On the fourth anniversary of Operation Swift Retort, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday said that while the government aimed for peace with all, it was “mindful of our duty to defend the country”.

On February 27, 2019, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had shot down two Indian planes that had violated Pakistani airspace. One of the Indian pilots was captured by Pakistan, but was later handed over as a gesture of peace.

In a tweet today, the premier paid tribute to the Pakistan Air Force for its “befitting response” to the Indian violation of Pakistan’s airspace “on the pretext of false flag Pulwama attack”.

“While we aim for peace with all, we are mindful of our duty to defend the country. Let no one make any mistake about it,” he warned.

The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Ahmed Sharif said that today was a reminder that the Pakistani forces were ready to defend “every inch of the motherland” if aggression was ever imposed on it.

“CJCSC (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee), services chiefs and air forces of Pakistan pay tribute to the resilience of the nation and resolve of air forces displayed during Operation Swift Retort,” he said.

The DG ISPR added that the “daring, resolute and measured response from Pakistan thwarted Indian nefarious designs” after “India stage managed a cowardly attack on a fictitious target”.

“Let this day be a reminder that while being a peace-loving nation, Pakistan air forces are ever ready, not only to defend every inch of the motherland but to take the fight back to the enemy if ever, aggression is imposed on us.

“Any delusion resulting into a misadventure will always be met with the full might of Pakistan air forces backed by a resilient nation,” he vowed.

Meanwhile, PTI chairman Imran Khan — who was the prime minister when the operation was conducted — said that his government’s decision to choose a “limited military response” had signalled a “clear message to India”.

How it unfolded

The epicentre of the Pakistan-India escalation was an attack in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama on Feb 14, 2019, in which more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed.

The attack, surpassing one in 2016 when 19 soldiers died, saw explosives packed inside a van rip through buses in a convoy of 78 vehicles carrying some 2,500 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force.

Two blue buses carrying around 35 people each bore the brunt of the explosion around 20 kilometres from the main city of Srinagar on the main highway towards Jammu.

The next day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country would give a “strong response” to the Pulwama attack.

The “blood of the people is boiling” and forces behind the act of terrorism will be definitely be punished, he was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.

Modi didn’t name Pakistan but went on to say: “If our neighbour, which is totally isolated in the world and thinks it can destabilise India through its tactics and conspiracies, then it is making a huge mistake”.

The situation heated up when Indian military planes violated the Line of Control, intruding from the Muzaffarabad sector. “Pakistan Air Force immediately scrambled” and Indian aircraft went back, the ISPR had said in a statement.

The intrusion in Pakistani airspace by Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft had happened for a second consecutive day, as one of its planes had to release payloads in the Balakot area while being chased away in the early hours of the day. The Pakistan military spokesman had then promised “surprise” for India in response to the IAF aggression.

A day later, the IAF jets entered Pakistani airspace after the PAF strikes on the other side of the LoC from Pakistani airspace for, what the Foreign Office and Army had described as, a demonstration of Pakistan’s “right, will and capability for self-defence”.

The PAF strikes across the LoC were first announced by then FO spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal via a tweet. “PAF undertook strikes across LoC from Pakistani airspace. The sole purpose of this action was to demonstrate our right, will and capability for self-defence. We do not wish to escalate but are fully prepared if forced into that paradigm,” he had tweeted.

Shortly afterwards, the then Pakistan military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor announced the shooting down of IAF aircraft. He had tweeted, “IAF crossed LoC” after the PAF strikes in India-occupied Kashmir (IOK).

“PAF shot down two Indian aircraft inside Pakistani airspace. One of the aircraft fell inside AJK while the other fell inside IOK. One Indian pilot arrested by troops on the ground while two in the area,” he had stated.

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