NEW DELHI: A fresh controversy has erupted over India’s Rafale warplanes deal with France, after Kolkata’s Telegraph newspaper broached on Thursday the possibility of Pakistani pilots having trained on similar planes sold to Qatar.
In a follow up to the news item, NDTV checked up with the French embassy about the claim, which denied that Pakistani pilots had been trained to fly the Rafale planes.
The French ‘clarification’ came after ainonline.com, described by NDTV as an independent media firm which focusses on the aviation sector reported that “the first batch of pilots trained for Qatar in November 2017 were Pakistani exchange officers.”
According to Jon Lake, the author of the piece, “Escadron de Chasse 04.030 was established at Mont-de-Marsan as the Qatar Rafale Squadron on Oct 1, 2017,” NDTV said.
Referring to the ainonline.com story, Ambassador Alexandre Ziegler was quoted as slamming the report as false. “I can confirm that it is fake news.” French government sources have told NDTV that they have cross-checked details of this article.
Qatar took delivery of its first Rafale at Dassault’s Merignac facility on February 6 this year. In a press statement, Dassault had said Qatar had signed up for 24 Rafale fighters in May 2015.
In December 2017, it ordered an additional 12 fighters. The deal for the first 24 fighters is valued at euro 6.3 billion.
NDTV said Pakistani military personnel have been deputed to operate with the armed forces of several Middle Eastern countries for decades.
In January 2018, there were reports the visit of the Commander of the Qatar Emiri Air Force to Pakistan Air Force Headquarters in Islamabad. Pakistan’s Air Chief reportedly “offered support and cooperation in the field of aviation and military training” to his counterpart, NDTV said.
India’s deal with France to buy the Rafale from Dassault Aviation has been mired in controversy over alleged wrongdoings and crony capitalism. The opposition alleges the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi favoured industrialist Anil Ambani’s rookie firm Reliance Defence bag an offset contract with Dassault Aviation.
On Friday, the Supreme Court also outright rejected the Modi government’s argument that classified documents accessed by the media on the Rafale fighter jet deal can’t be evidence. The court said it will examine the secret documents while considering petitions asking for a review of its order giving the government a clean chit on the deal that the opposition alleges was corrupt.
The Modi government has been saying the sensitive information could be used by the country’s rivals — a reference to Pakistan.
The Telegraph reported that Indian defence ministry source said he was not aware of the online report.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019