Millennium Post

Scores assemble near Attari border for IAF pilot's return from Pakistan

Attari (Punjab): Carrying tricolour flags, garlands and posters, scores of enthusiastic people assembled at the Attari Joint Check Post (JCP) here on Friday to receive Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman who is likely to be released by Pakistani authorities later in the day.

People started arriving in Attari, around 30 km from Sikh holy city of Amritsar, since 6 a.m. Their numbers swelled to hundreds by 10.30 a.m.

"We have come here to welcome our country's hero back home. We will give him a grand welcome. He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis," Jitender, a resident of Amritsar who arrived here with his friends, said.

The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the JCP and the 553-km long International Border with Pakistan in Punjab at high alert, Punjab Police and other security agencies stationed additional personnel since early Friday morning.

The people, mostly from Amritsar district and other parts of Punjab, were kept around 1 km away from the actual border gates located at the Zero Line between India and Pakistan.

"The rush of people has been stopped at the outer gates of the JCP to ensure security in the area," a BSF officer told IANS.

Many people could be seen getting their faces painted with the tricolours.

"We are excited to give a hero's welcome to Abhinandan when he returns. We want to take him in a big procession," Amritsar Deputy Mayor Raman Bakshi said here.

Abhinandan's parents, Air Marshal S. Varthaman (Retired) and mother Shobha Varthaman, who is a doctor, were also expected to be in Attari.

The 35-year-old Wing Commander was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources said that the pilot is likely to be brought by Pakistani authorities from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over to Indian High Commission officials before being brought to the JCP on Friday afternoon.

Varthaman will be debriefed by defence and security officials upon his return before being flown to New Delhi from Amritsar.

"Many celebrities and other important people come to Attari border on different occasions. But today, a real hero is coming back. We will give him a a big and warm welcome with dhol and bhangra," Manjit Singh, who was carrying a dhol, said.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the captured IAF pilot will be freed as a "goodwill gesture" after New Delhi sought his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release.

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