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Pakistan hands over captured air force pilot to India

Pakistan hands over captured air force pilot to India
Fulfilling the promise of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan has handed over an Indian pilot who was shot down and captured in an aerial skirmish between the two countries this week.

The pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was transported to the border crossing in a military convoy which set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.

Cheering crowds have gathered on the Indian side of the border near Attari-Wagah to welcome the captured pilot. Residents waving India’s national flag and holding a huge garland of flowers lined the road.

The footage released by Pakistani media showed Varthaman walking across the border into India, near the town of Wagah, just before 9pm local time (1600 GMT).

While many Indians expressed jubilation on social media over the pilot’s return, some thanked Pakistan, arguing that the media shouldn’t overlook Islamabad’s “gesture of peace.”

“[Wing Commander] Abhinandan will return home to his loved ones today. In this moment let’s not forget the symbolic gesture that made it possible. And I hope for once certain media channels give praise where its due instead of indulging in petty debates,” Mehbooba Mufti, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party, wrote.

Earlier in the day, the father of the Wing Commander, himself a decorated Air Force pilot, as well as his mother, were given a standing ovation on a flight that brought the pair to the India-Pakistan border. Passengers made way for them, ensuring that the couple gets off first.

"As a peace gesture we will be releasing him tomorrow," Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday, adding that "all issues should be resolved through dialogue.”

Varthaman’s jet was hit this Wednesday during a dogfight involving Indian MiG-21s and Pakistani F-16s. He ejected from the plane but landed in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir where he was captured by locals.

Shortly after the downing, viral videos emerged on social media showing the pilot surrounded and beaten by an angry mob, with Pakistani soldiers trying to rescue him. In addition to that, Pakistan released – and then deleted – footage showing the pilot blindfolded and with blood on his face.

In a later video, the wing commander is seen sipping tea during a brief interrogation by Pakistani military. He lists his name and military rank, and says he is from “down south,” but refused to share any details of his mission or the aircraft he flew.

Also on rt.com Could Indian MiG-21 have downed Pakistani F-16? Military expert says it’s up to pilot, not plane

According to NDTV, eight Indian Air Force fighter jets intercepted 24 Pakistani warplanes during the engagement. The Indian Air Force has claimed that one of its MiG-21 Bison aircraft shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 during the encounter.

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