'Abhinandan was guest': Pak chaiwallah, doctor remember captured IAF pilot

'Abhinandan having Pakistani tea' has been a key theme highlighted in Pak accounts

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman | Video grab/Twitter Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman | Video grab/Twitter

On February 27 (Thursday), Pakistan celebrated 'Surprise Day' to commemorate the first anniversary of its abortive air strike in Kashmir. A key feature of the events was the Pakistan media highlighting the capture of Abhinandan Varthaman, the Indian Air Force wing commander who was briefly taken prisoner of war after his MiG-21 fighter was shot down.

Hamid Mir, a renowned Pakistani journalist, who has reported extensively on the Pakistani military, uploaded Twitter posts of meeting with a number of people who had met Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. These included a civilian who saw Varthaman after he ejected, Pakistan Army personnel, a military doctor and a 'chaiwallah' who served the pilot tea. Mir was reporting for Geo TV, a Pakistani news channel.

'Abhinandan having Pakistani tea' has been a key theme highlighted in Pakistani accounts of the incident, featuring in memes and even commercials. The Pakistan Air Force's War Museum even created a mannequin of Abhinandan, complete with a tea mug!

Mir uploaded a brief clip of him talking to Anwar Ali, the man who purportedly made tea for Abhinandan. Mir showed Ali standing with a tray holding a tea cup, which he claimed was used to serve tea to Abhinandan.

Ali said he made tea for Abhinandan at the hospital where the pilot was taken. Ali said Abhinandan had "praised" the quality of tea. When asked by Mir about he felt serving tea to an "enemy pilot", Ali replied, "He was a guest who came to our nation."

Mir talked to a Pakistan Army doctor who had treated Abhinandan. The doctor, whose name was not provided, said Abhinandan talked to him about his family, including his wife who had retired from the Indian Air Force. The doctor told Mir he was touched by Abhinandan's comment that a prisoner of war faced disgrace.

Mir also interviewed Naik Usman, a Pakistan Army officer, who had apprehended Abhinandan after he ejected. There were reports in the Indian media last year that the soldier who caught hold of Abhinandan had been killed in shelling across the Line of Control. Usman said the Indian media had spread misinformation about this. Usman alleged the Indian media had spread “rumours” of his death as he had caught Abhinandan by the collar.