Captured Indian pilot is set to receive a hero’s welcome

An Indian pilot captured in Pakistan is set to receive a hero’s welcome when he is released today in a ‘peace gesture’ intended to defuse military tensions between the nuclear-armed nations. 

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who has become the face of the latest Kashmir crisis, will be handed back to Indian officials at the Wagah border crossing on Friday afternoon. 

The Indian Air Force pilot was taken in a convoy that set out from the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore to the border crossing, escorted by military vehicles with soldiers. 

The airman’s capture by Pakistani forces – after his plane was shot down on Wednesday – sparked a fresh crisis over the Himalayan province and prompted pleas from world leaders to step back from the brink of war. 

Yesterday Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan announced his release as a ‘peace gesture’, as Islamabad partially re-opened its airspace, but warned his country was ‘prepared for any eventuality and response’. 

Both sides fired barrages of shells across the frontier last night, leaving at least one person dead, while Indian forces in Kashmir killed two suspected militants during a night-time clash.

Hero's welcome: People wave an Indian flag and carry a huge garland as they gather at the border crossing on Friday morning and wait to welcome Abhinandan Varthaman home from Pakistan

Hero's welcome: People wave an Indian flag and carry a huge garland as they gather at the border crossing on Friday morning and wait to welcome Abhinandan Varthaman home from Pakistan

Hero’s welcome: People wave an Indian flag and carry a huge garland as they gather at the border crossing on Friday morning and wait to welcome Abhinandan Varthaman home from Pakistan

Bring him home: People shout patriotic slogans before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday at the height of the tensions over the disputed Kashmir province

Bring him home: People shout patriotic slogans before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday at the height of the tensions over the disputed Kashmir province

Bring him home: People shout patriotic slogans before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday at the height of the tensions over the disputed Kashmir province

Expectation: People and media gather at the Wagah border crossing - usually the site of a military ceremony every day - before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot on Friday

Expectation: People and media gather at the Wagah border crossing - usually the site of a military ceremony every day - before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot on Friday

Expectation: People and media gather at the Wagah border crossing – usually the site of a military ceremony every day – before the arrival of the Indian Air Force pilot on Friday

Standing guard: Indian police near the border with Pakistan at Wagah on Friday, where the pilot at the centre of this week's military and diplomatic crisis is being handed over in a bid to defuse tensions 

Standing guard: Indian police near the border with Pakistan at Wagah on Friday, where the pilot at the centre of this week's military and diplomatic crisis is being handed over in a bid to defuse tensions 

Standing guard: Indian police near the border with Pakistan at Wagah on Friday, where the pilot at the centre of this week’s military and diplomatic crisis is being handed over in a bid to defuse tensions 

Face of the crisis: Captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman pictured in Pakistani custody on Wednesday. Pakistan's PM Imran Khan announced yesterday that the airman would be released on Friday as a 'peace gesture' 

Face of the crisis: Captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman pictured in Pakistani custody on Wednesday. Pakistan's PM Imran Khan announced yesterday that the airman would be released on Friday as a 'peace gesture' 

Face of the crisis: Captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman pictured in Pakistani custody on Wednesday. Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan announced yesterday that the airman would be released on Friday as a ‘peace gesture’ 

By Friday lunchtime thousands of Indians had gathered at the border crossing, singing and waving flags as they prepared to welcome the pilot home. 

Speaking to Indian TV spectators said they would wait until they were sure the pilot had returned, even as the ceremony was pushed back. 

Abhinandan’s parents were given a standing ovation by fellow passengers as they boarded a flight to Amritsar near the Wagah border crossing to welcome their son. The pilot’s father and grandfather were both IAF pilots, Indian media reported. 

A group of schoolchildren brandished a painting of the pilot, along with placards reading: ‘Hope for peace between India & Pakistan’ and ‘Thank you Imran Khan’. 

The pilot from Chennai, who has 16 years of experience, endeared himself to Indians with his calm and polite manner in a Pakistani video after he was shot down.  

The highly symbolic Wagah crossing point, where the handover is due to take place, is famed for hosting colourful rival ceremonies by Indian and Pakistani soldiers each day at sundown – although it has been cancelled today. 

Patriotic spectators fill stadium-style stands on each side to cheer as goosestepping troops bring down their national flags in elaborate, competing performances. 

