‘I am happy to be back in my country’

A man watches a statement of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on his mobile phone, released on Twitter by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, in Karachi, Pakistan March 1, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 02 March 2019
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‘I am happy to be back in my country’

  • India is soon going to hold its general election, and I don’t think the government will have any dialogue with their neighbor

NEW DELHI: “I am happy to be back in my country,” was the only statement Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman made after crossing over to the Indian side of the Wagah border point in Punjab on Friday.
A crowd had gathered at the crossing early that morning, in anticipation of Pakistan releasing the pilot, who had been downed over Kashmir earlier in the week.
At 9.30 p.m. India Standard Time he was handed over, and returned to the Indian Air Force (AIF).
“Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been handed over to us. He will now be taken for a detailed medical check-up because he had to eject from an aircraft. The IAF is happy to have him back,” said Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor.
The deputy commissioner of Amritsar, Shivdular Singh Dhillon, met Varthaman upon his return, and said he was “relaxed, and happy to be back in India.”
The IAF pilot was captured when his MiG-21 jet was hit by a Pakistani missile during an exchange of aerial hostilities between the two countries.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s overtures have calmed the situation in Kashmir, after New Delhi launched airstrikes against militants, leading to Varthaman being shot down.
“By releasing the pilot, Khan has shown statesmanship,” said Vijayan M.J. of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy.
“The situation should not have reached this stage where open hostility broke out. India’s leadership showed a complete lack of flexibility and was driven by ‘muscular’ politics to mobilize opinion before the elections.
“The Indian government should use the peace overtures offered by Khan to normalize the situation in the subcontinent. Khan has emerged as one of the tallest leaders in South Asia with his persistent emphasis on dialogue and his decision to release the pilot. He has won the hearts of many Indians. His one gesture altered the whole hyper-nationalistic narrative,” he added.
Siddiq Wahid, of the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, said: “Imran Khan comes out as a confident leader, who understands the gravity of two nuclear states risking escalation. Although politicians are prone to playing to the gallery, he has been remarkably restrained.
“I am not confident that Delhi will be either willing or able to control the hyper-nationalist tenor of reactions. This is because muscular, religious nationalism is its only tool against almost five years of non-delivery by Narendra Modi.”
But Harsh V. Pant of the think tank Observer Research Foundation said that Islamabad had been in a “corner” and had “no other option” but to release the pilot.
“Global isolation was becoming too much for Pakistan to handle. Messages from other countries were that the pilot had to be returned and that the onus of cooling the situation was on Pakistan,” he added.
“The peace gesture was a face-saving measure. I don’t think New Delhi will see the pilot’s release as a larger shift in Pakistan’s strategy. Besides, India is soon going to hold its general election, and I don’t think the government will have any dialogue with their neighbor.”


‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

Updated 24 May 2019
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‘Results’ needed from Myanmar over Rohingya return: UNHCR head

  • A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide”
  • Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers

YANGON: Myanmar must “show results” to convince Rohingya refugees to return, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said Friday at the end of his first visit to Myanmar since the crackdown against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
A brutal military campaign in western Rakhine state forced some 740,000 Rohingya over the border into Bangladesh.
Around one million Rohingya now languish in sprawling refugee camps from various waves of persecution.
A UN fact-finding mission called for Myanmar’s top generals to be prosecuted for “genocide” and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has started preliminary investigations.
During his visit Grandi spoke with both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist communities in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence.
He also held discussions with officials in capital Naypyidaw, including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, describing all talks as “constructive.”
“My message is: ‘please accelerate’, because it has been very slow in the implementation in this first year. We need to show results,” he told AFP in an interview in Yangon.
“This is not enough to convince people to come back,” he said.
Grandi visited the camps in Bangladesh in April.
The two countries have signed a repatriation agreement but so far virtually no refugees have returned, fearing for their safety and unconvinced they will be granted citizenship.
Myanmar pejoratively labels the Rohingya as “Bengali,” implying they are illegal interlopers and the community has had its rights eroded over decades.
Gaining independent access to northern Rakhine is difficult with most journalists, observers and diplomats only allowed on brief chaperoned visits.
Grandi defended the UNHCR’s involvement in a plan by the Bangladeshi government to move some 100,000 refugees onto low-lying island Bhashan Char.
The area in the Bay of Bengal is prone to flooding and cyclones.
Rights groups oppose the scheme that has also so far been universally rejected by the Rohingya themselves.
The refugee agency must be “involved” to have the necessary information in order to take a stance on the issue, Grandi said.
“We’re still at that stage, no more than that.”
He also visited camps near Rakhine’s capital Sittwe, where nearly 130,000 Rohingya have been confined since a previous bout of violence in 2012.
Myanmar has announced it will close the camps but many are skeptical the displaced will enjoy more freedoms.
Grandi said the UNHCR would reconsider its role in providing services if conditions did not substantially improve.
“To simply transform the camps, upgrade the camps, upgrade the houses, for example, but leave them in the same situation will not be a solution,” he said.