28 February 2019| 22 Jumadul Aakhir 1440| Al Jazeera
The captured Indian fighter pilot, who was attacked by a mob and then paraded on video by Pakistan’s army, will be released, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has said.
A senior Indian Air Force official welcomed the move on Thursday evening, but added that Islamabad was simply following international norms around prisoners of war.
“We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow,” Pakistan’s Khan told a joint sitting of parliament in capital Islamabad on Thursday.
Khan also said he had unsuccessfully tried to make a telephone contact with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday night.
“Yesterday, I tried to call Narendra Modi,” Khan said. “I wanted to make it clear that we do not want any kind of escalation.”
India welcomed Pakistan’s decision to free the captured pilot, whose Mig-21 fighter was shot down during an aerial skirmish between the air forces of the two countries in the disputed region of Kashmir.
“We are extremely happy to have him back. We want to see him back,” India’s Air Vice Marshall RGK Kapoor told reporters in New Delhi.
“We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with all Geneva conventions.”
Human face of the conflict
Following Pakistani villagers and soldiers filming his capture and captivity on Wednesday in video clips that have since gone viral on social media, the pilot – identified by Islamabad as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman – fast emerged as the human face of the dangerous flare-up between the arch enemies.
Varthaman and the Indian Air Force (IAF) have been at the heart of the crisis between India and Pakistan after the latter claimed to have shot down two Indian fighter jets in response to the bombing of alleged “terror” targets inside Pakistan on Tuesday morning.
Tensions have flared between India and Pakistan since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based armed group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in India-administered Kashmir killed at least 42 Indian paramilitary forces on February 14.
But the risk of an all-out armed conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday when India launched air raids on what it claimed was a JeM training camp near Jaba town in northern Pakistan.
As tensions rose between the nuclear-armed neighbours, the United States and China appealed for restraint.