Abhinandan: Crowds gather for Indian pilot’s release

An Indian fighter pilot in the custody of Pakistani forces at an undisclosed location, 27 February 2019Image copyright
Pakistan Information Ministry (ISPR)

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Pakistan says Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman is being treated well

Crowds of Indians are gathering near a border crossing with Pakistan ahead of the release of an Indian fighter pilot captured by Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said the pilot would be released as a “peace gesture” on Friday. India’s military welcomed the move.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s plane was shot down in the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday.

Both countries are under pressure to calm tensions.

On Friday Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the events of the past few days had “brought our nation closer”.

  • Why India and Pakistan dispute Kashmir
  • Who is captured Indian pilot Abhinandan?
  • Khan vs Modi: Who won the war of perception?

“The way the nation has supported our armed forces is extraordinary and I bow to every Indian for that,” he said.

On Thursday Mr Khan repeated his call for the de-escalation of the situation, saying that Pakistan and India “have to live in peace”. He has also pushed for talks with Delhi.

What happened to the pilot?

Wing Commander Abhinandan was shot down in a dogfight between Indian and Pakistani jets after Pakistani air strikes on Indian-controlled territory on Wednesday.

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Pakistan Information Ministry

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Pakistan’s information ministry tweeted a video showing the captured Indian pilot

Images then circulated of his capture, which were both condemned for what appeared to be a physical attack at the hands of residents in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, and praised for the actions of the Pakistani soldiers who intervened to protect him.

  • Villagers recount dramatic capture of pilot

Pakistan’s information ministry published – but subsequently deleted – a video showing the blindfolded pilot, who could be heard requesting water, just after he had been captured.

Media captionFootage appears to show wreckage from a downed Indian jet

Villagers in Horran threw stones at the pilot, who fired several warning shots in response, eyewitnesses later told the BBC.

He is being hailed as a hero in India.

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What led to his capture?

On Tuesday, India struck what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Kashmir on 14 February.

A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack – the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan – which denies any involvement in the 14 February attack – said it had no choice but to retaliate to the Indian raids with air strikes on Wednesday. That led to a dogfight and the Indian fighter jet being shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

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Enthusiastic supporters awaited the pilot’s return

Tens of thousands of troops remain positioned on either side of the border in the disputed region.

At the height of the tension Pakistan closed its airspace, disrupting major air routes, but is expected to reopen it on Friday.

What is the political fallout?

The sequence of events over the last few days have rapidly shifted from being seen as a boost for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, to a general feeling of disenchantment over the way things have turned out.

On Wednesday evening, when news of the captured pilot dominated headlines, India’s opposition parties issued a statement in which they attacked the ruling BJP for “blatant politicisation of the armed forces’ sacrifices”.

In a series of tweets, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back, saying the joint statement was “being used by Pakistan to bolster its case”.

Image Copyright @arunjaitley

Twitter post by @arunjaitley: My appeal to India’s opposition - “Let the country speak in one voice”. Please introspect - “Your ill advised statement is being used by Pakistan to bolster its case”.Image Copyright @arunjaitley

Image Copyright @rssurjewala

Twitter post by @rssurjewala: Mr. Jaitley,It’s BJP  its leadership who require real introspection.Entire opposition stood as one backing the armed forces  the Govt. Still, Amit Shah  entire BJP resorted to credit seeking for the sacrifice of our martyrs  indulged in blaming the Congress provocatively Image Copyright @rssurjewala