NEW DELHI: As the entire country on Friday celebrated the homecoming of IAF braveheart Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by the Pakistani forces after an areal dogfight on Wednesday morning, many sought to know as to what forced Islamabad to return him to India after keeping him in captivity for nearly 59 hours.
While a section of countrymen attributed it to the dynamic and decisive leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, some others credited the effective use of all diplomatic channels by the government. There were many who said that India's successful display of its areal firepower actually forced Pakistan to come down to its knees.
Whatever one may say but the fact is that a ''cornered'' Pakistan, which is being increasingly isolated by India at the global fronts over its covert support to terror operators, had no choice but to return the IAF braveheart who has now emerged as a national hero by demonstrating his indomitable spirit, courage and love for his motherland.
It may be recalled that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to the Indian authorities at the Wagah-Attari Border check post in Amritsar after much delay on Friday night.
For a majority of Indians, who prayed for the captured IAF pilot's safe return, his homecoming is a thumping victory for the country's political leadership which has demonstrated its will stick to its policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism.
Whether things will change after this or the ''Naya Pakistan'' envisioned by Imran Khan will act to dismantle the terror infrastructure in the country or not, the Narendra Modi government's go-ahead to IAF to raid the biggest terror camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed, which claimed responsibility for the dastardly Pulwama suicide attack on a CRPF convoy on February 14, has indeed send a firm message that India will no more tolerate terror.
It may be recalled that the Modi government had said a firm no to any deal on captured IAF pilot and instead pressed for his immediate, safe and unconditional release. Delhi had told Pakistan in clear terms that there will not be a repeat of the Kandahar incident and the action that was taken on Feb 26 by the IAF was in response to the Pulwama attack in which lives of 40 CRPF personnel were lost.
New Delhi had made it clear to Pakistanis that the captured IAF pilot cannot be used as a bargaining chip with India and that not returning him would amount to a violation of the Geneva Convention.
With the Indian diplomacy at work, Pakistan soon found itself alienated as the international community exerted tremendous pressure on Islamabad to release the captured IAF pilot.
India had told the diplomatic community in New Delhi as well as the UN level that what was targeted were the terror camps and proxies and not targeting any military installation and dense areas.
Apparently under huge international pressure and left with no choice, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing a joint session of National Assembly, announced that Wing Commander Abhinnadan Varthaman will be released on Friday.
The reality is that Pakistan has time and again denied the presence of terrorists like Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin, who continue to roam freely in the country and execute their nefarious designs of targeting India. So, India is not going to trust Pakistan unless it gives ample proof that it has dismantled the terror network flourishing on its soil.
Outlining the sequence of events that unfolded on Wednesday, reports said that around 9.45 AM, a Pakistan Air Force jets violated the Indian airspace, crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and launched some laser-guided bombs targeting military installations but they missed narrowly because they could not come closer and were chased away by the IAF fighters .
Before IAF's MiG-21 Bison flown by Wing Commander Varthaman was hit, he had managed to lock on one PAF's F-16s and had fired an R-73 air-to-air missile to bring it down. The PAF planes had crossed the Line of Control (LoC). This, the sources said, happened against the backdrop of Imran Khan's claim that Pakistan wanted to show its strength but it was false because their actual targets were military installations. According to Pakistani sources, Islamabad's action was intended to convey that if India can come into Pakistan, then it could do the same.
Several hours later, Pakistan handed over the captured IAF pilot to the Indian officials in what signalled the easing of confrontation between the nuclear-armed neighbours, at least temporarily, after much delay.
Wing Commander Abhinandan crossed into the Indian side of the border around 9 PM at the Wagah Border accompanied by the Indian officials, who confirmed that he had been returned and said he would be taken for medical checks. Abhinandan was given a rousing welcome by thousands of Indians who had waited for his return at the Wagah Border.