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Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to be released tomorrow, says Imran Khan; pilot was captured on Wednesday

On Thursday afternoon, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan announced that captured Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be released on Friday.

The development comes only a day after he was captured after the MiG-21 he had been flying was shot down by Pakistan. The Indian Air Force pilot was confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs as having been locked in aerial engagement with an aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force (believed to be an F-16 that was felled by India) that violated Indian airspace over Jammu and Kashmir's Rajouri district.

The pilot's capture took place in the wake of escalating tensions between India and Pakistan after the IAF carried out air strikes on terror training camps of the Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It resulted in an immediate wave of misinformation on social media, with fake images of earlier crashes being peddled as those of more recent ones along the Line of Control. A video of Wing Commander Vijay Shelke after the Surya Kiran crash in Bengaluru was claimed as having been of the IAF pilot who was caught by Pakistan, on the country's television news channels.

 Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to be released tomorrow, says Imran Khan; pilot was captured on Wednesday

Representational image. News18

Videos of the man believed to be the Wing Commander who had indeed been captured also did the rounds. He was not only shown to be captured, but videos were also reportedly shot while he was being taken to the location of captivity, and afterwards, where a visibly injured prisoner could be seen announcing his name.

Even thought India had not confirmed the name of the missing pilot of the MiG-21 Bison, which went down across the LoC on Wednesday, speculation was rife on the international statutes that require his return soon. The Geneva Convention and whether its statutes would govern the capture of the pilot became matters of grave concern as trading of barbs on social media gave way to a sombre demand that the captive pilot return home. In a strongly-worded statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said that it objects to Pakistan's "vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force". The MEA was ostensibly referring to the videos and photographs of the Wing Commander. A photograph was also tweeted by the Pakistan Army's spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor.

Pakistan, which has repeatedly pressed for talks in these past few days of tension, sought to allay India's fears regarding the well-being of the captive with a statement by their foreign office spokesperson, Dr Muhammad Faisal.

"India has raised the matter of the pilot with us. We'll decide in a couple of days what convention will apply to him and whether to give him Prisoner of War status or not," Dr Faisal said, stressing that he was "safe and healthy."

Thursday's development could be a step towards ensuring an eventual understanding between the two countries which have seen only a rise in tension since the 14 February attack on a CRPF convoy in Jammu and Kashmir's Pulwama. The attack killed 42 soldiers. Pakistan-based terrorist organisation Jaish-e-Mohammed took responsibility for the attack, leading India to blame Pakistan for its role in supporting terror on its soil.

Follow all the latest updates from the India-Pakistan situation here

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Updated Date: Feb 28, 2019 17:10:49 IST