Don’t touch Abhinandan or this means war – this was the message that India sent to Pakistan after the Indian Air Force pilot was captured by the forces across the border on February 27 last month. According to a latest report by The Hindustan Times, India had decided to go ahead with the missile war in case the pilot is harmed. Islamabad had also said that it would have no option but to retaliate. The three nerve-wrecking days after the pilot was captured could have launched the most destructive war in the Indian Subcontinent. The report reveals that both Indian and Pakistani intelligence officials were in touch throughout the most-tense period in the bilateral ties between two nuclear armed neighbours.
It all started after Pakistan announced to the world that it had arrested the Indian Air Force pilot from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman had ejected safely after downing Pakistan’s F-16 combat jet. He was captured by the locals, who later handed him over to the Pakistan Army personnel. Around 3 pm on February 27 the same day, India acknowledged that the pilot was in Pakistan’s captivity. This was all out in public. What was happening behind the walls of secrecy was continuous and consistent communication between Research and Analysis Wing secretary Anil Dhasmana and Inter Services Intelligence chief Lt Gen Asim Munir.
Dhasmana clearly told Munir that Abhianandan must be kept safe. The HT report said that India’s 12 missiles deployed in Rajasthan were also discussed.
At the same time, India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval spoke to his American counterpart John Bolton. It was communicated to Washington the PM Modi has given a go ahead to escalate the matter if something happens to the IAF pilot. The HT report also quoted a member of the Cabinet Committee of Security as saying that, “India was prepared to go down the missile road on February 27.”
India’s tough message was clearly heard in Rawalpindi GHQ, the headquarters of the Pakistan Army. Both civilian and military leadership in Pakistan realised that they won’t gain anything by keeping Abhinandan in their captivity. The HT report says that on February 27 itself, Pakistan had decided to release the IAF pilot. The announcement was made by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in Pakistan Assembly on February 28. On March 1st, Wg Cdr Abhinandan returned home via Wagah border.