Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was present in Lahore to oversee the 'smooth' handing over captured Indian Air Force pilot to India at the Wagah border on Friday, official sources said. Imran Khan arrived in Lahore on Friday afternoon, a couple of hours before IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was brought to the Wagah border from Islamabad, amid high security. "PM Khan's main purpose of being in the town was to oversee the 'smooth' handing over of the captured Indian pilot to the Border Security Force," an official source told PTI. Wing Commander Varthaman was arrested when his MIG-21 crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir after being shot down by Pakistan Air Force for what Islamabad said "violating Pakistani airspace" on February 27.
He said during his stay Khan held a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, who praised the premier for ordering the release of the Indian pilot.
They said this gesture would establish that Pakistan was a peace-loving country and wanted peace with its neighbouring countries especially India.
Buzdar said: "This move will help de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan."
"The prime minister stayed in the city till the time the Indian pilot was handed over to his country. Later, he left for Islamabad," the source added.
Pakistan Foreign Office, in a statement issued after handing over of the Indian pilot to India, said: "Prime Minister Imran Khan who announced his (Varthaman's) return as a 'goodwill gesture' aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India."
Pakistan had detained him following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was downed on February 27. "Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been handed over to us. He will now be taken for a detailed medical checkup because he had to eject from an aircraft. The IAF is happy to have him back," said Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor at Attari-Wagah border.
India on Wednesday summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan and demanded the immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot who was detained by Pakistan following an aerial engagement by air forces of the two countries. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addressing a special joint sitting of the parliament on Thursday announced that Pakistan will release the pilot.