‘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

‘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.”


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.