A document published by Foreign Policy on Thursday cited two unnamed US officials who argued a recent count of Pakistan’s F-16s showed none missing after a dogfight with the Indian Air Force (IAF) on February 27. The encounter left at least one Russian-built Indian MiG 21 Bison destroyed. The plane’s pilot was forced to eject and was consequently captured on the Pakistani side of the so-called Line of Control (LoC) on the disputed Kashmir border.
The pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, became a national hero in India after his capture and subsequent “peace gesture” release, with many admirers attempting to emulate his iconic handlebar moustache and some selling merchandise emblazoned with his face.
Now New Delhi, which accidentally shot down one of its own helicopters during the skirmish, has argued its pilot claimed one of Islamabad’s F-16s during the dogfight.
On Friday India’s NDTV cited the military as saying: “The Indian Force have confirmed sighting ejections at two different places on that day.
“The two sightings were at places separated by at least 8-10 km (about 5-6.2 miles).
“One was an IAF MiG 21 Bison and other a PAF aircraft.
“Electronic signatures gathered by us indicate that the PAF aircraft was an F-16.”
But the reported account is at odds with the US Foreign Policy document which contends India did not in fact commandeer the Pakistani aircraft.
Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan have been hostile towards each other since the two states broke off from the British Empire in 1947.
They have fought at least four major military conflicts and have engaged in regular cross-border flare-ups over the region of Kashmir, which both claim as their own.
They have also accused each other of backing terrorist groups, with India claiming it had destroyed an alleged Pakistani terrorist training camp in retalitation for what they claimed was an attack by Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammad targeting 40 Indian paramilitary police on February 14.
As frictions continue over their latest clash, Pakistan has also called India out on its recent anti-satellite missile test.
US space agency NASA also joined the condemnation, labelling India’s decision to blast down one of its own satellites in an apparent show of strength towards Asian rivals Pakistan and China a “terrible, terrible thing”.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine claimed the risk of debris colliding with the centre had now gone up by around 44 percent in 10 days.
He said: “That is a terrible, terrible thing to create an event that sends debris at an apogee that goes above the International Space Station.
“That kind of activity is not compatible with the future of human spaceflight.”