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Peace gesture? How Pakistan made the return of IAF pilot a theatric

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New Delhi, Mar 02: India's request to Pakistan seeking Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman be flown back was rejected. Pakistan cited the closure of its air space and said that the IAF pilot would be returned through the Wagah border.

Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as he is released by Pakistan authorities at Wagah border on the Pakistani side, Friday, March 1, 2019. Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan after his jet went down following a strike by an enemy missile.

On Friday crowds had gathered to greet the IAF pilot and it was expected that he would be returned to India by 5 pm. However there was a delay and finally the handover happened at around 9.25 pm.

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Pakistan while describing Abhinandan as a Prisoner of War said that he was treated with dignity and in line with the international norms. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had termed the return as a peace gesture, aimed at de-escalating tensions with India.

The Wing Commander was brought to Lahore in the evening, following which he was taken to an ISI facility. Following this a heavily doctored video with several edits was released to the Pakistan media. Officials in India tell OneIndia that this delayed the entire process by nearly 4 hours.

While the television channels reported that the handover had happened and formalities on the Indian side were on, in reality, the Wing Commander was still in Pakistan. The official said that India was aware that Pakistan would create a spectacle out of the entire incident and hence had requested that he be flown back.

Officials also said that the video was recorded under duress. It is clear that from the several jump cuts that the video was heavily edited to fit the Pakistan propaganda.

At 8.30 pm (local) time, the Pakistan government released the pilot's video message to the local media in which he said as to how he was captured.

"Recording of his video message caused delay in his handing over," a source said.

India has maintained that Varthaman's plane was downed when IAF planes foiled an attempt by Pakistan Air Force to target Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, a day after New Delhi had conducted counter-terror operations in Pakistan's Balakot. He bailed out of the aircraft but drifted to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir where he was detained by the Pakistan Army.

Imran Khan was in Lahore to ensure 'smooth' handing over of Indian pilot: Sources

Although there has been no official word as to what time he was brought to the Wagah border on Friday, but the sources say he reached Lahore after 4 pm.

The Pakistani media reported that "his papers were being checked at the Wagah immigration" that was why he was not being "immediately" handed over to the Indian authorities.

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