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Tuesday 15 October 2019

Captured Indian pilot to be released by Pakistan 'as a goodwill gesture'

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan
Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan

Munir Ahmed and Kathy Gannon

Pakistan has pledged to release a captured Indian fighter pilot in a bid to ease tensions between the two countries over the disputed region of Kashmir.

Prime Minister Imran Khan made the announcement in an address to both houses of Parliament, saying he tried to reach his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday with a message that he wants to de-escalate tension.

There was no immediate reaction from India, though Mr Modi earlier in the day warned that "India's enemies are conspiring to create instability in the country through terror attacks".

"We are releasing the Indian pilot as a goodwill gesture tomorrow," Mr Khan said. He did not say whether the release was conditional.

The Pakistan premier also said that he had feared on Wednesday night that India might launch a missile attack, but the situation was later defused. He did not elaborate.

World powers have called on the nations to de-escalate the tensions gripping the contested region since a February 14 suicide bombing killed more than 40 Indian paramilitary troops in Kashmir in territory it controls.

India responded with a pre-dawn airstrike on Tuesday inside Pakistan, the first such raid since the two nations' 1971 war over territory that later became Bangladesh.

The situation then escalated further with Wednesday's aerial skirmish, which saw Pakistan say it shot down two Indian aircraft, one of which crashed in Pakistan-held part of Kashmir and the other in India-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistan later aired a video of a man it identified as the Indian pilot.

India acknowledged one of its MiG-21s, a Soviet-era fighter jet, was "lost" in skirmishes with Pakistan.

India's Ministry of External Affairs said late on Wednesday that it "strongly objected to Pakistan's vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force", and that it expects his immediate and safe return.

India also said it shot down a Pakistan warplane, something Islamabad denied.

Kashmir has been divided but claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan since almost immediately after the two countries' creation in 1947.

They have fought three wars against each other, two directly dealing with the disputed region.

Both Indian and Pakistani officials reported small-arms fire and shelling along the Kashmir region into Thursday morning. There were no reported casualties.

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