Abhinandan: Who is the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan?


Indian air force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistani forces on Wednesday, has become the point of focus amid tensions between the two countries.

The fighter pilot, who has 16 years of experience, is from the southern city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras).

His jet was shot down in what Islamabad called a “retaliation” to India conducting airstrikes in its territory.

His capture is being seen as a major setback for India.

The government has demanded his immediate release and Indian social media is full of tweets about him, with many calling him a hero and praying for his safe return.

Local media reported that crowds began thronging his family home soon after news of his capture spread. The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted one of his relatives as saying that they wanted the government to “secure his release” without delay.

His family has refused to comment about his capture.

The son of a decorated former fighter pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan was first commissioned as a fighter pilot in 2004. His mother is a doctor. He is reported to be in his mid-30s.

His father, Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, worked with decorated Tamil film maker Mani Ratnam, acting as an adviser for his 2017 film, Kaatru Veliyidai, which was set against the backdrop of the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan. Mr Varthaman was the air marshal at the time.

A clip of his appearance on a local television show – NDTV Good Times – in 2011 is also being circulated widely.

In it, he is heard joking about how you need a “bad attitude” to be a successful fighter pilot.

He also talks about how you trust your colleagues with your life, referring to “blind faith” in your co-pilot when you’re in the air.

India had initially said that all of its pilots were accounted for, contradicting Pakistani claims that they had captured a pilot.

However Pakistan’s information ministry then released – and later deleted – a video showing the pilot blindfolded and with blood on his face. This prompted a furious Delhi to summon Islamabad’s deputy high commissioner and condemn what it called the “vulgar display of an injured personnel”.

In later footage, Wing Commander Abhinandan could be seen sipping tea from a cup without a blindfold. He appeared to have been cleaned up.

He said his name, military position and that he was from “down south”, but refused to share any details when asked about his mission: “I’m not supposed to tell you that.”

Pakistan’s military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said the pilot was being “treated as per norms of military ethics”.

Many of India’s politicians expressed concern and solidarity with the pilot. A joint opposition statement accused the government of “blatant politicisation of the armed forces’ sacrifices”.



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