Shooting the Atlantique

19 Aug, 1999    ·   249

D.Suba Chandran says the shooting of the Atlantique has done no good to India at international level, but it would improve the prospects of the BJP in the coming elections

An Indian Air Force MiG 21 shot down a Pakistani surveillance aircraft Breguet Atlantique on 10th August, killing all 16 Pakistan personnel on board, for intruding 10 km into Indian territory in the Kori Creek region in Gujarat .



According to the Indian version, the MiG 21s tried to force the Atlantique to land in India, but the "intruder aircraft turned in towards the MiG 21 in an attack position".According to Pakistan, the Atlantique was unarmed and in a routine training within its territorial limits when it was shot, without any warning, For Pakistan, the fact that the Atlantique was unarmed and the crew consisted of five officers and 11other ranks, most of them trainees and the debris of the plane and all the bodies were found inside Pakistan would seem to support this point.



Pakistan 's version cannot, however be accepted. The Atlantique is proven to be an anti-submarine cum anti-ship maritime surveillance aircraft, capable of delivering Exocet AM 39 missiles that can attack vessels from a distance of 100 km. It also carries nine MK 44 torpedoes, 4 air to surface missiles, 12 depth charges and 14 bombs.



Secondly, if it was on a routine training mission, why was it flying so close to the international border? Article 2 of the Agreement between Pakistan and India on Prevention of Air space violations, states "Combat aircraft (to include fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, jet military trainer and armed helicopter aircraft) will not fly within 10 kms of each other's airspace". Whether the Atlantique was armed or not it is irrelevant since it is a reconnaissance aircraft and is covered well within the scope of this Article.



This controversy apart, did the shooting serve India any purpose?



At the international level, this incident has lowered India 's moral stature acquired for its restraint in Kargil. The US , for example criticised that the "shoot down is a whole more serious level of action, inconsistent with the (1991) agreement". The fact that all 16 bodies and most of the wreckage fell within the Pakistani territory, has raised many questions. It is true that the altitude, direction and speed of the Atlantique may have ensured its falling on the Pakistani side, but India's display of a part of the wreckage in New Delhi did it no good. With India not prepared for dialogue and Pakistan continuously calling for it, this incident is bound to increase the international pressure upon India .



Further, by shooting down the Atlantique, India has helped Nawaz Sharif and his government. There was severe criticism within Pakistan over the way Nawaz Sharif handled the Kargil episode. When the press and the opposition was questioning Sharif's Kargil policy, one missile from the MiG 21 has changed the scenario in Sharif's favour. He cleverly turned the burial ceremony of the Atlantique crew into his advantage. The shooting converted the intruders into martyrs!



Certain questions have to be answered. India had every right to shoot down an enemy plane that intrudes within its territory. Why was this option not used during the previous eight intrusions during May and July? Why was the matter not taken up at the Headquarters level? According to Article 1 of the 1991 agreement "if any inadvertent violation does take place, the incident will be promptly investigated and the Headquarters (HQ) of the other Air Force informed of the results without delay, through diplomatic channels". Were any investigations of the earlier violations and reported through diplomatic channels?



Before firing the missile, was there any radio contact between the MiG 21 and the Atlantique? Explaining the events, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Tipnis said "as the MiGs moved to jockey into position to order the Pakistani aircraft to follow them, the Atlantique turned northwards towards them with the nose pointed towards Pakistan…(which) was a hostile act as it should have continued flying on the same path and lowered its undercarriage to indicate it had no hostile intentions". But he also did not rule out that the Atlantique was trying to return to Pakistan . Did we exhaust all the alternative options before firing?



The shooting of the Atlantique has done no good to India butit would improve the prospects of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the coming elections.