New Delhi: India on Friday stood its ground that its airforce had shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet, after a report in the US Foreign Policy magazine said all F-16 combat jets in Pakistan’s inventory had been accounted for.
The US magazine report, published late on Thursday, cited two unidentified American defence officials and contradicted the account put out by India that one of its fighter jets, a refurbished Russian- made MiG-21 Bison, had downed a US-made F-16.
The report said US personnel had done an inventory check of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing. The F-16s are manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. and an end-user agreement requires the buyer to allow for regular inspections to ensure they were accounted for, it said. Pakistan invited American officials to physically count the F-16 planes after the incident. Some of the aircraft were not immediately available for inspection because of the conflict, so it took several weeks to account for all of the jets, one of the unnamed officials quoted by the report said.
The count had now been completed and all aircraft “were present and accounted for", said the official.
In its response, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said: “During the aerial engagement (on 27 February), one MiG 21 Bison of the IAF shot down one F-16 in Nowshera sector. Electronic signatures gathered by us indicate that the PAF (Pakistan Air Force) aircraft (downed by the Indian Air Force) was an F-16," it said.
Strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney of New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, in a Twitter post offered a possible explanation for the US report.
“The Foreign Policy piece names no official. The US might be reluctant to admit that an F-16 was possibly shot down by an obsolete warplane like the MiG-21. Whatever the truth, the fact remains that India imposed no notable costs on Pakistan to deter further terrorist attacks," said Chellaney.
The reaction from Pakistan, tweeted by military spokesman Asif Ghafoor, was on predictable lines.
“Allah be praised, truth always prevails. Time for India to speak truth about false claims & actual losses on their side including the second aircraft shot down by Pakistan. India needs introspection especially over atrocities in IOK (Indian Occupied Kashmir). Region needs peace, progress & prosperity," said Ghafoor.
In all its statements on the aerial combat with Pakistan, New Delhi has insisted that a Pakistani F-16 fighter was shot down by the IAF.
People familiar with the developments said that New Delhi had taken up the matter with the US at various levels, urging Washington to seek an inventory of Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.