Pakistan is set to release a captured Indian pilot in a “peace gesture” aimed at easing tensions with its nuclear archrival, after aerial clashes ignited fears of a dangerous conflict in South Asia.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who has become the face of the crisis between Islamabad and New Delhi, will be handed back to Indian officials at the Wagah border crossing on Friday afternoon, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said. 

In New Delhi, the announcement of his release by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday, was seen as a diplomatic victory, with Indian leaders welcoming the pilot’s return but announcing they would remain on “heightened” military alert. 

“We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture we will release him tomorrow,” Khan told a joint sitting of parliament in the capital Islamabad on Thursday.

Khan also said he had unsuccessfully tried to make a telephone contact with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday night.

“Yesterday, I tried to call Narendra Modi,” Khan said. “I wanted to make it clear that we do not want any kind of escalation.”

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