When an Indian fighter pilot who had been captured by Pakistan was released on Friday, it capped a humiliating episode for India and a surreal week for him, reported leading US newspaper New York Times.
First the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was soaring through the sky in a MiG-21 on Wednesday. Then he was shot down by Pakistani forces.
After parachuting into enemy territory and being surrounded by a mob, he tried to eat some of the documents he was carrying, according to Indian news media reports. He was then badly beaten before being rescued by Pakistani troops.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Over the next few days, videos of him being interrogated in Pakistani custody spread on social media around the world.
Over the past week, the escalation of hostilities, including aerial dogfights and heavy shelling along the border between Pakistan and India — both of which are nuclear powers- set South Asia on edge.
But those tensions eased Friday evening as Wing Commander Varthaman was released shortly after 9:20 p.m. local time.
He walked through a border checkpoint wearing a blue sport coat and white dress shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, and gray slacks. He seemed relaxed. Indian border guards shook his hand and whisked him away. Then he disappeared in a convoy of Indian government vehicles.
The troubles started on February 14, when a suicide bomber in the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) rammed a car packed with explosives into an Indian military convoy, killing more than 40 troops.
It was the most devastating attack in Kashmir in decades, and India immediately blamed Pakistan, accusing it of helping the bomber. Pakistan denied any role.
On Tuesday, India sent a dozen warplanes into Pakistan. They dropped bombs on what India claimed was a terrorist training camp, though witnesses in the area said the bombs had fallen in an empty forest, injuring one man, an older villager.
Pakistan retaliated on Wednesday by flying planes across the border into Indian airspace.
While Indian officials have not detailed how Wing Commander Varthaman was shot down, Western officials said they believe he was lured into a trap by Pakistani jets.
They say that after Pakistani jets crossed into Indian airspace, they quickly turned and flew away, tempting their pursuers into an area well covered by Pakistani air defenses, which then hit Wing Commander Varthaman’s plane with a surface-to-air missile.
In one of the videos from this week, he is seen drinking tea and looking relaxed.
“I hope you’ve been treated well with us?” a Pakistani officer asks in English.
“Yes,” Mr. Varthaman says. “I have, and I would like to put this on record and I will not change my statement if I go back to my country also. The officers of the Pakistani Army have looked after me very well. They are thorough gentlemen.”
“This is what I would expect my army to behave as,” he adds. “Am very impressed by the Pakistani Army.”