Pakistan hands over captured air force pilot to India

Fulfilling the promise of Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan has handed over an Indian pilot who was shot down and captured in an aerial skirmish between the two countries this week.

Reuters reports that cheering crowds have gathered on the Indian side of the border near Attari-Wagah, awaiting the return of the captured pilot. Residents waving India’s national flag and holding a huge garland of flowers lined the road.

Earlier in the day, the father of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, himself a decorated Air Force pilot, as well as his mother, were given a standing ovation on a flight that brought the pair to the India-Pakistan border. Passengers made way for them, ensuring that the couple gets off first.

Varthaman’s jet was hit this Wednesday during a dogfight involving Indian MiG-21s and Pakistani F-16s. He ejected from the plane but landed in the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir where he was captured by locals.

Shortly after the downing, viral videos emerged on social media showing the pilot surrounded and beaten by an angry mob, with Pakistani soldiers trying to rescue him. In addition to that, Pakistan released – and then deleted – footage showing the pilot blindfolded and with blood on his face.

In a later video, the wing commander is seen sipping tea during a brief interrogation by Pakistani military. He lists his name and military rank, and says he is from “down south,” but refused to share any details of his mission or the aircraft he flew.

According to NDTV, eight Indian Air Force fighter jets intercepted 24 Pakistani warplanes during the engagement. The Indian Air Force has claimed that one of its MiG-21 Bison aircraft shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 during the encounter.