Pak To Release Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman Tomorrow As “Gesture Of Peace”

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Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured yesterday after an aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani fighter planes.

NEW DELHI: 

Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan on Wednesday, will be released tomorrow as a “gesture of peace”, Imran Khan declared today, signaling a pullback hours after the US called for immediate steps towards de-escalation and President Donald Trump revealed that there would be “reasonably attractive news” from Pakistan and India.

Aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani fighter planes yesterday had caused global concern, with several world leaders urging both countries to take a step back.

Imran Khan said in the Pakistan National Assembly that he had tried to reach out to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Yesterday, I tried to call (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi to say that we don’t want escalation. But our desire for de-escalation should not be taken as our weakness,” Imran Khan said.

“We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow,” said the Pakistan Prime Minister as parliamentarians stamped their feet in approval.

India has rejected Imran Khan call yesterday for a dialogue.

There would be “no deal” on the Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s release and India would not ask for consular access either, top officials asserted today.

Amid soaring tension, the government last evening summoned the Pakistani envoy and handed over a demarche demanding the “immediate and safe return” of the pilot. It also strongly objected to Pakistan’s “vulgar display” of the pilot in videos and said it “would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to him”.

Hours later, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Imran Khan was willing to consider the pilot’s release if it led to de-escalation, but added: “Our PM Imran Khan is ready to talk on the phone to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but is Modi-ji ready?”

President Trump had appeared to hint at a thaw all the way from Hanoi in Vietnam, on the sidelines of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I think reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India, they have been going at it and we have been involved and have them stop, we have some reasonably decent news, hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end, this has been going on for a long time, decades and decades,” the US President had said.

The US had called on India and Pakistan to “cease all cross-border military activity” and to take immediate steps to deescalate the situation and return to stability, including through direct communication.

Hostilities between the neighbours had peaked On Wedneday, with aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani warplanes for the first time in 48 years.

A day before, India had sent fighter jets to Pakistan and struck the biggest training camp of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was behind the suicide attack on February 14 in Kashmir’s Pulwama, in which over 40 soldiers were killed.

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