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  India   Politics  01 Mar 2019  IAF pilot to be freed today: Imran Khan

IAF pilot to be freed today: Imran Khan

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Mar 1, 2019, 2:46 am IST
Updated : Mar 1, 2019, 2:46 am IST

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

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo: AP)
 Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo: AP)

New Delhi/Islamabad: In a major diplomatic move billed as a “peace gesture” and designed to de-escalate mounting tensions with India, Pakistan Prime Minster Imran Khan Thursday announced that Indian Air Force’s captured pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, will be released on Friday.

According to media reports, he is expected to reach India through the Wagah-Attari border near Amritsar in Punjab accompanied by India’s air attache to Pakistan, Group Captain J.D. Kurian.

 

Speaking in Parliament on rising tensions between Pakistan and India, Mr Khan said, “As a peace gesture, we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow (Friday).”

The announcement came just hours after Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Mr Khan was ready for telephonic talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and that Pakistan was ready to hand over Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan if it leads to de-escalation. “We want peace in the region,” he said.

Pakistan’s move is being seen as an effort to wrest the diplomatic initiative, deny India any ground for military action, generate goodwill among the Indian public and convey to the world that Pakistan believes in peace.

 

The move came even as Western powers like the US, UK and France and powerful Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE lobbied with both countries in an effort to lower temperatures.

Evidence of that global pressure was clear when US President Donald Trump, in response to questions in Hanoi, said early on Thursday, “I think (we will soon have) reaso-nably attractive news from Pakist-an and India. They have been going at it and we have been involved and have them stop, we have some reasonably decent news. Hopefully it’s going to be coming to an end… this has been going on for a long time, decades and decades.”

The release of the IAF pilot is expected to somewhat pacify the Indian government, with both the IAF and government sources saying New Delhi was “happy” over Mr Khan’s announcement, but also insisting that Pakistan has to act against terrorists operating from its soil.

 

Mr Modi too on Thursday appeared to be making a reference to India’s air strikes on terror camps in Pakistan when he said that a “pilot project” was recently carried out and now the “real one” has to be done.

Speaking at an award ceremony for scientists, he said, “You spend your life in laboratories. You have a tradition of first doing a pilot project. It is later scaled up. So recently a pilot project happened. Now the real one has to be done. Earlier one was a practice.”

The surprise announcement of the captured IAF pilot’s release was made by Mr Khan during a joint session of Parliament on Thursday afternoon. As Pakistan’s Opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif took the floor of the House, Mr Khan apologised for interrupting and said he wished to announce that the Indian pilot would be released on Friday as a “peace gesture”. The announcement was greeted by thumping of desks by Pakistani lawmakers.

 

Prime Minister Khan once again said that Pakistan had nothing to gain from the Pulwama attack, especially at a time when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was paying an official visit to the country.

“We offered investigation into the incident if provided with actionable intelligence,” he said, and recalled that Pakistan has prepared a consensus National Action Plan to eliminate terrorism in which commitments have been made that armed militias will not be allowed any space.

“Instead of giving evidence, the Indian side resorted to war mongering and created war hysteria,” Mr Khan said and added that on Thursday Pakistan received a dossier from India, “which should have been shared just after the Pulwama incident.”

 

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to New Delhi Dr Saud Mohammed Al-Sati met Prime Minister Modi on Thursday, sparking intense speculation about Saudi efforts to broker peace between the two nations. According to reports, the UAE’s Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed also spoke with both the Prime Ministers, emphasising dialogue and communication between the two neighbours.

The IAF on Thursday insisted that Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan’s release was in line with the Geneva Convention. “We are very happy Abhinandan will be freed tomorrow and look forward to his return,” Air Vice Marshal R.G.K. Kapoor, assistant chief of Air Staff, told a news conference. Asked if the IAF sees it as a goodwill move, he said, “We see it as a gesture in consonance with the Geneva Convention.”

 

Interestingly, earlier in the day Indian government sources had made it clear that there would be no deal with Pakistan over the release of the IAF pilot. They indicated that India cannot let the mood of the nation depend on an individual and that the focus would remain on India’s concerns on terrorism.

The IAF pilot was captured by Pakistan after his MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft — that shot down a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter aircraft — crashed inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). He managed to eject safely before his jet crashed.

Indian government sources revealed on Thursday morning that on Wednesday night, Pakistan had made false allegations to foreign embassies in Islamabad by claiming that India was planning missile strikes, that Indian troops were massing on the border and that the Indian Navy was preparing to strike Karachi.

 

The capture of the pilot had provoked a war of words on Wednesday, especially after disturbing footage from Pakistan went viral on social media of the captured IAF officer being beaten up and later being given a cup of tea by his captors.

India strongly objected to “Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and the Geneva Convention”. New Delhi also told Islamabad “to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody”, adding that “India also expects his immediate and safe return”.

In Islamabad, officials reviewed legal aspects, bilateral and international agreements, including whether Geneva Conventions would apply, before taking the decision to release Wg. Cdr. Abhinandan. If he were granted Prisoner of War (PoW) status, then Geneva Convention would have applied to him.

 

Pakistan and India are signatories to the Geneva Conventions, and under Article 13-16, are bound to release and repatriate PoW without delay after the end of hostilities. The detaining power may prosecute them for possible war crimes, but not for acts of violence that are lawful under the IHL.

The Geneva Convention is a set of rules that apply only in times of armed conflict and seek to protect people who are not or are no longer taking part in hostilities. These include the sick and wounded of armed forces on the field, at sea, prisoners of war, and civilians.

Pakistan had detained a Indian pilot during Kargil war in 1999 and Islamabad repatriated him after eight days.

 

Tags: imran khan, abhinandan varthaman, pulwama attack