Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan Thursday said his government has decided to release Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman Friday (March 1). “As a peace gesture, we have decided to release the Indian pilot in our custody,” Khan told a joint session of parliament in Islamabad called to discuss the India-Pakistan situation.
Khan’s announcement comes soon after media reports quoted Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as saying that the country is considering freeing the IAF pilot if it leads to a de-escalation of tensions between the two countries. Khan has also offered to hold talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
Meanwhile, government sources had told the Indian Express that India is in no mood to negotiate any deal and it wants Abhinandan back immediately and unharmed.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump had said he has “reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India”. “They have been going at it and we have been involved trying to have them stop. We have some reasonably decent news. I think hopefully that it’s going to come to an end,” Trump had said.
Pakistan had on Wednesday claimed it shot down two Indian fighter jets over Pakistani air space and arrested a pilot, identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan amid the face off between the two countries. The Ministry of External Affairs later confirmed that a MiG 21 was lost and the pilot “missing in action”.
“There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army’s custody. Wing Commander Abhinandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics,” Major General Asif Ghafoor, spokesperson of the Pakistan Armed Forces had said. Soon, videos started emerging on social media from Pakistan featuring Abhinandan — one showed him being assaulted by a mob, others showed him being interrogated.
The government had summoned Pakistan Deputy High Commissioner to “strongly object” Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.”
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” said the MEA.
According to defence portal bharat-rakshak.com, Abhinandan was commissioned as a fighter pilot on June 19, 2004. It is learnt that he had recently completed his training at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. The course trains officers from all three services for command and staff appointments.
Tensions escalated between India and Pakistan in the wake of the Pulwama attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad on February 14. Twelve days after the Pulwama attack, India carried out air strikes against a Jaish camp in Balakot. In the operation, the government claimed, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for suicide attacks were eliminated.