Pakistan Will Return Captured Indian Air Force Pilot Amidst Rising Tensions With India
Two Indian Air Force planes were shot down by Pakistani military on Wednesday, February 27. Major General Asif Ghafoor of Pakistan confirmed the action in a tweet, in which he also confirmed that one plane crashed in Pakistan-held Kashmir and the other fell beyond the Line of Control, the LoC. One of the planes’ pilots, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by the Pakistani military. No such reports have been released regarding the second pilot.
Amidst the rising tensions between the two neighboring countries, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the pilot would be returned to New Delhi on Friday, March 1. The decision was unanimously supported by parliament.
Maj. Gen. Ghafoor confirmed the pilot’s identity upon viewing the surfaced video of Mr. Abhinandan Varthaman’s capture. Officials in India immediately warned against torture of the pilot, which is a violation of the Geneva Convention’s Article 13.
In one video, Varthaman is seen drinking tea and being interviewed by Pakistani army personnel. "I would like to put this on record and I will not change my statement if I go back to my country... the Pakistani army has looked after me very well and they are thorough gentlemen,” stated Varthaman in the video.
His bruised appearance is due to the mob of villagers that attacked him when his plane crashed and was then subsequently rescued by the Pakistani military.
After the Pulwama Attack of February 14 and the airstrike conducted by the Indian military on Tuesday, in Balakot, Pakistan, foreign officials have been cautioning both countries toward de-escalating the situation.
A major concern was whether Pakistan would be genuine in its efforts to de-escalate the situation, commented Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “There’s been a real hardening on whether talks can provide any benefits and whether Pakistan is genuine in its calls for dialogue,” explained Ayres.
PM Khan’s approach to the issue has been to de-escalate through talks with his counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “All big wars have been due to miscalculation. No one knew how the war would end,” said Khan. “My question to India is that given the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation?”
The current state of tensions presented a dreadful conflict for Khan who has been facing heavy criticism domestically. This is the first foreign policy crisis Khan has had to face since coming into power last year.
Khan’s emphasis on dialogue was echoed by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehboob Qureshi, stating that Pakistan was ready to consider any step towards de-escalating the situation.
On Thursday, Qureshi confirmed in a televised interview that India had shared a dossier containing information on the February 14 bombing. The minister stated that Pakistan was prepared to cooperate with India in its investigation into Jaish-e-Mohammed.
"Today, [India] has sent a dossier ... we have received it, we will examine it, and now come and speak to us on the basis of this dossier," stated Qureshi.
Due to the attacks within the past week, Pakistan had closed off its entire airspace, according to Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, the CAA. Hundreds of flights were canceled and rerouted around the Kashmir region. Five Pakistani airports for commercial flights were shut down until Friday.
Wing Commander Varthaman is set to return to India from the Wagah-Attari border. The pilot will be received by a senior team of the Indian Air Force, according to Shiv Dular Singh Dhillon, the deputy commissioner of Amritsar.
Varthaman will be flown from Amritsar to New Delhi, where he will questioned by India’s Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), and the Ministry of External Affairs.