Pakistan holds the trump card for de escalation between the two nuclear armed arch rivals
ISLAMABAD - An Indian pilot shot down over Pakistan and paraded by his captors has become a hero in his own country, a trump card for Islamabad and perhaps the key to bringing the arch-rivals back from the brink.
Footage of the airman identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman being beaten and interrogated has gone viral in India and Pakistan, and humanised an escalating crisis between the nuclear-armed foes.
India confirmed Wednesday that a fighter jet was downed and a pilot missing in action after a dogfight with Pakistani jets over the disputed de facto border with Kashmir.
The incident sparked fears of India and Pakistan -- who have fought two wars and countless deadly skirmishes over Kashmir -- entering a cycle of retaliation and counterattacks that could spiral out of control.
Abhinandan's experience -- broadcast in a series of graphic videos on social media -- was condemned as "vulgar" by New Delhi and provoked prayers and appeals from Bollywood stars for his safe return.
But it was well received in Pakistan, with citizens praising soldiers for rescuing him from angry civilians and then treating him humanely and with courtesy.
One video purports to show the pilot being dragged and beaten by what appears to be a group of men as Pakistani soldiers intervene, shouting "Stop! Stop!"
Later, a separate shaky clip showed the bloodied and blindfolded pilot being interrogated by his captors, with the camera focussing on his name "ABHI" underneath winged insignia on his shoulder.
But it was his later appearance sipping tea, his face swollen and sporting bruises but otherwise collected and calm, that was most seized upon in both India and Pakistan.
In it, he thanks the "thorough gentlemen" who rescued him from the mob and compliments the tea as "fantastic".
"This is what I would expect my army to behave as, and I'm very impressed by the Pakistani army," he said, his eye visibly swollen above an impressive handlebar moustache.
It was unclear if he had been coerced to speak. - APP/AFP