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Pakistan prepares to return Indian air force pilot as confrontation cools

03 March 2019

With a lot of speculations over what would happen to him, Pakistan president Imran Khan agreed to send him back to India as a goodwill gesture aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India.

"The captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today".

A baby born on Friday evening, when IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was about to be released by Pakistan, was named after him by a family in Rajasthan's Alwar district.

People turned out in large numbers early Friday morning at the Wagah-Attari border crossing, about 300 miles from New Delhi, where Pakistan handed the pilot over to India.

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.

Both sides accuse the other of breaching a ceasefire and no sign yet of any de-escalation of hostilities.

Tensions had escalated following a suicide vehicle bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.

Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir said one man was wounded and at least two civilian homes were damaged in the cross-border shelling.

Media reports said the return of Wing Cmdr Abhinandan Varthaman to India had been held up because the pilot was forced to make a video before his release.

"There was neither compulsion nor pressure to release the Indian pilot", the foreign minister said in the interview. "We are at the mercy of these soldiers", said Mohammed Akram, a resident in the Mendhar area in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

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"The way situation is developing along the LoC makes me feel that both sides may collide head-on anytime now", said Chaudhry Jahangir, a Pakistani resident of the Samahni sector in Kashmir.

The fight over Kashmir dates back to 1947 when Britain granted independence to the region.

In a separate interview to BBC News, the foreign minister, in response to a question pertaining to the Pulwama incident, said that there was "still confusion" over whether the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) group had claimed responsibility for the attack or not.

In what to be seen a tit-for-tat action, Pakistan army said its air force bombed Indian targets in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

The latest exchange of fire between the nuclear-armed rivals came a day after Pakistan released an Indian pilot to defuse tensions.

The Pakistani military exposed India's fictitious claims about the so-called air strikes.

"The Pakistani army is a very professional service", he said.

After attempting to evade capture, he has been portrayed as a hero in India.

"The Pakistani military is on full red alert, they are flying constant air patrols all over Pakistan and although the airspace has been open, the movement of aircraft between India and Pakistan, especially commercial aircraft is still under restrictions", said Hyder.

Pakistan prepares to return Indian air force pilot as confrontation cools