Pakistan's military has said for the first time that JF-17 Thunder combat aircraft developed jointly with China were used in retaliation to India's pre-emptive strikes on a JeM terror camp in Balakot as it once again denied that US-made F-16 jets were involved in the attack.
Referring to the aerial dogfight with the Indian Air Force jets after the February 14 Pulwama terror attack claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Pakistan Army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said the Indian jets violated the Pakistani airspace on February 26, dropping payloads without inflicting any casualties or damage to infrastructure.
The next day, Pakistan Air Force retaliated and downed a MiG-21 in an aerial combat and captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, who was handed over to India later.
"The aircraft which engaged those targets and fought them were JF-17. As regard to how to use F-16, in what context [they] were used or not - because at that point of time our entire Air Force was airborne - now it remains between Pakistan and the US to see how the MoUs regarding the use of F-16 have been adhered to or otherwise," Ghafoor told Russian news agency Sputnik International.
A day after Pakistan's attempt to retaliate the IAF's air strikes at the Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot, the Indian armed forces displayed parts of an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) fired by an F-16, which fell in Indian territory. New Delhi had also underlined that electronic signatures captured by Indian radars had established the use of F-16 for the offensive.
The US State Department announced that it was seeking more information from Pakistan on the potential use of American-made F-16 jets against India in violation of the end-user agreement.
The Pakistani General noted that Islamabad was discussing the use of its JF-17 with the US citing "friendly relations" with Washington, stressing, however, that the country would use whatever it deemed necessary if it came to "legitimate self-defence."
He said Pakistan only wanted to tell India that it has the capability to hit back. He said Pakistan has the footage of the operation.
At the time of the attack, the media reports said the PAF military aircraft that shot down the MiG-21 Bison was JF-17 Thunder Block II multirole fighter jet.
"Proud to announce, I was project director for JF-17 Thunder programme jointly produced by Pakistan and China during the tenure of General Pervez Musharraf," retired PAF Air Marshall Shahid Latif said at the time.
"Today, same jets targeted and shot down Indian Jets which entered Pakistani Airspace," he said soon after the attack last month.
Ghafoor said that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is a deterrence tool to prevent wars in the region.
"Pakistan holds the position that this capability eliminates the possibility of conventional war. No sane country having this capability would talk about using it," Ghafoor was quoted as saying by the Russian news agency.
He said Pakistan would take steps towards non-proliferation of nuclear arms but only if India does the same.
Ghafoor said Pakistan would welcome every effort, including that of Russia, which can bring peace in the region.
On military cooperation with Russia, Ghafoor said Pakistan is negotiating defence industry cooperation with Moscow in the areas of aviation, air defence systems and anti-tank missiles.
Pakistan's defence ties with Russia have moved past the bitter Cold War hostilities in recent years and the chill in the relations between Pakistan and the US has further pushed the country towards Russia and China.