considered missing in action. Pakistan, however, said he was in its custody. Then, on Thursday, Khan announced that they would release him.
In the run-up to Abhinandan’s release
Prior to the pilot’s release, reports had said he would be handed over between 12 pm and 2 pm.
Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh had said Pakistan would release him from the Wagah border. “I’m touring the border areas of Punjab & I’m presently in Amritsar… 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 had tweeted.
Earlier in the day on Friday, Senior Associate Editor of The Print Snehesh Alex Philip tweeted that after Abhinandan enters India, he will be brought to Delhi for a briefing without any media access.
According to the Hindustan Times, Abhinandan’s parents, retired Air Marshal S Varthaman and doctor Shobha Varthaman, were greeted with a standing ovation and cheers on a Thursday night flight from Chennai to Delhi.
Will anything change?
Although Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made no official statements on Abhinandan’s release or arrival, citizens consider this a victory for India.
However, many disagree.
UNESCO Chair of International Water Cooperation Ashok Swain tweeted that the Indian media is acting “hyper-nationalist” by crediting Abhinandan’s release to Modi, not to Khan’s calm temper.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres also chose to focus on Khan’s decision to release Abhinandan.
Moreover, strong youth voices from both, India and Pakistan, took to social media under #SayNoToWar; they demanded that the two countries stay military action and find diplomatic solutions.
However, India Today reports that Swaraj approached the Arab nations to put pressure on Pakistan to release Abhinandan. It also said National Security Adviser Ajit Doval spoke to his American counterpart and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to help with the release.
So, there is no consensus on whether or not Indo-Pak tensions have truly calmed.
The aim of the Balakot strikes that triggered this chaos was to nudge Pakistan to act against terror cells within its borders.
The strikes were also a show of Indian military might and preview of consequences for Pakistan should terrorists based there raise their heads again. Whether or not Pakistan will take the action the international community has long asked for is yet to be seen.
What is certain though is that the optics of this situation greatly favour Modi right before the Lok Sabha elections.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius