Pakistan to release Abhinandan as Iran, US play mediators: All you need to know

A few hours ago, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Pakistan will be releasing Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman to India tomorrow, March 1.

US President Donald Trump also said American officials were attempting to broker peace between the two countries.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also spoke to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahood Qureshi and offered to facilitate peace talks.

These new developments follow the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan triggered by the devastating Pulwama attack that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans.

The IAF retaliated by crossing the Line of Control (LoC) to conduct aerial strikes against training camps run by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the terrorist group that took responsibility for the Pulwama attack.

Agitated by LoC violation, Pakistani forces targeted military installations on the Indian side. This resulted in the IAF and PAF exchanging fire for the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

During this “aerial engagement”, as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) called it, Varthaman’s aircraft was lost and he was considered “missing in action”. However, Pakistan Armed Forces (PAF) said Varthaman was in their custody, prompting India to strongly demand his immediate and safe release.

IAF pilot’s release

Today, Khan announced in Pakistan parliament that the country would hand Varthaman over to the Indian government as a “peace gesture”. Other Pakistani lawmakers applauded him.  

The IAF, Indian Army, and Navy also held a joint briefing and said they were happy about Varthaman’s release.

The Quint reports that when Air Vice Marshal R G K Kapoor was asked if he considered this an act of peace, he said, “We see this as a gesture in consonance with Geneva Conventions.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a high-level security meeting at 7 Lok Kalyan Marg. However, politicians have expressed concern and confusion at the lack of statements or briefings from Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

Former Chief Minister of J&K Omar Abdullah said, “We do still have a Defence Minister, right?”

International response

In a press briefing from Hanoi, Trump addressed the tense Indo-Pak relations. He vaguely said the US was facilitating peace talks between the two nations.

“I think, reasonably attractive news from Pakistan and India… They’ve been going at it and we’ve been involved in trying to have them stop… Hopefully, that’s going to come to an end…” he said.

He said there was “a lot of dislike” between India and Pakistan and that the US was in the “middle” trying to solve the issue. However, he offered no concrete details on how this happened.

News18 reports that the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif spoke to his Pakistani counterpart Qureshi over the phone and offered “mediation between India and Pakistan”.

Indians are hopeful that Varthaman’s release goes off without a snag.

Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius