Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's announcement that captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman would be released tomorrow was greeted jubilantly across the country, with everybody from netizens to political parties rejoicing over the impending homecoming of a man who had acquired a hero's status in the last two days.
Wing Commander Varthaman was taken into custody by the Pakistan administration on Wednesday after his jet plummeted on the other side of the border while on hot pursuit of rival F-16 fighters that were targeting Indian military facilities in retaliation to an IAF strike on a Pakistani terror camp the previous day. Upon hearing news of the pilot's imminent return, the pilot's relieved father thanked the people for their support and good wishes. "I thank God for his blessings, Abhi is alive, not injured, sound in mind, just look at the way he talked so bravely... a true soldier... we are so proud of him," news agency PTI quoted S Varthaman as saying.
Other reactions on social media were equally joyous. "Hopefully Abhinandan will back home soon," the Aam Aadmi Party tweeted with the hashtag #WelcomeBackAbhinandan.
Peoples Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti said this was an opportunity for the two countries to mend fences. "The decision to hand over Wing Commander Abhinandan is a great gesture, and shouldn't be seen in isolation. It comes at a time when Pak could've chosen to further escalate an already tense situation. I see it as a mark of reconciliation. Our leadership should reciprocate," she tweeted, adding that the Pakistan Prime Minister had shown "real statesmanship". Fellow Kashmir politician Omar Abdullah also expressed relief over the pilot's imminent release.
The decision to hand over Wing Commander Abhinandan is a great gesture & shouldnt be seen in isolation. It also comes at a time when Pak could've chosen to further escalate an already tensed situation. I see it as a mark of reconciliation . Our leadership should reciprocate. https://t.co/i2RZINyIbk— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) February 28, 2019
Tanvir Sadiq, advisor to Mr Abdullah, combined his celebratory tweet with a jibe aimed at a certain section of society. "Great news! What relief for the country and his family but what sad news for war mongers! Thank you @ImranKhanPTI! Welcome back #Abhinanadan," he said.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee expressed happiness over the news and said that her party awaits Wing Commander Varthaman's homecoming tomorrow. "Along with his family members and all our countrymen, we are anxiously waiting for the safe return of our pilot," she tweeted. The West Bengal Congress put out a short but cheerful post: "Let's welcome our brave soldier back home."
Along with his family members and all our countrymen, we are anxiously waiting for the safe return of our pilot #Abhinandhan— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) February 28, 2019
Down south, Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara celebrated the pilot's return and appealed for a return to peaceful relations. "Great news from Pakistan on the release of Wing Commander #Abhinandan. We eagerly wait for our son to return home," he tweeted.
"The release of #IAF pilot Wing Commander #AbhinandanVarthaman by Pakistan is a welcome gesture. Happy that our brave soldier is returning," tweeted Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.