In a major peace gesture, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter pilot, Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistani Army on Wednesday, will be released on Friday.
“In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,” Pak PM Imran Khan said in the country’s parliament.
The Pak PM’s decision came just minutes ahead of a scheduled joint press conference by the three services of the Indian armed forces. The press conference now stands postponed at the time of writing.
The decision came after India said that it will not agree on any deal with Pakistan and demanded his unconditional and immediate release. The press conference now stands postponed at the time of writing.
Speaking about the IAF fighter pilot captured by Pakistan, the Ministry of Defence officials said that he was ill-treated by the Pakistan Army in violation of the Geneva Convention.
“The IAF pilot has to be repatriated unconditionally and immediately. There is no question of any deal,” a source was quoted as saying by PTI.
Government sources said that India has not asked for consular access but the immediate release of the IAF pilot.
Dismissing chances of any talks, the government sources stressed on “immediate, credible and verifiable action against terror is required before any conversation”.
“Imran Khan should now walk the talk on dealing with terrorism,” they added.
The announcement of Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s release came on the day when Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a Pakistani news channel that Imran Khan is ready for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over phone and offer peace.
In an interview to Geo News, Qureshi said that Pakistan is willing to consider returning the Indian pilot if it helps in de-escalation of the current situation between the two nations.
“If there is de-escalation with the return of this [Indian] pilot, Pakistan is willing to consider this. We are ready for all positive engagement,” he said.
India had on Wednesday summoned the Pakistani envoy and handed over a demarche demanding the “immediate and safe return” of the pilot. It also strongly objected to Pakistan’s “vulgar display” of the pilot and said Pakistan “would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to him”.
The IAF pilot was captured on Wednesday after an aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani fighter planes.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had on Wednesday evening said that the IAF lost a MiG 21 Bison aircraft in an engagement with Pakistani Air Force who had violated Indian airspace on Wednesday. The government had confirmed that a pilot was missing in action.
Pakistani Air Force jets violated Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri sector on Wednesday morning and attempted to target Indian military installations, but missed their targets. They were immediately pushed back by Indian jets on air patrol, who also shot down a Pakistani F-16 whose wreckage fell on the other side of the LoC.
Following the incident, top Indian security and intelligence officials met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the security situation.
NSA Ajit Doval, senior officials of the Indian Navy, Army and the Air Force and other security officials, besides Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were present in the meeting.
The Prime Minister is scheduled to chair the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting at his residence later today to take stock of the situation. A Union Cabinet meeting is also slated for 6.30 pm at the Prime Minister’s residence.