Pakistan returns captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India in a 'peace gesture'

03:57 PM | 1 Mar, 2019
Pakistan returns captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India in a 'peace gesture'
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan handed over an Indian pilot, who was captured by Pakistani troops inside Azada Jammu and Kashmir, to India as a gesture of peace amid armed escalation between two nuclear-armed rivals.

Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was received by Air Vice Marshals-RGK Kapoor and Sreekumar Prabhakaran of Indian Air Force at Wagah-Attari Border.

The captured wing commander was accompanied by Indian high commission officials from Lahore to Wagah border. According to Indian media Abhinandan will be taken to Amritsar.

Abhinandan Varthaman had landed inside Pakistani territory after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down in a dogfight with PAF jets on Wednesday morning.

His release was announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan at a joint session of Parliament on Thursday after Pakistan a day prior had shot down two Indian aircraft that had crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and captured Wing Commander Abhinandan, something that came as an unexpected setback for India.

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Pakistan carried out air strikes and shot down two Indian military jets on Wednesday, a day after Indian warplanes violated Pakistan airspace for the first time since the 1971 war, prompting global powers to urge both of the rival South Asian countries to exercise restraint.

However, PM Imran Khan also asked India not to escalate the situation. “Don’t take this any further, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate.”

“I hope the international community will play its part to ensure the situation does not escalate beyond this,” the prime minister added.

Soon after Imran Khan’s announcement of releasing the Indian pilot, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad applauded his Pakistani counterpart’s decision. The Malaysian leader will be visiting Pakistan as soon as possible.

Similarly, India’s own cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu – a long time friend of PM Imran Khan from his cricketing years – welcomed the decision to release the IAF officer.

Sidhu, who was suspended from The Kapil Sharma Show over his remarks on Pulwama attack, took to Twitter to say: “Prime Minister Imran Khan every noble act makes a way for itself… your goodwill gesture is ‘a cup of joy’ for a billion people, a nation rejoices.”

“I am overjoyed for his (Abhinandan) parents and loved ones,” he added.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Former chief minister of Indian occupied Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, also lauded PM Imran, calling the release of the Indian Air Force pilot "a great gesture" and hoped the Indian government would reciprocate.

Latest reports in Indian media suggest the Joint Parade ceremony at the Attari-Wagah border in Lahore, Punjab has been "cancelled" for today (Friday), and the spectators are being told to return to their homes.

Abhinandan’s release: India cancels ... 03:37 PM | 1 Mar, 2019

AMRITSAR - India has cancelled the famous Joint Parade at Wagah-Attari border, stopping huge crowds to reach the venue ...