ISPR Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar addressing a press conference.—INP
ISPR Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar addressing a press conference.—INP

• Spokesman’s clarification comes a day after Ayaz Sadiq’s NA speech
• In recorded video message, PML-N leader says his statement was distorted by Indian media
• Minister demands unconditional apology from ex-NA speaker
• FO says no pressure on govt to release Abhinandan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army on Thursday said captured Indian pilot’s release last year was an effort by a “responsible state” to give peace another chance as it rejected the assertion that he was set free because of threat of Indian attack.

Pakistan “as a responsible state gave peace another chance by deciding to release Indian prisoner of war Wing Commander Abhinandan. This decision was appreciated globally,” military spokesman Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said at a hurriedly called media conference to respond to the controversy generated by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) legislator and former Natio­nal Assembly speaker Ayaz Sadiq’s comments in parliament.

The spokesman said the presser was being held to put the record straight after “a statement” that tried to “distort history related to national security matters”.

Mr Sadiq, while speaking in the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, claimed that Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had during the post-Pulwama military stand-off with India urged the opposition parties at a meeting of the parliamentary groups to let the captured Indian pilot go because India was set to attack Pakistan that night.

The former speaker, later in a recorded video message, said his statement about Abhinandan’s release had been distorted by Indian media. However, his criticism of Prime Minister Imran Khan was unrelenting. He questioned the circumstances under which the decision to release Abhinandan was taken and insisted that the move was wrong.

Abhinandan was captured on Feb 27 last year after his Mig-21 fighter was shot down by Pakistan Air Force jets during an aerial combat in the aftermath of last year’s Pulwama incident. The Indian pilot was released a few days later on the night of March 1.

Gen Iftikhar said it was “unfortunate and misleading” to link Abhinandan’s release to anything other than “mature response” of a “responsible state”.

In an apparent reference to Ayaz Sadiq’s statement and its subsequent coverage by the Indian media, the military spokesman said it was an attempt to make Pakistan’s “clear and decisive” victory controversial and diminish India’s pain of “defeat and humiliation”.

Regretting that such narrative hurts national security, the spokesman said it was unacceptable for every Pakistani.

Gen Iftikhar said the fact remained that “we gave them a bloody nose and it is still hurting”. He said India’s defeat was evident from the panic shown by Indian forces during the crisis in which they shot down one of their helicopters and subsequent attribution of the failure by Indian leaders to unavailability of Rafale jets.

“Pakistan’s success was acknowledged the world over,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office categorically rejected the impression that the release of captured Indian pilot was made under any pressure. “There was no pressure on the Pakistani government to release Indian pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan,” FO spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhry said at a weekly press briefing here on Thursday.

“The release was made as a message of peace and goodwill,” he said, according to APP. He said Pakistan’s armed forces were ready to deal with all threats.

“India will find the leadership, the people and armed forces of Pakistan ready in the event of any misadventure against its territories as evidently demonstrated in February last year,” he added.

Information Minister Senator Shibli Faraz at a separate media conference demanded unconditional apology from Ayaz Sadiq over his remarks.

“His statement has only pleased Indians and they are exhilarated after what a person of high stature stated in the National Assembly,” he said.

Slamming Mr Sadiq, the minister said attaining high position did not elevate anybody’s character and the statement given by the former speaker did not befit the responsibility he had been holding.

“They have fallen too low, and are bent upon damaging everything in the country only for the sake of personal benefits. They are liars and do not have any credibility — you all media persons may look at their past,” Mr Faraz said.

“All other things are secondary and the national interest is supreme at this point of time. We will not put Ayaz Sadiq’s statement, which has pleased India, on the back burner,” he added.

The minister said the PML-N leader would have to extend apology to the nation in parliament for causing harm to the national interest by making anti-state statement that appeased India. For this, he added, the public would hold Ayaz Sadiq accountable.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leadership, he said, should also seek apology from the nation and condemn Ayaz Sadiq and their own anti-state statements, made in public meetings or in parliament.

“Nothing less than this [apology] will be acceptable. It stands clear now that whosoever causes harm to national interest cannot be the well wisher of the state. It [anti-state remark] is sheer violation of Article 19 of the Constitution, which does not permit any statement against the state,” Mr Faraz said, adding that it would be okay if they [Ayaz Sadiq and PDM leadership) tendered apology in parliament, otherwise the law should take its course.

By making such statements, he said, the opposition leaders had exposed themselves and now the public was well aware of the fact that they were pursuing anti-state agenda to protect their vested interests.

Mr Faraz said it was quite shocking that the PDM leadership, including Ayaz Sadiq, were full of venom against the state when the country was the target of an international conspiracy. It seemed that such statements were being issued to please the enemy, he added.

The minister said the whole nation felt pride that the valiant PAF pilots had on Feb 27, 2019 shot down two Indian fighter jets and arrested a pilot. It was the historic day which had exposed India’s so-called military might, he added. He said that as a peace gesture and being a responsible state, the captured pilot was returned to India, adding that Pakistan was proponent of peace and co-existence and did not seek any war in the region.

Mr Faraz said the decision regarding the return of Abhinandan was taken by Prime Minister Imran Khan, which had raised Pakistan’s image as a responsible and peace-loving country at the international level. Pakistan was appreciated globally due to the prime minister’s right decision regarding the release of Abhinandan and on the contrary India had to face embarrassment at the international level, he added.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2020