New Delhi: Pakistan on Thursday announced that captured IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be released from Islamabad’s custody as a “peace gesture” on Friday. This capitulation by the Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan came hours after a strong message from India demanded his unconditional release, largely de-escalating tensions between the two neighbours. A delegation of IAF team will today receive the Wing Commander, at the Wagah border.

Joint Press Briefing

On Thursday, a joint press briefing was called by India’s tri-services; Army, Navy and Air Force. India’s tri-services assured the nation that they were vigilant and ready to take on any challenge. Further, Air Vice Marshal R.G.K Kapoor said while Pakistan claimed that its jets fired bombs in open areas, “the fact is that Pakistan targeted military installations but we thwarted their plans. The bombs were unable to cause any significant damage due to swift IAF action”. “IAF remains ever vigilant and ready to take on any eventuality,” he said. He refuted Pakistan’s claims that it had not used F-16s on Wednesday and said that one F-16 was shot down by a MiG-21 Bison.

‘Pilot Project’

In a veiled reference to India’s air strikes on Pakistan soil, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at an event in Delhi that a “pilot project”, which was a “practice” just got over, and the “real project” was yet to happen. “You are the people who spend life in laboratories. You have a tradition of first doing a pilot project. Later it is scaled up. So recently a pilot project was over. Now the real one has to be done. The earlier one was a practice,” Modi said as the audience burst into wild applause.

IT Ministry Directs Youtube

The IT Ministry asked Youtube to remove 11 video links relating to ‘missing’ Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was captured by Pakistan during air combat on Wednesday. YouTube was also asked to remove the clips following the directive from the Home Ministry, a government source said, adding that the said links have now been removed. Hashtags like #BringbackAbhinandan, #SayNoToWar, #MiG21, #F16 and #PakFakeClaim were trending as netizens from both the sides of border turned to social media to express their views.

After directing YouTube to pull down objectionable video links of Varthaman, the Government sent out a stern warning to social media firms not to allow their platforms to be abused for “weakening the morale of the country”.

Samjhauta Express 

In the transportation sector, the operation of the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express has been suspended on the Indian side from March 3. The reason cited for the same was a drastic decline in occupancy, especially since the Pulwama terror attack, the railways said. “With no passengers from Pakistan, it makes no sense to run it on our end. Hopefully, we will be able to resume services once the tension de-escalates,” a source told PTI.

Air Canada said flights to Delhi will resume tonight from both Toronto (Thursday) and Vancouver (Friday, it leaves shortly after midnight local time). There are no flights to Mumbai scheduled for Feb 28 as it is just four times a week.

Global Support

On the international front, the United States on Thursday showed its support for India’s decision to conduct the “non-military preemptive strike” on Pakistan soil to destroy Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camps. Germany also urged Pakistan to take strong and effective action against terrorism by taking steps to eliminate the terror outfits operating in the country.