NEW DELHI: Signalling a paradigm shift in India’s engagement with Pakistan and setting the tone and tenor of future geopolitical ties between the two nations, India on Wednesday acknowledged and awarded gallantry medals to Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and five other Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots who spearheaded the Balakot operation.
With tensions having flared along the Line of Control (LC) after Pakistan red-flagged India’s move to scrap the special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, and the positioning of Pakistan’s fighter jets along Skardu near Ladakh, the move to award India’s soliders behind the Balakot air strike, has sent out a sharp message to Pakistan about India’s zero-tolerance policy against any form of incursion or interference by the neighbor state.
While the Vir Chakra was awarded to Varthaman, the Vayu Sena Medal was awarded to Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Squadron Leaders Rahul Basoya, Pankaj Bhujade, B.K.N. Reddy and Shashank Singh.
Varthaman was held captive by Pakistan after his Mig-21 went down across the LoC on 27 February, following the Pulwama suicide attack this year. He was later handed over to India at the Wagah-Attari border on 1 March.
At the same time, the IAF’s woman Squadron Leader Minty Agarwal was awarded the Yudh Sewa Medal for her role as a fighter controller during the very same mission.
Following the surgical strike in 2016, the Balakot air strike was seen as one of India’s biggest strikes following the Pulwama suicide blast on 14 February, which killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) soldiers.
While the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack, Indian fighter jets launched an attack – two weeks hence on 26 February – during which the IAF jets breached the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir and targeted the JeM camps in Balakot.