It is high time that Indians shed their admiration for some of the Western media houses which have an unabashed tendency to mock truth and plant lies

by Pathikrit Payne

In the aftermath of India’s Mars mission a few years back, the New York Times had published a cartoon to mock our space endeavours. The caricature was of an Indian in rustic attire, representing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with a cow beside him, trying to knock on a door of a room in which were seated some elite White people who, perhaps, depicted Western aerospace agencies. The cartoon spoke volumes about the racist and White supremacist (sic) mentality that still exists in the West and more so among a section of media over there, which still finds it difficult to acknowledge the accomplishments of Asian countries like India in spheres, hitherto a monopoly of the West. Therefore, it was not surprising that typical of proverbial habit, a section of Western media doubted the Balakot airstrike and the downing of a Pakistan F-16 jet by an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 despite its limited understanding of many aspects of tactical air operations.

The Washington-based Foreign Policy magazine recently published an article titled, ‘Did India Shoot Down a Pakistani Jet? U.S. Count Says No’ with an effort to drive home the point that India may not have shot down a Pakistani F-16 since, as per the magazine, “senior US defence officials with direct knowledge of the situation told Foreign Policy that US personnel recently counted Islamabad’s F-16s and found none missing.”

Even though the Pakistani establishment was quick to latch on the report in its rush to score brownie points, and some in India, too, during election time were frothing in their mouth to pin the Indian armed forces down by referring to the article, it did not quite have the intended impact. Later, however, it was also reported that the US’ Defence Department officially stated that it was not aware of any such head count of F-16 fleet of Pakistani Air Force having been done by its authorities, thereby totally shattering the credibility of the Foreign Policy article.

IAF did it in 1965 War, too: The pertinent question is, where does the truth lie and why are some having difficulty in accepting it? In the first place, this was not the first time that IAF pilots shot down far superior combat jets even while themselves flying more vintage ones. In the 1965 India-Pakistan war, there are well-documented reports of IAF Gnats checkmating technologically superior Pakistani F-104 Starfighters and F-86 Sabres in aerial combats and downing several of them, leading to the depletion of the Pakistan Air Force combat fleet by around 17 per cent by the end of war.

The other important thing to remember is that IAF pilots are thorough professionals. They don’t take up to the sky for jingoism but for serious business. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman would not have crossed the Line of Control (LoC) at the cost of irrefutable mortal danger to his life, had he not radar-locked a Pakistani F-16 with his short range R-73 missile. Radar locking on a target is like a hunter getting the irresistible scent of blood. Wing Commander Abhinandan could have easily returned to the base once the Pakistani F-16 had crossed the LoC but the reason he did not do so was because he was sure of the kill. 

The Indian objective: In spite of the massive End-Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) violation by Pakistan and feat of IAF in downing an F-16, India, having already shared all evidence with the US, including radar signatures, visual records and intercepts of Pakistani defence communications, perhaps would not push it too hard to acknowledge the crash. At stake are billions of dollars of business and credibility of some of America’s finest aerospace and defence firms. To officially acknowledge that a fourth generation and highly upgraded F-16 was shot down by a third generation Mig-21 and that the F-16’s evasive manoeuvres or electronic warfare measures failed to dodge a short range R-73 kind of Within Visual Range (WVR) missile, would have serious ramifications for the American aerospace industry in terms of business and its halo of invincibility. India’s objective is not that but to fight terror that emanates from Pakistan.

For both India and US, there are other priorities: Having acknowledged the feat of IAF, both India and US would prefer the matter to slowly get into the backburner and focus on other major issues where Indians have convergence with Americans. The most critical among them is surely that of designating Masood Azhar as a global terrorist in the UN Security Council wherein the US has now taken a new approach to negate the Chinese resistance to the move in the past.

Blacklisting Pakistan by FATF high on agenda: The second key issue where India is working closely with the US is in the realm of making a solid case for blacklisting Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). This is a critical step in taking forward the fight against terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The blacklisting would severely hurt its ability to continue with its support of terror infrastructure at the cost of a massive financial catastrophe since blacklisting by FATF can severely impede Pakistan’s already depleted chance of getting financial bailouts from global financial institutions or inviting Foreign Direct Investment. As per the Pakistan Foreign Office, greylisting alone is costing Pakistan an annual loss of around $ 10 billion.

Defence cooperation: Besides, in the field of aerospace development, defence cooperation and nuclear power generation, several Indian companies and Government agencies are working closely with their American counterparts. In all these areas, there are strong dynamics, which is far more critical for India than to push the US into admission that a US F-16 was shot down by the IAF. As a strategic partner of the US, India has shown enough maturity in dealing with the issue rather than creating a ruckus over it. One would also not be surprised if a discreet note of applause would also have been passed on informally by the Americans in admiration of the feat of IAF.

India’s objective is clear and accomplished: India’s Balakot strike into the epicentre of Pakistan’s terror training bastion has altered the threshold of India’s counter-terror response mechanism by raising the bar of consequence on Pakistan through ‘Non Military Preemptive Strikes’. This is the new-normal and this would be the quantum of India’s response every time there is a major cross-border terror attack emanating from Pakistan. 

However, that does not mean that some in the Western or Pakistani media would not come up with articles to discredit India. That is part of the information warfare that has to be countered in a different way. Such planting of doubts on India’s abilities has happened for the last 70 years and in spite of that, India has steered forward.

Will Western media now do some real journalism? Till date, however, Pakistan has failed to account for the second pilot, which both their Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Spokesperson Gen Asif Ghafoor as well as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had emphatically claimed of being in a Pakistani hospital after his plane had been shot down. Where is he now? Was that a case of mistaken identity of a Pakistani pilot being wrongly presumed to be Indian? Is he still alive?

Or is it that he, the Pakistani pilot of F-16, has died of his wounds and been quietly buried to bury the truth? What about the visuals of frantic efforts by Pakistani men in uniform to remove debris of what seemed to be remnants of a Pakistani F-16 shot down by Wing Commander Abhinandan? Which foreign journalist would dare to investigate these? Which foreign magazine would dare to investigate where exactly Pakistan channelised the $33 billion aid from the US that it got for fighting terror but did everything else apart from fighting terror?

The writer is a New Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst