Releasing Abhinandan: The sportsman in PM Imran made the positive possible

The escalating tension between India and Pakistan over the Pulwama attack on February 14 and the air engagements earlier this week saw a welcome reversal on Friday, March 1, when the Indian fighter jet pilot, Abhinandan Vartaman, was freed by the Pakistani side. It was a tremendous gesture from the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan that gave the mad build-up towards a probable catastrophe a much-needed pause. PM Khan announced in the country’s parliament on Thursday, February 28, that Wing Commander Vartaman will be released.

As somebody writing from India, the developments in the last two weeks of February were disturbing. It was devastating to see over 40 CRPF personnel losing their lives in a dastardly attack for that was not only a loss for the nation but for many families.

Emotions were understandably running high after the tragedy and the target of all anger was Pakistan for reasons that have kept the two neighbours at odds for a long, long time now. Then came the air games and the crash of an Indian jet on the other side of the Wagah and the capturing of Vartaman. The stage was set for something sinister and then it was PM Khan who played a stroke that would have enthralled a stadium-full of audience.

PM Khan was under immense pressure even though he talked tough vis-à-vis the Indian air raids across the Line of Control in the wee hours of February 26. The international opinion was growing strong and Islamabad’s all-weather friend Beijing too was found to be playing things from a safe distance.

The Narendra Modi government of India was giving hint that it was not to let it go easily this time for one big reason: the upcoming general elections. Had Pakistan refused to release the Indian Air Force pilot and took a more time-consuming diplomatic-legal way to address the issue, the Indian authorities would have undoubtedly escalated it further. The script was certainly set for the worse but PM Khan’s soft turn towards setting the Indian pilot free meant India did not have an immediate reason to step up the accelerator further. This sudden but much-required de-escalation did both nuclear-armed powers a favour.

The sportsman in Imran Khan made it look easy

One would give the sportsman in PM Khan the credit for taking a difficult decision easily. Unlike politicians or people in any other walk of life, sportspersons are known to carry lesser baggage and are more flexible in their ideas and approaches. The ‘take it easy’ attitude even when chips are down, make them hearts that can face the more difficult of challenges without taking too much pressure about the consequences.

There are quarters in India that still believe that PM Khan’s decision to release Vartaman was more out of compulsion – at least the jingoist sections of the media believe so. But whatever it is, the decision also earned the PTI leader a lot of friends in India – a country which has always admired his cricketing prowess and leadership skills. Maybe any other politician would have hesitated to release Vartaman, taking it more as a loss of the nation’s face before the arch-rivals, and trying to score a brownie point before the international community.

But Imran Khan did not let that baggage influence him because he knew a decisive and humane step like this would serve a much more important purpose which is peace.

Imran Khan might be seen by many as a puppet in the hands of the Pakistan Army but the man’s pro-peace gesture in the ongoing tussle with India would do his own image a world of good. Both Indian and Pakistan need leadership at this moment that decides to wage the fight against terrorism together for both have suffered in the hands of the disruptive elements.

A war will devastate both the nations’ economies and people and give the opportunity-seekers all the advantages to exploit the situation. PM Imran Khan has given a glimpse of hope on the dented relationship getting a fair repair and help it proceed on the path of peace and mutual benefit.

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Shubham Ghosh

Shubham Ghosh

Shubham Ghosh is a freelance journalist based in Bangalore, India. He writes on various issues, including politics, international relations, cricket, etc for various websites. He loves to travel and play chess.