New Delhi: In 2001, post 9/11, when America launched anti-terror strikes on Afghanistan, thousands of vociferous Pakistani Islamists took an oath to kick out the ‘invader’ and rushed across the Durand Line into the neighboring country. Within weeks, however, they returned home, panicked, and tail firmly tucked between their legs. Gone was their gas and bravado.
For average Pakistanis, such quick meltdowns are routine, as is their boundless mischief-making capacity. In all their wars against India, the joke goes, Islamabad “won” Indians lands but lost wars. Another joke in Pakistan is that its Army officers, who never won a war, proudly wore colors and medals that indicated not their valor but their “values” in terms of prosperity due to corruption and ill-gotten money.
So it came as no surprise when a Pakistani Member of Parliament (MP) revealed on Wednesday that Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa actually “trembled and perspired” when Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, another hot-air balloon, told him that “India is going to attack Pakistan at 9 PM.”
The high-level meeting was held that day—minus Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, who, unwilling to take any decision or responsibility, excused himself out—to discuss the issues related to the Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander fighter-pilot Abhinandan Varthaman.
He had been captured in Pakistan after his MiG-21 fighter aircraft was downed in a dogfight. Before ejecting, he had, however, scored a kill by downing a Pakistan Air Force (PAF)’s F-16.
His illegal arrest became a global issue and Pakistan came under extreme international pressure to release him as per norms. But Islamists of Islamabad pressured their own government to keep him under detention for as long as they could.
How the Imran government responded to the crisis has come out in more detail now.
During his speech in National Assembly, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) MP Ayaz Sadiq revealed that fearing an attack by India, the Imran Khan government had “abruptly” released Varthaman.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, he said, had in an important meeting pointed out that if Pakistan did not release the IAF fighter-pilot, India would attack Pakistan “that night by 9 pm.”
Sadiq also revealed that Qureshi, in a meeting with the parliamentary leaders, including those of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PML-N, and Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had asked for Abhinandan to be released at the earliest.
“I remember Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in the meeting which Imran Khan had refused to attend. When Chief of Army Staff General Bajwa came into the room, his legs were shaking and he was perspiring. Qureshi said, for God’s sake let Abhinandan go, India’s about to attack Pakistan at 9 PM”, Sadiq disclosed, recounting what happened in the meeting.
Sadiq’s video has gone viral on the Internet.
General Bajwa was, in August 2019, given another three-year extension in service!
Wing Commander Varthaman became an instant national hero in India and shot into limelight after he shot down an America-made F-16, which had transgressed into the Indian airspace during a dogfight between the Indian and Pakistani air forces in February 2014. His plane had veered and crossed over to the Pakistani side where it was shot down after he successfully ejected.
After a lot of international diplomatic pressure, Abhinandan was returned to India from the Attari-Wagah border on March 1, 2014.
Former IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal (Retd) BS Dhanoa, said that Pakistan was aware of India’s capability and that could have acted as deterrence against any harm coming to Wing Commander Varthaman.
“There are two parts to it. The main pressure on Pakistan was diplomatic and political. But there was also a military posture, the way he (Mr. Sadiq) is saying that General Bajwa’s legs were shaking and all’, it is because the military posture was very offensive of all the three services, Army, Navy, Air Force,” he said, according to media reports.
“And God forbid had they hit our installations on February 27, we were also in a position to wipe out their forward brigades. They know our capability. Basically, if this thing is there in their mind that we are likely to strike, they first look at how their own military is doing. The American President Theodore Roosevelt used to say, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’. So the big stick was the military,” Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.
In February 2014, Pakistan-based, sponsored, and funded terrorist gang Jaish-e-Muhammad had launched a suicide attack on a security forces’ convoy in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama, that left 40 jawans dead.
Days later, Indian jets bombed the terror gang’s base in Balakot, Pakistan. A dogfight between the two air forces broke out the next day, leading to Varthamana’s capture.
Air Chief Marshal (Retd) BS Dhanoa had served in a MiG-21 squadron with Wing Commander Varthaman’s father, who retired as an Air Marshal.
After his return home to a hero’s welcome and healing from injuries, Wing Commander Varthaman re-joined the IAF in less than six months.