Pak To Free Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman Today Amid Fierce Global Pressure

Pak To Free Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman Today Amid Fierce Global Pressure

NEW DELHI: Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, captured by Pakistan after an aerial fight, will return today after Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his release as a "peace gesture". The pilot's release fostered de-escalation after hostilities peaked between the neighbours over the past few days, following India's air strikes targeting a terror training camp in Pakistan earlier this week and Islamabad's attempt to target Indian military installations.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman engaged in an air duel with one of the 24 Pakistani F-16s that had tried to target military facilities in India on Wednesday and shot it down before his jet crashed and he was forced to eject, landing across the Line of Control.

Videos put out on Pakistani accounts showed the pilot blindfolded and wounded, his hands tied, calmly answering questions. The videos, removed soon after, were seen as a violation of the Geneva Convention and led to global calls for his release and restraint from both sides.

After the pilot's release was announced, the Army, Navy and Air Force, in a rare joint briefing in Delhi, said they were prepared to tackle any provocation from across the border.

"Pakistan has targeted our military installations. They have escalated matters. If they provoke us any further, we are prepared for exigencies," said Major General Surendra Singh Mahal, who represented the Army.

Imran Khan's decision to release Abhinandan Varthaman was the result of immense international pressure to pull both countries back from the brink. The US, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia played a role, say sources; there has been no official comment from the Indian government on these efforts.

Washington's role was revealed when President Donald Trump told the world media in Hanoi that "reasonably attractive news was coming from India and Pakistan". US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to both sides and reportedly had a 25-minute conversation with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed tweeted that he had made "telephone calls to the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers" stressing the "importance of dealing wisely with recent developments and giving priority to dialogue and communication".

Countries like the UK, France and Russia - all permanent members of the UN Security Council - had also urged restraint. Even China told Pakistan it "does not want to see actions that violate the norms of international relations."

Pakistan would have had to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman under the Geneva Convention. It happened sooner because of India's refusal to negotiate and global pressure.

Countries like the US and France had endorsed India's strong stand following the February 14 Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, in which over 40 soldiers were killed. India's air strikes on Tuesday targeted a huge Jaish training facility in Balakot, around 80 km from the Line of Control.