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3 March, 2019 11:33:01 AM


India’s new normal

Abhinandan’s arrival, though a few hours later than expected, was a huge relief to Indians
Kumkum Chadha
India’s new normal
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman returns home

Friday was a tense day for Indians. Every nationalist waited with bated breath for Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to return home.  The pilot was captured by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was shot down in action near the Line of Control (LoC).

The wing commander was in pursuit of a Pakistani F-16 jet, which he shot down with an R-73 air-to-air missile. At that moment, an AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) struck his aircraft, after which Varthaman was forced to eject and landed onto the Pakistani side of the Line of Control, where he was captured.
Amid soaring tension, the Indian government demanded the "immediate and safe return" of the pilot and said it "would be well-advised to ensure that no harm comes to him".
Pakistan Army, meanwhile,  released a video that showed an IAF pilot identifying himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) released a statement objecting to “Pakistan’s vulgar display of injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.”
The MEA later summoned acting High Commissioner of Pakistan to lodge a strong protest at the “unprovoked act of aggression by Pakistan against India, including violation of the Indian air space by Pakistan Air Force and targeting of Indian military posts.”

Hours after claiming that Pakistan had captured two Indian Air Force pilots, a Pakistani defence spokesperson said that they had only one Indian pilot in their custody.

Even as India demanded his release, there were heightened fears of escalated tension between India and Pakistan, Pulwama and Balakot being the centerpiece.

Tension between the two countries heightened after an Indian paramilitary convoy was attacked in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, which claimed the lives of over 40 jawans.  The situation took a turn for the worse  after Indian fighters bombed terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed's biggest training camp near Balakot deep inside Pakistan early Tuesday:  12 days after the JeM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a CRPF convoy.

The Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group aims at separating Kashmir from India.

In a retaliatory attack, India delivered an air strike against the terrorists camps operated by JeM in the Pakistan-controlled part of the Kashmir region. On Wednesday, the Pakistani Air Force retaliated by an air strike on Indian military installations. Both India and Pakistan claimed they had shot down each other’s aircraft during what was termed as a “dogfight”.

 Eight fighter jets of the Indian Air Force took on 24 Pakistani jets in an unprecedented air combat over the India-controlled disputed Kashmir region. The Pakistani Air Force strike group included eight F-16s, four Mirage-3 aircraft and four Chinese-made JF-17 "Thunder" fighters. The other aircraft were escort fighters to protect the Pakistan strike formation from any retaliation. The Pakistani attack formation was detected at 9.45 am, when they came within 10 km of the Line of Control.

The Indian Air Force’s planes prevented the Pakistani fighters from delivering precision strikes against ground targets on the India-controlled territory of the disputed Kashmir region

India and Pakistan were seemingly on the brink of war and civilian population on both sides were nervous with one common but pertinent what nextquestion dominating minds. There were no easy answers and even as political leadership weighed several options, Abhinandan being in the custody of Pakistan only worsened matters.

The clock was ticking as were minds which fervently prayed for the worst notto happen. All eyes were on  India and what it could or would do next. There were many coulds,read options, before India but the question was how sane was it to exercise them at a stage when things were waiting to erupt. Therefore it came as a huge relief when Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan announced and soon enough that they would send Abhinandan back home. Even if tensions were high, this helped tempers, at least on the Indian side, to recede. Ofcourse Pakistan’s civilian population was irked at this unconditional release as it was over it happening so swiftly: within three days.

Contrast this to the last time an Indian pilot was held captive by Pakistan: Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa: the first and only prisoner of war of the 1999 Kargil war. It took intense international pressure and as long as eight days for Nachiketa to be handed back to India.

Even while India waited for its hero and celebrated, there was uncertainty till Abhinandan actually reached back home. It was a touch and go situation and the interim period between Pakistan’s intent, the announcement and his actual return there could be many a slip. There was no guarantee that Pakistan takes a U turn, goes back on its word  and blames it on India for spoiling the game. Therefore every time an Indian television channel was spewing venom at Pakistan, every one prayed that  the pilot’s return  should not be jeopardized in any way. Therefore when during a joint briefing, Rear Admiral Dalbir Singh Gujral told presspersons, that  “we are ready for any misadventure by Pakistan and we are ready for resolute action” there were apprehensions that this could be misconstrued by Pakistan and cast a shadow on Abhinandan’s possible release. .  

Friday indeed was a tense day for all sane Indians. There were prayers and there were pujas performed and the social media went viral as Abhinandan awaited a hero’s welcome back home on the soil he and his family has so gallantly served. Abhinandan’s father too has served the Indian Air Force.

Abhinandan’s  arrival, though a few hours later than expected, was a huge relief to Indians: commoners, armed forces, the government and of course Abhinandan’s family.

While India rejoiced Pakistan sulked.  Apart from what it saw as a setback to its morale and a giving in to pressure by sending Abhinandan back, there was another jolt that awaited it: the OIC snub.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation did not concede to Pakistan’s objections of not inviting India to its conference being held in Abu Dhabi.

Not only did the OIC ignore Pakistan’s protests but went ahead and invited India as the ‘guest of honour’ for the first time in its 50-year history. In the past India was kept out mainly because of Pakistan’s objections .

Pakistan which has habitually used the 57 strong member organisation of Muslim countries, the second biggest after the United Nations, to slam India over Kashmir, was on the backfoot when its protests were ignored. That led Pakistan to boycott the conference where India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called for a concerted action to mount pressure on the countries supporting terror outfits. She did not mention Pakistan even once but hammered the need to build pressure on the countries that support terror outfits and fund them to dismantle terror infrastructure.

This is being seen as a big diplomatic win for India which seems to have emerged. Dubbed as a  “new normal” even sceptics  would agree that under the current leadership a lot has changed with India being proactive in its dealings with an errant neighbour like Pakistan who has been used to India not going beyond harsh statements to its terror attacks in the past. The surgical strikes some two years ago and now Balakot followed by India securing a quick release of Abhinandan only substantiates that things have changed to the advantage of India which has pulled all sops militarily and diplomatically to send a stern message to Pakistan which seems to be reeling under the shock of India’s new normal.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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