Indian pilot's 'forced' video sparks outcry as violence rages on

Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman (centre) being escorted across the border into India on Friday, after being released by the Pakistani authorities. Media reports said his return had been held up as he was forced to make a video.
Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman (centre) being escorted across the border into India on Friday, after being released by the Pakistani authorities. Media reports said his return had been held up as he was forced to make a video.PHOTO: DPA

NEW DELHI • A furious backlash erupted in India yesterday over a video of an Indian pilot, shot down by Pakistan, praising his captors, as deadly tensions simmered between the neighbours with fierce shelling across the Kashmir frontier.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose MiG-21 Bison fighter was shot down last Wednesday as he chased Pakistani jets over disputed Kashmir, crossed over at the Wagah frontier late on Friday, several hours after the scheduled time.

His capture had become the centrepiece of hostilities between the arch-rivals after a suicide bombing in Kashmir last month killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops.

Pilot Varthaman, who ejected to safety but was set upon by a crowd on the Pakistani side of the Kashmir ceasefire line, had a noticeable black eye and was immediately taken for a medical check-up before a debriefing by military and intelligence agencies.

Media reports said the pilot's return to India had been held up because he was forced to make the video before being freed.

In the heavily edited video distributed by the Pakistani military just before his release, he praised the professionalism of the Pakistani army and criticised the Indian media for creating war hysteria.

"The army personnel saved me from the mob. The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it," he said.

Mr Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said the video tainted Pakistan's gesture to return the pilot so quickly.

 
 
 

"Sadly, the image you paint for us is marred terribly by the video he was forced to record just before you sent him back," he said on Twitter. "That high moral ground you had bequeathed to yourselves slipped at the end."

Indian media slammed the video as "distasteful" and said it breached international norms for prisoners of war.

Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, a top editor with the India Today Group, tweeted: "There is no peace without dignity and Pakistan just forgot that basic lesson in violation of the Geneva Conventions."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the country had acted with prudence in releasing the pilot.

"There was no pressure on Pakistan to release him," he told BBC Urdu. "We wanted to convey to them that we do not want to increase your sorrow, we do not want to mistreat your citizens, we just want peace."

Some social media users criticised the military video though, calling it "cheap" and "unnecessary".

The end of the air raids did not stop more violence raging in Kashmir, with both sides firing mortars and artillery over the frontier yesterday.

Two Pakistani army soldiers were killed in Nakyal sector in one cross-border exchange of fire, the Pakistani military said.

At least 12 civilians have been killed on either side of the frontier since the start of last week, including a mother and her two children whose house was pulverised by a mortar shell on the Indian side on Friday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 03, 2019, with the headline 'Indian pilot's 'forced' video sparks outcry as violence rages on'. Print Edition | Subscribe