The captured Indian fighter pilot who was attacked by a mob and then paraded on video by Pakistan’s army, will be released, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday. “We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture we will release him tomorrow,” Khan told a joint sitting of parliament in the capital, Islamabad.
Khan also said he had unsuccessfully tried to make telephone contact with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday night. Indian media have given his name as Abhinandan Varthaman.
Following Pakistani villagers and soldiers filming his capture and captivity on Wednesday in clips, that have since gone viral on social media, the pilot identified by Islamabad as Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan fast emerged as the human face of the dangerous flare-up between the arch-foes.
Varthaman and the Indian Air Force (IAF) have been at the heart of the crisis between India and Pakistan after the latter claimed to have shot down two Indian fighter jets in response to the bombing of alleged “terror” targets inside Pakistan.
India had said there will be “no deal” on the captured pilot, local media NDTV reported on Thursday, attributing government sources.
“We want him back,” sources said. “If Pakistan thinks that they have a card to negotiate with, they do not.”
Tensions have risen since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based armed group, Jaish-e-Muhammad(JeM), in Indian-administered Kashmir killed at least 42 Indian paramilitary forces on February 14.
But the risk of an all-out conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday when India launched air raids on what it said was a JeM training base. The US and China have appealed for restraint.
In one video posted on social media, the pilot is seen in ankle-deep stream of water with a bloodied face being kicked by a group of man in the disputed Kashmir.
In the second part of the video the pilot is seen blindfolded and can be heard saying “I’ve got hurt and I would request some water”. He then reveals his name and rank before politely fending off questions from soldiers by saying: “I’m not supposed to tell you that.”
In another video, posted on Twitter by Pakistan’s state broadcaster, PTV news, the pilot is shown relaxed while saying “I would like to put this on record and I would not change my statement if I go back to my country. The officers of the Pakistan Army have looked after me very well. They are thorough gentlemen.”
Pakistan’s army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor tweeted a photo of the airman and said he was “being treated as per norms of military ethics”. Pakistani tweeters said he had been shown exemplary hospitality.
In a statement released by the foreign ministry, India branded Pakistan’s videos as a “vulgar display” of an injured airman, saying they violated international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.
“Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return” read the statement.
India has yet to respond to the news of the pilot’s planned release.
The airman’s treatment at the hands of Pakistani troops drew both condemnation and praise.
Following Pakistan’s government released a picture of the downed pilot, social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp were inundated with old videos and photos of him.
Many Indian users expressed their concern for Varthaman’s return, with the hashtags #BringHimHome and #AbhinandanMyHero being the top two trends on Indian Twitter Wednesday evening.
Others went on social media to send their prayers to the family demanding his return. “True inspiration & model figure .. Huge respect” wrote a Twitter user.
Pakistanis on social media had also called on the army and government to treat Varthaman with respect and ensure his safe return back to his country. India handed over its files on the deadly February 14 bombing to Pakistan on Thursday, Prime Minister Khan said after a similar confirmation by the foreign minister earlier in the day.
“Today they [India] have sent a dossier on Pulwama,” he told the parliament. “They should have given us the dossier first, and if we had not taken action, then they could have taken action.”
In his address, Khan reiterated his call for de-escalation, a day after urging India to avoid any “miscalculation”.
“I am saying to India: do not take it further than this. Because whatever you do, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate. And then two countries who have the weapons that the two of us, we should never even think of such a thing.”
In a televised address on Wednesday, the Pakistani prime minister had said his country is ready to cooperate with New Delhi into the investigation of the February 14 suicide bombing, claimed by Pakistan-based armed group, JeM.
New Delhi accuses Islamabad of using armed groups as proxies to drive unrest in Kashmir and carry out “terror” attacks in India.
Pakistan has denied all allegations and warned India against linking it to the latest attack in Pulwama.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister told local television channel Geo News on Thursday that Khan was ready to speak with Indian Prime Minister Modi on the telephone.
“Yesterday, I tried to call Narendra Modi,” Khan said. “I wanted to make it clear that we do not want any kind of escalation.”
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies