Published: Sun, March 03, 2019
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Pakistan to release captured Indian pilot in 'peace gesture'

Pakistan to release captured Indian pilot in 'peace gesture'

Meanwhile, IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released on Friday by the Pakistan government, as a "peace gesture".

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to India on Friday night at the Attari-Wagah border.

Pakistani TV footage showed Wing Commander Abhinandan walking across the border near the town of Wagah just before 9 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

Since tensions escalated following the February 14 suicide attack, world leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war between India and Pakistan.

Tensions had escalated following a suicide auto bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.

Police in the Indian-controlled Kashmir said one man was wounded and at least two civilian homes were damaged in the cross-border shelling. At an election rally in Tamil Nadu, the pilot's home state, Modi said, "Every Indian is proud that fearless Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is from Tamil Nadu".

While the government tried to keep a relatively tight lid on the actual handover at the border on Friday, Indians enthusiastically celebrated their Air Force pilot's release online, with the #WelcomeHomeAbhinandan hashtag spreading fast across social media.

Flights from Singapore to Europe that usually cross Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, were re-routed westwards over Oman, adding over an hour's flying time and higher fuel costs.

"We have come here to welcome our country's hero back home".

During the dogfight, his plane was hit and he bailed out, landing in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, where he was taken into custody by the Pakistani army.

Following the release of the pilot, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the media that Pakistan freed the Indian pilot without setting any condition to give a message that Pakistan is a peace-loving country and a good neighbor.

The Indian military said its forces returned the fire.

Although the India-Pakistan relationship has always been rocky, especially concerning Kashmir, India has chosen to escalate the situation following the Pulwama attack. New Delhi has accused Islamabad of harboring the Jaish-e Mohammad terror group that claimed responsibility for the attack.

With a spark in eyes and smile on face, the immaculately dressed Indian Air Force officer waited for quite some time on the Pakistani side of the global border before his handover by Pakistan Rangers to Indian Border Security Force.

Pakistan Army troops rescued the Indian pilot from the wrath of angry villagers and shifted him to a PAF facility for initial interrogation. In the Express Tribune, lawyer Shahzaib Khan wrote that Pakistanis "have a reason to boast. the Prime Minister (Imran Khan) has done Pakistan proud by not engaging in chest thumping or war-mongering for political gain".

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