‘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.”


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.