Pakistan frees captured Indian pilot in ‘gesture of peace’

Pakistan frees captured Indian pilot in ‘gesture of peace’

The handover comes against the backdrop of blistering cross-border attacks across the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir that continued for a fourth straight day, even as the two nuclear-armed neighbors sought to defuse their most serious confrontation in two decades.

India has categorically said that the government will not allow Pakistan to change the mood of the nation, asking for the immediate release of the pilot who is in Pakistan's custody since Wednesday.

The growing began following a suicide vehicle bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir which killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on February 14.

Pakistani Air Force jets violated Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri sector on Wednesday morning and attempted to target Indian military installations, but missed their targets.

World leaders have scrambled to head off an all-out war on the Asian subcontinent, with President Trump saying in Hanoi on Thursday that he had been involved in seeking to de-escalate the conflict.

The move confirms Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's bid to defuse two days of escalating tensions in which the two countries traded air strikes, gunfire and fought aerial combat.

Pakistan dismissed the attack as a failure.

A group of schoolchildren brandished a painting of the pilot, along with saffron, white and green Indian flags and placards reading: "Hope for peace between India & Pakistan" and "Thank you Imran Khan", referring to Pakistan's prime minister.

Pakistan was set to re-open its airspace with restrictions Friday, the civil aviation authority said, after thousands of passengers were left stranded worldwide when Islamabad shut down air travel as tensions with neighbouring India soared.

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The agency said all domestic and global flights would be allowed to and from Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. However, the eastern side airports - Lahore, Multan, Sialkot, Faisalabab and Bahawalpur - will remain closed till March 4.

The Indian pilot will be handed over to his country's officials at the Wagah Border.

Emirates, Qatar Airways, Saudi Airlines, and Air Canada were all also among other carriers forced to cancel and divert flights.

Residents of the Pakistani border town of Chikhoti reported heavy mortar shelling into Friday.

Crowds of Indians had gathered near the border crossing to welcome the Indian fighter pilot home.

India and Pakistan - both nuclear powers - claim all of Kashmir, but each controls only parts of it.

On Thursday, Khan announced that he would be released, signalling a de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan. The Indian Air Force claims that one of its MiG-21 Bison aircraft shot down a Pakistan Air Force F-16 during the encounter.

CORRECTION: An earlier version incorrectly reported that India and Pakistan fought a war in 1975 and that at least 46 troops were killed in the February 14 car-bombing.

The Minister told CNN that an all out war between India and Pakistan would be "mutual suicide".