Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s “legs were shaking” when he told a meeting last year that India would attack if Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, shot down in a dogfight, was not returned, a Pakistani opposition lawmaker has said.
Former speaker Ayaz Sadiq, a senior leader of the main opposition Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) party who was at one time close to Prime Minister Imran Khan, made the revelation while speaking in the National Assembly or Lower House of Parliament on Wednesday.
Sadiq was responding to accusations by a member of the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party that the former PML-N government hadn’t properly handled national security issues, such as the case of former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was detained by Pakistani authorities in 2016 on charges of espionage.
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“In the case of Abhinandan, I remember Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in that meeting which the prime minister refused to attend and the chief of army staff joined us – his [Qureshi’s] legs were shaking and there was sweat on his brow,” Sadiq said, speaking in Urdu.
“And Shah Mahmood Qureshi told us, ‘For God’s sake let this man [Abhinandan] go back because at 9 pm on that night, India will carry out an attack on Pakistan’,” he said, talking of a meeting of government officials with parliamentary leaders held sometime after Abhinandan was shot on February 27, 2019 amid an India-Pakistan standoff.
“But India wasn’t going to attack, nothing was going to happen. But they were going to kneel down and send back Abhinandan, and they did it,” Sadiq said, adding that the ruling PTI shouldn’t level such allegations as this would force the opposition to disclose “such things”.
Sadiq didn’t offer more details during his brief speech in the National Assembly but subsequently told Dunya News channel that the opposition would be forced to respond if those in power referred to it as “Modi ka yaar”.
He told the channel that Qureshi made the remarks at a meeting where parliamentary leaders, including those of PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), were present. Sadiq also said the opposition had supported the PTI government on all issues, including Kashmir and Abhinandan, but it would no longer be appropriate to provide further support.
Tensions between India and Pakistan had spiked following a suicide attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir on February 14, 2019 that killed 40 troops.
India retaliated by carrying out an air strike on a JeM base at Balakot in Pakistan, and this was followed by an aerial engagement along the Line of Control (LoC) that resulted in the shooting down of an Indian combat jet piloted by Abhinandan Varthaman.
The immediate tensions eased after Pakistan freed Abhinandan on March 1, 2019, but relations between the two countries continue to be at an all-time low. India has maintained that there cannot be any dialogue with Pakistan till the neighbouring country stops backing cross-border terror.