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Pakistan returns captured Indian pilot in ‘peace gesture’

Pakistan has released an Indian pilot whom it had captured after shooting down his fighter jet, in “a peace gesture” aimed at deescalating dangerously high tensions with India.

Pakistani TV footage showed Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman crossing into India at the Wagah crossing point just before 9 pm local time (1600 GMT) on Friday.

Indian officials confirmed the news, saying Varthaman would be taken to a hospital for medical checks.

He had been captured after Pakistan shot down his MiG-21 fighter jet, which Islamabad said violated Pakistani airspace.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had said on Thursday that his administration would return the captured pilot “as a peace gesture” to India.

The tensions between the two neighbors escalated following a car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir on February 14. India accused the main Pakistani intelligence agency of involvement and vowed retaliation. The tensions then reached a peak on Tuesday, when India said it had conducted “preemptive” airstrikes against what it described as a militant training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot.