ISLAMABAD: Amid mounting international pressure, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced that the captured IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman in the custody of its armed forces would be released on Friday.
Speaking in his country's Parliament, Imran Khan said that the pilot would be released as a ''peace gesture'' towards India.
"The release of the pilot is the first step towards open negotiations," he said while confirming that he would call Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan: As a peace gesture we are releasing Wing Commander Abhinandan tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/J0Attb6KDC
— ANI (@ANI) February 28, 2019
Addressing a joint session of the National Assembly, Khan said the India-Pakistan situation should not "get out of hand" otherwise "Pakistan will have to retaliate".
"Countries are ruined because of miscalculation," said Khan. Alleging "war hysteria" in India, he said, "I'm afraid that there might be a miscalculation.''
"War is not a solution. If India takes any action, we will have to retaliate," PM PM said. The joint session of Parliament was called to discuss the rising tensions with India.
The surprise announcement came barely an hour after country's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Prime Minister Khan is ready to talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to de-escalate Indo-Pak tensions.
The announcement was greeted by thumping of desks by Pakistani lawmakers.
Sources claimed that the captured IAF pilot will arrive home through Wagah Border on Friday.
India had so far maintained a strong position and had demanded the immediate and safe release of the pilot. Government sources had earlier said that India was absolutely against any deal with Pakistan for his release.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had on Wednesday morning told a leading Pakistani television channel Geo TV that his country is willing to return the captured IAF pilot this week if it helped ease the crisis with its neighbour.
''Pakistan is willing to consider returning the captured IAF pilot if it leads to de-escalation of tensions with India,'' FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said.
His statement came a day after Pakistan detained Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman following a fierce engagement between air forces of the two sides along the Line of Control when his MiG 21 fighter jet was hit.
On being asked if he is open to meeting his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on sidelines of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meet, Qureshi said he will not hesitate to meet but OIC is not the right forum for talks with Swaraj.
Qureshi further told Geo TV that if India gives priority to peace, Pakistan is ready for peace.
"Prime Minister Imran Khan is ready to talk to Indian PM Narendra Modi on the telephone and ready to extend an invitation of peace. Is PM 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 confirmed the receipt of India's dossier on the Pulwama terror attack on February 14 in which 40 CRPF soldiers were killed in an attack claimed by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
In New Delhi, highly placed government sources had 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) assured 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.
India on Wednesday summoned the acting high commissioner of Pakistan and demanded the 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.
(With Agencies Inputs)