Pakistan will on Thursday mark the one-year anniversary of a tense standoff with India which saw two Indian jets shot down over Kashmir after the Pakistan Air Force’s successful counteraction to Indian provocation in Balakot a day earlier.
A small ceremony has been organised on the occasion at the Prime Minister’s Office to celebrate the operational preparedness of the armed forces. According to government sources, Prime Minister Imran Khan will issue a policy statement on the occasion.
The premier will also laud the continuing contributions of armed forces personnel for the defense of the nation.
Commemorating Operation Swift Retort, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) briefed an international media team at the site where an Indian aircraft was shot down.
“The Army briefed an international media team at Horan village near the site where an Indian Mig-21 fighter aircraft flown by pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman was shot down,” the ISPR said.
“The plane was shot down during a dogfight between Pakistani and Indian air forces in February last year,” the statement read.
What happened in February 2019?
On February 26 last year, Indian fighter jets had entered into Pakistani territory with the intention to bomb a madrassah in Balakot, but had retreated in haste after the Pakistan Air Force scrambled its own jets in response.
The Indian jets had dropped their payload in sovereign Pakistani territory near the old madrassah, but failed to inflict any material damage apart from ruining a few trees.
The next day, Pakistan had responded to the provocation by sending fighter jets across the Line of Control in a tit-for-tat response. The jets locked on to Indian military positions, then returned after issuing ‘warning’ shots to them.
When India again sent fighter jets to chase the Pakistani jets down, the Pakistan Air Force had launched a successful ‘surprise’ attack, taking down two Indian fighter aircraft in an aerial dogfight.
“PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace,” then military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor had tweeted on February 27, adding that one aircraft had fallen in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The pilot of one of the downed aircraft was arrested when he landed in Pakistani territory. The pilot, identified as Wg Cmdr Abhinandan Varthaman, was subsequently released as a gesture of goodwill by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
In August last year, the two pilots who brought down the Indian planes earlier in February were conferred military awards by President Arif Alvi.
Wg Cmdr Noman Ali Khan was conferred with Sitara-i-Jur’at (Star of Valour), while Grp Capt Faheem Ahmad Khan and Sq Ldr Hassan Mahmood Siddiqui were granted the Tamgha-i-Jur’at (Medal of Valour).
In an address to the nation after the incident, Prime Minister Imran Khan had offered Indian PM Narendra Modi the chance to sit down for a dialogue over Kashmir. However, Modi had not responded positively to the offer, instead annexing occupied Kashmir in August later in the year.
The move, which prompted strong reactions from Pakistan and around the world, was seen as part of a campaign to provoke Pakistan into another conflict. Modi imposed a communications blockade on the valley, which remains in force to this day, after the annexation and imprisoned thousands of innocent Kashmiris.