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.

Kim Jong Un supervises another North Korean military drill

Updated 7 min 21 sec ago

Kim Jong Un supervises another North Korean military drill

  • North Korea has publicized two military drill in three days
  • Kim Jong un has urged combat pilots to prepare against enemies ‘armed to the teeth’ while attending a flight demonstration
SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a parachuting drill of military sharpshooters and vowed to build an “invincible army,” displaying more defiance even as the United States and South Korea called off their own exercises to create space for nuclear diplomacy.
The report Monday by the Korean Central News Agency came hours after President Donald Trump in a tweet urged Kim to “act quickly, get the deal done” while hinting at another summit, writing, “See you soon!”
At an Asian defense ministers’ conference in Bangkok on Sunday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States has indefinitely postponed a joint military exercise with South Korea in an “act of goodwill” toward North Korea. Diplomats have been pushing to resume stalled nuclear talks ahead of Kim’s end-of-year deadline for the Trump administration to salvage the diplomacy.
North Korea has publicized two military drill in three days. A report Saturday said Kim urged combat pilots to prepare against enemies “armed to the teeth” while attending a flight demonstration.
KCNA published photos that showed Kim posing with North Korean air force sharpshooters and soldiers who used white parachutes to land on a training field.
Kim while supervising the drill said it’s “necessary to wage a drill without notice under the simulated conditions of real war” for improving his military’s war readiness and build it into an “invincible army,” KNCA said. Kim did not make any specific comment toward Washington or Seoul in the report.
North Korea has been ramping up missile tests and other military demonstrations in recent months in an apparent pressure tactic over the talks.
Negotiations have faltered since a February summit between Kim and Trump in Vietnam, which broke down after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim issued an end-of-year deadline for the Trump administration to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal while saying that the North would seek a “new path” if the United States persists with sanctions and pressure.
Working-level talks last month in Sweden broke down over what the North Koreans described as the Americans’ “old stance and attitude.”
North Korea last week said the United States has proposed a resumption of stalled nuclear negotiations in December. But North Korean negotiator Kim Myong Gil didn’t clearly say whether the North would accept the supposed U.S. offer and said the country has no interest in talks if they are aimed at buying time without discussing solutions.
He said the North isn’t willing to make a deal over “matters of secondary importance,” such as possible US offers to formally declare an end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted by a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, or establish a liaison office between the countries.