Captured Indian pilot to get hero’s welcome as he’s handed over by Pakistan
An Indian air force pilot who was captured by Pakistan after his jet was shot down is set to be handed over at the border, with India planning a hero’s welcome.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured by Pakistan’s army as the nuclear powers exchanged tit-for-tat air strikes and shellfire amid escalating tensions in the disputed Kashmir regions.
The pilot was beaten by a mob after his plane went down, leaving him bloodied, and then blindfolded and paraded on video by Pakistan’s army.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, the former cricketer, announced on Thursday that the captured pilot would be returned to India as "gesture of peace" as he attempted to de-escalate the crisis.
He said Pakistan wants peace and stability in the region, but warned that it would be forced to retaliate if India acted aggressively.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed to lawmakers on Friday that the pilot will be handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing.
Mr Qureshi told parliament: "As a gesture of peace and to de-escalate matters, the Indian pilot who is under arrest with us will be released today in the afternoon at the Wagah border."
The border crossing, known for its daily ceremony involving Indian and Pakistani security forces, is near Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore.
Wing Commander Varthaman was captured on Wednesday after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down.
Indian media have called him a national hero and he’s expected to receive an enthusiastic welcome from senior air force officials and local residents as he returns to India.
Crowds of locals began gathering on India’s side of the border checkpoint at 6am local time, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pilot, and by 12pm hundreds of people were present.
They sang patriotic songs, waved the Indian flag and held up signs, and one group was holding a giant garland that they hoped to place around the pilot’s neck.
Wing Commander Varthaman is likely to be handed over first to the International Committee of Red Cross under rules of the Geneva Convention and then to air force officials before flying to Delhi, Indian media reported.
He will reunite with his family and be debriefed by defence and security officials once he returns to India.
Footage shows the pilot’s parents being cheered and applauded on a plane at Delhi airport on Thursday evening.
Fellow passengers gave way and allowed them to disembark first after they flew from Chennai to Delhi to wait for their son’s return.
Meanwhile, shellfire continued in the disputed border region as world leaders called for restraint amid fears that the crisis could escalate even further and lead to a new war between the old adversaries.
India – Pakistan Conflict
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