A noted Pakistani journalist, who fled to France last year following an attempt on his life, has claimed US-built F-16 fighters were used in last week's skirmish with India.
Taha Siddiqui, who has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post and other reputed publications, made the claim on his Twitter account on Sunday. “My source inside Pakistan Air force says F-16s were used,” Siddiqui tweeted. Siddiqui has reported extensively on the Pakistan military and was allegedly harassed by the Army establishment for 'critical' articles.
Siddiqui decided to leave Pakistan after he was abducted and assaulted by a group of men on a highway in Islamabad in January 2018. Siddiqui was then the Pakistan bureau chief of the Indian-owned WION news channel. In an article in the Washington Post in January 2019, Siddiqui claimed the Pakistan military was behind the incident.
Siddiqui claimed the military establishment began harassing him ever since he wrote an article in The New York Times in 2015 about secret prisons in the country where extra-judicial killings of militants were carried out. In the Washington Post article, Siddiqui claimed US officials warned him recently he was still at risk of assassination and asked him to stay away from Pakistani diplomatic missions and nations friendly to Pakistan.
#Exclusive: In a sermon in #Pakistan, #JaisheMohammad leader accepts Indian planes were targeting their center in #Balakot. He criticizes @ImranKhanPTI for releasing #IndianAirForce pilot #Abhinandhan. He also calls Pakistanis for joining #jihad in Indian-administered #Kashmir pic.twitter.com/j4pQ4WG96T— Taha Siddiqui (@TahaSSiddiqui) March 2, 2019
On Saturday, Siddiqui shared an audio clip of a Jaish-e-Mohammad leader accepting that Indian Air Force fighters had attacked the group's centre in Balakot. The Jaish leader can also be heard criticising Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan for releasing downed IAF pilot Abhinandan Varthaman and calling on Pakistanis to join the 'jihad' in Jammu and Kashmir.
The tweet by Siddiqui, who has reported on the Pakistan military for years, will add fuel to the fiery debate over Pakistan's alleged use of the F-16 in the incursion across the Line of Control on February 27. The Indian Air Force claimed a MiG-21 Bison shot down an F-16 and displayed parts of an AMRAAM missile, which only the F-16 carries in South Asia. While Pakistan has denied claims the F-16 was used in the engagement, Islamabad has not provided any details of the kind of aircraft it used in the mission.
The allegations over Pakistan's 'misuse' of the F-16 became a bilateral issue between Islamabad and Washington over the weekend after the US said it was examining the claims. The US had sold Pakistan new F-16s in the past decade for use in counter-terrorist operations. However, there have been concerns for years that sophisticated equipment like the AMRAAM and conformal fuel tanks had little relevance for counter-terrorism operations and were more useful in a conflict against India.