Not only is India reverberating with the gallant action of Wing Commander Abhinanan Varthaman on February 27, it has also been duly covered in the Pakistani media. As per reports, Abhinandan flying his MiG-21 Bison had a Pakistani F-16 in his sights and had locked on. He was about to take the shot when the Line of Control (LoC) was crossed in heat of thedogfight. He was asked to return but he continued the pursuit and shot the F-16. The debris of the aircraft hit his cockpit, damaging the windshield of his MiG and the MiG was hit by enemy ground fire that forced him to eject. Though he had hurt his right leg, he tried to cross the border. He fired several shots from his pistol towards the civilians who were perusing him buying time to destroy and chew off documents on his person. But the civilians caught up when he was just two kilometers from the border but Abhinandan did not give up. When the Pakistani army patrol arrived under a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) he surrendered on assurance of the JCO who failed to protect him from the civilians thrashed him. Subsequently a Pakistani army officer arrived at the sight and Abhinandan was led away.
With Pakistan announcing it had shot down an Indian jet and had the pilot in their custody, India had warned Pakistan not to harm Wing Commander Abhinandan in any manner. On February 28, during the joint session of Pakistan’s National Assembly, Prime Minister ImranKhan interrupted opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif and announced, “In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow (Friday), and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Forces officer in our custody.” Imran’s surprise announcement came barely an hour after Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said that Imran was ready to talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to de-escalate India-Pak tensions. Qureshi’s announcement had indicated that the release of Abhinandan was linked to resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue and Imranspeaking to Modi, but India declined taking the call.
Imran is being hailed as having had a change of heart, hailing his “gesture of peace”, some even stating that today (March 1) belongs to Imran for having released Abhinandan. But what exactly put the pressure on Imran to announce the release of Abhinandan. No doubt India’s strong response to the Pulwama car bombing and the diplomatic pressure mounted by India against Pakistan’s action to bomb Indian military in J&K, and for release of Wing Commander Abhinadan, all had immense affect. US President Donald Trump’s tweet that soon there would be some decent news from India-Pakistan implied US too was applying pressure on Pakistan. Freeing Abhinandanno doubt is a terrific diplomatic victory for India. However, going deeper into the issue, it also was a ‘compulsion’ for Pakistan, and in turn a case of ‘Fortune Favours the Brave’.
According to veteran Air Commodore JL Bhargava, who crash-landed in Pakistan during the 1971 Indo-Pak War and remained in Pakistani custody for full one year says Abhinandan was lucky that the mob that thrashed him filmed him (which they circulated on social media). Bhargava says, “Had the video not been circulated by the mob, it would have been extremely difficult to prove he was alive. Islamabad may even have denied his arrest, he could have ended up in a Pakistan jail for the rest of his life. Abhinandan’s fate could have been similar to 54 soldiers who were labeled missing in action in the 1971 war.” There is total merit in what Bhargava has stated. Had the mob who thrashed Abhinandan not circulated the video clip, Pakistan would have in all probability claimed downing the MiG without disclosing they had capture Abhinandan. The video clip revealed Abhinandan was alive, leaving no option to the Pakistani military. It also enabled India to warn Pakistan not to harm Abhinandan. It may be recalled that India released 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war taken in 1971, which included Pakistan air force personnel. In the instant case, the mob that thrashed Abhinandan and circulated the video to show their bravado ended up doing a huge favour to Abhnandanand to India.
To expect the Pakistani army to indulge in civility is naïve. It is the same army that tortured Captain Saurabh Kalia and his patrol for days before killing them; pulling out their nails, burning them with cigarettes, breaking bones and gouging their eyes out in 1999. They also took pleasure in returning the bodies in this state. According to former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani, the military was specifically propped up as PM by the military because he would dance to their tune. Recall Pakistani army chief QamarJaved Bajwa stating an year back, “Ultimately they (India) will have to talk to us”. That is why Imran is trying to open dialogue, even as the suggestion to open the Kartatrpur Corridor came from Bajwa to Navjot Singh Sidhu.
There is no question of change of heart of the Pakistani military and Imran Khan. Latter will keep parroting what the military wants. They will continue with terrorism albeit more using indigenous sources, perhaps in different forms and refraining from claims by terrorist organizations on Pakistani soil, as in the case of JeM claiming responsibility for the Pulwamaattack. The military, in their own words, will respond at the ‘time and place of their choosing’. Meanwhile, the perfidy of clamping down on terror will continued to be played, to avoid being placed on the FATF black list, and to secure the IMF loan. India will need to remain on guard and resolute in replying to Pakistan, sample of which has already been delivered.