Pakistan has been denying India’s claim that Indian Air Force bombed terror camps in Pakistan on 26th February, and one F-16 jet of Pakistan was shot down by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman before his MiG-21 was shot down inside Pakistan and he was captured. Indian opposition parties have chosen to believe the Pakistani version instead of what is said by Indian defence forces, and have been demanding proof of the strike from the government.
Joining the doubters, now journalist Saikat Datta has written an article claiming that there is no proof that India had shot down the Pakistan Air Force’s American fighter jet. In an article published on Asia Times, Datta uses social media claims and arguments made by Pakistani side to prove that no F-16 jet was shot down by Indian Air Force.
By making this claim, the author is levelling a very serious charge on the Indian defence forces of lying. The claim of F-16 being shot down was not made in a political rally, it was informed by the spokesperson of mthe inistry of external affairs. He had said that the Pakistani aircraft falling down on Pakistani side was seen by ground forces in India. After that, the same claim was reiterated in a joint conference of the three Armed Forces.
Pakistan even denied the use of F-16 in the attempt to bomb Indian military bases, but that has been already proven to be a lie after the discovery of missile fragments fired from F-16 jets. Datta’s article itself quotes a Pakistani official confirming the use of F-16 jets by Pakistan. In that scenario, the Pakistani claim that F-16 jet was not hit remains a doubt and their version can’t be taken seriously as truth.
One argument used in the article to prove that F-16 was not hit is the fact that there is no Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din in PAF who was rumoured to have died while flying the F-16. Doing a probe, Asia Times has found that there is no such pilot in Pakistan Air Force, hence the claim of F-16 being shot down is false, he writes.
But the fact is, govt of India or IAF never released any name of the pilot who was flying the F-16. It came from so-called defence expert Praveen Swami, and quickly it spread on Social Media. Swamy has a history of concocting stories on defence matters, therefore to use a claim made by him to prove government wrong is too much. Is there really a Pakistan Air Force pilot with that name, or someone created it out of thin air, that remains a matter of investigation, but that is no way a prove that F-16 was not shot down. Proving some random social media rumour as wrong is not the same as proving the main claim of government wrong.
Indian forces have so far provided two evidences about the Pakistani F-16. First, a part of wreckage claimed to be from MiG-21 was proved to be from F-16 engine, based on photographs of the wreckage published by Pakistan. Second, fragments of AIM-120 AMRAAM missile was found on Indian soil after Pakistan’s attempt to bomb Indian military bases, and this missile can be carried only by the F-16.
Moreover, there are several evidences that two fighter jets were hit on that day, not just the Indian MiG-21. Initially, Pakistan government itself had claimed that they had shot down two Indian fighter jets and captured two Indian pilots, which points to the strong possibility that Pakistani ground forces saw two jets falling and two parachutes coming down, and due to that, the Pakistani authorities had assumed both to be Indian jets.
The initial reports publishing the photos of the wreckages of the planes states that the photos belong to two aircraft that fell inside Pakistan. While MiG-21 was misidentified as MiG-27 in early reports, the other one was not identified, possibly because F-16 was broken into pieces after hit by the R-73 missile fired by Wing Commander Abhinandan.
The moment of pilots descending using parachutes after ejecting from their destroyed jets was video recorded by people in Pakistan on their phones. In the videos shared on Youtube, it can be heard that people recording the incident are talking about two parachutes coming down. Close examination of the video embedded below also show two parachutes coming down, both at different distances from the camera.
Here is another video shot from a different place, and here also two pilots descending with parachutes can be seen. People are talking about two pilots in this video also.
These videos shot by Pakistani citizens clearly show that two pilots had come down after ejecting from their aircrafts on that day. The MiG-21 Bison used by IAF is a single seater aircraft, and now it is known that only one Indian pilot had landed in Pakistan who was captured by the Pakistani military. This leaves only one possibility, that the other pilot seen in the videos has to be from the Pakistani Air Force.
The Asia Times article also talks absence about audio, video and electronic evidence of the F-16 being engaged by the MiG-21. But the fact is, it has already been reported that Abhinandan had sent the audio message “R-73 is selected” seconds before he was shot down, indicating that he was using the Vympel R-73 air to air missile to shoot down an enemy aircraft. If he had no target in sight and locked by the targeting system of the MiG-21, there was no reason for him to fire a missile on Pakistani airspace.
The event of firing the missile will be recorded by on board computers of the MiG-21, but it is with Pakistanis now, so that data can’t be obtained. The article talks about providing other electronic data as proof, like data from the Airborne Early Warning System aircraft and Radar systems, but such kind of data is highly confidential in nature and the security forces may not want to disclose such data to satisfy few who do not believe the government. Such data may give a glimpse of abilities of India’s defence systems and that may not be desirable.
Pakistan is not known to accept losses incurred by in battles. It even denied the involvement of the Pakistani military in the Kargil war for a long time. Therefore, it is natural that they will hide the loss of an aircraft in combat in their territory. But to use those claims to accuse Indian defence forces of lying is highly unacceptable. There may not be concrete proof that the F-16 was shot down till now, but similarly, there is concrete proof to claim that India is lying. But whatever evidence is present at present points towards the possibility that Pakistan did lose a fighter aircraft on that day, and most probably that aircraft was an F-16.