Umair Jalali describes a memorable event
Commemorating Operation has been three years since the valor and professional expertise of Pakistani defense forces came to the fore when an Indian air force attack was not only repulsed but ended in humiliation for India. During the aerial skirmish with India that day on 27 February , 2019, Pakistan piled a long list of mishaps for its opponent and on that list were two Indian jets, a MiG-21 Bison and a SU-30 that were shot down after they attempted to intrude into Pakistan’s airspace. The pilot of the Mig-21, Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured by Pakistani authorities as the fighter jet crashed inside Pakistan’s territory. The captured pilot was released a day later as a goodwill gesture to India. Adding insult to the injury, India’s air defence system shot down its own helicopter in the fog of war. This incident aroused international anxiety and worries mounted about any probable escalation between two nuclear-armed neighbours.
Crucially enough, the rare aerial engagement that significantly raised the stakes in the perilous standoff came a day after New Delhi claimed its aircraft had launched an airstrike on what it called the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Muhammad militant group inside Pakistan – a claim debunked by Islamabad. On the third anniversary of this incident it was emphatically mentioned that while Pakistan believed in conflict resolution through dialogue and diplomacy but this particular incident should be proof enough for enemies of the country to take it in for good that peaceful Pakistan intentions should never be taken as a sign of weakness.
In this context the Inter-Services Public Relations also commemorated the incident by stating that operation Swift Retort was a timely reminder to India that it should always remain aware of the capability of Pakistani defence forces to tackle and thwart any Indian adventure. In this context, the achievements of PAF in shooting down two Indian fighter aircrafts, detection of Indian submarine at sea by Pakistan Navy and resounding response at Line of Control by Pakistan Army are a testament to professionalism and determination of Pakistan armed forces for the defence of the motherland. ISPR emphasised that not just weapons or numbers but the resolve of a nation and the operational preparedness of armed forces defines success in face of adversity. It became very obvious from the astute and forthright Pakistani defence response that Pakistani defence mechanism was extremely alert and prepared for any action. This was a very appropriate and measured warning that helped in tremendously increasing the morale of Pakistani nation.
It is required to be recapitulated that the focus of the Pakistan-India escalation was an attack mounted by Kashmiri freedom fighters in Pulwama district of occupied Kashmir on 2 February 2019 in which in which more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed. The attack, surpassing one in 2016 when 19 soldiers died, saw explosives packed inside a van rip through buses in a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying some 2,500 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force. Two blue buses carrying around 35 people each bore the brunt of the explosion around 20 kilometres from the main city of Srinagar on the main highway towards Jammu. These actions were part of the struggle of the Muslim freedom fighters that they have been consistently waging since the last three decades and repeatedly ask for the end of Indian hegemony.
Just a day after the attack Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country would give a strong response to the Pulwama attack adding that the blood of the people is boiling and forces behind the act of terrorism will be definitely be punished. Though Modi did not name Pakistan but indirectly accused Pakistan by enumerating that if India’s neighbour thinks it can destabilise India through its tactics and conspiracies, then it is making a huge mistake. Accordingly, the situation heated up when Indian military planes violating the Line of Control (LoC) intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector. Then intrusion in Pakistani airspace by Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft did happen for a second consecutive day, as one of its planes had to release payloads in the Balakot area while being chased away in the early hours of the day.
It was at this juncture that the Pakistan military promised a befitting response if such intrusion took place again and true to their word they responded when the IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace after the PAF strikes on the other side of the LoC from Pakistani airspace for what was described as a demonstration of Pakistan’s right, will and capability for self-defence. Shortly afterwards, the Pakistani defence forces announced the air skirmish in which PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace adding that one of the aircraft fell inside AJK while the other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on the ground while two were apprehended in the area. TW
Umair Jalali teaches in Denning Law School and is an avid sports fan