Pakistan to release captured Indian pilot

Captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman

Pakistan will release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture” on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan has said.

Khan revealed the decision in parliament, saying that Pakistan was focused on de-escalation.

Pakistan shot down the pilot’s jet on Wednesday, as tensions rose with India over the disputed region of Kashmir.

“As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Mr Khan told Pakistani lawmakers in the National Assembly on Thursday.

He also repeated his call for the de-escalation of the situation, saying that Pakistan and India “have to live in peace”.

Mr Khan on Wednesday pushed for talks with Delhi to prevent the risk of a “miscalculation” between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

The capture of Abhinandan Varthaman was a major setback for India. At Thursday’s news briefing in Delhi, Indian Air Force officials said they were “extremely happy” that the pilot would be released.

On Tuesday, India struck what it said was a militant camp in Pakistan in retaliation for a suicide bombing that killed at least 40 Indian troops in Kashmir on 14 February.

A Pakistan-based group said it carried out the attack – the deadliest to take place during a three-decade insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan – who denies any involvement in the 14 February attack – said it had no choice but to retaliate to the Indian raids with air strikes on Wednesday, which led to a dogfight and the Indian fighter jet being shot down in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

On Wednesday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said “India does not wish to see further escalation of the situation,” speaking from a meeting with Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who held an urgent meeting with the country’s security chiefs on Wednesday, is yet to publicly comment on the crisis.

The sequence of events over the last few days have rapidly shifted from being seen as a boost for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections, to a general feeling of disenchantment over the way things have turned out.

On Wednesday evening, when news of the captured pilot dominated headlines, India’s opposition parties issued a statement in which they attacked the ruling BJP of “blatant politicisation of the armed forces’ sacrifices”.

In a series of tweets, India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley hit back, saying the joint statement was “being used by Pakistan to bolster its case”.

There is mounting pressure on Mr Modi – who will face an election by the end of May – to say something about the current situation.

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