Hours after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan informed the country's National Assembly that Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman would be released on Friday, the Wing Commander's family flew out from Chennai to New Delhi. Wing Commander Abhinandan's father retired Air Marshal Varthaman and his mother with three other family members flew from Chennai to Delhi on Thursday night.
Early on Friday morning, the family left from New Delhi to Amritsar and will be present along with Indian armed forces to meet the Wing Commander at Wagah Border. The family that had requested privacy, did not speak to the media while on their way to the Chennai airport.
Official sources told IANS that the Border Security Force (BSF) had not been communicated the exact time and sequence regarding the release of the captured IAF pilot as of late on Thursday evening.
The sources said that the pilot is likely to be brought by Pakistani authorities from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over first to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) under rules of the Geneva Convention before being brought to the JCP at around 3 pm to return home. Wing Commander Varthaman will be debriefed by defence and security officials after his return.
Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor had told the media on Thursday that the Indian Air Force is happy and looks forward to the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. When asked by a reporter on whether India looked at Wing Commander Abhinandanâ€™s return as a goodwill gesture, Air Vice Marshal Kapoor said, â€śWe are happy that our pilot, who had fallen across the Line of Control and was in custody of Pakistan, is being released, we're extremely happy to have him back. We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with all Geneva conventions.â€ť
Throughout Thursday, many politicians and other well-wishers met the family at their Chennai residence. Speaking to media persons outside Wing Commander Abhinandan's residence, Tamil Manila Congress chief GK Vasan said, "I met the highly patriotic family and thanked them for their service. I wish that Wing Commander Abhinandan returns with good health and continues in high service for the country. The father told me he is going to Delhi tonight and then onto the Wagah Border tomorrow to meet his son."
The developments have come as a relief to India, which has been waiting for news about the Wing Commander. Visuals last showed the IAF pilot with the Pakistani army, sipping a cup of tea.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that an eyewitness saw a parachute descend towards the ground and the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan emerged safely when he was subsequently captured.