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Pakistan changes stance on use of F-16s in aerial dogfight with India

The statement described the events of February 27 as “part of history now” and said no Pakistani F-16 “was hit by the Indian Air Force”.

india Updated: Apr 02, 2019 12:31 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Islamabad/New Delhi
Pakistan use of F-16,f16 fighter jets,Pakistan military
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had so far said it had used only JF-17 Thunder jets, developed jointly with China, in the February 27 engagement with India.(Mint File/Representative image)

After stating for weeks it hadn’t used US-made F-16 combat jets in an aerial engagement with India along the Line of Control in February, Pakistan appeared to change its stance on Monday by saying it had the right to use any aircraft for its self-defence.

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had so far said it had used only JF-17 Thunder jets, developed jointly with China, in the February 27 engagement with India and that its aircraft had shot down two Indian Air Force jets. India has contested both points, saying it lost only one MiG-21 and that an F-16 was shot down.

A statement issued by the Pakistani military’s media arm on Monday evening referred to “repeated Indian claims about shooting down of Pakistani F-16 by India and use of F-16 in air battle” on February 27, and stated whether F-16s or JF-17s were used in the engagement “is immaterial”.

“Even if F-16 have been used as at that point in time complete PAF was airborne including F16s, the fact remains that Pakistan Air Force shot down two Indian jets in self-defence. India can assume any type of their choice, even F-16. Pakistan retains the right to use anything and everything in its legitimate self-defence,” the statement said.

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The statement described the events of February 27 as “part of history now” and said no Pakistani F-16 “was hit by the Indian Air Force”. It added that the “strikes across LOC” on that day were done by JF-17s “from within Pakistan airspace”.

Officials in New Delhi, who didn’t want to be named, said the Pakistani statement was an apparent acknowledgment of the use of F-16s and marked a significant shift from what Pakistani officials such as chief military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had been saying for weeks.

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The aerial engagement followed an attempt by PAF jets to target Indian military installations along the LoC. It came a day after IAF jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed facility at Balakot in Pakistan in retaliation for the February 14 suicide attack at Pulwama that killed 40 Indian troops.

Indian officials have insisted there is electronic evidence of the shooting down of an F-16.

New Delhi has also taken up the issue with Washington, including sharing critical evidence, as the American end-use agreement reportedly bars Islamabad from using the F-16s in an offensive capacity. The jets can reportedly be used by Pakistan only for self-defence and counter-terror operations.

First Published: Apr 02, 2019 00:05 IST