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.

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

Updated 14 November 2019

Anti-government protesters block roads in Pakistan as unrest mounts

  • Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined a sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks
  • Firebrand cleric leading the protests called for nationwide demonstrations

ISLAMABAD: Anti-government protesters in Pakistan blocked major roads and highways across the country on Thursday in a bid to force Prime Minister Imran Khan to resign.
The demonstrators — led by the leader of opposition party Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman — have taken to the streets as the start of their “Plan B” to topple the government and ensure a general election after failing to push Khan out through a fortnight-long sit-in in Islamabad, which ended on Wednesday.
That same day, Rehman told his party workers to spread their protests to other parts of the country.
“This protest will continue not for a day but for a month, if our leadership instructs,” said JUI-F Secretary-General, Maulana Nasir Mehmood, to a group of protesters who blocked the country’s main Karakoram Highway — an important trade route between Pakistan and China that also connects the country’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province with its northern areas.
The JUI-F protesters also blocked other key routes in KP and a major highway connecting the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan. The party’s Balochistan chapter also announced its intention to block the highway connecting Pakistan to neighboring Iran.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators joined the sit-in in Islamabad on Oct. 31 and camped there for about two weeks, demanding the prime minister’s resignation and fresh polls in the country following allegations of electoral fraud last year and the mismanagement of Pakistan’s economy. The government denies both charges.
Rehman is a veteran politician who was a member of the National Assembly for 20 years. He enjoys support in religious circles across the country. His party has yet to share a detailed plan regarding which roads will be closed when, or how long this new phase of protests will continue.
The JUI-F and other opposition parties have been trying to capitalize on the anger and frustration of the public against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ruling party, which came to power last year promising 10 million new jobs for the youth, 5 million low-cost houses, and economic reforms to benefit the middle class.
Since then, Pakistan’s economy has nosedived, witnessing double-digit inflation and rampant unemployment. The government signed a $6-billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund to stave off a balance-of-payments crisis.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan has stabilized the deteriorating economy, and Maulana Fazlur Rehman ‘Plan B’ will fail like his ‘Plan A,’” Firdous Ashiq Awan, special assistant to the prime minister on information and broadcasting, said in a statement to the press.