Pakistan is set to free a captured Indian pilot on Friday in a “peace gesture” aimed at de-escalating tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who has become the face of the latest crisis between Pakistan and India, will be handed back to Indian officials at the Wagah border crossing on Friday afternoon, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said during the Parliament’s joint session.
“As Prime Minister Imran Khan has said, as a peace gesture and to de-escalate matters, the Indian pilot will be released. So today, this afternoon, he will be released at Wagah,” he said.
A diplomatic source told AFP the handover was expected between 3-4pm Pakistan time (1000-1100 GMT).
The captured pilot’s parents travelled to Amritsar, near Wagah, via Delhi late last night.
Meanwhile, acting Indian High Commissioner Gaurav Ahluwalia arrived at the Foreign Office on Friday morning for a briefing on the imminent release of Wing Commander Abhinandan.
Wing Commander Abhinandan would be accompanied back by India’s air attache, who was headed to Lahore with the IAF pilot’s travel documents.
The pilot was captured on February 27 after the Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian aircraft after they intruded into the country’s airspace.
In a video released shortly after his arrest, Wing Commander Abhinandan praised Pakistan Army officials as ‘thorough gentlemen’.
“I have [been treated well] and I would like to put that on record … I will not change my statement if I go back to my country,” he said.
The decision to release the pilot was announced by Prime Minister Imran Khan in Thursday’s joint parliament session. Terming the move a “peace gesture” to India, the premier emphasised that Islamabad desired peace and stability in the region.
In his address to lawmakers, PM Imran asserted that Islamabad’s desire for de-escalation should not be construed as weakness and that Pakistan remained fully prepared to retaliate against any aggression.
With additional input from AFP.