Pakistan to Release Pilot, Seeking to Limit Tension With India

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will release a captured Indian Air Force pilot tomorrow as a gesture of peace that could help de-escalate a tense military confrontation between the two nations.

“We have captured a pilot of India. As a gesture of peace we are going to release him to India tomorrow,” said Khan. “I did try yesterday to talk to Narendra Modi only to de-escalate this situation. But this de-escalation effort should not be considered as weakness.”

He told lawmakers in the country’s parliament he hoped the international community would play its part in de-escalating tensions with India.

India has called for the pilot’s immediate and safe return, and said it was not willing to negotiate, an official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity, citing rules. It’s unclear whether the release of the pilot will defuse tensions entirely. New Delhi has insisted it will not engage in talks with Islamabad unless the country takes “immediate and verifiable action” against terrorism.

India foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar did not immediately respond to a text and a phone call after Khan’s announcement.

Pakistan arrested the Indian pilot after aircraft from the two nations clashed in the disputed region of Kashmir in the worst military stand-off in decades.

Earlier on Thursday, an India official said it would not negotiate or talk with Pakistan over the fate of a captured air force pilot.

India’s statement comes as the U.S. urged India and Pakistan to refrain from further military action as international pressure builds on the long-standing rivals to de-escalate the most serious flare-up in decades that’s seen fighter jets from both nations shot down.

Global Risks

“The potential risks associated with further military action by either side are unacceptably high for both countries, their neighbors, and the international community,” said a White House National Security Council official who spoke condition of anonymity citing the sensitivity of the matter.

A day before Pakistan downed the Indian jet, the Indian Air Force said its jets launched airstrikes against terrorists inside Pakistan. The target was a camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammed which claimed responsibility for the Feb. 14 suicide car bombing in Kashmir killing 40 members of India’s security forces.

India also shot down a Pakistani fighter plane on Wednesday, Kumar said. Indian ground troops saw the aircraft falling in Pakistani territory, he said. Pakistan’s military spokesman Asif Ghafoor, in turn, denied that the air force had lost a jet.

— With assistance by Vrishti Beniwal

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