The Pakistani prime minister announced “a peace gesture” to de-escalate tensions with neighboring India. But the military standoff is far from over between the two neighbors.
Rabat – “We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture, we will release him tomorrow,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said yesterday at a press conference in the capital Islamabad.
Prime Minister Khan was referring to wing commander Abhinandan Varthaman, an Indian pilot whose Mig-21 jet fighter Pakistan shot down earlier this week amid an escalation of tensions over the disputed Kashmir province.
Khan, who was debriefing his audience on the state of the ongoing feud with neighboring India, said that his administration is poised to prioritize peaceful resolution over gratuitous military confrontation. He said the Indian pilot would be released today.
India and Pakistan are both nuclear powers, and many fear a military confrontation could degenerate into an ultimate show of force: The use of their nuclear arsenal.
Khan has been calling for negotiations since the current Kashmir crisis broke out in mid-February.
“I am saying to India: do not take it further than this. Because whatever you do, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate. And then two countries who have the weapons that the two of us, we should never even think of such a thing,” Khan said in another speech as India prepared to strike “Pakistani targets” with air missiles in retaliation for Varthaman’s capture.
In his speech yesterday, Khan also said that he tried to reach Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by phone on Wednesday.
“Yesterday, I tried to call Narendra Modi,” Khan announced. “I wanted to make it clear that we do not want any kind of escalation,” he said.
Just respecting military ethics
In a statement, India’s Air Forces applauded Prime Minister Khan’s “peaceful gesture.” However, India’s statement declined to perceive the move as a genuine peaceful gesture from Pakistan. The statement argued that Islamabad was simply abiding by international norms regarding war ethics.
“We are extremely happy to have him back. We want to see him back,” a senior Indian Air Forces officer told reporters in New Delhi. He added, “We only see it as a gesture which is in consonance with all Geneva conventions.”
The ongoing crisis erupted on February 14 after 42 Indian Special Forces were killed in a suicide attack in India-administered Kashmir.
The attack was later claimed by Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Established in 2000, JeM is claiming independence in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
India-administered Kashmir is the world’s most militarized territorial dispute, with local militants denouncing India’s “racist” and “discriminatory” policies towards Kashmir’s majority Muslim population. A large section of JeM militants also wants an autonomous Kashmir to join Pakistan.
The standoff has generated intense public debate on the decades-long territorial dispute, with a wave of contradictory comments on both Indian and Pakistani social media platforms.
Opposing nationalists and “fear mongering” from both countries who call on their leaders to “be tough,” pacifists have pointed out the devastating repercussions of a potential confrontation between two nuclear powers.
As India prepares for parliamentary elections in April, it remains to be seen which of the pacifist or the hawkish faction of the country’s ruling party will prevail in dictating India’s response to the tension.