Turnout: Indians hold national flags and shout slogans as they wait to welcome their pilot back at the border crossing 

Turnout: Indians hold national flags and shout slogans as they wait to welcome their pilot back at the border crossing 

Turnout: Indians hold national flags and shout slogans as they wait to welcome their pilot back at the border crossing 

Anticipation: Indian men shout slogans and wave the national flag near the India-Pakistan border as they wait for the Wing Commander's return 

Anticipation: Indian men shout slogans and wave the national flag near the India-Pakistan border as they wait for the Wing Commander's return 

Anticipation: Indian men shout slogans and wave the national flag near the India-Pakistan border as they wait for the Wing Commander’s return 

Tension: Despite the 'peace gesture' there were Pakistani religious students rallying against India in Islamabad today

Tension: Despite the 'peace gesture' there were Pakistani religious students rallying against India in Islamabad today

Tension: Despite the ‘peace gesture’ there were Pakistani religious students rallying against India in Islamabad today

Media scrum: Photographers gather on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border ahead of the pilot's expected handover today

Media scrum: Photographers gather on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border ahead of the pilot's expected handover today

Media scrum: Photographers gather on the Pakistani side of the Wagah border ahead of the pilot’s expected handover today

Hero: Indian people hold placards and photographs of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, as they celebrate the announcement of his impending release at a demonstration in Amritsar on Thursday 

Hero: Indian people hold placards and photographs of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, as they celebrate the announcement of his impending release at a demonstration in Amritsar on Thursday 

Hero: Indian people hold placards and photographs of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, as they celebrate the announcement of his impending release at a demonstration in Amritsar on Thursday 

Line-up: Indian policemen stand guard as they prepare to receive the Indian pilot the Wagah border crossing on Friday 

Line-up: Indian policemen stand guard as they prepare to receive the Indian pilot the Wagah border crossing on Friday 

Line-up: Indian policemen stand guard as they prepare to receive the Indian pilot the Wagah border crossing on Friday 

Border post: A Pakistani security official checks a bus carrying passengers to India amid excitement over the pilot's return

Border post: A Pakistani security official checks a bus carrying passengers to India amid excitement over the pilot's return

Border post: A Pakistani security official checks a bus carrying passengers to India amid excitement over the pilot’s return

Prepared: Indian policemen and media wait for the return of the Indian pilot at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah today

Prepared: Indian policemen and media wait for the return of the Indian pilot at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah today

Prepared: Indian policemen and media wait for the return of the Indian pilot at the India-Pakistan border at Wagah today

A map showing the military clout of Pakistan (left) and India (right) and the volatile disputed region of Kashmir to the north and Jammu and Kashmir to the south

A map showing the military clout of Pakistan (left) and India (right) and the volatile disputed region of Kashmir to the north and Jammu and Kashmir to the south

A map showing the military clout of Pakistan (left) and India (right) and the volatile disputed region of Kashmir to the north and Jammu and Kashmir to the south

Damage: Villagers in Kalal in India's Jammu region examine what they claim is wreckage from a Pakistani mortar shell today 

Damage: Villagers in Kalal in India's Jammu region examine what they claim is wreckage from a Pakistani mortar shell today 

Damage: Villagers in Kalal in India’s Jammu region examine what they claim is wreckage from a Pakistani mortar shell today 

A ceasefire line divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, but both claim the Himalayan region in its entirety.  

Pakistan is also set to partially re-open airspace on Friday – allowing flights to and from Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta – after thousands of passengers were left stranded when air travel was shut down. 

Thai Airways cancelled nearly 30 flights, affecting 5,000 passengers. The decision affected services to London, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen and Oslo. 

Other airports, including the one located in the eastern city of Lahore that borders India, will remain closed until March 4. 

However Indian forces remain on a ‘heightened’ state of alert despite Pakistan’s promise to free the pilot, military chiefs said on Thursday. 

Both governments had faced domestic pressure not to cave in, as anti-India protesters in Pakistan waved their country’s flag and told their military: ‘Move forward, the nation is with you’. 

Some Indian politicians also called for more aggression including ‘secret missions’ to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan.  

Party atmosphere: Indian people celebrate with drums and flags as they anticipate the arrival of Abhinandan Varthaman

Party atmosphere: Indian people celebrate with drums and flags as they anticipate the arrival of Abhinandan Varthaman

Party atmosphere: Indian people celebrate with drums and flags as they anticipate the arrival of Abhinandan Varthaman

Support: People wear face paint with the colours of the Indian flag and one man holds a sign calling the pilot an 'Indian hero'

Support: People wear face paint with the colours of the Indian flag and one man holds a sign calling the pilot an 'Indian hero'

Support: People wear face paint with the colours of the Indian flag and one man holds a sign calling the pilot an ‘Indian hero’

Opposition: Pakistani religious students and other protesters rally against India in Islamabad on Friday 

