NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday said he would release captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on Friday in a gesture of peace and goodwill, easing a bit of stress between the the two neighbours. “In our desire for 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 at a joint session of Parliament on Thursday.
However, the country’s efforts for de-escalation “should not be construed as a weakness”, he warned. Claiming that his attempts to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi was rebuffed, Khan said “dialogue is the only way for peace and stability.” India, however, made it clear that the release was unconditional, and did not imply resumption of any official bilateral dialogue. Wing Commander Varthaman was captured after his MiG-21 Bison was shot down over Pakistan-occupied Kashmir while chasing intruding Pakistan Air Force planes on Wednesday. A day earlier, the IAF attacked a massive training camp in Balakot run by the Jaish-e-Mohammad.
The terrorist outfit led by Masood Azhar had claimed the February 14 bombing of a CRPF convoy in Pulwama, Kashmir, killing at least 40 troopers. A few hours before Khan’s announcement, US President Donald Trump said, “We have some reasonably decent news from India and Pakistan... “There’s a lot of dislike, unfortunately. So we’ve been in the middle, trying to help them both out and see if we can get some organisation and some peace. I think probably that’s going to be happening.” Earlier, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. In New Delhi, senior officials said India had presented an extensive dossier listing out details of camps, leaders and locations of JeM leaders to diplomats from all nations, and “stressed the seriousness of our intent to deal with the problem of terrorism from a neighbour if Pakistan or the international community cannot.”
A copy of the same dossier was given to Pakistan’s acting high commissioner on Wednesday and issued a demarche demanding the unconditional release of the pilot and action against terror. Pakistan said it would examine and act on the dossier “with an open heart”. As for talks, “Let Pakistan create the environment, which means immediate, credible and verifiable action against terrorists, their proxies, their infrastructure and the menace of cross-border terrorism. Nothing short of this will be acceptable to the government of India,” said a source.