Pakistan releases Indian pilot

WAGAH, India/MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan: Pakistan handed a captured Indian pilot back to his country on Friday as the nuclear-armed neighbours scaled back their confrontation.
Television footage showed Wing Commander Abhinandan walking across the border near the town of Wagah just before 9.00 pm (1600 GMT). Indian officials confirmed he had been returned and said he would be taken for medical checks.
Abhinandan was shot down on Wednesday while flying a MiG-21 fighter jet that crashed in Pakistani territory after a dogfight with a Pakistani JF-17.
World powers have urged restraint from the two nations, as tensions escalated following a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on February 14.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said earlier on Friday the pilot would be released “as a gesture of peace and to de-escalate matters”.
Before the pilot was released, Pakistani television stations broadcast video of him, looking cleaned up, 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.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan partially re-opened its airspace on Friday, after thousands of passengers were left stranded worldwide when Islamabad shut down air travel as tensions with neighbouring India soared.
A spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority said airspace was “partially re-opened”, adding that it would be fully restored by Monday.
Earlier, she said flights would be allowed in and out of Pakistan’s major airports at Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta only starting on Friday, with the rest of the airspace to be re-opened “gradually”.
Authorities have urged passengers to check for more information with their airlines.
The airspace closure disrupted major routes between Europe and South Asia, with mounting frustration from passengers stranded at international airports.
Thai Airways cancelled nearly 30 flights, affecting 5,000 passengers. The decision affected services to London, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen and Oslo.
Singapore Airlines was also forced to divert Europe-bound flights to Mumbai and Dubai to refuel, while a flight to Frankfurt was cancelled.
Emirates, Qatar Airways, Saudi Airlines and Air Canada were all also among other carriers forced to cancel and divert flights.
Pakistan’s civil aviation authorities said they had allowed some flights to depart on Thursday.
— Reuters/AFP