Pakistan to release captured Indian pilot as a gesture of peace, announces PM Imran

04:23 PM | 28 Feb, 2019
Pakistan to release captured Indian pilot as a gesture of peace, announces PM Imran
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ISLAMABAD – Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced to release an Indian pilot, who was captured inside Azad Jammu and Kashmir after his plane was shot down by Pakistan Air Force for violating the country's airspace yesterday.

The announcement was made by the premier during his address to a joint session of Parliament, attended by all the political parties in the Senate and the National Assembly on Thursday.

Pakistan carried out air strikes and shot down two Indian military jets on Wednesday, a day after Indian warplanes violated Pakistan airspace for the first time since the 1971 war, prompting global powes to urge both of the rival South Asian countries to exercise restraint.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who landed inside Pakistani territory after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down in a dogfight with PAF jets, remains in Army’s custody.

While the PM announced that the IAF pilot would be released tomorrow (Friday) in a gesture of peace with the neighbouring country, he also urged India not to escalate the situation. “Don’t take this any further, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate.”

“I hope the international community will play its part to ensure the situation does not escalate beyond this,” the prime minister added.

Earlier, while speaking to a private TV channel, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said Pakistan would be willing to consider returning the Indian pilot if it led to de-escalation.

“If there is de-escalation with the return of this [Indian] pilot, Pakistan is willing to consider this,” Qureshi said.

Soon after Imran Khan's announcement of releasing the Indian pilot, Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad applauded his Pakistani counterpart's decision. The Malaysian leader will be visiting Pakistan as soon as possible.

Similarly, India's own cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu - a long time friend of PM Imran Khan from his cricketing years - welcomed the decision to release the IAF officer.

Sidhu, who was suspended from The Kapil Sharma Show over his remarks on Pulwama attack, took to Twitter to say: “Prime Minister Imran Khan every noble act makes a way for itself... your goodwill gesture is ‘a cup of joy’ for a billion people, a nation rejoices.”

“I am overjoyed for his (Abhinandan) parents and loved ones,” he added.

Latest reports suggest the the IAF pilot will be handed over to Indian high commission through the international border between the two countries, at Wagah, Lahore.