Pakistan will release Indian pilot Friday as ‘peace gesture’: Imran Khan

Pakistani PM Imran Khan. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 February 2019

Pakistan will release Indian pilot Friday as ‘peace gesture’: Imran Khan

  • “As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” he said
  • The pilot has become the face of the crisis since he was shot down in a rare aerial engagement between the South Asian neighbors

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan said Thursday it will release a captured Indian pilot in a “peace gesture,” taking a step toward rapprochement as clashes between the nuclear-armed rivals ignited fears of a disastrous conflict.
The pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, has become the face of the crisis since he was shot down in a rare aerial engagement between the South Asian neighbors over the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday.
With anger boiling over his capture in India, analysts have touted him as a potential trump card for Islamabad.
“As a peace gesture we are releasing the Indian pilot tomorrow,” Prime Minister Imran Khan told a joint session of parliament.
Parliamentarians stamped their feet in approval at his statement, the first sign of a potential thaw after a dangerous sequence of events between the two countries sent tensions soaring.
Tit-for-tat raids across their hair-trigger border have alarmed world powers including China and the US, who have urged restraint.
Pakistan has said it downed two Indian fighters, while India confirmed it had lost one plane and claimed it had shot down a Pakistani jet.
“I am afraid of miscalculations,” Khan said. “We should not even think of war, especially in view of the lethality of the weapons that we have.”
However he warned that his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi should not misconstrue his desire to de-escalate as “weakness.”
“India must know that we will be forced to strongly retaliate against any Indian action in the future,” he said.
Wednesday’s dogfight and the pilot’s capture sparked fears of India and Pakistan — who have fought two wars and countless deadly skirmishes over the Himalayan region — entering a cycle of retaliation and counterattacks that could spiral out of control.
Pakistan has closed its airspace indefinitely, and the army said Thursday its troops were on high alert along the Line of Control, the de facto border that divides Kashmir.
Authorities have tightened security across the country, with hospitals on alert and leave for police and other security officials canceled in some cities.

With anger boiling in India over Pakistan’s capture of the pilot, Modi called on his citizens Thursday to “stand as a wall” in the face of an enemy that “seeks to destabilize India.”
Analysts have said the pilot’s fate, and his safe release, could prove central to the neighbors pulling back from the brink.
US President Donald Trump has voiced optimism that the tensions could soon be resolved.
“We have had some reasonably decent news... Hopefully that’s going to be coming to an end,” he said of the crisis, speaking to reporters in Hanoi after a summit there with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed called on the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers to deal wisely with recent developments, and prioritize “dialogue and communication” in telephone calls with the premiers.  

The confrontation erupted after a suicide attack in Indian-held Kashmir killed 40 Indian troops on February 14.
New Delhi blamed the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group for the attack. Twelve days later Indian warplanes launched a strike inside Pakistani territory, hitting what it said was a militant training camp.
An infuriated Islamabad denied major casualties or damage, but a day later launched its own incursion across the Line of Control which sparked the dogfight that ended in Abhinandan’s capture.
A viral video apparently taken shortly after his plane was shot down purportedly showed Abhinandan being dragged and beaten by a group of men as Pakistani soldiers intervened, shouting “Stop! Stop!“
Mohammad Faisal, the Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman, told reporters Thursday that the pilot had “some mishap before our officers reached there because he was caught by the public.”
But he stressed the pilot was now “with us, he is safe and in good condition.”
A video released by the Pakistani military later showed Abhinandan sipping tea, his face swollen and sporting bruises but otherwise collected and calm.
He thanked the “thorough gentlemen” who rescued him from the mob and complimented the tea as “fantastic.” It was unclear if he had been coerced to speak.
Kashmir has been divided and disputed by India and Pakistan since 1947. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over the region.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.