A PILOT shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani aircraft returned to India today (1), after being freed in what Islamabad called a “peace gesture” following the biggest standoff between the two countries in years.
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, shot down on Wednesday (27) over Kashmir – divided between the neighbours since 1947 – crossed into India at the Wagah crossing point, sporting a black eye from his ordeal.
He was being taken for medical checks, an Indian defence official said.
“This check-up is mandated particularly because the officer has had to eject from an aeroplane,” Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor told reporters near the border crossing in India’s northern state of Punjab.
But fresh violence raged in Kashmir, with seven people killed in the Indian-administered region, suggesting that the crisis may not be over yet.
Thousands of Indians, waving flags, singing and dancing with patriotic fervour, had gathered at the crossing point this afternoon, but the crowd dwindled after his release was delayed inexplicably by hours.
In New Delhi the announcement of the experienced pilot’s release was seen as a diplomatic victory, but India warned that its military remained on “heightened” alert.
On Thursday and Friday (28-1) both countries continued to fire barrages across the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border dividing Kashmir, leaving at least one person dead.
Gun battles on the Indian side left two militants and four members of the Indian security services dead, while a civilian was killed in later protests, police said.
“Influence of terrorists and terrorism has been curtailed and it is going to be curtailed even more. This is a New India,” prime minister Narendra Modi, facing a tough election due by May, said today.
“This is an India that will return the damage done by terrorists with interest,” he said.
India’s junior foreign minister and former army chief, Vijay Kumar Singh, tweeted that the “welcome” release of the pilot was “the first of many steps that #Pakistan must take to reinforce their commitment to peace”.