‘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.”


Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

Updated 22 February 2020

Sanders blasts Russia for reportedly trying to boost his presidential campaign

  • “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America,” the Democratic presidential wannabe said
  • US intelligence officials have said the Russian effort also continues to support Republican President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday warned Russia to stay out of US elections after American officials had told him Moscow was trying to aid his campaign.
“The intelligence community is telling us they are interfering in this campaign, right now, in 2020. And what I say to Mr. Putin, if elected president, trust me you are not going to be interfering in American elections,” Sanders told reporters in Bakersfield, California.
Sanders, 78, a democratic socialist from Vermont, is considered the front-runner for the Democratic nomination and is favored to win the Nevada caucuses on Saturday.
The Washington Post on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter, said US officials had told Sanders about the Russian effort and had also informed Republican President Donald Trump and US lawmakers.
It was not clear what form the Russian assistance took, the paper said.
A congressional source confirmed intelligence officials have told lawmakers Russia appears to be engaging in disinformation and propaganda campaigns to boost the 2020 campaigns of both Sanders and Trump.
The source, however, cautioned that the findings are very tentative.
Sanders, a US senator, said he was briefed about a month ago.
“We were told that Russia, maybe other countries, are going to get involved in this campaign,” he told reporters. “Look, here is the message: To Russia, stay out of American elections.”
“What they are doing, by the way, the ugly thing that they are doing — and I’ve seen some of their tweets and stuff — is they try to divide us up,” he said. “They are trying to cause chaos. They’re trying to cause hatred in America.”

Moscow denies
The Kremlin on Friday denied Russia was interfering in the US presidential campaign to boost Trump’s re-election chances, following reports that American intelligence officials warned Congress about the election threat last week.
US intelligence officials told members of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in a classified briefing that Russia was again interfering in American politics ahead of November’s election, as it did in 2016, a person familiar with the discussion told Reuters on Thursday.
Since that briefing, Trump has ousted the acting intelligence chief, replacing him with a political loyalist in an abrupt move as Democrats and former US officials raised the alarm over national security concerns.
A senior administration official, however, said the nation was better positioned than in 2016 to defend against foreign attempts to influence elections.
“President Trump has made clear that any efforts or attempts by Russia, or any other nation, to influence or interfere with our elections, or undermine US democracy will not be tolerated,” the official said.
On Twitter, the president accused Democrats in Congress of launching a misinformation campaign that says Russia prefers him to any of what he called the “Do Nothing Democrat candidates.” Trump called it a “hoax.”

Russian accounts
Facebook said it has not seen any evidence of Russian assistance to Sanders’ campaign. In October, the company took down Russian-backed accounts that pretended to be from political battleground states.
Some of those accounts used Instagram to praise Sanders. Another used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and faulted Joe Biden on race issues.
Jessica Brandt of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an organization that monitors foreign interference in US politics, said Russian state media and official social media accounts have been working to help Sanders by amplifying conspiracy theories that his Democratic rivals, the Democratic National Committee and the “corporate media” have been “rigging the system” against him.
“We can say with certainty that this is what the Russian government is pushing,” she told Reuters. “We’ve seen for some time Russian official channels promoting division within the Democratic Party.”

Warning signs
US officials have long warned that Russia and other countries would seek to interfere in the Nov. 3 presidential election, following Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign that ended with Trump’s surprise victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies concluded that the Kremlin used disinformation operations, cyberattacks and other methods in its 2016 operation in an effort to boost Trump, an allegation that Russia denies. Trump, sensitive to doubts over the legitimacy of his win, has also questioned that finding and repeatedly criticized American intelligence agencies.
On Friday, the Kremlin said the latest allegations were false.
“These are more paranoid announcements which, to our regret, will multiply as we get closer to the (US) election,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “They have nothing to do with the truth.”
Russia’s alleged interference sparked a two-year-long US investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller found no conclusive evidence of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. He also pointed at 10 instances in which Trump may have attempted to obstruct his investigation, as Democrats alleged, but left any finding of obstruction to Congress.