Anger over 'forced' video of Indian pilot amid new Kashmir deaths

Media reports said Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's return to India had been held up because the pilot was forced to make the video before his release. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A furious backlash erupted in India on Saturday (March 2) over a video of an Indian pilot shot down by Pakistan praising his captors, as deadly tensions simmered between the neighbours with fierce shelling across their Kashmir frontier.

Media reports said Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's return to India had been held up because the pilot was forced to make the video before his release.

Wing Commander Abhinandan, whose MiG fighter was shot down on Wednesday as he chased Pakistani jets over disputed Kashmir, crossed at the Wagah frontier late on Friday several hours after the scheduled ceremony.

The pilot's capture had become the centrepiece of hostilities between the arch-rivals since a suicide bombing in Kashmir last month killed 40 Indian paramilitaries.

Wing Commander Abhinandan, who ejected to safety but was set upon by a crowd on the Pakistani side of the ceasefire line that divides Kashmir, had a noticeable black eye and was immediately taken for a medical check-up and a debriefing by military and intelligence agencies.

In the heavily edited video distributed by the Pakistani military just before his release, he praised the professionalism of the Pakistani army and criticised Indian media for creating war hysteria.

"The army personnel saved me from the mob. The Pakistani army is very professional and I am impressed by it," he said.

Remote video URL

Mr Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, said the video tainted Pakistan's gesture to return the pilot so quickly.

"Sadly, the image you paint for us is marred terribly by the video he's forced to record just before you sent him back," Mr Abdullah said on Twitter.

"That high moral ground you had bequeathed to yourselves slipped at the end."

Indian media slammed the video as "distasteful" and said it breached international norms for prisoners of war.

"There is no peace without dignity and Pakistan just forgot that basic lesson in violation of Geneva convention," wrote Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, a top editor with the India Today group.

India's feverish social media also slammed the video, which was tweeted by the Pakistan government but later taken off its official account.


Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has insisted Wing Commander Abhinandan was "treated with dignity and in line with international law".

Pakistan media praised the government for releasing the pilot.

In the Express Tribune, lawyer Shahzaib Khan wrote that Pakistanis "have a reason to boast... the Prime Minister (Mr Imran Khan) has done Pakistan proud by not engaging in chest thumping or war-mongering for political gain".

Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured a day after Indian planes bombed what New Delhi said was a militant camp in Pakistan, in retaliation for the Kashmir suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group.

Violence continued to rage in Kashmir, with both sides firing mortars and artillery over the frontier, killing four civilians on the Indian side and one in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

At least 12 civilians have been killed on either side of the frontier since Monday.

"Heavy shelling by (the) Indian army started Friday evening and continued until early Saturday. One teenager has been killed and four wounded in Nakyal sector," Mr Raja Moazzam, a senior official in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, told AFP on Saturday.

Five Indian security personnel were killed on Friday in a gunfight after troops laid siege to a house where militants were hiding in Handwara district.

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