New Delhi: IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday, will be handed back to India on Friday as a gesture of peace, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an address to parliament.
The IAF pilot was taken into custody by Pakistan after he landed on the other side of the Line of Control as his aircraft crashed during an aerial dogfight between India and Pakistan. "In our desire of peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody," Khan said on Thursday.
In his address, the Pakistan Prime Minister once again spoke of the need for de-escalation of tensions, but said the offer for peace should not be mistaken for weakness. “Nobody wins in a war. I have a fear… there should not be a miscalculation. Countries have been destroyed due to miscalculations,” he said.
Islamabad had earlier in the day hinted that it was willing to release Wing Commander Abhinandan, with foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying Pakistan is willing to consider returning the pilot if it leads to "de-escalation" of tension with India.
The announcement of the release came just hours after US President Donald Trump said he received “reasonably decent” news from India and Pakistan, hinting that Washington’s behind the scenes mediation efforts had worked.
The central government had demanded the safe and immediate return of the pilot in a statement, and made it clear that it was not seeking consular access to him.
On Wednesday, Pakistan had detained the Wing Commander following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control in which a Pakistani jet was downed. IAF had lost a MiG-21 flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan in the engagement, which marked one of the biggest escalations of the border crisis in decades.
According to government sources, 20 Pakistani jets had violated Indian airspace as they attempted to target military installations in Jammu and Kashmir but were forced to retreat by the IAF.
The government had made it clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the pilot, with New Delhi also conveying strong objection to the neighbouring country for the "vulgar display" of an injured personnel in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.