New Delhi: Pakistan on Wednesday insisted that it had shot down two Indian Air Force (IAF) planes during the aerial combat in late February – a claim India has vociferously denied – and for the first time named the fighter pilots involved. The country has, however, not provided any visual evidence of a second plane being downed.
Lauding the Pakistan Air Force pilots in the National Assembly, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: “One Indian jet was shot down by Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui while other was downed by Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan.”
On February 27, the Pakistani military claimed that it had hit two Indian IAF planes – while one crashed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the other fell in Jammu and Kashmir.
In response to PAF strikes this morning as released by MoFA, IAF crossed LOC. PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two in the area.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 27, 2019
However, India has maintained that Pakistan downed a MiG-21 aircraft of the IAF – carrying Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman who was captured and later released as a goodwill gesture – while the latter shot down an F-16 jet of the PAF during the dogfight.
Pakistan Major General Asif Ghafoor reiterated his claim about the two Indian aircraft in a press conference later on February 27.
The aerial combat occurred a day after India launched a pre-dawn airstrike in Balakot, targeting a Jaish-e-Muhammad training camp, in response to the February 14 terror attack in Pulwama in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
The foreign minister made the statement after Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, during his speech, praised Squadron Leader Siddiqui for downing Varthaman’s MiG-21 jet.
“One clarification: Bilawal paid tribute to Hassan Siddiqui as he’s absolutely a national hero,” Qureshi said.
“But I would like to clarify that two Indian planes were shot down. The other one was shot down by Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan,” he added, asking that the second pilot also be given due credit.
Qureshi, responding to Bilawal’s claim that Prime Minister Imran Khan had taken a risk by prematurely releasing the Indian pilot, said: “This was discussed and we did it in Pakistan’s interest.
“We thought by doing that we would be (sending) a message of de-escalation and that message went loud and clear and was appreciated all over the world,” the foreign minister said.
(With PTI inputs)