Prime minister tells joint session of Parliament the speedy release is a ‘peace gesture’
Pakistan will release a captured Indian pilot on Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan told a joint session of Parliament on Thursday, in an overture toward New Delhi after soaring tensions fueled fears of conflict between the neighboring nations.
“As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Khan said, a day after Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down in a rare aerial engagement between the South Asian neighbors over the disputed region of Kashmir.
Earlier, addressing the joint session of Parliament, Khan reiterated his concerns that any conflict between Islamabad and New Delhi could “get out of hand” and force Pakistan to retaliate. He said Pakistan did not want to escalate the current situation and urged India to look inwards as to why Kashmiri youth were willing to give up their lives to hit out at New Delhi’s armed forces. He said he had attempted to talk directly with Modi on the phone yesterday but had been unable to reach his Indian counterpart.
“I feel the Indian public does not agree with its government’s warmongering,” he said. “If their media had seen what our media has seen the past 17 years [of the war on terror], they would not have created this war hysteria,” he said, adding that he was proud of the “mature” way Pakistani media had handled the ongoing situation.
Pakistan and India have both been urged by major world powers to exercise restraint following a brief skirmish between warplanes on Wednesday morning over Kashmir. New Delhi said it lost one fighter jet and a pilot was missing in action, later confirming he was in Pakistani custody. India also claimed to have downed a Pakistani jet, but this was denied by Pakistan.
Islamabad said its incursion across the heavily militarized border on Feb. 27 was in response to Indian warplanes bombing Balakot, well inside its territory, on Feb. 26. That attack followed a suicide bombing in Indian-Occupied Kashmir on Feb. 14 that killed at least 40 paramilitaries. New Delhi blamed the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad for the attack, despite a local resident of Indian-Occupied Kashmir perpetrating it.