Opposition: Pakistani religious students and other protesters rally against India in Islamabad on Friday 

Opposition: Pakistani religious students and other protesters rally against India in Islamabad on Friday 

Keeping watch: Paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a check post, before the release of Indian pilot

Keeping watch: Paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a check post, before the release of Indian pilot

Keeping watch: Paramilitary soldiers stand guard at a check post, before the release of Indian pilot

Captured: Photos shared on social media purport to show the moment when one of the Indian Air Force pilots is arrested in Pakistani Kashmir

Rally: Pakistanis wave their national flag in a protest against India in Quetta on Thursday amid rising tensions between them. Pakistan's PM Imran Khan has appealed for caution given the 'nature of the weapons that we have' 

Rally: Pakistanis wave their national flag in a protest against India in Quetta on Thursday amid rising tensions between them. Pakistan's PM Imran Khan has appealed for caution given the 'nature of the weapons that we have' 

Rally: Pakistanis wave their national flag in a protest against India in Quetta on Thursday amid rising tensions between them. Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan has appealed for caution given the ‘nature of the weapons that we have’ 

Evidence: Indian Air Force officials display wreckage of AMRAAM air-to-air missile that they say was fired by Pakistan Air Force fighter jet during a strike over Kashmir

Evidence: Indian Air Force officials display wreckage of AMRAAM air-to-air missile that they say was fired by Pakistan Air Force fighter jet during a strike over Kashmir

Evidence: Indian Air Force officials display wreckage of AMRAAM air-to-air missile that they say was fired by Pakistan Air Force fighter jet during a strike over Kashmir

Q&A: India, Pakistan and Kashmir

WHY IS THIS TENSION SO DANGEROUS?

Both India and Pakistan are believed to possess more than 100 nuclear warheads each and have conducted atomic weapon tests. Both countries have test-fired nuclear-capable missiles. Pakistan also has refused to renounce a first-strike option with its atomic bombs should it feel outgunned in a conventional war. It takes less than four minutes for a missile fired from Pakistan to reach India. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists warns that ‘computer models have predicted that the physical impacts of a nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, or even a single strike on a large city, would be devastating . and would reverberate throughout the world.’

HOW DID THE DISPUTE OVER KASHMIR BEGIN?

When Britain granted independence to the region in 1947, it divided the Indian subcontinent into a predominantly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan. Some areas could decide their own fate. In Kashmir, the only Muslim majority area ruled by a Hindu monarch, its ruler decided against giving the population a choice. That started the first India-Pakistan war in 1947. The conflict ended in 1949 when a UN resolution established the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the two nations and calling for a direct vote on which country should control it. That vote has never been held. Indian and Pakistan fought a second war over Kashmir in 1965.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE?

India and Pakistan fought a third war in 1971 over what was East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh. In 1999 and 2000, after Pakistan’s military sent a ground force into Indian-controlled Kashmir at Kargil, the two countries faced off and a worried world urged both to pull back from the brink of war, fearing it could escalate into a nuclear conflict. Even in times of relative peace the two nations readily engage in brinkmanship and aggressive rhetoric.

Despite the peace offering Khan warned New Delhi that Pakistan was ‘prepared for any eventuality and response’, saying: ‘I beseech India not to force us down the path of war.’ 

‘Our efforts to de-escalate should not be considered our weakness. We are indulging our efforts to maintain peace in the region,’ he said. 

‘Pakistan acted with caution and restraint and replied to Indian aggression only to show that we are capable of safeguarding our sovereignty.’ 

Today China said it welcomed Pakistan’s decision to “express kindness” and hand over the captured Indian pilot after four straight days of cross-border attacks. 

A close Pakistani ally, China has blocked India’s attempts to have the U.N. list as a terrorist the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a Pakistan-based group that claimed responsibility for the February Kashmir bombing.  

The latest crisis, which erupted after an Indian airstrike on Tuesday in retaliation for a bombing in Kashmir, reached its highest point in almost 50 years this week as both countries claimed to have shot down war planes. 

India responded to the bombing with an airstrike inside Pakistan on Tuesday, the first such raid since the two nations’ 1971 war over territory that later became Bangladesh.  

Abhinandan was shot down over Kashmir on Wednesday, after a dogfight in the skies over the disputed Himalayan region, and footage of the pilot being beaten by locals went viral in both countries.   

A video released by the Pakistani military later showed Abhinandan sipping tea, his face swollen and sporting bruises but otherwise collected and calm.

His polite refusal to proffer more details than necessary – ‘I am sorry major, I am not supposed to tell you this’ – won him particular sympathy in India.

