Pakistan handed over captured Indian pilot on Friday, giving him back to India at a border crossing in a promised gesture of peace.
Pakistani officials brought the pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, to the border crossing with India at Wagah and handed him back to India.
Indian officials greeted the pilot who was in a dark blue suit, accompanied by a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
His handover took several hours as a roster of procedures were completed including a medical checkup to verify his health and condition before being handed over to his countrymen.
Media trucks and crowds gathered at the Indian side of the city of Wagah, which borders Pakistan and India, waiting for the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan to return.
Earlier in the day, the 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, their weapons drawn.
On the Indian side of the border, turbaned Indian policemen were lined up along the road as a group of cheering Indian residents from the area waved India’s national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome him back.
The Pakistani military said his plane was downed on the Pakistani-held side of Kashmir on Wednesday.
It is seen as a “gesture of peace” promised by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan amid a dramatic escalation with the country's archrival over the disputed region of Kashmir.
An unexpected delay
The pilot was expected to be released on Friday afternoon, but as night fell, the wait dragged on and the crowd of people, previously numbering several thousand waving flags and singing patriotic songs, dwindled to a few hundred.
The handover came against the backdrop of blistering cross-border attacks across the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that continued for a fourth straight day, even as the two nuclear-armed neighbors sought to defuse their most serious confrontation in two decades.
The pilot was captured after Pakistan shot down two Indian Air Force planes in its airspace in Kashmir on Wednesday, a military spokesman said.
A day after his arrest and after the two nuclear powers both downed enemy jets, Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire briefly along the contested border in Kashmir on Thursday morning.
A military spokesperson confirmed that only one pilot was captured, after having said that two Indian pilots had been captured.
“There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody,” Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet above a photograph apparently showing the captured pilot, who was shot down earlier in the day after responding to a Pakistani air strike in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics. pic.twitter.com/8IQ5BPhLj2— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 27, 2019