Indian pilot handed back by Pakistan in ‘peace gesture’

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Pakistan on Friday handed over pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India through Pakistan-India border in Wagah (Photo Courtesy – Pakistan Air Force)
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Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, stands under armed escort near Pakistan-India border in Wagah, Pakistan. (Reuters)
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Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, stands under armed escort near Pakistan-India border in Wagah, Pakistan. (Reuters)
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Indian Air Force police cars come out of the India-Pakistan border restricted area, after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was freed to return to India. (AFP)
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Indian security forces pose with the national flag and pictures of Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman during an event to pray for his return, at Kalikambal temple, in Chennai. (AFP)
Updated 02 March 2019

Indian pilot handed back by Pakistan in ‘peace gesture’

  • Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released by Pakistan in a gesture of peace through the Wagah-Attari joint check-post
  • Wing Commander Abhinandan was brought by Pakistani authorities from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over to the Red Cross before being brought to the check-post

WAGAH/LAHORE: Pakistani authorities have handed back a captured Indian fighter pilot shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was released to Indian Army officers on Friday at the Wagah-Attari border crossing between the two countries.

A straight-backed, somber-faced Varthaman wearing a crisp white shirt and a navy blazer, was shown on Pakistani TV channels walking across the border at around 9 p.m. accompanied by Pakistani paramilitary rangers.

As he crossed over into India, an Indian officer shook his hand, and another walked him onto Indian soil as the iron gates of the border slammed shut behind him.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that the pilot’s release was a “peace gesture” to India. 

Varthaman was held by locals and then taken into custody by Pakistani armed forces on Wednesday when his MIG-21 warplane was shot down during an aerial duel between India and Pakistan air forces over Kashmir.

The joint border post at Wagah (Pakistan) and Attari (India) is famous for the military ceremony of the lowering of the national flags of the two countries, which takes place at sunset every day.

India postponed the ceremony on its side on Friday, but Pakistan Rangers went ahead as usual in front of large crowds who shouted slogans in support of the Pakistan Army.

The decision to free Varthaman in a bid to defuse tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations is being widely seen as a major diplomatic coup by Pakistan, and has put pressure on the Indian government of Narendra Modi to wind down its war rhetoric. 

Hina Rabbani Khar, former foreign minister of Pakistan, told Arab News: “The decision to release the Indian pilot reflected the Pakistani policy of de-escalation of war hysteria.” 

She said India was “crying war” but the world should note that Pakistan was trying to avoid it. 

Defense expert Maj. Gen. Ejaz Awan said: “Pakistan is a country that believes in peace and hates war. The return of the pilot is proof of our peace-loving attitude. The decision of the prime minister, Imran Khan, was really sensible and daring.” 

Peace activists hope the Pakistani gesture will open the door to talks between the two South Asian countries to find a way to resolve the stalemate over Kashmir. 

“It must have been a very difficult decision for the (Pakistani) government to reach, but the courage demonstrated in bringing sanity to such a tense situation must be appreciated,” said Mohammed Tahseen, convenor of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy. 

“As a peace activist, I hope that this gesture will help in opening avenues to negotiation and resolve the issues of the Kashmiri people in a peaceful manner,” he added.


Duterte: Hold me responsible for killings in Philippines’ drug crackdown

Updated 36 min 56 sec ago

Duterte: Hold me responsible for killings in Philippines’ drug crackdown

  • ‘If there’s killing there, I’m saying I’m the one ... you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war’

MANILA: The Philippine president has said he accepts responsibility for the thousands of killings committed during police operations in his crackdown on drugs, adding that he was even ready to go to jail.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s televised remarks Monday night were typical of his bluster — and tempered by the fact that he has pulled his country out of the International Criminal Court, where a prosecutor is considering complaints related to the leader’s bloody campaign.
The remarks were also a clear acknowledgement that Duterte could face a deluge of criminal charges. Nearly 6,000 killings of drug suspects have been reported by police since he took office in mid-2016, but rights watchdogs suspect the death toll is far larger.
“If there’s killing there, I’m saying I’m the one ... you can hold me responsible for anything, any death that has occurred in the execution of the drug war,” Duterte said.
“If you get killed, it’s because I’m enraged by drugs,” said the president known for his coarse and boastful rhetoric. “If I serve my country by going to jail, gladly.”
He said, however, that drug killings that did not happen during police operations should not be blamed on him, alleging that those may have been committed by gangs.
Duterte has made a crackdown on drugs a centerpiece of his presidency. At the height of the campaign — which has often targeted petty dealers and users along with a handful of the biggest druglords — images of suspects sprawled dead and bloodied in the streets were frequently broadcast in TV news reports and splashed on the front pages of newspapers. Tens of thousands of arrests in the initial years of the crackdown worsened congestion in what were already among the world’s most overcrowded jails.
UN human rights experts and Western governments led by the United States have raised alarm over the killings, enraging Duterte, who once told former US President Barack Obama to “go to hell.”
There have been widespread suspicions that police engage in extrajudicial killings in the crackdown, allegations that they and Duterte deny. In 2018, a court convicted three police officers of murdering a 17-year-old student after witnesses and a security video disproved their claim that the suspect was shot after violently resisting, a common reason cited by police officers after drug suspects are killed.
At least two complaints for crimes against humanity and mass murder in connection with Duterte’s campaign are being examined by an ICC prosecutor, who will determine whether there is enough evidence to open a full-scale investigation.
When the complaints were made, Duterte withdrew the Philippines from the world tribunal two years ago in a move that human rights groups said was a major setback in the country’s battle against impunity. The ICC prosecutor has said the examination into the drug killings would continue despite the Philippine withdrawal.
Duterte reiterated his defiance of the court’s probe Monday by asking, when did “drugs become humanity?”
Instead, he framed the drug menace as a national security threat, as he has in the past, comparing it to the communist insurgency that the government has tried to quell for more than a half-century.
“If this is allowed to go on and on and if no decisive action is taken against them, it will endanger the security of the state,” said Duterte, a former government prosecutor.
“When you save your country from the perdition of the people like the NPAs and drugs, you are doing a sacred duty,” he said, referring to communist New People’s Army insurgents.
Police have reported at least 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in raids and more than 256,000 others arrested since the start of the crackdown. Human rights groups have accused authorities of considerably under reporting the deaths.