Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging Pao ]
The recent few days have seen some tense moments involving two neighbours, India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, in 1948, 1965 and 1971. Both countries have been involved in escalatory armed conflicts during the Kargil operations in 1999, Operation Parakram in 2001-02, and after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. Presently, we are in the midst of another escalatory conflict.
The trigger was the deadly, dastardly suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama on 14 February which killed 40 CRPF personnel. The central leadership was forced to act. India struck back with vengeance on 26 February, using Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircraft to hit terrorist camps in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and inside Pakistan. This was the first time the air force was used to strike at targets inside POK and Pakistan, hitting terrorist camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakothi areas with precision-guided bombs.
The next day, the Pakistan Air Force attempted to counter attack, using about 24 F-16 aircraft. The Pakistani aircraft were intercepted and chased back by IAF fighter aircraft. In the ensuing dogfight, one Pakistani F-16 aircraft was shot down, and the IAF lost one MiG-21 Bison aircraft to a surface-to-air missile. The pilot of the Bison aircraft, Wing Commander Abhinandan, ejected (parachuted) from the aircraft and landed in POK. He was rescued by the Pakistan Army after being mobbed and attacked by a frenzied mob.
The videos of Abhinandan being beaten, being interrogated and questioned in Pakistan were leaked and went viral on the social media. Overnight, Abhinandan became a hero and the nation prayed for his recovery.
Succumbing to international pressure and pressure from India, Wing Commander Abhinandan was repatriated to India through the Wagah border on 1 March. I served with Abhinandan and his father (retired air marshal Varthaman) for many years, and I salute the bravery and pugnacity of Wing Commander Abhinandan.
There are two critical points to ponder over these engagements over the last few days. The first is the news that an F-16 aircraft was shot down by a MiG-21 Bison aircraft. If true, this would be a major achievement for the IAF to shoot down an advanced aircraft like an F-16 with a much older aircraft like a MiG-21 Bison aircraft. It indicates the high level of training and professionalism of the IAF pilots.
The second was that, after the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, when I was commanding a Sukhoi-30 MKI squadron, our squadron was activated and deployed for over a month. After deployment, we trained and prepared for similar attacks on terrorist camps inside POK. If cleared from the central leadership, similar strikes on terrorist camps inside POK could have been carried out. If such strikes were carried out in 2008, maybe many innocent Indian lives lost to cross-border terrorism could have been saved. However, the go-ahead from the central leadership never came in 2008.
India has been continuously bled by cross-border terrorism. We need a strong leadership to stop these terrorist acts. Maybe strikes on terrorist camps inside POK are the first step towards stopping these cross-border terrorist attacks. A new beginning indeed. (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)