Parents of the pilot headed to the Wagah border, where Islamabad’s authorities said he would be brought to, to witness his release and welcome him back. The pilot, named by India as Wing Commander Abhinandan, crashed his jet in Pakistani territory on Wednesday after a dogfight with Pakistani JF-17. The pilot’s return was announced on Friday morning by Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
He said: “As a gesture of peace and to de-escalate matters, the Indian pilot who is under arrest with us will be released today in the afternoon at the Wagah border.”
However, tensions between India and Pakistan remain high.
Mr Qureshi has refused to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi, taking place this weekend, because his Indian counterpart has been invited.
The minister added the Saudi foreign minister is set to visit his country bearing a message from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who visited both Pakistan and India last month.
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The released pilot quickly became a hero in his county after he shouted pro-Indian slogan while on enemy soil and attempted to evade capture twice in two days.
On his first attempt, the pilot fired his pistol in the air to deter the Pakistani villagers chasing him, two eyewitnesses told Reuters.
Muhammad Razzaq Chaudhry, 58, one of the eyewitnesses, said: “During that half a kilometre run, he fired some more gunshots in the air as well, to frighten the guys but to no avail.
“Then he jumped into a small stream. Then, he realised that he could not escape, he took out some documents and maps from his uniform and tried to swallow some, tear apart and immerse the rest.”
The other witness, Abdul Majeed, 40, added some of the villagers “trashed him” because “he was giving us a hard time”. They later handed him over to the Pakistani army personnel.
The latest clash between India and Pakistan sparked after a suicide car bombing killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police officers in the contended territory of Kashmir on February 14.
India responded by launching an airstrike to attack a major training camp of Jaish-e Mohammad, the militant group who claimed responsibility for the attack.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government had announced the destruction of the camp, but members of the opposition have been requesting in the past days to provide evicende of the extent of the success of the mission.
Pakistan, who said the Indian jets missed their target, has accused the Government in New Delhi of trying to exploit these tensions to gain support in the upcoming Indian general election, to be held in May.
World powers have appealed to the two countries, both holding nuclear powers, to return to amicable terms, with the US actively mediating to make sure Islamabad and New Delhi would not slide towards their fourth war over Kashmir since gaining indepenence from the British empire in the late 1940s.
Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, spoke to top military officials from the US, the UK, China and Australia earlier today.
The talks focused on the current standoff with India and “its impact on peace & stability in the region”, Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter.