Thursday, 18 April, 2019

Pakistan releases Indian pilot who was captured in disputed Kashmir region

Indian soldiers and Kashmiri onlookers stand near the remains of an Indian Air Force aircraft after it crashed in Budgam district some 30 kilometers from Srinagar Kashmir: Pakistan readies to hand over Indian pilot
Leonard Rios | 03 March, 2019, 00:04

His return is expected to avert a risky confrontation that had raised fears of a wider conflict between the two countries.

The pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was taken in a convoy that set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the border crossing at Wagah earlier in the day, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers, their weapons drawn.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed over to Indian officials on Friday at the only legal border crossing with Pakistan.

On Friday, Pakistan released a captured Indian pilot in what its prime minister called a "peace gesture".

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

The Wing Commander was captured when his MiG-21 among two Indian military aircraft was shot down by Pakistan Air Force after they ventured into the Pakistani airspace.

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

However, India has been maintaining that the Pakistani decision is in consonance with the Geneva Conventions.

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The announcement comes just one day after Indian jets conducted an air strike on Pakistan's north-west province. Soldiers and local residents near the helicopter's wreckage in Kashmir's Budgam district on Wednesday.

Shelling across the Line of Control (LoC) that acts as a de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region, a frequent feature in recent weeks, continued on Saturday.

Since overnight Friday, a total of at least six civilians have been killed on both sides of Kashmir.

Following the attack, India blamed Pakistan for harbouring and protecting terrorists, also accusing Islamabad of having a "direct hand" in the deadly incident. Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan after his jet went down following a strike by an enemy missile, is expected to be released today.

Tension escalated between the two countries after India carried "pre-emptive" strikes on Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps in Pakistan's Balakot during wee hours on Tuesday.

"One teenager has been killed and four wounded in Nakyal sector", Raja Moazzam, a senior official in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, told AFP Saturday. "Come, let us take that self-confidence forward - we have to move forward as a courageous (parakrami) country, and to fulfill our dreams, we have to take timely steps, one by one, the government is with you".

The rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their independence from British rule in 1947.

Tens of thousands of troops remain positioned on either side of the border in the disputed region.

In his interview to BBC Urdu, Qureshi said that Pakistan does not want regional peace to be ruined for the sake of (Indian) politics. 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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