Pakistan to free Indian Air Force pilot as “peace gesture”

Good move.
Good move.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter
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Pakistan has said it will release the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot it arrested yesterday (Feb. 27).

Prime minister Imran Khan told his country’s parliament today that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would be released tomorrow (March 01) as a “peace gesture.”

Varthaman’s plane crash-landed on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). This followed the breaching of India’s airspace by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in the Nowshera sector of J&K’s Rajouri district, which led to an air-skirmish between the two sides. At least one jet belonging to each side was reportedly shot down by the other in this confrontation.

On Feb. 26, a day before this incident, the IAF carried out a “non-military pre-emptive strike” on a terrorist camp of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) group in Balakot area of the neighbouring country’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, Indian officials said.

Varthaman’s repatriation, expected tomorrow, will considerably cool down the tempers in south Asia, as the nuclear-armed neighbours take a step back. Both Indian and Pakistani leaders had yesterday expressed their intention to claw back the precipitous situation prevailing in the region ever since a deadly terrorist attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy in Kashmir a fortnight ago. A JeM cadre had on Feb. 14 detonated an improvised explosive device in Pulwama, resulting in the death of over 40 Indian paramilitary personnel.

Interestingly, prime minister Khan’s gesture has come hours after US president Donald Trump indicated he expected the crisis in south Asia to be defused soon. Referring to the situation at a press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, where he is visiting, Trump said, “…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.”