Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot as confrontation cools

Posted March 02, 2019

Dressed in a blue blazer and gray dress trousers, he was greeted by Indian policemen and military personnel on the Indian side.

During an interview, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed that Masood Azhar is facing health issues and is too unwell.

"The nation is proud of your exemplary courage", Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

Indian pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, in a latest video statement, said Pakistan Army personnel saved his life from a charged mob on Feb 27 when he fell to the ground in Pakistan's territory after his jet was shot down by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), ARY News reported.

The pilot was escorted by Pakistani military vehicles with soldiers who had their weapons drawn.

Varthaman was accompanied to the border by the International Committee of the Red Cross. His handover took several hours as a roster of procedures were completed including a medical checkup to verify his health and condition before being handed over to his countrymen.

Abhinandan was captured a day after Indian fighter planes bombed what India said was a militant camp in Pakistan, in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Kashmir on February 14 that killed 40 paramilitaries. Pakistan detained Varthaman Wednesday following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was downed.

The minister also asserted that the JeM leader is unwell and can not leave his house.Pakistan's admission comes amidst escalating tension with India over Pulwama terror attack.

On the Indian side of Pakistan's border crossing at Wagah, turbaned Indian policemen lined the road on Friday in expectations of the pilot's handover.

The disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir has been at the root of two of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

Pakistan's decision to release the pilot followed calls by world leaders for Islamabad and New Delhi to de-escalate tensions, including from Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. "But we will have to wait and see".

The country's civil aviation agency said authorities would announce on Friday afternoon whether they are reopening or keeping the airspace closed.

Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta airports were resuming some flights on Friday, with the remainder opening next week, a spokeswoman said.

At the height of the tension Pakistan closed its airspace, disrupting major air routes.

However, Qureshi in the interview said that Pakistan is ready to take action against Azhar if India can provide evidence which can "stand in the court of law".

On Friday, thousands of people had crowded in early to get a glimpse of Abhinandan, clutching candies and garlands as they waited for his return, an AFP reporter said.

Crowds of Indians had gathered near the border crossing to welcome the Indian fighter pilot home.