India heaved a sigh of relief on Friday, March 1, as Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman held his head high and crossed over to the Indian side around 9.25 pm. However, his release from Pakistan was delayed by several hours without explanation, and it now turns out that the pilot was asked to record a statement on camera by Pakistani authorities.
Dressed in a blue blazer and grey trousers, the pilot was accompanied by a director of the Pakistan Foreign Office and India's air attache in Islamabad Group Captain Joy Thomas Kurien. The IAF pilot crossed over to India via the Wagah-Attari border, and was received by senior air force officers and his parents. Though he had a black eye and visible bruises on his right cheek, he appeared composed and told the Indian officials that it was "good to be back in my country."
Pakistan's propaganda video
Abhinandan was brought to Lahore from Rawalpindi in the evening and reportedly taken to an ISI establishment, where he was kept for many hours. It was here Abhinandan was filmed talking about the two days he was in Pakistan and how the army was extremely professional the entire time. He was also asked to slam the Indian media, and the pilot is heard saying that the media in his country hypes even the smallest of things.
The pilot also said that he entered Pakistan's airspace to "find a target," but his aircraft was shot down. He detailed the incidents that took place after he landed in Pakistan. He was also asked to give the same in writing. India has maintained that Abhinandan's plane was downed when the IAF foiled Pakistan Air Force's attempt to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27.
The Indian officials have clearly said that the video was recorded under duress, and was also in violation of the Geneva Conventions. "This was in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions," the Times of India quoted a senior official as saying. The video spread like wildfire on social media and also found a prime place in Pakistani news channels. However, Twitter users have slammed Islamabad for the propaganda video and have said that the footage — with about 18 cuts and jumps — has been evidently edited to suit Islamabad's agenda.
The video was deleted after a massive backlash. Islamabad had released a video of Abhinandan even on February 27, after he was captured. In the video, he is seen sipping tea and speaking to Pakistan Army officials. He is heard revealing his name and service number, but refused to divulge any other information.
This video too was in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which clearly state that prisoners of war must be treated humanely in all circumstances. "They are protected against any act of violence, as well as as against intimidation, insults, and public curiosity."
Video exposes Imran Khan's stance and Pak's psy-ops
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan, on Thursday, February 28, announced during a Parliament session that Islamabad would return Abhinandan to India as a "peace gesture" and that India too should now give up arms and come forward for a dialogue with Pakistan.
While many had already questioned Khan's "peace gesture" saying that if he really wanted to take a step towards peace he should hand over JeM chief Masood Azhar, the matter snowballed after Pakistan released Abhinandan's video. The nation and the PM were not just slammed for recording the video under duress, but also for releasing it at television prime time.
Meanwhile, experts believe that the video was a part of Pakistani psychological operations meant to influence the emotions and reasoning of its citizens and others. "It's definitely psy-ops in the sense that why should you put out this video? You're only trying to show that you're treating him well," retired Lt General DS Hooda, the former commanding-in-chief of the Northern Command, told News18.
"In the first set of videos that came out where he was physically manhandled by some locals. Pakistan would have got some criticism over it. They are playing the 'responsible country' card and showed that they are treating our pilot well."