India-Pakistan conflict enters new phase with Pakistan handing over Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on Friday. Follow the latest updates here.
March 2, 2019
Indian pilot not released under any pressure: Pakistan
Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman was not freed by Pakistan due to any pressure or compulsion, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Saturday.
The Wing Commander was captured by Pakistan on February 27 after his MiG-21 crashed inside Pakistani territory. He was released on Friday night.
In an interview with BBC Urdu, Qureshi said: “There was no pressure on Pakistan to release him nor any compulsion. We wanted to convey to them (India) that we do not want to increase your sorrow, we do not want your citizens to be miserable, we want peace.
“Pakistan does not want the peace of the region to be risked over politics.”
The Minister reiterated that if evidence was shared against the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), then action will be taken.
The Pakistan-based terror group had claimed responsibility for the February 14 suicide bombing in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama that killed 40 CRPF troopers, raising tensions between India and Pakistan.
“Pakistan will not allow anti-state elements to risk the peace of the country or the region. We plan on taking action against extremist groups,” Qureshi said.
The Minister had admitted on Thursday that JeM chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan and was “very unwell”.
Speaking on Saturday, Qureshi said: “The government will not allow any militia or militant organisation to use weapons or to spread terrorism through their use. If any group does this, then the government plans to take action against them.
“Pakistan does not want to go in the past… But if it goes in the past, then we will have to see how the attack on (Indian) Parliament, Pathankot airbase and Uri took place and that is a long story.”
Meanwhile, The Indian news agency ANI reports another incident of cross-border fire.
‘Abhinandan’ has assumed new meaning: Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday hailed Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman and said the word “abhinandan” has assumed a new meaning as the IAF Wing Commander showed remarkable poise and calm during his captivity in Pakistan.
“The strength of our country is that it changes the meaning of words in dictionary. Abhinandan in English until now meant ‘congratulations’, but it will be different from now on,” Modi said at an event here, speaking partly in English and partly in Hindi.
His remarks came during a two-day seminar, a day after the Wing Commander was released by Islamabad after over 60 hours in captivity.
IED blast in Jammu and Kashmir village
An improvised explosive device (IED) went off in a Jammu and Kashmir village in Awantipora on Saturday, barely 4 km from the February 14 Pulwama attack spot where 40 CRPF troopers lost their lives.
No life was lost in the 3 a.m. explosion though that rocked the Amlar village. But window panes of houses were shattered and a large crater was created at the blast site, the police said.
Displaced Kashmiris call for peace
Hundreds of people who were forced to flee border villagers this week amid a dramatic escalation of hostilities between Pakistan and India have urged the international community to play its role in resolving the issue of Kashmir so that they can live peacefully.
Parveez Kazmi, a woman whose married daughter lives in Indian Kashmir, was weeping on a road in Muzafarabad city. She cannot travel to Kashmir because of recent suspension of a key bus service by New Delhi.
She says people living on both sides of Kashmir often miss funerals and weddings of their dear ones because of tension between Pakistan and India.
On Saturday, people in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir continued fleeing border villages for safety amid a resumption of deadly shelling.
Cross-border firings claim lives
A Pakistani government official says Indian troops with heavy weapons have “indiscriminately targeted border villagers” along the two countries’ Line of Control in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, killing a boy and wounding three others.
The official, Umar Azam, said Saturday that Pakistani troops are “befittingly” responding to the Indian fire.
He says several homes were destroyed in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir, which is split between them and claimed by both in its entirety. India said earlier that Pakistani fire killed two siblings and their mother on its side.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since their independence from British rule in 1947.
Saturday’s exchange of fire came a day after Pakistan handed over a captured Indian air force pilot to India as a “gesture of peace” to defuse tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours over the disputed Kashmir region.
Three killed in Pakistan shelling on Line of Control
Three civilians were killed in shelling by the Pakistani army on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, officials said on Saturday.
Police said a woman and her two children were killed in Salotri village of Jhalas area in Krishna Ghati sector of the LoC when a shell fired by Pakistan army exploded inside a house on Friday night.
“Besides, four others including two civilians and two army soldiers have been injured in Pakistani shelling and firing,” a police officer said.
Indian and Pakistani soldiers have been trading heavy fire on the LoC in Poonch and Rajouri districts for the last eight days.
Local residents have described the hostilities on the LoC as ‘war-like situation’.
Authorities have closed all educational institutions within 5 km from the LoC in these two districts and asked people to remain indoors.
