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Pilot underwent mental torture in Pak

Abhinandan goes through a series of medical tests, meets family during cooling-down process

A day after he returned to India from Pakistani captivity, the focus on Saturday shifted to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s recovery, both physical and psychological. Abhinandan is said to have undergone considerable “mental harassment” by Pakistani authorities. The brave pilot, who was flown to New Delhi late on Friday after Pakistan handed him over to India at the Attari-Wagah border, underwent a series of medical tests as part of a “cooling down” process at a hospital here. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met him in the hospital and said the entire nation is proud of his courage and determination. During the meeting with Sitharaman, Abhinandan is understood to have explained to her details about his nearly 60-hour stay in Pakistan. The medical check-up is part of standard operating procedure of the IAF as he had to eject from his plane on Wednesday thereby putting his body under great stress. Moreover, he was beaten up by the locals after landing in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). The tests will ascertain the nature of injuries. Once his tests are over, the senior IAF authorities will debrief Abhinandan and the procedure entails getting first person account from the pilot about the sequence of events during his captivity and details of interrogation by the Pakistan armed forces, sources said. Since Abhinandan was in custody for a brief period and most probably blindfolded to prevent him from observing the details of the place of his custody, the debriefing will be short, they added. Abhinandan, meanwhile, met his immediate family members, including his wife, a former IAF officer and father, Air Marshal S Varthaman (retired) now settled in Chennai, besides some IAF top officials on Saturday morning in New Delhi. He is now undergoing medical tests at Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services. He was captured by Pakistan on February 27 in POK opposite Rajouri sector after his MiG-21 Bison went down during a dogfight with Pakistani jets. But before his plane was hit, Abhinandan shot down an F-16 of Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Abhinandan ejected from his crashing plane and was beaten up by locals when he landed in POK. When he crossed over to India on Friday night, the pilot’s right eye above his handlebar moustache appeared swollen. Reports from Pakistan media indicate that after the IAF pilot was shot down and beaten up, he attempted to destroy the documents in his possession by stuffing them in his mouth. During his captivity, Abhinandan showed courage and grace in the most difficult circumstances for which he was praised by politicians, strategic affairs experts, ex-servicemen, celebrities and others. The Pakistani action to attack Indian military installations in Rajouri came a day after the IAF jets destroyed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early on Tuesday. It came 12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Kashmir’s Pulwama, killing 40 soldiers. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced in Parliament there on Thursday about the decision to release the captured pilot as a “peace gesture” and the “first step” to open negotiations with India. “In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow (Friday) and as a first step to open negotiations Pakistan will be returning the IAF officer in our custody.” The IAF said on Thursday it was happy that Varthaman was returning home but dismissed suggestions it was a goodwill gesture insisting it was in line with Geneva Convention. “We are very happy Abhinandan will be freed tomorrow (Friday) and look forward to his return Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, assistant chief of staff (space) had told a news conference in New Delhi. Asked if the IAF saw it as a good will move, Kapoor had said “we see it as a gesture in consonance with the Geneva Convention.” Justifying the Pakistani aerial strike, Imran Khan had said in Parliament on Thursday, “the only purpose of our strike was to demonstrate our capability and will. We did not want to inflict any casualty on India as we wanted to act in a responsible manner.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the return of Varthaman, saying the nation is proud of his exemplary courage. “Welcome Home Wing Commander Abhinandan! The nation is proud of your exemplary courage. Our armed forces are an inspiration for 130 crore Indians,” tweeted Modi on Friday night. Sunday, 03 March 2019 | PNS | New Delhi

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