A very expensive cup of tea

Sultan M Hali

FEBRUARY 27 will be remembered by India and Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman for decades.

Readers may recall that on 14 February 2019, India launched a false flag operation in the Pulwama district of India-occupied Kashmir (IoK), resulting in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel.

India blamed Pakistan and conducted a night surgical strike on Pakistan’s sovereign territory on 26 February with 12 Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft.

The strike failed to cause any damage, but Pakistan retaliated with a riposte the next morning to take punitive action against India for its belligerence.

In the melee, two Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircraft were shot down by Pakistan Air Force (PAF): A MiG-21 and SU-30. The debris of the SU-30 fell in IoK and its pilot was killed.

The MiG-21 pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was captured alive.

He was treated well and his short interview on TV sipping a cup of tea, which he claimed was “Fantastic” became a meme. The Indian pilot was treated well and repatriated.

Indian morale was shattered at this huge loss of face. To hide its shame, Indian Air Chief appeared on the media, claiming that the 44 years old IAF MiG-21s were no match and no one even drives such an old car, what to say of flying a fighter aircraft of this vintage.

This was misleading because the MiG-21s of IAF have been upgraded. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi went on record to say that if the fresh acquisition of Rafael Fighter aircraft from France had occurred, Pakistan would have been taught a lesson.

He failed to acknowledge the 272 Sukhoi SU-30MKI, a very potent multi-role fighter, in IAF inventory.

As an afterthought, India belatedly claimed that Wing Commander Abhinandan, after being shot but before he ejected, successfully targeted a vastly superior F-16 fighter aircraft of PAF.

The bogus claim was belied by US, which sent two separate defence experts to investigate. Both reported independently that all F-16 fighter aircraft on PAF inventory were present without even a scratch.

The PAF, on its own, recovered all four air-to-air missiles on board the Indian MiG-21, which were still in their missile pods and had never been fired.

India persisted with its lie and awarded Wing Commander Abhinandan the Vir Chakra, for his bogus kill.

Even the pilots who took part in the failed surgical strike at Balakot on 26 February received gallantry awards. India had claimed that it had destroyed a “terrorist training camp” of Jaish-e-Muhammad in the attack, killing 350 militants.

Pakistan had promptly taken national and international media to the supposed site of the strike, where the only damage was to a couple of pine trees. Even international sources reproduced satellite images of the IAF “target” at Balakot, which exposed the false Indian claims.

For far too long, India has been beating its chest in jingoistic terms, threatening Pakistan to back off from its support for the Kashmiris. The 27 February air battle was short and swift.

Public disclosures by PAF personnel, in a special TV show aired on the occasion of Defence of Pakistan Day depicted that PAF pilots were in a position to shoot down at least half a dozen Indian fighter aircraft but were ordered to keep the kills minimum lest the limited conflict escalates out of proportions and leads to total war.

It was also revealed that in the retaliatory air attack by PAF, a military installation in IOK was targeted by PAF fighter aircraft where the top brass of India Army was holding an operational briefing.

Targeting them would have blown the Indian commanders to smithereens but the valiant PAF fighter pilots were ordered to deliberately drop their munitions on a playground adjacent to the military installation.

This was depicted through real time imagery on the TV screens and clearly proved the supremacy but restraint of PAF.

India finally got the first batch of Rafael fighter aircraft, despite the smear of corruption and kickbacks.

The new Indian Air Chief was given an extension and has been rewarded for overseeing the sleaze tainted Rafael induction project.

India’s dreams of gaining air superiority will never materialize since PAF has always faced an adversary many times superior in numbers and sophistication of weapon systems.

The edge that PAF has enjoyed over its arch rival is better training, higher morale and level of motivation coupled with superior maintenance systems and close coordination of assets. Pakistan’s warriors, whether they are on the ground, air or sailing on the seas, have baffled their opponents with their spirit of inspiration to do or die.

They know that if they lay down their lives in the defence of the nation, Shahadat awaits them while if they return victorious, they will be deemed Ghazis. Thus, their valour is unparalleled.

India continues to harass the hapless Kashmiris suffering due to the restrictions imposed upon them while the jingoism of its military and political persists.

It would have been expected that India would have learnt its lesson and if Wing Commander Abhinandan would have been a fighter pilot worth his salt, he would have divulged the truth about the false claim of shooting down an F-16 and returned the gallantry award conferred upon him on a fake premise.

Unfortunately, he continues to relish the “fantastic” but very expensive cup of tea provided by his Pakistani captors, since he paid for it with an IAF MiG-21 and his own integrity.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.

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