NEW DELHI: Held after his plane crashed across the Line of Control, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was beaten by locals, made to identify himself with hands tied behind his back and a rag across his injured face and finally recorded saying that he was being treated well by his captors.
Three videos on social media showed the pilot display remarkable poise in custody. In one, shot in what seems like an office room where he stands with hands tied and a bloodied face, the young pilot says he is not required to reveal anything more than his name and service number and inquires who his captors are.
The videos, particularly the third one which has the officer saying he has been treated well and will not change his account even if out of captivity, seem part of a Pakistani PR effort to signal that the pilot is not being maltreated even though the earlier clips might be intended to address sentiments at home.
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The final video has Abhinandan holding a cup of tea and saying, “The officers of the Pakistani army have looked after me very well, are thorough gentlemen, starting with the captain who rescued me from the mob… this is what I would expect my army to behave.”
But when asked which part of India he came from, the officer firmly responds, “Am I supposed to tell you this? I am sorry major… I am from down south.” He quickly says “the tea is fantastic” when asked if he liked the beverage, but politely declines to speak on the make of his aircraft, saying, “I am sure you have found the wreckage.” He then says “I am sorry I am not supposed to tell you this” when asked about his mission.
The pilot, who went down on the wrong side of the LoC after a fierce engagement with Pakistani jets, was the centre of attention all day long as television and social media speculated his fate. A terse Indian announcement that a pilot was missing only heightened the suspense before his video recorded statement emerged.
The officer’s composure and calm despite his hostile reception and the fact of being in captivity at a time of high tensions between India and Pakistan came through in the videos. In the last one, his injuries appear to have been treated while he has a band-aid on his right hand in which he holds a cup of tea.
In the first video, locals in PoK are seen punching and slapping him on the face, hurling abuses even as the officer is on the ground. Pakistani soldiers are heard saying he should be left alone. Indian officials said there was a possibility that he was further beaten as the clip does not show any injury to his face.
In the second video, the officer has a bloodied face. Here, his hands and feet are tied as he stands in a room. Asked about his identity by a Pakistani officer, he says, “Can I begin please? Yeah, My name is Wing Commander Abhinandan. My service number is 27981. I am a flight pilot.”
A Pakistani officer then asks him “what else?” to which Abhinandan coolly replies, “I am sorry sir. That’s what I am supposed to tell you.” The Pakistani officer goes on to ask him about his squadron to which Abhinandan replies, “I am not supposed to tell you that.”
Later on, Wednesday evening, after India demanded the immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot, a third video was leaked perhaps in an effort to save Pakistan from international criticism.