Pakistan is unlikely to clear the air over its Wing Commander Shahzaz Ud Din, who has reportedly died after the dogfight with Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthman's MiG 21 Bison on February 27.
Pakistan unlikely to clear the air over Wg Cdr Shahzaz Ud Din
One India story on February 28 "Unfolding the mystery over Pakistan ' s F-16 pilot" described how the F-16 pilot was hospitalised after being beaten up by a Pakistani mob considering him to be an Indian pilot, and how the Pakistani Army foolishly announced that it had captured two Indian pilots without realising that the hospitalised pilot was, in fact, its own F-16 pilot.
Now various reports have identified the F-16 pilot as Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din of No 19 Squadron, which belongs to Pakistan Air Force's (PAF) F-16 Squadron.
In a Facebook post on March 1, London-based Pakistani lawyer Khalid Umar claimed that Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din has died in a hospital, where he was admitted after mistakenly being beaten up by a mob in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). He also claimed that the F-16 pilot was the son of Air Marshal Waseem Ud Din, DCAS (Operations) of PAF.
Though the reports of Shahaz-ud-Din's death is all over the social media and news platforms, Pakistan was tight-lipped over it at the time of filing this report.
Pakistan is unlikely to clear the air over Shahaz-ud-Din mainly for two reasons.
First, if it announces the death of F-16 pilot then it will be crystal clear that F-16s were used to attack against India on February 27. It will be difficult for the Pakistan government to officially accept it as the F-16s are supposed to be used for counter-terror operations.
Addressing a press conference after striking against India, Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor had categorically denied using F-16s.
However, Pakistan's federal Information Minister Chaudhary Fawad Hussain has said that it is prerogative of Pakistan to decide where to use F-16s.
Also Read | How IAF shot down Pakistan's F-16 in an aerial dogfight
"We purchased them from America and didn't get them in a grant. So we'll decide where to deploy them. F-16 jets will be used for the purpose for which they are needed. But Insha'Allah, we hope that situation doesn't arise," he told SBS Punjabi in an interview in response to a query over Indian claim that Pakistan used F-16s to target military installations in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, it seems Hussain did not understand that it is not F-16 but the missiles that it carries may land Pakistan in trouble.
Out of Pakistan's 76 F-16s, 40 are equipped with the upgraded (Beyond Visual Range) version of AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM missile. As per the agreement with Washington, Islamabad had agreed to use AMRAAM missiles only in the counter-terror operations along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
This the reason the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Thursday displayed parts of AMRAAM, as evidence to that Pakistan used F-16 fighter jets during an operation targeting Indian military installations in Jammu and Kashmir.
India is also planning to share this evidence with the US.
The second reason that Pakistan is unlikely to officially announce the death of Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din is because it will embarrass not only Pakistani Army but also Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan before the international community and within Pakistan.
It is notable that Pakistan Army on February 27 claimed its Air Force shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace and captured two Indian pilots.
In a tweet, Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said, "In response to PAF strikes this morning as released by MoFA, IAF crossed LOC. PAF shot down two Indian aircrafts inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJ&K while other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on ground while two (2nd) in the area. "
By that time Pakistani Army was not aware that the second pilot was, in fact, Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din, who was battling for life in a hospital.
After getting incorrect information for his army, Imran Khan also claimed to capture two Indian pilots.
Pakistani Army had taken hours to realise its blunder mistake and by evening Ghafoor tweeted: "There is only one pilot under Pakistan Army's custody. Wing Comd Abhi Nandan is being treated as per norms of military ethics."
Pakistani media is also not asking Ghafoor where did the hospitalised pilot go.
In fact, announcing death of Wing Commander Shahaz-ud-Din will open Pandora's Box and Islamabad will find it very difficult to answer the obvious question that will arise.
Moreover, it is not new for Pakistan to deny the due rights to its fallen soldiers.
Islamabad took 11 years to officially acknowledge that Pakistan Army's 453 soldiers and officers were killed in the 1999 Kargil War.