NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) — Pakistan will return a captured pilot “as a peace gesture” to India, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday, amid efforts by the United States to defuse a crisis between the two nuclear powers a day after both downed enemy jets.
The pilot, identified by Islamabad as Wing Commander Abhi Nandan, became the human face of the latest flare-up following the release of videos showing him being captured and later held in custody.
Khan said the pilot would be released on Friday, even as his military reported that four Pakistani civilians had been killed by Indian firing across the disputed border in Kashmir.
“As a peace gesture we will be releasing him tomorrow,” Khan told parliament.
Khan’s decision came after several other countries offered diplomatic assistance to de-escalate the confrontation between two countries that have almost gone to war in 2002 for the fourth time since their independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said his counterpart from Saudi Arabia was expected to visit Pakistan with a special message from Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who visited both Pakistan and India earlier this month.
Khan has already called for talks with India to prevent the risk of a “miscalculation” between their nuclear-armed militaries.
Earlier, U.S. President Trump said he expected “reasonably decent news” regarding the conflict between India and Pakistan, adding that the United States was trying to mediate.
“They have been going at it and we have been involved in trying to have them stop,” Trump said in Hanoi, where he was attending a summit with North Korea’s leader.
“We have been in the middle trying to help them both out.”
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also offered to facilitate talks between the two sides.
The U.S., China, European Union and other world powers have urged restraint from the two nations as tensions escalate following tit-for-tat airstrikes in the wake of a suicide car bombing that killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Feb. 14.
Both countries downed enemy jets on Wednesday, and each accused the other of breaching cease fire agreements on Thursday.
Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire along the contested border in Kashmir on at least three occasions on Thursday, with the firing instigated by Pakistan every time, according to New Delhi.
Pakistan’s military said four civilians had been killed and two wounded in what it called a “deliberate” attack by India during the past 48 hours.
Earlier on Thursday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who faces a general election in a matter of months, told a rally of supporters that India would unite against its enemies.