Press Trust of india

Indian pilot to be released: Imran Khan

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Islamabad, Feb 28:  Pakistan Prime Minster Imran Khan Thursday announced that IAF's captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be released on Friday as a gesture of peace and the "first step" to open negotiations with India.

The surprise announcement during a joint session of Parliament came barely an hour after Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Prime Minister Khan is ready to talk to his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to de-escalate Indo-Pak tensions.

As the opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif took the floor of the House, Prime Minister Khan apologised for interrupting him and said he wishes to announce that the Indian pilot captured by Pakistan Air Force on Wednesday will be released Friday as a peace gesture.

"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 announcement was greeted by thumping of desks by Pakistani lawmakers.

India on Thursday said that IAF pilot Abhinandan cannot be a bargaining chip and New Delhi will not strike any deal with Islamabad for his release.

The joint session of Parliament was held on Thursday to discuss rising tension with India. The Pakistani Air Force on Wednesday carried out a retaliatory strike, a day after Indian struck inside Pakistan, destroying the “biggest training camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)”.

Addressing the House, Khan said, "The only purpose of our strike was to demonstrate our capability and will."

"We did not want to inflict any casualty on India as we wanted to act in a responsible manner."

He warned if India moved ahead with the "aggression", Pakistan will be forced to retaliate and urged the Indian leadership not to push for escalation as war is not solution to any problem.

Warning that "any miscalculation" from India would result in "disaster", he said “countries are ruined because of miscalculation. War is not a solution. If India takes any action, we will have to retaliate."

Khan, however, said that Pakistan's "desire for de-escalation" should not be misconstrued as its weakness.

"Our armed forces are battle-hardened and they are fully prepared to respond to any aggression,” he said.

He said "Pakistan is a peace loving country" and desires peace and stability in the region.

Prime Minister Khan also said he "tried to call" the Indian Prime Minister on the phone Wednesday because "escalation is not in our interests nor in India's".

The prime minister urged the international community to play its role in de-escalation for peace and stability in the region.

Pakistan detained the IAF pilot following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was downed.

Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) said that the Indian Air Force pilot was safe and sound.

"The armed forces rescued him from the mob that went after him after his plane crashed in Kashmir," the FO said.

India Wednesday summoned the acting High Commissioner of Pakistan and demanded immediate and safe return of the IAF pilot who was detained by Pakistan following an aerial engagement by air forces of the two countries.

It has also been made clear to Pakistan that no harm should be caused to the Indian defence personnel, the External Affairs Ministry said in New Delhi, adding that it has conveyed strong objection to the neighbouring country at the "vulgar display" of an injured personnel in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention.

Earlier in the day, chairing a Cabinet meeting, Khan briefed the members about the latest developments in the Indo-Pak relations following the Pulwama suicide attack on February 14 and subsequent aerial engagement by the two countries' fighter jets.

"Dialogue is the only way for peace and stability in the region," Khan said.

"I had made an offer to India to investigate the Pulwama attack and hold dialogue on bilateral issues.

"Pakistan is ready for talks with India on all issues including terrorism," ‘Geo news’ quoted Khan as telling Cabinet members.

India on Thursday told Pakistan that it has to take concrete steps against the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) militant group before they could engage in talks.

A 12-point agenda, including the current security situation, was discussed during the meeting and the ministers of foreign affairs and defence briefed the Cabinet on the Indian "aggression", sources said.

The report quoted Khan as saying that he "tried to call Modi last night" (Wednesday).

Earlier, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Prime Minister Khan is ready to talk to his Indian counterpart Modi over the telephone to offer him peace.

Qureshi told Geo News that if India gives priority to peace, Pakistan is ready for peace.

"Prime Minister Imran Khan is ready to talk to Narendra Modi on the telephone and ready to extend an invitation of peace. Is Modi ready?" he asked.

"We are ready for every eventuality. If they give priority to peace, we are ready for peace. If they prioritise dialogue, we are ready for dialogue," the Foreign Minister said.

Qureshi also said Pakistan is willing to consider returning the captured IAF pilot if it leads to "de-escalation" of tensions with India.

"Pakistan is willing to consider returning the Indian pilot if it leads to de-escalation," Qureshi said here.

In New Delhi, government sources said that India has not asked for consular access to the IAF pilot, and is insisting on his unconditional and immediate return.

Pakistan's Foreign Office (FO) said that the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot was safe and sound.

"The armed forces rescued him from the mob that went after him after his plane crashed in Kashmir," the FO said.

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