Prime Minister Imran Khan has blamed India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “whipping up war hysteria” over claims that India shot down a Pakistani F-16 during a standoff in February, saying that the truth is always the best policy.
US-based Foreign Policy magazine, citing US officials, said all of Pakistan’s F-16 combat jets had been accounted for, contradicting an Indian air force assessment that it had shot down one of the jets.
“The truth always prevails and is always the best policy,” Khan said in a Tweet. “BJP’s attempt to win elections through whipping up war hysteria and false claims of downing a Pak F 16 has backfired, with US defence officials also confirming that no F16 was missing from Pakistan’s fleet.”
Indians begin voting in general elections on Thursday.
Nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan engaged in an aerial battle over the disputed region of Kashmir a day after Indian jets crossed over into Pakistan to attack a suspected camp of anti-India militants.
An Indian jet was brought down during the fight and its pilot captured when he ejected on the Pakistani side of the border.
He was later released.
India said it too had shot down a Pakistani aircraft and the air force displayed pieces of a missile that it said had been fired by a Pakistani F-16 before it went down.
Foreign Policy said in a report published on Thursday that two US defence officials with direct knowledge of the matter said US personnel had done a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing.
Details of the India-Pakistan air engagement have not been fully provided by either side.
BJP spokesman Bizay Sonkar Shastri dismissed Khan’s accusations.
“Firstly, their (Pakistan’s) habit of lying is no secret to the world. Secondly, this is absolutely clear that the roots of terrorism lie in Pakistan and terrorism is cultivated in Pakistan,” he told Reuters.
The Indian Air Force has refuted the Foreign Policy report, and said it had proof that a Pakistani F-16 was shot down in the air combat.
“The Indian Forces have confirmed sighting ejections at two different places on that day. The two sightings were at places separated by at least 8-10km.
“One was an IAF MiG 21 Bison and the other a PAF aircraft. Electronic signatures gathered by us indicate that the PAF aircraft was an F-16.”
The US defence department has said it was “not aware” of any investigation that was conducted to ascertain if Pakistan had lost a F-16, contrary to the report in the US magazine, India’s Hindustan Times daily reported.
Pakistan closed its airspace amid the standoff but most commercial air traffic has since resumed and major airports have opened.
Pakistan offered to open one air route on Friday, an Indian government official said, without specifying details and declining to be named as the matter was not public.
An Air India official said on condition of anonymity that Pakistan has opened one of its 11 air routes, from the southern side, adding that the carrier began operations via this route on Friday.
“Pakistan has opened one air route over India on April 4, it is a northwest bound route,” Mujtaba Baig, spokesman for Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, told Reuters yesterday.
An e-mail sent to the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation was not immediately answered.
Air India did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since they gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
Both Pakistan and India control parts of Kashmir, but lay claim to the entire valley.
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