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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

MIG-21 X F16 ~ tale of two pilots - Abhinandan Varthaman could return .. ..


In Ramayana,   Lakshmana falls unconscious, hit by an arrow of Indrajit.  Lankan Royal Physician Sushena  when approached advises that a particular herb be brought.  On his advice, Pavanaputhra Hanuman rushes  Dronagiri Hills to fetch  four plants: Mruthasanjeevani (restorer of life), Vishalyakarani (remover of arrows), Sandhanakarani (restorer of the skin) and Savarnyakarani (restorer of skin colour) (Srimad Valmiki Ramayana, 74th chapter, Yuddakanda, Slokas 29-34).  The wise Hanuman himself could not pick   the four from the multitude, lifts and carries the hill itself ~ and Lakshmana was revived from near death back to life, and to victory. Alongside hundreds of vanara senai killed in action too gets revived – but none from the side of Ravana .. .. .. if one were to ask why ? – whether the herbs would act on selective basis ? – it is stated that Ravana in trying to hide the numbers killed from his side, dumped the bodies into the sea !

India and Pakistan have common history and shared boundaries but the hatred has been enormous – it is not at wars of 1965 and 1971 but in earlier days, or  even pre-colonial communal hatred.  Pak has constantly spoken ill, done harm to Indians and hence is not a Country to be believed.   Late one night in the summer of 2009, four improvised 107-millimetre rockets arced over the Pul Kanjari border outpost, and exploded in the wheat-fields outside the Punjab village of Attari.  It was an assault over the border, not occurring in war times.  Those at the border says that such attacks are not entirely unheard of and there have always been skirmishes.  During the earlier Manmohan regime, soldiers were beheaded and India can never forget the wounds of Mumbai under siege – that 26/11.

In 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had mobilised the army, threatening war against Pakistan to punish the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s attack on Parliament. The decision wasn’t a casual one. Even though India had won the Kargil war in 1999, Pakistan had stepped up covert warfare in Kashmir. Fatalities of security force personnel, inside Kashmir, surged from 183 in 1999, to 241 in 2000 and 248 in 2002.   Months later,  India backed down— perhaps  deterred by Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and by International pressure. From the confidante of General Pervez Musharraf,  General Moinuddin Haider,  it is heard that  the long-term costs of continuing to back jihadists would be higher than the potential losses from taking them on.

The United States said on Sunday it was trying to find out if Pakistan used US-built F-16 jets to down an Indian warplane, potentially in violation of US agreements, as the stand-off between the nuclear-armed neighbours appeared to be easing. A Pakistan military spokesman denied Indian claims that Pakistan used F-16 jets. The man who downed the F16 jet, fell and caught in the process, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, became the face of the tense military confrontation – walking back with head high.  His proverbial comment ‘ I am not supposed to share this’ is hailed everywhere.  He is back – walking through Wagah border after being handed over.  Reports suggest that he has conveyed to the IAF brass that he wants to return to the cockpit as soon as possible.  For the last two days, the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot has been undergoing medical treatment at a military hospital.

On Wednesday, he became the first IAF pilot to shoot down an F-16 fighter jet during an aerial combat with the Pakistani Air Force.  Abhi Varthaman was captured by the Pakistani Army after his MiG-21 Bison jet was hit in a fierce dog-fight.He returned to India to a hero's welcome on Friday night.His health condition is being monitored by a group of doctors at the Army's Research and Referral hospital, the officials said. The officials said Varthaman has been in high spirits despite the harassment he suffered in Pakistan. 

Varthaman arrived in the national capital on an IAF flight around 11:45 pm Friday, 1st Mar 2019,  nearly two-and-half hours after he crossed over to India through the Attari-Wagah border. The IAF pilot was first taken to the Air Force Central Medical Establishment (AFCME), a compact and specialised medical evaluation centre for aircrew of all the three services.

After he was captured, Varthaman showed courage and grace in handling the most difficult circumstances for which he has been  praised by politicians, strategic affairs experts, ex-servicemen, celebrities and people in general. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa met Varthaman separately on Saturday during which he apprised them about the mental trauma he was subjected to during his captivity in Pakistan. During the meeting, the defence minister commended him on his valour and expressed the nation's gratitude for his selfless service.

Even as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman walked across the India-Pakistan border on 1 March, a family in Pakistan is in mourning — silent, blacked out from the public view, their sacrifice unacknowledged. Pakistan Air Force Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din, the F-16 pilot shot down in a dogfight over the Nowshera sector, is reported to have been lynched by a mob who mistook him for an Indian airman. Both men, in one of those strange twists history revels in, come from illustrious military families: Wing Commander Varthaman’s father, S Varthaman, as Air Marshal; Shahaz-ud-Din’s father, Waseem-ud-Din, is also an Air Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force, who has flown F-16 and Mirages.

The two  engaged each other in the air; one was taken a prisoner of war and has returned home, while the other was killed by his own people.The goddess of war, it is said, is fickle with her favours — but few twists of fate exist in the annals of history to match this one. The news that Shahaz-ud-Din's plane was shot down was first reported by London-based lawyer Khalid Umar, who says he received it privately, from individuals related to the F-16 pilot’s family. Umar’s account says that Shahaz-ud-Din parachuted out of his aircraft safely, but was then attacked by a Paki  mob after the F-16 crash-landed — possibly in the Laam valley, stretching out westward from Naushehra into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Shahaz-ud-Din, Umar has claimed, was hospitalised, but succumbed to his injuries. The mob had mistaken him for an Indian soldier – thus he was killed by his own people.

The PAF Wing Commander flew for the 19 Squadron, also known as the ‘Sher-Dils’, who served with distinction in the war of 1965 and 1971.Pakistani military spokesperson Major-General Asif Ghafoor had asserted, on the morning of 28 February, that two Indian jets had been shot down and two Indian pilots injured — one of whom was in army custody, and the other in the hospital. Later in the evening, Major-General Ghafoor stated that only one Indian pilot was in Pakistan Army custody, without explaining his earlier comments. In the 1999 Kargil War, Pakistan had denied its troops were involved — leading to protests in Pakistan’s northern areas, from where the Northern Light Infantry is drawn.

Eleven years after the Kargil War, Pakistan’s army officially acknowledged its role, naming 453 soldiers and officers killed in the 1999 conflict. Captain Karnal Sher and Havildar Lalak Jan, who were both killed on 7 July, 1999, were awarded Pakistan’s highest honour, the Nishan-e-Haider, but were not acknowledged as Kargil war casualties until November 2010.  Such things do not happen in Indian side, where soldiers get their due.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
4th Mar 2019.


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