Pakistan will release Abhinandan on Friday

Prime Minister Imran Khan makes surprise announcement to a joint session of Parliament.

February 28, 2019 06:07 pm | Updated March 01, 2019 09:11 am IST - Lahore

Pakistan  Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses Parliament in Islamabad on February 28, 2019. Photo: PTV

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan addresses Parliament in Islamabad on February 28, 2019. Photo: PTV

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman , now in Pakistan’s custody, would be released on Friday.

“As a peace gesture, we are releasing the captured Indian pilot tomorrow,” he told a joint session of Parliament.

On Wednesday night, there was a situation in which there could have been a missile strike from India, but it was defused, the Prime Minister said. “This is why I am saying to India not to take this any further. We will be left with no choice but to retaliate. Don’t do it,” he said.

Mr. Khan added that he had tried to contact his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday evening. “We also sent a message to him. This wasn’t due to any weakness. Our forces are battle-hardened but we don’t want escalation.”

On Thursday evening, the IAF said it was “extremely happy” to have Wing Cdr Varthaman back. “We want to see him back,” said Air Vice-Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor. “As far as the IAF is concerned, we are happy that our pilot who had fallen across the Line of Control and was in the custody of Pakistan is being released.”

Asked whether the IAF saw the release as a goodwill gesture by Pakistan, he said: “We only see it as a gesture in consonance with all Geneva conventions.”

Rejecting the Pakistan Prime Minister’s latest offer of talks, New Delhi said it was waiting for “immediate credible and verifiable” action from Pakistan, first against terror groups, including the Jaish-e Mohammad, on which the Ministry of External Affairs had sent a dossier on Wednesday. Sources said despite events of the last few days, India remains focused on the terror threat emanating from Pakistan, and the Balakot strike conveyed India’s determination to carry out such action against terrorists in the future if the international community and Pakistan are unable to do so.

Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Khan said Pakistan was not involved in the Pulwama attack , that killed at least 40 Indian soldiers. “Fingers started pointing towards Pakistan for Pulwama attack in less than half an hour of the incident. This came at a time on the eve of an important visit of Saudi Crown Prince. “Why would we sabotage such an important visit? What would Pakistan gain from the Pulwama incident? I asked India to give us actionable intelligence and we will act on it.”

“They sent Pulwama dossier today– two days after launching an attack. The question is: could they not have sent it earlier and if Pakistan had not acted upon it, then taken action against us?”

“We debated whether to respond after the India attack since there were no casualties. We did not want to cause any Indian casualties and be responsible for an escalation. The next day, we demonstrated our capability and will to respond but there was no collateral damage.

“There is no victory in a war. We shouldn’t even think of war. War is not a solution. If India takes any action again now, we will again have to retaliate. Pakistan wants peace. Our interest lies in peace and de-escalation... [But] we are prepared for everything,” said Mr. Khan.

He added that his attempts to kick start peace talks with India were in vain. “On July 26, when I hadn’t even been sworn in as the Prime Minister, I gave a statement that if India moves one step forward, we will move two steps forward. I also wrote a letter to Prime Minister Modi suggesting that our Foreign Ministers should meet at the UN, but didn’t get a positive response from India. We realised it was because of the upcoming Indian elections so we thought, ‘Let’s just wait for the elections’.”

Fawad Chaudhry, Information Minister of Pakistan, said an escalation in hostilities between two nuclear nations is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

“The world is worried. Yes, there has been international mediation and several countries are involved in back channel diplomacy. We hope good sense prevails and there is no further escalation,” he told The Hindu .

“The effects of a war between India and Pakistan won’t be limited to this region only. It will have lasting consequences for the world. It will lead to a more divided world and extremism will also spread further.”

Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, said, “If — God forbid — a full-scale war ensues between India and Pakistan, the people of both countries will pay the real price, especially the youth of the Subcontinent.”

“De-escalation is the only answer in the current crisis. We need to move forward, towards a peaceful resolution and think about our future generations. I hope that PM Modi will not let his electoral campaign get in the way of peace,” he told  The Hindu .

“We hope that after the Indian elections, Pakistan and India will sit together and come up with a meaningful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Innocent Kashmiris have suffered enough already. This must come to an end. We stand with the people of Kashmir against Indian atrocities,” he added.

( With inputs from New Delhi )

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