UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the release of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by Pakistan and asked both countries to keep up the “positive momentum”.

A statement issued by his spokesperson’s office shortly after Varthaman returned to India said: “We welcome the news of the Pakistani authorities releasing the captive Indian pilot today. The Secretary-General calls on both parties to sustain this positive momentum and engage in further constructive dialogue”.

Guterres reiterated his offer good offices to facilitate a dialogue should both countries agree.

Varthaman was handed over to Indian authorities at around 9.20 pm.

After immense pressure from India and other nations, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the IAF pilot would be released as a “gesture of goodwill”.

The 35-year-old Wing Commander spent nearly 60 hours in Pakistani captivity after his MiG-21 Bison fighter jet was hit by Pakistan Air Force jets near the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday.

(With agency inputs)