New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Saturday met Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and conveyed to him that the entire nation is proud of his courage and determination, a day after Pakistan released him in its bid to scale down tensions between the two countries.
Official sources said Varthaman briefly mentioned to Sitharaman about the mental trauma he was subjected to during his nearly 60-hour captivity in Pakistan after he was caught in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir Wednesday. He is mentally strong and remains in high spirits despite the harassment he suffered in Pakistan, they said.
Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa and several top officials of the IAF also met Varthaman, who shot down an F-16 fighter of the Pakistan Air Force shortly before his jet was hit during a fierce dogfight.
The sources said he told senior IAF brass that he was subjected to severe mental trauma though he was not tortured physically in captivity.
Sitharaman met the pilot at the Army’s Research and Referral hospital here where he is undergoing a series of medical tests as part of a “cooling down” process. His wife Sqn Ldr Tanvi Marwah (retd), seven-year-old son and sister Aditi were also present, the sources said.
Varthaman arrived in the National Capital by an IAF flight at around 11:45 pm Friday, nearly two-and-half hours after he crossed over to India through the Attari-Wagah border.
The IAF pilot was first taken to the Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services. Later he was brought to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital.
In a tweet, the Defence Minister said she met Varthman and his family to “commend him on his valour, express the nation’s gratitude for his selfless service, and wish him a speedy recovery”.
After he was captured, Varthaman showed courage and grace in handling the most difficult circumstances for which he was praised by politicians, strategic affairs experts, ex-servicemen, celebrities and people in general.
When Varthaman, son of an IAF veteran, crossed over to India Friday night, his right eye above his handlebar moustache appeared swollen. A video on social media showed that he was badly beaten up by a mob before being rescued by Pakistani security personnel.
Tensions between the two countries escalated after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday.
Pakistan retaliated by attempting to target Indian military installations on Wednesday. However, the IAF thwarted their plans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the return of Varthaman, saying the nation is proud of his exemplary courage.