–PM Imran tells joint session of parliament govt has decided to release IAF pilot from custody as first step towards open talks with India
–Says Pakistan’s desire for de-escalation must not be construed as weakness, urges India to hold dialogue
–Shehbaz Sharif lauds armed forces for thwarting Indian aggression, says entire country standing behind soldiers
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Thursday that his government had decided to return Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India as a goodwill gesture and to show Pakistan’s commitment to peace.
Wing Commander Abhinandan was taken into custody on Wednesday after his MIG-21 was shot down by Pakistan Air Force for intruding into Pakistani air space on the Line of Control (LoC).
“In our desire for peace, I announce that tomorrow, and as a first step to open negotiations, Pakistan will be releasing the Indian Air Force officer in our custody,” PM Imran said while addressing a joint session of parliament.
The gesture was greeted with near unanimous support in the parliament.
“Pakistan’s desire for de-escalation should not be confused as weakness,” PM Imran stressed, as he thanked the parliamentary opposition for the continued support amid rising tensions with India.
“The only purpose of our strike was to demonstrate our capability and will,” he said while addressing the House. “We did not want to inflict any casualty on India as we wanted to act in a responsible manner.”
PM Khan said he tried to call Indian PM Narendra Modi on the phone yesterday (Wednesday) because “escalation is not in our interests nor in India’s”.
“I reached out to New Delhi after assuming charge as prime minister. I wrote to Narendra Modi and suggested a meeting between the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. But we did not get a positive response.”
Imran said Islamabad realised that due to the upcoming elections in India, the Narendra Modi-led BJP [Bhartiya Janata party] government was not very keen on maintaining good ties with Pakistan.
“We decided to wait until after India’s general elections. We opened up Kartarpur Corridor as a positive gesture but we feared misadventures,” he said.
“Then the Pulwama attack happened. Within half an hour, India blamed Pakistan for the attack. We had Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visiting Islamabad. Why would we sabotage an important conference? What could we gain from it?”
The prime minister said that he had publicly offered complete cooperation to India in investigating the Pulwama suicide attack. “But instead of sharing any intelligence, India opted for war-hysteria. I want to pay homage to Pakistan’s media for the responsible coverage. Our media did not engage in warmongering,” said Imran.
No country allows its sovereignty to be attacked. India shared the dossier today, after breaching international laws and attacking Pakistan, he added.
Imran said the Pakistani nation was inspired by heroes like Tipu Sultan and would never surrender to the enemy or compromise its dignity.
“As a dignified nation, we will fight till our last breath if forced to choose between freedom and slavery,” he said.
The prime minister also made a comparison between the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar who chose to surrender and Tipu Sultan, the Ruler of Maysore, who fought till his death.
“We’d heard about the two kings. But our hero is Tipu Sultan,” Imran Khan referred to the brave Ruler of Maysore, who used to say: ‘A lion’s life for a day is better than that of hundred years of a jackal.’
SHEHBAZ LAUDS ARMED FORCES
Addressing the joint sitting of both houses of parliament, National Assembly Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif lauded the Pakistan Army and air force for thwarting India’s aggression.
“Pakistan is united and the entire nation speaks in one voice,” he said, adding that our armed forces will give blow to the enemy.
Shehbaz Sharif said this was an important turn in the history of the country adding that Pakistan retaliated well to counter the Indian aggression.
He said Kashmir was bleeding and the international bodies were silent.
He further said that Pakistan should not attend OIC meetings till the groups condemns atrocities in Kashmir.
Tensions between Pakistan and India escalated dramatically on February 14 when a young Kashmiri rammed an explosives-laden car into an Indian paramilitary convoy, killing at least 44 soldiers. India was quick to blame Pakistan for the suicide bombing.
PM Imran offered every possible help in the investigation, but India turned down the offer and whipped up war hysteria.
On February 26, the Indian Air Force violated Pakistani airspace. The country’s top civil and military leadership declared the violation of airspace by Indian fighter jets “uncalled for aggression” and decided that the country would respond at a “time and place of its choosing”.
On February 27, Pakistan announced it had shot down two Indian fighter jets that attempted to violate its airspace and captured an Indian pilot. The military’s media wing later released a video of the pilot, who introduced himself as Wing Commander Abhinandan bearing service number 27981.
Pakistani military’s spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a press conference that the armed forces had responsibly retaliated to Indian incursion by striking a target few miles from an Indian military’s administrative unit to ensure there were no human life or collateral damage.
“We decided to not hit a military target or endanger human life. We did not want to retaliate at the cost of regional peace. We do not want escalation,” he told reporters.
A few hours later, Prime Minister Imran Khan took the nation into confidence over the armed forces’ response. As escalating tensions fuelled concerns of all-out war between nuclear-tipped Pakistan, Imran warned of catastrophic consequences should “better sense” not prevail.
The premier ended his speech with another peace talks offer and cooperation in Pulwama attack investigation to India.
A day earlier, the top political leadership of the country was given an in-camera briefing at the Parliament House.
Opposition parties expressed satisfaction over the briefing mainly conducted by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor.
An official handout issued by the National Assembly Secretariat said: “The forum unanimously expressed that they stand united against any aggression against Pakistan and will support the government and its institutions unconditionally.”
It said the participants also “expressed hope that those who want peace and stability will prevail as war is not an option but a failure of policy”.