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.


IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

Updated 21 November 2019

IAEA urges Iran to explain uranium particles at undeclared site

  • IAEA said in a report last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog on Thursday urged Iran to explain the presence of uranium particles at an undeclared site, as a landmark deal aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic activities threatens to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report made public last week that its inspectors had "detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency".
The agency's acting head Cornel Feruta said IAEA and Iranian officials would meet in Tehran next week to discuss the matter, adding that the UN body had not received any additional information.
"The matter remains unresolved... It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly," he told IAEA member states at a meeting of the agency's board of governors.
A diplomatic source told AFP that the IAEA would send a high-ranking technical delegation to Iran next week.
The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.
While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.
Sources say the IAEA took samples from the site in the spring and that Iran has been slow in providing answers to explain the test results.
The 2015 deal between Iran and world powers has been faltering since last year when the United States pulled out and started to reinstate punishing sanctions on Tehran, leaving the other signatories struggling to salvage the agreement.
Over the past few months, Iran has breached several parts of the deal it signed with the US as well as Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, in which it committed to scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
But Britain, France and Germany have said they are extremely concerned by Iran's actions in stepping up its uranium enrichment and other breaches.
Enrichment is the process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.
On Monday, the IAEA confirmed Iran's stock of heavy water for reactors has surpassed the 130-tonne limit set under the agreement.
Heavy water is not itself radioactive but is used in nuclear reactors to absorb neutrons from nuclear fission.
Heavy water reactors can be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons as an alternative to enriched uranium.
The IAEA has also said one of its inspectors was briefly prevented from leaving Iran, calling her treatment "not acceptable".
Iran has cancelled the inspector's accreditation, saying she triggered a security check at the entrance gate to the Natanz enrichment plant last month.
The IAEA has disputed the Iranian account of the incident, without going into details.