March 1, 2019
Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot
Pakistan handed over a captured Indian pilot back to his country on Friday as the nuclear-armed neighbours scaled back a confrontation that has prompted world powers to urge restraint.
Television footage showed Wing Commander Abhinandan walking across the border near the town of Wagah just before 9 pm local time.
Dressed in a blue coat, grey trousers and white shirt, he was received by senior Border Security Force officers at Zero Line that marks the India-Pakistan land border. Indian officials confirmed he had been returned and said he would be taken for medical checks.
Waving Indian flags
Before the pilot was released, Pakistani television stations broadcast video of him, looking cleaned up and thanking the Pakistani army for treating him well.
“The Pakistani army is a very professional service,” he said.
Throughout the day, crowds on the Indian side thronged the road to the crossing, shouting nationalist slogans and waving Indian flags.
“Pakistan is releasing our pilot, I thank them for that,” said Kulwant Singh, who has run a food stall at the crossing for 20 years.
“War can never be good. War is bad for business, war is bad for our soldiers.” There was some firing along the contested border dividing Kashmir on Friday, according to a spokesman for India’s defence ministry, but the hostilities were well short of previous days.
Pakistan reopened some airports on Friday, after easing airspace restrictions that had disrupted flights between Asia and Europe for several days during the conflict.
Relations between the two countries, however, remain strained.
Why this delay?
Paperwork almost complete; two top IAF officers to receive Wing Commander Abhinandan, according to India TV reports. According to the reports, documentation process has delayed the return of IAF pilot.
Pilot handed over
Indian IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been (Friday evening) handed over to Indian High Commission officials at Pakistan’s Wagah border, Indian officials said, according to Indian agency IANS.
Suspension of flights lifted
UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, GCAA, has decided to lift a suspension of flights to Pakistan and allowed airlines registered in the UAE to resume flights to Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar.
The GCAA said the decision followed the return of calm in Pakistani airspace. ”The situation regarding other Pakistani airports will be reviewed later,” the GCAA added.
Abhinandan reaches Wagah
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman reached the Pakistani side of the border. Informed sources said that Abhinandan was accompanied by Indian High Commission officials from Islamabad. He will enter India after completing formalities at Wagah.
Pilot Abhinandan on way to Wagah border
Pakistani officials bring Indian pilot Abhinandan Vardhaman to border crossing with India for handover. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman reached the Pakistani side of the border. Informed sources said that Abhinandan was accompanied by Indian High Commission officials from Islamabad. He will enter India after completing formalities at Wagah.
Pakistan to partially re-open airspace
Pakistan was set to re-open its airspace with restrictions Friday, the civil aviation authority said, after thousands of passengers were left stranded worldwide when Islamabad shut down air travel as tensions with neighbouring India soared, according to AFP.
“We will open our airspace at six (pm, 1300 GMT) today” for inbound and outbound flights at Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta airports, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spokesman Aamir Mehboob told AFP.
Other airports would be opened “gradually”, he said. The CAA tweeted that passengers should check with their airlines for more details.
The decision to close airspace on Wednesday came after a rare aerial dogfight between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan in the skies over the disputed territory of Kashmir ignited fears of an all-out conflict, with world powers rushing to urge restraint.
Beating the Retreat cancelled
The BSF on Friday has cancelled the daily Beating the Retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah border in view of the handing over of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
Masood Azhar is in Pakistan, Qureshi admits
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi has admitted that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar is in Pakistan and is “very unwell”, adding that Islamabad is open to “any step” that will lead to a de-escalation of tensions with India.
Qureshi’s remarks during an exclusive CNN interview on Thursday came after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the captured Indian Air Force pilot, will be released on Friday as a “peace gesture”.
“Prime Minister Khan made the statement (about Varthaman’s release) while addressing a joint session of Parliament (on Thursday) and this is a goodwill gesture. This is an expression of Pakistan’s willingness to de-escalate,” the Minister told CNN.
“According to my information, he is very unwell. He is unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house.”
Abhinandan to be handed over this afternoon
Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman to be released this afternoon at Wagah, says Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi.
Pakistan boycotts OIC meeting
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmoud Qureshi boycotts OIC meeting being held in Abu Dhabi in protest against India’s participation at the meeting as a Guest of Honour.
“I will not attend Council of Foreign Ministers as a matter of principle for having extended invitation as a Guest of Honour to Sushma Swaraj,” said Shah Mahmoud Qureshi.
