‘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.”


Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick attend a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 18, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 8 min 37 sec ago
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Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

  • The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently

OTTAWA: The head of Canada’s federal bureaucracy said on Monday he was quitting over his role in handling a corporate corruption case, dealing another blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he battles the biggest political crisis of his tenure.
Polls suggest that Trudeau’s Liberals — who a few months ago looked certain to be re-elected in October — are now at risk of losing power to the official opposition Conservatives.
Trudeau has been on the defensive since Feb. 7 over allegations that top officials leaned on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to ensure engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. avoided a corruption trial.
Top civil servant Michael Wernick told Trudeau he would be retiring in the coming weeks because opposition leaders had lost confidence in him over the scandal. Two high-profile women cabinet ministers and Trudeau’s closest personal aide had already quit over SNC-Lavalin before Monday’s resignation.
Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, is supposed to be non-partisan, like the rest of the federal bureaucracy. But his strong defense of government officials over the SNC-Lavalin affair and his insistence that no one had done anything wrong triggered widespread criticism from opposition legislators that he was siding with the Liberals.
“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” said Wernick, who was appointed by Trudeau in early 2016.
Clerks have traditionally had an exceptionally close relationship with prime ministers, and the two tended to talk every day. Wernick’s departure leaves Trudeau needing to fill one of the top jobs in Ottawa just months ahead of the election.
Trudeau spokesman Matt Pascuzzo said the prime minister had not asked Wernick to go.
Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee last month that Wernick had put intense pressure on her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution over allegations it bribed Libyan officials.
The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently.
The Conservatives, the largest opposition party in parliament, and the left-leaning New Democrats accuse Trudeau of old-style backroom deals and trying to cover up what happened.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Wernick had resigned “in disgrace” and repeated his calls for a full public inquiry, an idea that Trudeau has already ruled out.
“This is like a five-alarm dumpster fire of political cronyism, incompetence and now obstruction. What is the prime minister so afraid of?” New Democrat legislator Charlie Angus said in the House of Commons.
Earlier this month, Trudeau denied he or his officials had interfered in the judicial system, and he offered no apology.
In a surprise move, Trudeau on Monday named Joyce Murray, a 64-year-old Liberal backbencher with no federal cabinet experience, as president of the Treasury Board, where she will be in overall charge of government spending.
Murray replaces Jane Philpott, who quit on March 4 in protest over how the government was handling the crisis.
Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted in January, resigned from Trudeau’s Cabinet the next month.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of bribing Libyan officials to get contracts between 2001 and 2011. The firm had strongly lobbied in favor of a deferred prosecution agreement, or out-of-court settlement, instead of going to trial.
The company has declined further comment.