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5/15/2019 9:54:24 AM

Pilot shot down over Kashmir by Pakistan returns to India

 A pilot shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani aircraft returned to India on Friday (Mar 1) night, after being freed in what Islamabad called a "peace gesture" following the two countries' biggest standoff in years.

A screengrab of Pakistani TV footage showing Wing Commander Abhinandan preparing to walk across the border. (Photo: Reuters)

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose plane was downed on Wednesday over the Kashmir region, crossed into India at the Wagah crossing point just before 9pm local time.

Thousands of Indians, waving flags, singing and dancing with patriotic fervour, had gathered at the crossing point on Friday afternoon but the crowd dwindled after his release was delayed for hours.

India's junior foreign minister and former army chief, Vijay Kumar Singh, tweeted that the "welcome" release of the pilot was "the first of many steps that #Pakistan must take to reinforce their commitment to peace".


The pilot was shot down on Wednesday over the disputed region of Kashmir, which nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have fought over for decades.

The latest conflict started after a suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops on Feb 14, with the attack being claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Indian crowds began to dwindle after waiting hours for the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman AFP/Narinder NANU

India promised a robust response, and on Tuesday, launched a strike inside Pakistani territory. It claimed it was targeting a JeM camp where militants were preparing to stage more attacks against India.

Islamabad confirmed the incursion and vowed retaliation, flying jets across the Kashmir ceasefire line and hitting open spaces.

But there was an escalation when the Pakistani planes were chased by Indian fighters. In the ensuing fight, both sides claimed to have shot down each other's warplanes.

Pakistan said it downed two Indian jets, and detained one of their pilots, Commander Abhinandan. New Delhi confirmed the loss of one of its planes, and said a Pakistani jet was shot down, something Islamabad denied.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday they would return the Indian pilot as a "peace gesture" and warned against any "miscalculation"./.

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