However, Pakistan will be sending its envoys to look into their resolutions tabled at OIC. Shah Mahmoud Qureshi also told the parliament that he has asked them to oppose any resolution that favours India.
“I have decided not to attend OIC Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in Abu Dhabi,” he said, adding that a lower-level delegation from Pakistan will attend the OIC session and the delegation will “staunchly” oppose any move to grant observer status to India at the body.
Reiterating his protest against the OIC’s decision to invite Sushma Swaraj to attend the meeting, Qureshi said he will skip the session due to the inter-governmental organisation’s failure to rescind the invitation to his Indian counterpart.
Mentioning that “the United Arab Emirates has always helped Pakistan in difficult times”, Qureshi said that despite Pakistan’s protest, the OIC’s invitation to Sushma Swaraj was not rescinded.
“There was no consultation over OIC invitation to Indian Foreign Minister. India is neither a member nor an observer of the OIC,” he said, adding that he sent two letters to the UAE calling upon the body to withdraw its invitation to the Sushma Swaraj.
Qureshi informed the Parliament that he requested the OIC to either rescind the invitation or postpone the session in view of the prevailing situation, neither of which was done.
Indians arrive at Attari-Wagah border
Scores of people assembled at the Attari Joint Check Post (JCP) here on Friday to receive Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman who is likely to be released by Pakistani authorities later in the day, reports IANS.
People started arriving in Attari, around 30 km from Sikh holy city of Amritsar, since 6 a.m. Their numbers swelled by 9 a.m.
“We have come here to welcome our country’s hero back home. We will give him a grand welcome. He showed a lot of bravery in the air combat and even after being captured by the Pakistanis,” Jitender, a resident of Amritsar, who arrived here with his friends, said.
Abhinandan’s parents, Air Marshal S. Varthaman (Retired) and mother Shobha Varthaman, who is a doctor, were cheered by passengers when they boarded a flight from Chennai to New Delhi on Thursday evening. They are expected to be in Attari to welcome their son back home.
The 35-year-old Wing Commander was captured on Wednesday by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sources said that the pilot is likely to be brought by Pakistani authorities from Rawalpindi to Lahore and handed over first to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) under rules of the Geneva Convention before being brought to the JCP on Friday afternoon.
The Border Security Force (BSF), which mans the JCP and the 553-km long International Border with Pakistan in Punjab at high alert, Punjab Police and other security agencies stationed additional personnel since early Friday morning.
Varthaman will be debriefed by defence and security officials after his return before he is taken to New Delhi from the Amritsar airport.
“Many celebrities and other important people come to Attari border on different occasions. But today, a real hero is coming back. We will give him a a big and warm welcome with dhol and bhangra,” Manjit Singh, who was carrying a dhol, said.
Indian pilot to be released from Pakistan custody
Pakistani authorities had not yet announced early Friday when or where Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who has become the face of the crisis between Islamabad and New Delhi, will be handed back to Indian officials.
In New Delhi the announcement was seen as a diplomatic victory, with Indian leaders welcoming the pilot’s return but announcing they would remain on “heightened” military alert, showing little sign of de-escalating the rivalry.
Abhinandan was shot down over Kashmir on Wednesday, after a dogfight in the skies over the disputed Himalayan region which sent tensions between India and Pakistan to their highest levels in years and alarmed world powers, who issued calls for restraint.
Analysts said the pilot could prove to be Islamabad’s trump card, but Prime Minister Imran Khan unexpectedly announced Thursday that he would be released a day later as a “peace gesture”, in the first sign of a potential thaw.
Khan alluded to the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war and called for talks, even as he warned India should not take the announcement as a sign of weakness.
Parents arrive in Amritsar
Media reports have said Abhinandan could return through the Wagah crossing gate, famed for hosting a daily ceremony by Indian and Pakistani soldiers at sundown.
The pilot’s parents travelled to Amritsar, near Wagah, via Delhi late last night and were applauded by all the passengers on the plane they travelled on, TV footage showed.
UN chief welcomes Pakistan’s offer to release Indian pilot
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday welcomed Pakistan’s offer to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured when his MiG-21 went down in Pakistan-occupied territory.
His Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “The report of the release of the Indian pilot by the Pakistani authorities would be very much a welcome step. We would encourage both parties to do whatever they can to de-escalate the situation.”
Guterres has been in contact “with both sides at various levels”, Dujarric said, while declining to identify the contacts.
Dujarric added that de-escalating tensions “is the message that has been passed on by the United Nations and, I think, by the international community as a whole”.