Pakistan Set To Release Indian Pilot At The Wagah Border Crossing.

 Pakistan Set To Release Indian Pilot At The Wagah Border Crossing.

The captured Indian pilot who has become the face of one of the gravest military crises to engulf South Asia in two decades is expected to be released from Pakistani custody on Friday.

A man identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan has been held in Pakistan after his MiG-21 jet was downed during a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian warplanes over the ceasefire line in the disputed Kashmir region on Wednesday.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a joint session of parliament that the pilot would be released at the Wagah border crossing on the demarcation line dividing the two countries on Friday afternoon, local time.

Crowds of people were seen gathering at the border crossing on Friday, ahead of the pilot’s expected return.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Abhinandan would be released Friday as a “gesture for peace,” offering a potential means of defusing tensions between the two nuclear powers.

Despite the gesture, Indian officials have so far remained guarded, On Thursday, Indian Army Major General Surinder Singh Bahal told a joint news conference that India remains on “high alert” and that it was “fully prepared and in a heightened state of readiness to respond to any provocation by Pakistan.”

Thousands of flights disrupted worldwide as Pakistan airspace closed for second day

Thousands of flights disrupted worldwide as Pakistan airspace closed for second day

The stand-off has seen both sides engage in increased military exchanges across the heavily fortified Kashmir border. At least eight Pakistani civilians died in cross-border shelling from India since Thursday night in several areas in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, Raja Moazzam, Pakistan state director for disaster management told CNN Friday.

Moazzam said dozens of houses have been damaged from shelling and hundreds of people have been moved other areas. About 600 people are taking shelter in state run camps, he said.

India has accused Pakistan of initiating the exchange of fire.

Speaking with CNN’s Christine Amanpour on Thursday, Qureshi said that the release of the pilot should be seen as an expression of his country’s willingness to de-escalate.

He also confirmed that Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-e-Mohammed militant group that India said it targeted in its pre-dawn strike in Pakistan territory on Tuesday, is in Pakistan. “He is very unwell,” Quresh said. “He is unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house, because he is really unwell, so that’s the information I have.”

Pakistani Rangers and Indian Border Security Force personnel fold their respective national flags as they perform during the daily beating of the retreat ceremony on the India-Pakistan Border at Wagah on February 20, 2017.

Ayomide Oyewole

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