His father, a retired air force officer, told the Times of India newspaper, ‘Just look at the way he talked so bravely… a true soldier… we are proud of him.’ 

While India has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting extremist groups, Pakistan has equally vehemently denied any role in attacks in India. 

Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after their creation in 1947. The countries have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.    

In another sign of de-escalation yesterday Pakistan’s foreign ministry said India had handed over its file on the deadly Kashmir bombing earlier this month which sparked the latest tensions. 

Pakistan has said it will act against those linked to the February 14 Kashmir bombing if actionable intelligence is shared with it, but has denied involvement in the attack.  

While India has consistently accused its neighbour of supporting extremist groups, Pakistan has equally vehemently denied any role in attacks in India. 

Kashmir has been claimed by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after their creation in 1947. The countries have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region. 

The surging tensions had prompted Pakistan to close down its airspace, disrupting major routes between Europe and South Asia and grounding thousands of travellers worldwide.

On Friday morning the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced a decision would be taken on re-opening airspace ‘shortly’. Earlier it had said flights would remain grounded until at least 1.00 pm Friday local time (0800 GMT). 

Firepower: This diagram shows the huge military capabilities of the two nuclear-armed nations 

Firepower: This diagram shows the huge military capabilities of the two nuclear-armed nations 

Firepower: This diagram shows the huge military capabilities of the two nuclear-armed nations 

Supplies: A train loaded with Indian army trucks and artillery guns is parked at a railway station on the outskirts of Jammu on Thursday amid fears the tension between the two nuclear-armed powers could lead to war 

Supplies: A train loaded with Indian army trucks and artillery guns is parked at a railway station on the outskirts of Jammu on Thursday amid fears the tension between the two nuclear-armed powers could lead to war 

Supplies: A train loaded with Indian army trucks and artillery guns is parked at a railway station on the outskirts of Jammu on Thursday amid fears the tension between the two nuclear-armed powers could lead to war 

Debris: A house in India's Jammu region is damaged by what villagers say was a mortar shell attack from across the border

Debris: A house in India's Jammu region is damaged by what villagers say was a mortar shell attack from across the border

Debris: A house in India’s Jammu region is damaged by what villagers say was a mortar shell attack from across the border

Refugees: Kashmiri women who fled Chakothi - a town near the Line of Control in Kashmir - arrive to take refuge at a school around 25 miles from Mufzafarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir 

Refugees: Kashmiri women who fled Chakothi - a town near the Line of Control in Kashmir - arrive to take refuge at a school around 25 miles from Mufzafarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir 

Refugees: Kashmiri women who fled Chakothi – a town near the Line of Control in Kashmir – arrive to take refuge at a school around 25 miles from Mufzafarabad, the capital of Pakistani Kashmir 

Security: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol along the fence near the border with Pakistan on Thursday

Security: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol along the fence near the border with Pakistan on Thursday

Security: Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers patrol along the fence near the border with Pakistan on Thursday

Debris: In India on Thursday night a defence officer holds up part of an air-to-air AMRAAM missile which was allegedly fired by Pakistani Air Force aircraft. India accuses them of violating Indian airspace

Debris: In India on Thursday night a defence officer holds up part of an air-to-air AMRAAM missile which was allegedly fired by Pakistani Air Force aircraft. India accuses them of violating Indian airspace

Debris: In India on Thursday night a defence officer holds up part of an air-to-air AMRAAM missile which was allegedly fired by Pakistani Air Force aircraft. India accuses them of violating Indian airspace

Slogans: Pakistani activists of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat party shout during an anti-Indian protest rally in Islamabad today

Slogans: Pakistani activists of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat party shout during an anti-Indian protest rally in Islamabad today

Slogans: Pakistani activists of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat party shout during an anti-Indian protest rally in Islamabad today

Protests: Kashmiris hold Pakistani flag as they shout anti-India slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir

Protests: Kashmiris hold Pakistani flag as they shout anti-India slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir

Protests: Kashmiris hold Pakistani flag as they shout anti-India slogans during a protest in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir

Ready for war: Pakistani protesters hold a banner reading: 'Pakistan army move forward, the nation is with you,' in a rally against India in Quetta as world leaders urged the two nations to step back from the brink of war 

Ready for war: Pakistani protesters hold a banner reading: 'Pakistan army move forward, the nation is with you,' in a rally against India in Quetta as world leaders urged the two nations to step back from the brink of war 

Ready for war: Pakistani protesters hold a banner reading: ‘Pakistan army move forward, the nation is with you,’ in a rally against India in Quetta as world leaders urged the two nations to step back from the brink of war 

photo link

(Visited 22 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply