New Delhi, March 1: A day after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced to release captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on Friday, Islamabad Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi confirmed that Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar was in Pakistan and is “very unwell and cannot leave his house”.
Dawn quoted Qureshi from the CNN interview saying, “He is in Pakistan, according to my information. He is unwell to the extent that he can’t leave his house, because he’s really unwell.”
On a question regarding Azhar’s arrest, Qureshi said, “India needs to give us evidence that is acceptable in the courts of Pakistan, after all, we will have to justify it in the courts of Pakistan so if they have unalienable evidence share it with us.”
India has time and again proposed the designation of Pakistan-based terror group JeM’s chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, a listing that will subject him to global travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo.
However, China, a close ally of Pakistan, has consistently blocked moves first by India and later by the US, the UK and France.
On being asked about putting Masood Azhar on the list of UN-designated terrorists, Qureshi said, “We are open to any step that leads to de-escalation and if they have good, solid evidence, please sit and talk, please initiate a dialogue and we will show reasonableness.”
Qureshi also thanked the United States for trying to de-escalate the tensions between the two neighbours.
Imran Khan’s announcement to release the IAF pilot came hours after US President Donald Trump had hinted at ‘good news’.
“We have some reasonably decent news. Hopefully, it’s going to be coming to an end, going on for a long time, decades and decades,” he had said without elaborating further on the ‘news’ he had.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced in the National Assembly on Thursday that the captured IAF pilot would be freed as a “gesture of peace”.
New Delhi had insisted on the unconditional and immediate return of the fighter pilot, and not consular access.
India also asserted that there was no question of any deal on the return of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
Amid fears of an escalation in the tensions between the two neighbours, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said on Thursday that Pakistani Imran Khan is ready for to talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the phone and offer peace.
Tensions escalated as Pakistani F-16 fighter jets on Wednesday violated Indian airspace in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri sector and dropped bombs at four places near Army installations, but missed all the targets. They were immediately pushed back by Indian jets on air patrol.
India lost a MiG 21 Bison aircraft which intercepted Pakistani fighter jets who entered Indian territory, the government had said.
The skirmishes came a day after the Indian Air Force struck a camp of the JeM in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on Tuesday morning.
The heightened tensions follow the Pulwama terror attack in which over 44 CRPF personnel were killed. (Courtesy: TS)