Islamabad: In what is being seen as a diplomatic victory for India, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that the captured IAF pilot will be freed on Friday after New Delhi sought his unconditional, immediate and unharmed release.
Calling it a “peace gesture”, Khan told a joint session of the Pakistan National Assembly that the India-Pakistan situation should not “get out of hand” or otherwise Islamabad “will have to retaliate”.
The announcement about Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman — taken prisoner a day earlier — came hours after India demanded his release and ruled out talks on the issue, saying Pakistan cannot use this issue for a deal.
Khan said countries were ruined because of miscalculation and alleged that there was a “war hysteria” in India.
“I’m afraid there might be a miscalculation. War is not a solution. If India takes any action, we will have to retaliate,” he said at the session called to discuss the rising tensions with India.
“The only purpose of our strike (on India on Wednesday) was to demonstrate our capability and will,” he said. “We did not want to inflict any casualty on India as we wanted to act in a responsible manner.”
He said he tried to call Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the telephone on Wednesday because “escalation is not in our interests nor in India’s”.
The 35-year-old Wing Commander was captured by Pakistan on Wednesday after his MiG was shot down and it fell in Pakistani territory during a dogfight.
Earlier in the day, India said that Pakistan needed to create a conducive atmosphere for talks by taking credible and verifiable action against cross-border terrorism emanating from its soil and terrorist proxies.
Government sources said India had told the international community that it was Pakistan which escalated matters by targeting military installations and what India did was counter-terrorism action as Pakistan had not shown any inclination to act against terrorists and their proxies after the February 14 Pulwama attack and the claim by the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) was ignored.
They also referred to Khan’s statement on Wednesday that two Indian pilots were captured and later corrected it to one, saying that if they cannot get a simple fact right, it speaks about the credibility of the Pakistan government.
The sources said that at 9.45 a.m. on Wednesday, a sizeable force of Pakistan Air Force jets – over 20 in number – flew from a number of bases in Pakistan and approached the Indian air space.
Some crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and launched some laser-guided bombs. Their target was military installations but they missed narrowly because they could not come closer.
This, the sources said, happened against the backdrop of Khan’s claim that Pakistan wanted to show its strength but it was false because their actual target was military installations.
Khan said on Thursday that Islamabad’s action was intended to convey that if India can come into Pakistan, then Pakistan can do the same.
The sources said that there was deliberate effort by Pakistan to create a war psychosis by shutting its airspace and informing foreign embassies that India would launch missiles and also that there could be attack by the sea.
He said India conducted a targeted operation at a venue where fidayeen jehadis were being trained and there were no civilian casualties.
On Khan’s demand for actionable intelligence, the sources said India had considered giving it but felt there will be no use given that Pakistan had not acted on the detailed information given after the terror attacks on Mumbai and the Pathankot IAF base — even after a Pakistani team was given access.
They said India consistently briefed the international community and Pakistan’s reluctance in the past to act against terror perpetrators, and this was appreciated.