In major diplomatic win, Pakistan returns downed fighter pilot to India

Pakistan on Friday handed over pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India through Pakistan-India border in Wagah (Photo Courtesy – Pakistan Air Force)
Updated 02 March 2019

In major diplomatic win, Pakistan returns downed fighter pilot to India

  • Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman handed over to Indian authorities around 9pm on Friday evening
  • Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan had promised his return as a "gesture of goodwill"

ISLAMABAD: Captured Indian Wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman was handed back to India on Friday, two days after he was captured by the Pakistan army and his jet downed, the Pakistani foreign office said, in a gesture seen as the first step towards dialling down the worst standoff between the two countries in decades. 

“Wing Commander Abhinandan, Indian POW [prisoner of war], returned to India today, as committed by PM [Prime Minister Imran] khan in his address to joint sitting of parliament, yesterday,” foreign office spokesman Dr. Mohammad Faisal said in a Twitter post.

On Tuesday, Pakistan said Indian jets had violated the Line of Control (LoC) border which splits the disputed Kashmir valley into two parts, one administered by Pakistan, the other by India. India said it hit a militant training camp inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning but Pakistan said Indian jets were barely in its airspace for a few minutes before being chased away by Pakistani warplanes without any damage to lives or infrastructure.

The next day, Pakistan said it had carried out airstrikes on six targets across its border with India, shot down two Indian warplanes and arrested an enemy pilot, raising the possibility of further escalation.

But during a joint session of parliament on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan said the captured pilot would be handed back to India the next day as a “gesture of peace.”

Pakistani TV channels showed Varthaman walking across the border at Wagah around 9p.m. on Friday night, accompanied by Pakistani paramilitary rangers. He was straight-backed and somber-faced, and wearing a crisp white shirt, a navy blazer and grey pants. 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 gate slammed shut.

Varthaman has become the face of latest tensions between India and Pakistan. The arch-rivals have fought three wars since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947. Two of them were over the disputed Kashmir region on their border.

Pakistani transporters protest new regulation, fines

Updated 09 January 2020

Pakistani transporters protest new regulation, fines

  • Government officials say they are hopeful that the issue will soon be resolved
  • Pakistan spends about Rs50 billion for the upkeep of highways

KARACHI: A countrywide strike of transporters against a new regulation and imposition of heavy fines entered its third consecutive day on Wednesday, though government officials said they were hopeful of resolving the issue soon.

Pakistan’s communications ministry recently enforced a new axle load control regime to address the problem of overloading that can cause accidents or damage highways. However, goods transporters have been demanding the restoration of axle load law as per the National Highway Safety (NHS) Ordinance 2000.

Transporters say they have taken 400,000 vehicles off the road to protest the new regulation.

“Our drivers are fined up to Rs10,000 in the name of online verification of their licenses which are issued by government authorities. Besides, they are also fined for overloading vehicles despite the fact that the law dealing with the issue has not even been promulgated,” Imdad Hussain Naqvi of the All Pakistan Goods and Transporters Association told Arab News.

Due to the three-day strike, the transportation of imported and exported goods remains suspended at Karachi’s ports.

“The situation is very difficult as our ports are gradually chocking with inbound and outbound goods,” Tariq Haleem, Convener of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry’s Standing Committee on Maritime Affairs, told Arab News.

Estimates suggest that transporters move Rs40 billion worth of goods across the country on a daily basis.

“The daily transportation schedule includes Rs20 billion worth of imports and Rs10 billion in exports. The interprovincial movement also stands at Rs10 billion per day,” Naqvi claimed.

He said the per day loss to transporters was around Rs10,000 per vehicle for upcountry movement while they incurred Rs5,000 for intercity movement.

When contacted by Arab News, Mehmood Moulvi, an adviser to the maritime ministry, said that the government was looking into the problem and it “will hopefully be resolved by Wednesday evening.”

The stakeholders say the government must come up with an amicable settlement of the issue that meets international standards and the treaties signed with neighboring countries.

“Pakistan suffers by nearly Rs50 billion on account of maintenance of highways every year due to overloading. The implementation of the axle load regime will be an important step toward the implementation of regional connectivity,” Aasim Siddiqui, Chairman of the All Pakistan Shipping Association (APSA), told Arab News.

“The regime is changing and under the agreements of regional connectivity Pakistani trucks cannot cross the borders because they are unsafe. We have to upgrade our fleet under the national freight and transportation policy which also demands proper licensing. Otherwise, only the Chinese will benefit from the changing regime,” Siddiqui added.