Crowds gather at Attari ahead of IAF pilot’s return in India
A large number of people have assembled at the Attari Joint Check Post (JCP) in India's Panjab today to receive Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman who is likely to be released by Pakistani authorities today.
People started arriving in Attari, around 30 km from Amritsar since 6:00am. Their numbers swelled by 9:00am.
"We have come here to welcome our country's hero back home. We will give him a grand welcome. He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis," Jitender, a resident of Amritsar, who arrived in Attari with his friends, said.
Wing Commander Abhinandan's parents, Air Marshal S Varthaman (Retired) and mother Shobha Varthaman, who is a doctor, were greeted with cheers and claps by passengers when they boarded a flight from Chennai to New Delhi on Thursday evening.
Beating retreat and flag-lowering ceremony at Attari-Wagah border have been cancelled for today.
Who is Abhinandan, the Indian pilot?
Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman has become the human face of the latest flare-up following the release of videos showing him being captured and later held in custody.
Indian government is demanding the Pakistan authorities to ensure his safe return immediately.
Khan has already called for talks with India to prevent the risk of a "miscalculation" between their nuclear-armed militaries.
The 35-year-old Wing Commander was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Armed forces have been on an operational high alert along the borders across the country. Troops have been put in the highest standby mode where they can retaliate within no time.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the JCP and the 553-km long International Border with Pakistan in Punjab at high alert, Punjab Police and other security agencies stationed additional personnel since early Friday morning.
The pilot will be debriefed by defence and security officials after his return before he is taken to New Delhi from the Amritsar airport.
"Many celebrities and other important people come to Attari border on different occasions. But today, a real hero is coming back. We will give him a big and warm welcome with dhol and bhangra," Manjit Singh, who was carrying a dhol, said.
According to reports, India had conveyed to Pakistan that it wants Abhinandan to be sent back via aerial route and not through the Wagah land border. However, the request was rejected with Islamabad maintaining that he would be returned through the Attari-Wagah border. The government was mulling to send a special aircraft to bring back the captured pilot.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh who had yesterday offered to receive Abhinandan at the Wagah border chose not to, so as to "ensure that the defence protocol is not violated in any way".
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced yesterday that the captured IAF pilot will be freed as a "goodwill gesture" after New Delhi sought his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release.
Copyright: The Statesman/ Asia News Network (ANN)