New Delhi (Sputnik): Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has returned to his squadron in Kashmir barely a month after he purportedly shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet and was taken captive after his own MiG-21 Bison crashed on Pakistani soil on 27 February during the first air clash between the two nuclear-armed nations in the last five decades. He was subsequently released and returned to India two days after his capture.
Official sources told Indian news agency PTI that Abhinandan had preferred to stay with his squadron in Srinagar rather than going to his family home in Chennai, southern India even though he was officially on leave.
The IAF pilot was asked to go on leave around 12 days ago when security agencies completed a two-week debriefing after his return from Pakistan.
“Abhinandan Varthaman could have gone to his family home in Chennai to spend time with his parents. But he chose to go to Srinagar where his squadron is based”, the sources said.
He was advised to rest and stay with family after his medical tests.
The official cited in the media report said that a medical board will once again review his fitness before making the final call on whether he can return to the cockpit.
Earlier this month, Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that Wing Commander Abhinandan had been tortured when he was held captive, but added that the IAF pilot had shown “admirable courage and patience”.
“The F-16 is indeed a more modern and capable aircraft. So what came in good stead were the pilot’s training, guts and aggressive intent and action. A pilot also needs support from combat enablers like AWACS. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has made us proud for such a valiant combat performance and for his grace and firmness even after cockpit ejection”, Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retired) told Sputnik.
India and Pakistan were embroiled in a serious escalation beginning 26 February when the Indian Air Force conducted a non-military pre-emptive air strike in Balakot inside Pakistan against alleged terror infrastructure operated by Jaish-e-Mohammed.
The following day the two nuclear-armed nations engaged in air clashes and shot down one fighter jet each belonging to their respective camps. Both the jets including India’s MiG-21 Bison crashed on Pakistani soil. Pakistani troops captured the Indian pilot of the downed plane. He was eventually released.
The backdrop of the conflict was the 14 February terror incident when an Indian paramilitary convoy was rammed into by an explosive-laden vehicle, an attack that killed 40 Indian paratroopers. Pakistan-based jihadi outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack.
India accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists on its soil, an allegation that was denied by Pakistan. A pre-emptive air strike was undertaken by India on February 26 to dismantle reported terror camps at Balakot in Pakistan.