Military tensions in the disputed region of Kashmir have erupted in recent weeks, with India and Pakistan painting different versions of events.
One thing we do know for certain is that an Indian pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan, was captured by Pakistan after his plane was shot down in a dogfight earlier this week between Pakistani and Indian warplanes over the ceasefire line in Kashmir.
He was handed back on Friday evening at a famous border post in the village of Wagah.
While Indian-controlled Kashmir and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir are separated by a 435-mile de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC), Wagah village sits on the international frontier to the south between the Pakistani city of Lahore and the Indian city of Amritsar.
Wagah straddles the border – with the eastern half in India and the western half in Pakistan – and sits on the Grand Trunk Road, one of the main overland routes between the two nations.
The border post has taken on a symbolic role in the decades-long conflict over Kashmir, despite being outside the disputed region, thanks to a daily military parade known as the Beating Retreat ceremony.
Every evening there for 60 years, Pakistan’s Rangers and India’s Border Security Force have taken part in a lowering-of-the-flags ceremony before sunset, typically around 4 p.m. local time.
Video footage of the ceremony shows spectators arranged on stadium-style bleachers along the road, who shout and clap, egged on by animated cheerleaders, to a soundtrack of patriotic music.
Military personnel in full regalia perform elaborate fast-paced marches and high kicks in a show of one-upmanship.
Then the soldiers lower and fold the flags of their respective countries and shake hands, before flinging the border gates shut with a final flourish.
It’s a powerful show of pride, which draws attendees from both sides of the border, as well as international tourists.
But anyone hoping to watch the ceremony on Friday will have been left disappointed. Beating Retreat was canceled on the Indian side as officials awaited the return of their pilot.
Shashank Joshi, defense editor at The Economist and former senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a defense and security think tank, said Wagah was probably chosen as the site of the handover for logistical reasons.
“It’s a high-security location,” Joshi told CNN via telephone. It did, however, suffer a deadly suicide attack on the Pakistani side in 2014 following the Beating Retreat ceremony.
Joshi added that Wagah is the principal border crossing between the two nations and other personnel swaps have taken place here in the past.
The Beating Retreat ceremony is a “ritualistic face-off,” he said, in which the tallest personnel are chosen to take part and their height is exaggerated using hats.
“It provides a fantastic outlet for this kind of performative nationalism,” he said. “It’s a clear piece of political theater.”