- The pilot reportedly said he was harassed mentally, but not physically
- Pak maintains he was treated well, in keeping with Geneva Convention
- Initial images showed him blindfolded and handcuffed by Pak military
Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has said that Pakistani authorities did not physically torture him during the nearly 60 hours he spent in their custody but subjected him to considerable "mental harassment", news agency ANI quoted sources as saying on Saturday.
IAF pilot Varthaman was captured by the Pakistani military on Wednesday, after his fighter -- a MiG-21 Bison -- was shot down during a dogfight with F-16 jets from the neighbouring country at a time of mounting tension between the two countries. Pakistani officials maintained that although Wing Commander Varthaman was initially assaulted by local residents upon parachuting into their territory, he was treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention after being taken into custody.
Initial photographs of the captured pilot showed him blindfolded and handcuffed by the Pakistani military in an injured condition. A video released later, however, had the pilot sipping tea and saying that his captors were treating him well.
The videography process, however, was far from over. News agency PTI reported that just before the pilot was about to be released, he was forced to record a video statement praising the Pakistani military. The clip, which had the Wing Commander saying that the Pakistani Army saved him from the mob, is said to have delayed his handover by three hours.
The pilot was handed over to Indian authorities around 9.20 pm yesterday, a day after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that they would return him in a "gesture of peace". The pilot's homecoming was celebrated across the nation, with politicians, celebrities and others saluting his grace and courage in the most dangerous circumstances.
Upon entering India through the Attari-Wagah border, Wing Commander Varthaman was shifted to the Air Force Central Medical Establishment centre as part of his "cooling down" process. He was later visited by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who listened to a detailed account of his time in confinement. The pilot also met his parents and several top officials of the Air Force this morning, according to news agency PTI.
The confrontation erupted in the days following the Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) on February 14, resulting in the death of over 40 soldiers. Indian fighters crossed the border to strike a JeM training facility in Pakistan's Balakot on Tuesday, spurring a retaliatory strike by Pakistani F-16s the following day.
(With inputs from Agencies)