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Air Force Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman To Be Released Tomorrow: Imran Khan

Air Force Pilot Abhinandan Varthaman To Be Released Tomorrow: Imran Khan
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New Delhi : Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, taken captive by Pakistan on Wednesday, will be released tomorrow as a "gesture of peace", Imran Khan declared today, hours after the US called for immediate steps towards de-escalation and President Donald Trump revealed that there would be "reasonably attractive news" from Pakistan and India.

"Yesterday I tried to call (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi to say that we don't want escalation. Our push for de-escalation doesn't mean we are afraid," Imran Khan said, speaking at the country's parliament.

"We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow," said the Pakistan Prime Minister to desk-thumping in the national assembly.

India had ruled out Imran Khan's call for a dialogue yesterday in a televised statement in which he declared that Pakistan had taken custody of an Indian pilot. There would be "no deal" on the pilot's release, top officials asserted today.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured after an aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani fighter planes on Wednesday. 

Before his capture, the government said, he shot down two Pakistani pilots when he hit an F-16 jet.

Amid soaring tension, the government last evening summoned the Pakistani envoy and handed over a demarche demanding the "immediate and safe return" of the pilot. It also strongly objected to Pakistan's "vulgar display" of the pilot in videos and said Pakistan "would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to him".

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Imran Khan was willing to consider the pilot's release if it led to de-escalation, but added: "Our PM Imran Khan is ready to talk on the phone to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but is Modi-ji ready?"

This morning, President Trump, addressing a press conference in Hanoi on the sidelines of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, offered hope of de-escalation. 

"I think reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India, they have been going at it and we have been involved and have them stop, 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," the US President said.

The US had called on India and Pakistan to "cease all cross-border military activity" and to take immediate steps to deescalate the situation and return to stability, including through direct communication.

The pull-back comes a day after hostilities between the neighbours peaked, with aerial combat between Indian and Pakistani warplanes for the first time in 48 years.

A day before, India had sent fighter jets to Pakistan and struck the biggest training camp of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed, which was behind the suicide attack on February 14 in Kashmir's Pulwama, in which over 40 soldiers were killed. 

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