Pakistan Hands Over Captured Indian Pilot at Border

Posted March 03, 2019

Earlier, Pakistani authorities handed over the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, to Indian authorities after completing the required procedure.

Indian military officials said on Thursday they welcomed Pakistan's plan to return the captured Indian pilot on Friday.

An Indian pilot released by Pakistan went back to India Friday night through Wagah border crossing near Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. An elaborate flag-lowering ceremony at the Wagah Crossing - which draws thousands of spectators on both sides - was cancelled to restrict the crowds.

Also Friday, Pakistan's civil aviation authority partially re-opened the country's airspace, allowing travel to four major cities, another sign tensions with archrival India were de-escalating.

World powers have urged restraint from the two nations, as tensions escalated following a suicide vehicle bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.

One person was killed and three wounded on Pakistan's side of Kashmir from a barrage of India shelling.

Wing Commander Abhinandan also criticised the Indian press, saying they always exaggerate and say a lot of damaging things that mislead people.

Wearing blue blazer and grey "khaki" trouser, Abhinandan stepped on the India soil at 9.20 pm on Friday from Attari-Wagah border in Punjab's Amritsar where thousands had been waiting for hours to have a glimpse of the courageous IAF officer.

"The army personnel saved me from the mob".

"Sadly the image you paint for us is marred terribly by the video he's forced to record just before you sent him back", Abdullah said on Twitter.

The Pakistani military has said his plane was downed on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday.

The Kashmir region has been disputed territory ever since the end of British colonial rule saw the partition of India in 1947.

Islamabad said the pilot's release was a "gesture of peace".

However, India has been maintaining that the Pakistani decision is in consonance with the Geneva Conventions. "The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it", he said.

Although the India-Pakistan relationship has always been rocky, especially concerning Kashmir, India has chosen to escalate the situation following the Pulwama attack.

Khan announced in parliament on Thursday that the pilot would be returned, calling the release "a goodwill gesture".

Qureshi said he would not attend a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi this weekend, because his Indian counterpart had been invited to the event.

Mohammad Latif, a labourer who is taking refuge at a government building vacated for sheltering displaced families, says, "Whenever India fire mortars, it's we who suffer".