India-Pakistan tensions: Islamabad to release pilot Abhinandan today; IAF says move 'expected' under Geneva Conventions

In an unexpected statement, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan said during the joint session of their parliament that Abhinandan will be released on Friday 'as a peace gesture'.

FP Staff March 01, 2019 00:05:12 IST
India-Pakistan tensions: Islamabad to release pilot Abhinandan today; IAF says move 'expected' under Geneva Conventions
  • Imran Khan said that Pakistan will set free captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman on Friday as a peace gesture

  • The Indian Air Force said it is very happy that Abhinandan is returning home but dismissed suggestions it was a goodwill gesture

  • According to reports, Abhinandan will return to India via Wagah border on Friday

Pakistan's announcement that captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan came amid escalating tension between Islamabad and New Delhi.

In an unexpected statement, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan said during the joint session of parliament that Abhinandan will be released on Friday "as a peace gesture". "In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow (Friday), and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the IAF officer in our custody," he said, as lawmakers greeted the decision by thumping their desks.

The move, which was widely hailed by the Indian side, came just hours after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the Pakistani leader is ready for telephonic talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to deescalate the tensions. India earlier sent a strong message to Pakistan, rejecting the possibility of any deal for securing the release of the pilot and demanding his unconditional and immediate repatriation. India Today and CNN-News18 reported that Abhinandan will be return to India via Wagah border on Friday and be accompanied by outgoing defence attache of Pakistan. Pakistani Air Force on Wednesday carried out a retaliatory strike across the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and attempted to target military installations, a day after Indian struck inside Pakistan, destroying the biggest terrorist training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). During a fierce aerial engagement with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters on the LoC, Abhinandan landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) after his MiG 21 was brought down. India mounted pressure on Pakistan through the international community, with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval holding talks with the US and other P-5 countries on Wednesday.

IndiaPakistan tensions Islamabad to release pilot Abhinandan today IAF says move expected under Geneva Conventions

Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, Maj Gen Surinder Singh Mahal and Rear Admiral Dalbir Singh Gujral on Thursday. PTI

As international pressure grew for India and Pakistan to show restraint, US president Donald Trump said earlier on Thursday that the US has some "reasonably attractive news" from the two countries. "We have been involved in trying to help them (India and Pakistan) stop and we have some reasonably decent news," he said in his opening statement at a press conference at the end of his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. "I think hopefully that (tensions) could be coming to an end, it has been going on for a long time," said Trump amid efforts by back-channel interlocutors to defuse the tensions that spiked after the Pulwama suicide attack by a JeM bomber on 14 February in which at least 40 CRPF jawans were killed. 'Expected Abhinandan's return' The Indian Air Force Thursday said it is very happy that Abhinandan is returning home but dismissed suggestions it was a goodwill gesture, insisting it was in line with the Geneva Conventions. "We are very happy Abhinandan will be freed tomorrow and look forward to his return," Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor, Assistant Chief of Air Staff said. He was addressing the media along with the representatives of the army and the navy, who both said the armed forces were on high alert and ready to meet any security challenge on land and sea. Kapoor said it was up to the political leadership to decide when and how to release evidence of the Balakot strike's success. He was responding to a question on the scepticism in some quarters about whether IAF fighters had hit the intended targets. Kapoor said there is credible information and evidence that "we hit the intended targets" and it was premature to assess the casualties and damage. The IAF showed parts of Amraam missiles as proof that Pakistan used F-16 aircraft to attack Indian military establishments on Wednesday.

Kapoor accused Pakistan of lying that no F-16 was used, and said there was enough evidence. Stating that Pakistan aircraft targeted military installations, he added that PAF bombs were unable to damage any of India's defence installations. Major General SS Mahal said escalation of tensions had been done by Pakistan but India was prepared for any contingency if the enemy provoked it.

Mechanised forces were put on standby and troops were ready to deal with any security challenge, he said. Rear Admiral of the Indian Navy Dalbir Singh Gujral said the force was in a high state of readiness to deal with any Pakistan maritime misadventure. The joint press conference by the three services came after Modi held a security review meeting in New Delhi.

Prior to the news of his release, Abhinandan's father said he was proud of his son's bravery and thanked the people for their support and good wishes. In a statement, S Varthaman, a retired Air Marshal, referring to a purported video of his son after his capture, said he spoke like a "true soldier" despite being in captivity and that he was praying he would not get tortured, and return home "safe and sound".

With inputs from agencies

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