By Muhammad Luqman
India’s claims of shooting down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet in an aerial battle during the February standoff between the two nuclear –armed South Asian neibhbours have been contradicted by the US Defence officials, according to a Foreign Policy Magazine report.
The US officials with direct knowledge of the situation have told the Foreign Policy magazine that US personnel recently counted Islamabad’s F-16s and found none missing.
According to the report, all the claims of Indian civil and military leadership appeared to be wrong as the count, conducted by US authorities on the ground in Pakistan negated New Delhi’s version of events, suggesting that Indian authorities may have misled the international community about what happened that day.
It is widely believed that the Modi government’s claim to down Pak jet in February 27 dogfight was made to gain political mileage. The Indian opposition parties too accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of exaggerating the event to improve its image in the upcoming elections, Pakistani media reported.
Pakistan had shot down two Indian aircraft violating its airspace in a dogfight and captured pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was later released as a gesture of peace.
The report, authored by magazine’s Pentagon Correspondent Lara Seligman, stated that it is possible that in the heat of combat, Varthaman, flying a vintage MiG-21 Bison, got a lock on the Pakistani F-16, fired, and genuinely believed he scored a hit.
However, the assessment of the Feb 27 events by the concerned US officials, confirmed that no Pakistani aircraft was hit.
They also concluded that Pakistan did use F-16s that day. Pakistan military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, in an interview has confirmed that all Pakistani jets were airborne during fight with India.
On question of Pakistan’s violation of end-user agreement with US, the Penagon official told Seligman that the agreement did not involve any terms limiting the use of the F-16s.
“It would be incredibly naive for us to believe that we could sell some type of equipment to Pakistan that they would not intend to use in a fight,” the official said.
Pakistan itself invited the US to count the planes after the incident as part of an end-user agreement signed when the foreign military sale was finalized, the report said.
Generally in such agreements, the United States requires the receiving country to allow US officials to inspect the equipment regularly to ensure it is accounted for and protected.
Terming the revelation damaging for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, said the way the events have unfolded may affect India’s efforts to deter Pakistan in the future.
“As details come out, it looks worse and worse for the Indians,” Narang said. “It looks increasingly like India failed to impose significant costs on Pakistan, but lost a plane and a helicopter of its own in the process.”
Director General of ISPR, the media wing of Pakistan’s armed forces, Major General Asif Ghafoor has termed the report as the victory of truth.
“ Allah be praised, truth always prevails.Time for India to speak truth about false claims & actual losses on their side including the second aircraft shot down by Pakistan. India needs introspection especially over atrocities in IOK (Indian Occupied Kashmir). Region needs peace, progress & prosperity,” Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet.