It’s a glorious moment when a missile leaves the launcher of a MiG-21 with a ‘whoosh’, chasing an F-16 in the sky. However, the thrill of the moment was shadowed by the unfortunate incident of the downing of one of our MiG-21s and the pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, being taken into custody by Pakistan. Pakistan PM now says that he will be released Friday.
I believe that it is most likely that he shot the F-16 down after a close combat. It would not have been easy. We salute the brave pilot. We are proud of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman for being a sterling example of one who fought against great odds – against a fighter that is a generation ahead. If it was not for that timely and quick interception that was ordered and executed, the Pakistani F-16 mission would have gone ahead with their attack and caused serious damage to the assets of our ground forces.
Pakistan military, as we know, was too far wound up to restore the pride that was deeply hurt the night before when the IAF caught their defences off-guard and smashed the terrorists’ den with a brilliantly executed pre-emptive strike. The only target that Pakistan thought they could easily strike was the military position in Nowshera sector. It was the duty of the Indian Air Force to prevent such a possibility. The Indian Air Force launched a disruptive mission to prevent the intruders that proved swift and effective.
We now await the ‘third round’ of war-fighting at our borders if there is going to be one. If Pakistan Air Force (PAF) chooses to attack our frontline military dispositions, our military would be ready to give a befitting reply, which would be a form of escalation. Having taken a positive step to stop terrorism, I hope that we would be able to take it to its final end once and for all before the guns cool down.
It is 20 years now since we fought the Kargil war. Since then, there has been a considerable turnover of our combat crew and the leadership at all levels, including decision-makers in the government. Any new operation takes a while to sink in. I remember in 1965, I was 22 and was sent with my Gnat aircraft to Pathankot to join the offensive sweep mission that was to be launched the next day. The next morning, I was flying over Sialkot at 20,000 ft to draw out the Pakistani Sabre Jets for a dog-fight. It was an audacious move to divert PAF from striking our tanks and other assets of the Army that were on the move. There was no time to get familiar with the terrain and the operation itself.
Such is the nature of war and battle. It is the quality of training, skills and determination that matter in the end. At times like these, we need to have immense faith and trust in our armed forces and be appreciative of their efforts, much of which we would never understand.
While war-fighting is a complex task, it has become even more challenging in today’s environment. With the sophistication of social media and technology, fake news and fake videos bring about a new kind of warfare. Deliberate efforts are being made to demoralise our public and those at the front who face the challenge.
The time has come for us, the citizens, to fight the ‘Fake World’ and ‘gossips’. The politics of today has made it worse. I cannot for once believe how Pakistan is using India’s political propaganda to their advantage. Indeed, it is preposterous. We must seriously resist this new monster, collectively and individually. I hope that better sense prevails among those who make a meal of the situation to gain political mileage.
The author is former chief of Indian Air Force.
(The article has been updated to reflect the latest developments)