Two Pakistan Air Force officers will receive the country’s top military awards for showing courage during an aerial combat with India in February, the Pakistan Army said on Wednesday. The announcement came hours after the Indian Air Force announced that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, whose plane was brought down during the dogfight, would be conferred with the Vir Chakra on Independence Day.
“Officers and soldiers of three services have been conferred gallantly awards for displaying bravery, dedication, commitment and professionalism during different operations and particularly against Indian aggression post Pulwama defeating India in all domains,” the Pakistan military’s statement read.
Wing Commander Muhammad Noman Ali Khan, who downed Varthaman’s MiG-21 Bison jet, will be conferred with Sitara-i-Jur’at, and Squadron Leader Hasan Mahmood Siddiqui will receive the Tamgha-i-Jur’at award.
Sitara-i-Jur’at is the third-highest military award and Tamgha-i-Jur’at is the fourth-highest military honour in Pakistan. The investiture ceremony will be held on March 23 after the Pakistan Day parade in the capital, PTI quoted the Army as saying.
Hostilities between the two countries peaked in February with the first aerial combat between its air forces in 48 years. Varthaman’s MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in Pakistani territory on February 27 while he was chasing enemy aircraft that had entered the Indian airspace. He was captured by the Pakistani Army and released on the night of March 1, after being held captive for more than 60 hours.
The dogfight occurred days after India said it had struck the training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad, which was behind the February 14 suicide attack in Kashmir’s Pulwama district in which more than 40 soldiers were killed.
Pakistan claimed that its jets shot down two Indian fighter planes during the aerial skirmish and that the debris of one plane fell on its of the Line of Control while the other fell on the Indian side. India, however, maintained that Pakistan downed Varthaman’s plane after he managed to bring down an advanced F-16 jet.