ISLAMABAD: The nation on Thursday honoured the Pakistan Air Force (PAF), which countered Indian strikes on this day last year in response to India’s violation of Pakistan airspace during the post-Pulwama stand-off.
Ahead of the celebrations, a group of local and foreign media journalists visited for the first time, the area in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) where the air force downed an Indian aircraft near the Line of Control (LoC) last year.
On Feb 27 last year, warplanes from both sides engaged in a dogfight along the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir. The PAF downed an Indian aircraft and arrested its pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. But a day later on Feb 28, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced his release.
The Indian violation came after a suicide bomber hit a convoy of Indian troops in the Pulwama area of Indian-Occupied Kashmir, killing more than 40 soldiers. India had blamed Pakistan for the incident, a charge Islamabad rejected in totality.
The army, which organised the trip by the journalists, allowed them to meet the locals and the troops in Barho village. Mehbob Hussain, a local resident, recalled the event of that day and narrated how an Indian MIG-21 went down near his village.
“I was in my village when I heard a huge blast, and then I saw an aircraft in flames downing near our village,” Hussain told local reporters. “When we saw an Indian flag on his chest, some locals started to beat him but then army soldiers also arrived and rescued him.”
The Barho area, where the Indian pilot landed, is located around 4 kilometres inide the LoC. The army has installed a pole in the area with signs to guide the tourists, showing the location of “pilot surrender area”.
“We arrived here very fast as our observation post was pretty close. When we arrived, I saw that a group of locals surrounded the pilot. After we rescued him, we took him to our unit’s hospital for initial treatment,” army Lance Naik Mohammad Ikram, told reporters.
The sector commander who earlier briefed the visiting journalists, praised the soldiers who evacuated the Indian pilot, and said it was not an easy task. “There was a sentiment, locals were very much charged, and I think we were very lucky, the Indian pilot was also very lucky that the teams of the Pakistani army were able to reach [Abhinandan] in time,” said the sector commander.
“Had it been a delay of about half an hour, I’m not sure in what condition we would have received the pilot.”
On Feb 26 last year, Indian jets intruded into Pakistan’s airspace and later New Delhi claimed that “several terrorists” were killed in a “preemptive action” on a camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed near Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But later, the claim turned out to a flat lie.
On Feb 27, 2019, air forces of the two countries engaged in a dogfight over the LoC in which an Indian fighter jet was shot down by the PAF.
On the same day, an Indian helicopter went down in a friendly-fire in occupied Kashmir, killing all six air force officials on board.
India even went on to claim that it’s forces downed an F-16 aircraft of the PAF. That claim also turned out to be false, as the US officials concerned confirmed that Pakistan’s all F-16 planes were counted and accounted-for.
Last year in August, India awarded the highest gallantry award of the military to Abhinandan for “downing Pakistani jet” during an aerial combat. “India has given a gallantry award to Abhinandan for what he never did,” PAF spokesperson Air Commodore Syed Ahmer Raza told reporters.
On Monday, for the first time, the PAF displayed all four missiles that recovered from the Abhinandan’s fighter jet, and rejected the Indian claim that they shot down Pakistani F-16 fighter aircraft. He was captured by Pakistani forces and India didn’t hit our F-16,” Raza said.
‘PAF SECOND TO NONE’:
Pakistani officials also question that although the event, dubbed as ‘Operation Swift Retort’, happened a year ago, India has not yet presented a proof, showing that its airforce had shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet.
The PAF is second to none and it proved its air superiority on February 27 last year, said Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan, during a ceremony to celebrate the first anniversary of ‘Operation Swift Retort’ at the Air Headquarters in Islamabad.
“Pakistan Air Force along with other services is fully prepared to counter any threat to the country. We stood as an integrated force that is hard-hitting and focused on its mission,” Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan said.