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Pak to release IAF pilot today as peace gesture

By The Assam Tribune
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ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI, Feb 28 - Pakistan announced on Thursday that it will free captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a peace gesture, hours after a strong message from India demanding his unconditional release, largely de-escalating tensions between the two neighbours.

Prime Minister Imran Khan�s surprise announcement to a joint session of Parliament, that Varthaman will be released on Friday, was greeted by loud thumping of desks by the lawmakers. Earlier, his foreign minister said Khan was also willing to talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the phone to talk peace.

However, India appears in no mood to have talks with Pakistan, saying it first wants action from Islamabad on combatting terrorism. New Delhi had also made it clear that Varthaman cannot be a bargaining chip while demanding his unconditional and immediate repatriation.

Though India has secured what it wanted, there was no immediate reaction from the Indian government on the development.

�In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow (Friday), and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,� Khan said.

The pilot bailed out and landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) after his MiG 21 was brought down during a fierce aerial engagement on Wednesday with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, a day after India bombed terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad�s biggest training camp in Pakistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir will visit Islamabad on Thursday �carrying an important message� from the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.

In New Delhi, Saudi Arabia�s ambassador to India called on Prime Minister Modi, indicating that the country had some role in securing the pilot�s release.

In Delhi, top government sources said India has not sought any consular access to Varthaman as his immediate release is �non-negotiable� and that the onus on de-escalating tension between the two countries lies entirely on Islamabad.

�We want him back unharmed, unconditionally and immediately. He is not a bargaining chip. There is no question of any deal with Pakistan on his return,� a source added.

The government sources when asked whether talks with Khan will take place, said Pakistan must first take �concrete and specific anti-terror steps�.

They also said Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefed envoys of several countries including from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on PAF targeting Indian military installations, in an aggressive behaviour resulting in escalation in tensions.

The sources indicated that Pakistan�s effort to link the release of the pilot with �de-escalation� of tensions with India has not gone down well in New Delhi.

They said the Imran Khan has to walk the talk on investigating the Pulwama attack and that India wants immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists and their proxies.

Pakistan has to take concrete steps against JeM, the sources said when asked about Khan�s offer of talks with India, the sources said, adding Pakistan was deliberately whipping up war psychosis and trying to mislead the international community on the situation. � PTI

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Pak to release IAF pilot today as peace gesture

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI, Feb 28 - Pakistan announced on Thursday that it will free captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman as a peace gesture, hours after a strong message from India demanding his unconditional release, largely de-escalating tensions between the two neighbours.

Prime Minister Imran Khan�s surprise announcement to a joint session of Parliament, that Varthaman will be released on Friday, was greeted by loud thumping of desks by the lawmakers. Earlier, his foreign minister said Khan was also willing to talk to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the phone to talk peace.

However, India appears in no mood to have talks with Pakistan, saying it first wants action from Islamabad on combatting terrorism. New Delhi had also made it clear that Varthaman cannot be a bargaining chip while demanding his unconditional and immediate repatriation.

Though India has secured what it wanted, there was no immediate reaction from the Indian government on the development.

�In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow (Friday), and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,� Khan said.

The pilot bailed out and landed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) after his MiG 21 was brought down during a fierce aerial engagement on Wednesday with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters on the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir, a day after India bombed terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad�s biggest training camp in Pakistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir will visit Islamabad on Thursday �carrying an important message� from the Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.

In New Delhi, Saudi Arabia�s ambassador to India called on Prime Minister Modi, indicating that the country had some role in securing the pilot�s release.

In Delhi, top government sources said India has not sought any consular access to Varthaman as his immediate release is �non-negotiable� and that the onus on de-escalating tension between the two countries lies entirely on Islamabad.

�We want him back unharmed, unconditionally and immediately. He is not a bargaining chip. There is no question of any deal with Pakistan on his return,� a source added.

The government sources when asked whether talks with Khan will take place, said Pakistan must first take �concrete and specific anti-terror steps�.

They also said Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale briefed envoys of several countries including from China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States on PAF targeting Indian military installations, in an aggressive behaviour resulting in escalation in tensions.

The sources indicated that Pakistan�s effort to link the release of the pilot with �de-escalation� of tensions with India has not gone down well in New Delhi.

They said the Imran Khan has to walk the talk on investigating the Pulwama attack and that India wants immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists and their proxies.

Pakistan has to take concrete steps against JeM, the sources said when asked about Khan�s offer of talks with India, the sources said, adding Pakistan was deliberately whipping up war psychosis and trying to mislead the international community on the situation. � PTI