Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that he would release a captured Indian jet fighter pilot in a bid to reduce tensions between the two nations over the disputed border region of Kashmir.
Khan made the announcement in an address to Pakistan’s Parliament, revealing he tried to contact Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday to express his desire to defuse tensions.
“We are releasing the Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture tomorrow,” said Khan, who did not specify whether the release was conditional.
Pakistan will release Indian Pilot Abhinandan tomorrow as a gesture of peace: Prime Minister Imran Khan pic.twitter.com/6aUN4S9JVb
— Govt of Pakistan (@pid_gov) February 28, 2019
Tensions between the two nuclear powers have risen in recent weeks after a suicide bomber killed over 40 Indian paramilitary troops in the Kashmir territory, with India accusing the Pakistani government of involvement.
India responded to the attack by launching a pre-dawn airstrike on Tuesday in Pakistan against militant training camps. Pakistan retaliated by shooting down an Indian fighter jet carrying Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
At a press conference in Delhi on Thursday, Indian Air Force officials admitted they were “extremely happy” that the pilot would be released.
However, Modi has yet to respond to the pledge, after warning on Wednesday that “India’s enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks.”
Footage of his capture from the aircraft showed what appeared to be local residents attacking the pilot before Pakistani soldiers intervened. Footage since published online has shown him drinking tea and praising the efforts of the Pakistani military to protect him.
On Wednesday, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj declared that India did not wish to see “further escalation” of tensions and would act with “responsibility and restraint.”
“The limited objective of that pre-emptive strike was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of Jaish-e-Mohammed in order to pre-empt another terror attack in India,” she said. “India does not wish to see further escalation of this situation. India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint.”
China: EAM Sushma Swaraj, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 16th Foreign Ministers meeting of Russia-India-China (RIC) in Wuzhen. pic.twitter.com/o12IEvg5Oe
— ANI (@ANI) February 27, 2019
Speaking in Hanoi following his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on Thursday, President Donald Trump hinted that diplomatic efforts to end the stand-off had already begun.
“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.”