Pakistan hands over captured pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to India

Pakistan has handed over a captured pilot to Indian authorities at the Wagah border, a move aimed at de-escalating tensions after days of hostilities between the South Asian neighbours.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed the Wagah-Attari border at around 9pm local time (1600 GMT) on Friday, hours later than expected and sporting a black eye.

His release came two days after he was captured following a rare aerial engagement between the nuclear-armed rivals over the disputed region of Kashmir.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced his decision to return Varthaman back to Indian officials as a “peace gesture” during a joint sitting of the parliament in capital, Islamabad. 

The pilot’s parents travelled to Amritsar, near Wagah, via New Delhi on Thursday night and received a standing ovation from co-passengers.

Hundreds of people gathered at Wagah to welcome Varthaman home.

Pakistan’s military said it shot down two Indian air force fighter jets that had entered its airspace in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and took the pilot in custody.

His capture came a day after an Indian aircraft launched air raids on Pakistani territory.

Tensions between the archrivals escalated after a suicide attack in India-administered Kashmir on February 14 that killed at least 42 Indian soldiers.

Earlier on Friday, Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from New Delhi, said the pilot’s release was unlikely to end the ongoing row between Islamabad and New Delhi.

“As far as India is concerned, the situation is still very tense. India-administered Kashmir is still under curfew … there has been an ongoing gun battle in Handwara [in India-administered Kashmir],” Rahman said.

“Regardless of what’s going on with the wing commander and him being transferred back to India, the situation in terms of any semblance of peace and tranquility is certainly far from it.”

Mona Alam, an Islamabad-based defence and security analyst, also told Al Jazeera the move was unlikely to be followed by “any sort of de-escalation” from India.

“As soon as the announcement was made by Prime Minister Imran Khan, we saw that [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi kept on repeating the same lines … which spoke about war and never spoke about peace,”

“De-escalation may come in action but it has note come in terms of any kinds of words or speeches, or statements from the official end,” she added.

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