Crowds gather for Indian pilot Abhinandan’s release

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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”. “The way the nation has supported our armed forces is extraordinary and I bow to every Indian for that,” he said. 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. 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.”As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Mr Khan told Pakistani lawmakers in the National Assembly on Thursday.He also repeated his call for the de-escalation of the situation, saying that Pakistan and India “have to live in peace”. On Wednesday he pushed for talks with Delhi to prevent the risk of a “miscalculation” between the nuclear-armed neighbors. The Indian Air Force pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, had been reported “missing in action” by Indian officials.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 create a barrier. 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.

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