An employee cleans the glass display hosting the likeness of Wing Commander Abhinandan at the PAF Museum on Wednesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
An employee cleans the glass display hosting the likeness of Wing Commander Abhinandan at the PAF Museum on Wednesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: What is Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the Indian Air Force doing in Karachi now? No, he didn’t try to violate Pakistani airspace to get caught again. He wouldn’t dare. These are just some ‘fond’ memories of his brief stay here that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has tried to hold on to, along with his khaki-green jumpsuit and the mug he drank our tea in, by showcasing it all with his plastic mannequin at the newly opened Operation Swift Retort Gallery at the PAF Museum.

The messages on the walls such as ‘Together we fought, together we won’, ‘The surprise that made enemy bleed’, ‘Surprise to victory,’ ‘Operation Swift Retort is a testimony of our preparedness and professionalism’ raise morale. To one side of the entrance is written Myth. Reality ... Resolve ... Misadventure ... Surprise ... Commitment ... Legacy reborn.

Senior Tech Mohammad Asif of the PAF media affairs takes one through the gallery. It is like seeing the entire story unfold beginning from the fake Pulwama attack story of February 14 and the false accusations hurled at Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reaction to the allegations, calling the attack a “false-flag operation” by India, India’s propaganda of claiming to have found and destroyed terrorist camps in Pakistan, which were actually found to be pine trees and nothing else.

The galaxy of PAF’s daring men and decorated pilots like Squadron Leader M.M. Alam, Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui Shaheed, Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas were some of the feel-good stories as PAF’s other victories over the years were highlighted.

Visitors praise brave PAF officers who downed the Indian fighter jets

Next up there are models showing PAF’s capability to carry out strikes inside enemy territory, something they choose not to do while knowing perfectly well that they can alongside models of Indian Air Force’s SU-30 and MiG-21, which the PAF destroyed after Indian jets violated our airspace.

A piece of the Indian pilot’s MiG-21 Bison on display at the PAF Museum on Wednesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
A piece of the Indian pilot’s MiG-21 Bison on display at the PAF Museum on Wednesday.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

And this brings one to the most popular display in the entire gallery — Abhinandan, his uniform, a little knife, and the mug he was offered tea in, which he thought was “fantastic”. Pieces from his plane’s wreckage including its tail are displayed separately in the gallery.

All the visitors at the gallery wanted selfies with Abhinandan’s statue. And no one remembered his rank though there were not-so-polite titles aplenty being showered on him such as dushman (enemy) pilot, darpok (coward), etc.

On the other hand, there were cheers, prayers, kudos for PAF’s Wing Commander Noman Ali Khan, Wing Commander Faheem Ahmed and Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui, who took part in the defence operation and downed Indian fighter jets.

Another interesting display at the gallery is the media wall with reproduced national and international newspaper clippings and what was being said on social media and news channels at the time. In the centre below is the framed “world most expensive tea bill” from the PAF Officer’s Mess showing the cost of one cup of tea as one MiG-21.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2019