IAF Pilot's Release: Separatist, Mainstream Leaders Welcome ‘Peace Overture’ 

SRINAGAR — Mainstream and separatist leaders Thursday welcomed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's announcement that captured IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be released on Friday, urging the Indian government to reciprocate to the “peace overture.” 

"The decision to hand over Wing Commander Abhinandan is a great gesture & shouldn’t be seen in isolation. It also comes at a time when Pak could've chosen to further escalate an already tensed situation. I see it as a mark of reconciliation. Our leadership should reciprocate," PDP president Mehbooba Mufti wrote on her Twitter handle.

The former chief minister said the Pakistan prime minister exhibited "real statesmanship". 

"It is time for our political leadership to step up & take measures to de escalate the current situation. People of J&K are living under unimaginable duress. How much longer will we suffer for?" she added.

National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah also expressed happiness over the development.

"Very glad to know that #WingCommandarAbhinandan will be heading home. I'll wait for him to be back on Indian soil before I welcome him back but I'm greatly relieved that PM @ImranKhanPTI has announced the imminent release of our pilot," he said.

Earlier, Omar, while reacting to US President Donald Trump's statement on Indo-Pakistan tensions, had said India seemed to have agreed to deescalate in return of the release of the IAF pilot.

"So the US has secured the release of our pilot & in turn India has agreed to deescalate is how I read this statement from Trump," he said.

Trump, after his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnamese capital Hanoi, had said there was "reasonably attractive news" from India and Pakistan.

"We have been involved in trying to have them (India and Pakistan) stop and we have some reasonably decent news. I think hopefully that (tension) could be coming to an end," he said.

IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal welcomed the Pakistan government's decision to release the pilot, but expressed apprehensions that rabble-rousing by some TV channels may force Islamabad to change its mind.

"Welcome home WC Abhinandan. And with this one gesture @ImranKhanPTI has proven himself to be a statesman.

"I am happy but I am scared. What if the euphoria in our TV war-rooms forces GoP to change his mind on WC Abhinandan? Those who are claiming a diplomatic victory here rather than appreciating IK's statesmanship, should wait till the pilot reaches home," Faesal said.

Welcoming the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot's release, Peoples Conference chairman Sajad Gani Lone said, "Pakistan PM Imran Khan move to release Abhinandan is a welcome move. Conflicts per se are not irresolvable. Leadership makes a conflict resolvable or irresolvable."

Senior CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami on Thursday urged governments of India and Pakistan to immediately take steps to end the standoff through de-escalation.

"We urge both the governments to immediately take steps to end this dangerous standoff by going for de-escalation, which is in the best interests of the people of both the countries, especially those who live in the state of Jammu and Kashmir," Tarigami said.

"War-mongering and jingoism need to be put an end in both the countries. Yesterday's events revealed that conflict and war brings a terrible human toll," he said.

Meanwhile, Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Geelani also welcomed the Pakistan prime minister's decision.

"Welcome decision by Pakistan PM @ImranKhanPTI to release the captive Indian pilot as a peace gesture. Hope better sense prevails the war clouds scatter and the #Kashmir dispute moves towards a peaceful resolution," he tweeted. 

Pakistan will set free captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman Friday as a peace gesture, its Premier Imran Khan announced Thursday. 

The surprise announcement also came on the heels of India sending a strong message to Pakistan rejecting the possibility of any deal for securing the release of the pilot and demanding his unconditional and immediate repatriation. 

Indian government sources also emphatically said the pilot cannot be a bargaining chip.

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