Analysis & Opinion

Did Pakistan use F-16s to down Indian Air Force jets in the Aftermath of Balakot Incident? – By: Taimur Khan

In a desperate attempt to malign Pakistan once again and hide its own malicious transgressions, India has alleged that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) used the American-made F-16 fighter jets to down Indian Air Force (IAF) MIG-21 jets in an aerial dog-fight that ensued after the Balakot incident. Icing on the cake, India is making these claims without any tangible or substantial proof/evidence, YET AGAIN! All that the Indian side presented as proof wereparts of Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM – also manufactured by the US), claiming that it was fired from an F-16.

Furthermore, the Indian side claimed that the use of F-16 jets and AMRAAMs against India by the PAF is in violation to the “end-user conditions”, an agreement, which by the way is a bilateral contract between Pakistan and the United States, conditions and clauses of which are not public information. Regardless of how baseless and ridiculous Indian claims and allegations are, this is exactly the narrative Indian officials and media outlets are propagating.

Pakistan on the other hand out-rightly denied the Indian claims of PAF using F-16 fighter jets to carry out retaliatory strikes against India after the Balakot incident. The spokesperson of Pakistani military Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor categorically stated that Pakistan did not use F-16 fighter jets and even provided evidence in the form of video footage of shooting down Indian jets during the aerial dog fight, remnants of the downed and a captured IAF fighter pilot (Abhinandan). While India on the other hand, had nothing but self-concocted stories to present to the world and its public.

Among India’s numerous false allegations, the shooting down of one of PAF’s F-16s was one of the best ones till date. What is the proof? There was none presented by the Indian side, like always. In fact, the hyper nationalist Indian media, in an attempt to cosy up to the government and to muster up some Television Rating Points (TRP) decided to go one step ahead and manufacture some proof of its own by calling in experts and showing them photos of destroyed jet engines claiming them to be of an F-16 fighter jet downed by IAF during the air combat. One such episode backfired when Abhijeet Iyer-Mitra, a Senior Research Fellow at Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies debunked India Today’s self-proclaimed investigative journalist Rahul Kanwal’s propaganda during his live show by making corrections to his claims that the photos he was showing did not belong to an F-16 but a MIG fighter jet instead.

The Pakistani authorities also stated in early March that Indian claims of downing one F-16 fighter jet of the PAF as all the F-16 jets are accounted for. The claim, if a lie, would have been refuted by Lockheed Martin, an aerospace and defence corporationof the US that manufactures F-16 fighter jets.

Let’s just assume for a moment (without asking for tangible proof for the claim), that Pakistan did use F-16 fighter jets to launch a retaliatory strike against India after the Balakot incident. What makes Indian policy-makers and officials think that they have the right or the moral high ground to question the validity of such anaction by Pakistan?

In case the world and especially the Indian officials and people might have forgotten, India has been fooling and lying to the world in far worse matters as compared to the alleged use of F-16 jets by Pakistan, case and point, the misuse of nuclear technology for developing nuclear weapons rather than energy production back in the early 1970s and later in 1990s and the atrocities and tyranny its occupying forces have been unleashing against innocent Kashmiris for the past seven decades or its overwhelming contribution to environment degradation in the name of indigenous industrialization.

Even though Pakistan denied the use of F-16 fighter jets for carrying out the retaliatory air strikes, but even if it did, its actions would have been totally justified. According to Maria Abi-Habib, a South Asia correspondent for the New York Times, “Pakistan’s use of F-16 fighter jets against India was justified as the action was carried out as a measure of self defence against the aggressing Indian military which violated Pakistani air-space twice according to its own statements.”

The silence of US authorities on the issue and refusing to comment or give any details on the matter (despite strong Indian outcry) after the passing of several weeks is a slap across the face of Indian authorities who always subject to blaming and defaming Pakistan for everything as a knee jerk reaction. It is also a testament that the US authorities do not have enough evidence to believe that Pakistan did use F-16s as claimed by the IAF. Even though the US seems to be backing every Indian play recently and is also eyeing to capture the potential Indian aviation market which is worth $15 billion as India eyes to buy more than 110 jets in the coming years.

India’s attempt to bring the alleged use of F-16 fighter jets by the PAF into the limelight is yet another of its ploys for face saving and to distract the world’s attention from its unjustified and unprovoked aggression against Pakistan. It is also an attempt to divert the public sentiment away from the incompetency and ineptitude of the IAF. The Modi government is facing a lot pressure internationally and at home after its embarrassing performance against Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama incident back in late February.

The reason India is so worked up about the issue is that despite being the biggest arms importer and having one of the largest standing militaries in the world, it could not even fare well against a comparatively small and ‘inferior’ Pakistani military. In fact, the embarrassingperformance of the IAF, which climaxed with the capture of one of its finest fighter pilots (Abhinandan) by Pakistan completely busted the myth of the Indian military might and deflated the superiority bubble that the Indian nation and its leaders were living in for quitesome time now.

The success of Pakistani retaliatory strikes against India, downing of its 2 fighter jets and the capture and subsequent release of one of their captured fighter pilots caught Indian leadership and policy makers totally off guard.As a fire fighting measure, Indian officials have also blamed the US for playing a dubious role in this matter by giving Pakistan room for manoeuvrability (pointing towards Ambassador Patterson’s communiqué to Washington in April 2008 justifying the sale of F-16s to Pakistan). A cheap shot indeed but very much expected from India.

According to several experts, this is an attempt to draw the public’s attention away from the corruption done by the government in the Rafael deal and make a case for the procurement of jets from the French vendor. Seems like a long shot but given Indian government’s corruption record in defence equipment procurement deals, one cannot rule out this possibility.

India should realize the gravity of the situation and own up to its mistakes. Rather than slinging mud at its neighbours and attempting to hide its own shortcomings, it should accept that it violated the air space and territorial integrity of a sovereign country. What Pakistan did in return was totally justified and within its right. It did what any other sovereign nation in the world would have done if its sovereignty was challenged. Instead of being a Chowkidar (gatekeeper), Prime Minister Modi should act like a statesman. He should stop fooling the Indian public for the sake of another election victory.