Pakistan returns captured pilot to India by Wagha Border on foot

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Photo released by Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) on March 1, 2019 shows captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman (C) standing at Wagah border crossing during a handover ceremony in eastern Pakistan's Lahore. Pakistan handed over a captured Indian pilot to Indian authorities Friday afternoon as a goodwill gesture to de-escalate tensions between the two neighbors, local media reported. (Xinhua/ISPR)

ISLAMBAD/NEW DELHI, March 1 (Xinhua) — An Indian pilot released by Pakistan went back to India Friday night through Wagah border crossing near Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Earlier, Pakistani authorities handed over the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, to Indian authorities after completing the required procedure.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that “the captured Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been returned to India today,” adding that he was arrested when his MIG-21 military jet crashed in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir after being shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating Pakistani airspace on Feb. 27.

“While in captivity, he was treated with dignity and in line with international law,” the statement added.

India confirmed the return of the released pilot on Friday.

The Indian Air Force officer pilot entered into the Indian territory through the Wagah-Attari Border in the northern state of Punjab.

According to Indian defence sources, the Indian pilot’s fighter jet was shot down by Pakistani ground forces on Feb. 27 amid heightened tensions between the two countries over the past few days.

Following the release of the pilot, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told the media that Pakistan freed the Indian pilot without setting any condition to give a message that Pakistan is a peace-loving country and a good neighbor.

“We have done what we could. We hope that India will reciprocate our peace attempt. There are many people who love peace in India, we hope they’ll cooperate with us to give peace a chance,” said Qureshi.

Tensions between the two neighbors have been running high after the Feb. 14 suicide attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir, which killed over 40 Indian paramilitary troopers.

India blamed Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), a militant group which has been banned in Pakistan in 2002, for the deadly attack.