It was because of the United States putting pressure on Pakistan through high-level military channels that Wing Commander Abhinandan Vardhaman was released a day after being captured on February 27, according to an Economic Times report.
US Centcom Commander Gen. Joseph Votel spoke to Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa “encouraging him” to release Wing Commander Abhinandan at the earliest, making it clear that it was the only way to de-escalate tensions between the two countries, the report added.
Centcom Commander establishes a direct communication channel between the US and Pakistan Army chief and also facilitates diplomatic effort to engage the Taliban. While Gen Votel was handling the channel with the Pakistan Army, US National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in regular touch with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval.
According to the report, the US message was reinforced by the United Kingdom, which has “deep influence” with the Pakistan Army.
Economic Times quoted sources saying that there was considerable pressure from within the Pakistan system not to “give in” as a captured Indian pilot was a “prize catch” in a war-like situation.
However, the US told Pakistan Army that it would not encourage the use of Wing Commander Abhinandan as a “bargaining chip”, they added.
Tensions between India and Pakistan flared up after a suicide bomber killed 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir on February 14 by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad(JeM).
Amid mounting outrage, Indian Air Force carried out a counter-terror operation, hitting what it said was JeM training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan on February 26. The next day, Pakistan retaliated with a large air formation, comprising 24 fighter jets, including F-16s.
Varthaman was in one of the eight MIG-21s that took on the invader and shot down an F-16, according to officials. During the dogfight, his plane was hit and he bailed out, landing in PoK, where he was taken into custody by the Pakistani army.