Attari (Punjab), Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “goodwill gesture” of releasing Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman turned out to be an ordeal of several hours on Friday.
While Khan made the announcement on Thursday that Wing Commander Abhinandan would be released today, the wait for the return of the IAF pilot kept getting longer and did not happen till 8.50 pm.
The Pakistani authorities got all the paper work completed to hand over the pilot to Indian High Commission officials, but the pilot’s return was awaited by hubndreds of Indian visitors who have thronged the border transit point.
There were reports that Abhinandan was kept at Batapur cantonment, located about 10 km from Wagah, where his medical and immigration formalities were being completed.
Scores of people, who had gathered at Attari to welcome the IAF pilot back, continued to stay put despite the delay, darkness and even the rain and cold weather.
Since Friday morning, it was expected that Abhinandan would be released by Pakistan anytime after noon.
The release time was pushed back several times and, for unexplained reasons, the return of the pilot kept getting longer.
Authorities in India – the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Border Security Force (BSF), Indian Air Force (IAF), or anyone else — had no idea why Pakistan was delaying the pilot’s return.
The Wing Commander was in Pakistani captivity since early on Wednesday.
Senior IAF officers, along with those from Army, BSF, Punjab Police and district authorities in Amritsar had arrived before 4 pm at the Attari joint check post complex.
There were reports that Abhinandan’s parents were also at Attari to welcome their son back.
The IAF pilot was earlier accompanied by officials of the Indian High Commission led by Group Captain J.D. Kurian. The handing over process was delayed by the Pakistan side for unexplained reasons.
Abhinandan was captured in Pakistan on Wednesday (Feb 27) after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was shot down during a dogfight near the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the captured IAF pilot will be freed as a “goodwill gesture” after New Delhi sought his unconditional and immediate release.