Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot as 'gesture of peace'

Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot as 'gesture of peace'

Pakistani officials brought a captured Indian pilot to a border crossing with India to be handed over, while the country's civil aviation authority partially re-opened its airspace on Friday.

A large crowd at the Wagah border had started converging from 6 am on Friday, waiting for a glimpse of the pilot, whose release was secured on Thursday when Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that he will be returned to India as a "peace gesture".

The Pakistani officials will hand over him to the Indian officials at the Attari-Wagah Border crossing. A group of cheering Indians waved their country's national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome him back.

A Pakistani soldier stands guard near the wreckage of an Indian plane shot down by the Pakistan military on Wednesday, in Hurran, near the Line of Control in Pakistani Kashmir, on Thursday.

The latest conflict arose on February 14 when a suicide bomber from Indian Kashmir attacked a paramilitary convoy on the Indian-controlled side of border, killing more than 40 troops. Pakistan retaliated, shooting down two Indian aircraft on Wednesday and capturing a pilot.

World leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war on the Asian subcontinent.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also local TV stations that they were ready to "return the captured Indian pilot if it leads to de-escalation". India and Pakistan both have methods of delivering strategic strikes by land and air, but the former was part of an even more exclusive club, being one of only four powers to have a nuclear submarine capable of launching nuclear-capable missiles up to 435 miles away. Saudi Arabia's ambassador to India met Prime Minister Narendra Modi early Thursday.

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Indian air force planes entered Pakistani airspace on Wednesday after Pakistan carried out six airstrikes in Indian-occupied Kashmir, said Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces.

The agency said all domestic and global flights would be allowed to and from Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta.

"Flight operations only to/from Karachi International, Peshawar International, Quetta International and Islamabad International airports with restricted entry/exit as follows will be available with effect from 01st March 2019 time 1300 UTC (1800 PST)", said the CAA. The co-passengers identified the Retd Air Marshal S Varthaman and his wife when the flight was about to land in Delhi.

"The Pakistan army looked after me really well, they are very professional", the pilot said while in uniform, adding that he saw potential for peace.

Simultaneously, the United States has urged both India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions.

"India will fight as one, India will win as one", Modi said.

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