Thursday 28 February 2019

Pakistan to release Indian pilot captured in Kashmir attacks

Imran Khan says pilot to be freed as ‘peace gesture’ amid rising tensions between nuclear neighbours

Pakistan says it will release a captured Indian pilot as a “peace gesture” between the neighbours amid the gravest military crisis in the subcontinent in two decades.

Imran Khan, the country’s prime minister, told a joint sitting of parliament that the Indian wing commander, Abhi Nandan, who was shot down over the heavily guarded ceasefire line in disputed Kashmir on Wednesday, would be released on Friday

“We have captured an Indian pilot,” Khan said. “As a peace gesture, tomorrow we are going to release him.”

Nandan was shot down on Wednesday during a dogfight in the Himalayan foothills, the first between the countries to be publicly acknowledged for 48 years. It followed tit-for-tat airstrikes this week that have led to the closure of dozens of airports and put major cities on high alert across the subcontinent.

The wreckage of an Indian aircraft after it crashed on Wednesday near Srinagar,
the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Photograph: Javed Dar/Xinhua/Barcroft Images
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, accused Pakistan of having “evil designs” to stunt India’s growth on Thursday in his first remarks since Nandan was captured and appeared in several prisoner videos released by Islamabad.

Speaking to party workers in a video conference on Thursday, Modi did not respond to an offer of dialogue from Khan, leaving open the possibility of further escalation between the two nuclear-equipped armies.

“The enemy tries to destabilise us, carries out terror attacks,” Modi said. “Their motive is to stop our growth. Today, all countrymen are standing like a rock to counter their evil designs.”

The clashes over the heavily militarised “line of control” that divides Indian and Pakistani-held Kashmir sparked calls for restraint from countries including the US, China, Russia and the UK.

The US president, Donald Trump, who was addressing a press conference in Hanoi at the same time Modi was speaking, hinted that diplomatic efforts had begun behind the scenes.

“They have been going at it and we have been involved,” 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.”

Leave was cancelled for health workers and police in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and emergency orders were issued in Karachi, while train stations in Delhi were placed on “red alert” as both countries prepared for the possibility of more military attacks.

Pakistani jets struck sites in Indian-controlled territory on Wednesday and shot down one of the Indian planes that scrambled in response, capturing the pilot. Videos of Nandan showed him being interrogated in a bloodied uniform then being beaten by villagers near the crash site. Both were widely shared on WhatsApp and social media.

By late evening, in a video that appeared to be aimed at calming public anger in India, the pilot was shown drinking tea and praising the way he was being treated by his captors, who he said were “thorough gentlemen”.

(Source: The Guardian)

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