Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot in 'gesture of peace'

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He was in the custody of the Pakistan Army since Wednesday when his parachute drifted and fell inside Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Crowds of Indians gathered at the main border crossing between Pakistan and India Friday ready to welcome an Indian pilot captured by Pakistan earlier this week.

Across the region villagers huddled in makeshift bunkers while police ordered non-essential traffic off roads, an AFP reporter said.

Authorities imposed a security lockdown in several parts of the region on Friday, including in downtown areas of the main city of Srinagar, in anticipation of protests against Indian rule.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossed the Wagah-Attari border at around 9pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Friday, hours later than expected.

"Imran Khan played a sagacious role in de-escalating tension between Pakistan and India", the resolution said.

Abhinandan was captured by the Pakistan army after he bailed out from his Mig 21 fighter jet following an intense dogfight to repel a Pakistani F-16 attack earlier this Wednesday.

Tensions between India and Pakistan have been running high since Indian aircraft launched a strike in Pakistan on Tuesday in response to a February 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 troops. Tonight on Left Right and Centre we ask, is Abhinandan's return enough for de-escalation or is this just a temporary hiatus.

In what to be seen a tit-for-tat action, Pakistan army said its air force bombed Indian targets in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said the video tainted Pakistan's gesture to return the pilot so quickly.

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His polite refusal to proffer more details than necessary - "I am sorry major, I am not supposed to tell you this" - won the handlebar-moustached pilot particular sympathy in India.

"The world takes note of what India does".

"The nation is proud of your exemplary courage", Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.

India confirmed the loss of one of its MiG-21s and the capture of its pilot. The deal has been embroiled in corruption allegations levelled by the opposition Congress party.

Varthaman returned to India from Pakistan on Friday to a hero's welcome, almost 60 hours after he was captured following a dogfight when his MiG 21 was shot down.

Saudi Arabia has offered to help to end the new hostilities.

The All India Democratic Women Association (AIDWA) also appealed for calm.

Tensions had escalated following a suicide auto bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14.

"Whenever India fires mortars, it's we who suffer", said Mohammad Latif, a laborer who took refuge at a government building that was vacated for sheltering displaced families.

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