- Indian PM looks like a war- mongering minuscule leader, while Pak PM looks like a statesman: analyst
As tempers cool after an alarming confrontation between India and Pakistan, analysts say their leaders have emerged stronger -- with Narendra Modi burnishing his nationalist credentials and Imran Khan cast as a peacemaker.
Some 400,000 people have signed petitions for Khan, the former playboy cricketer and prime minister since August, to get a Nobel prize, while Modi's political stock has also risen ahead of looming elections.
On February 14 a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 Indian troops. Twelve days later Indian aircraft hit what New Delhi called a terrorist training camp deep inside Pakistan.
In aerial skirmishes over Kashmir the next day, at least one Indian jet was shot down and its pilot captured by Pakistan. India said it also downed a Pakistani aircraft, a claim Islamabad denied.
As the world held its breath, Khan, 66, made the surprise announcement that the captured pilot, handlebar-moustached Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, would be freed in a "peace gesture".
Deadly shelling over the de-facto frontier and clashes between Indian security forces and militants notwithstanding, Abhinandan's release on Friday looks to have taken the sting out the standoff for now.
Khan's actions disarmed his opponents in parliament and on social media alike, with The News daily noting a "rare bonhomie ... between government and opposition".
Assuming it was Khan's decision to free the pilot -- never a given in a country where the military plays such an outsized role -- "it was the first correct one of (Khan's) political career", tweeted Gul Bukhari, a columnist who strongly opposes the government.
Modi "looks like a war-mongering minuscule leader, while the Pakistani prime minister looks like a statesman," said analyst Mosharaf Zaidi.
No one is putting Modi forward for a Nobel but his tub-thumping rhetoric has won him some much-needed political points before India goes to the polls in a few weeks.
Contrasting the more conciliatory sounding Khan, Modi has talked tough, saying that his "new India" would "fight as one" and deliver a "jaw-breaking response".
The opposition Congress party -- which before the crisis was looking increasingly confident ahead of the election -- criticised only how it was kept out of the loop, but not the air raid itself.
Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir as well as a Modi critic, was full of praise.
"That's a strike deep inside Pakistan and is hugely embarrassing for (Pakistan)," he tweeted.