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- Monday, December 15, 2008 - From Print Edition


KARACHI: The two air violations by the Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft on Saturday were most probably mistakes, authoritative sources said on Sunday though, at the same time, also hinting at two other scenarios in this particular case.


Speaking to The News, the sources said that during peace time, both Pakistan Air Force and the Indian Air Force followed strict rules and all aircraft flew 15 miles from the border. “This is to avoid air violations,” said the sources, adding that special missions like reconnaissance were excluded from this rule.


The sources pointed out that all over the world, fighter aircraft while flying high at high speeds could deviate several miles from flight plans and that was normal. In this case, because of the air alert declared by India, fighter aircraft flying at border might have mistakenly entered the Pakistani airspace.


The IAF aircraft intruded only four kilometers inside the Pak borders and immediately left. During the Afghan war 1980-88, PAF pilots, according to rules of engagement (ROE), could only intercept intruding Russian and Afghan aircraft that had come up to seven kilometres inside the Pak airspace.


The sources said in the past, in case of tension between the two neighbours, pilots flew familiarization missions to identify the landmarks on borders. However, with the advent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) such missions are not needed.


Nevertheless, the sources pointed out that not all IAF aircraft, including several MiG-21s, were equipped with GPS. “If the intruders were not upgraded MiG-21s, there is a good possibility they did not have this facility and hence this violation.”


However, talking about other scenarios, the sources said it was also possible that the intruders were checking the readiness status of the PAF. “They may have wanted to know whether the PAF was on five-minute alert or cockpit alert and thereby find out the reaction time.”


They added that the PAF did carry out combat air patrol (CAP) missions but those were selective and were not done all the time in all sectors. “There is a remote possibility of the second scenario because they already know we are on high alert following the Mumbai attacks and belligerent talk by Indian leaders.”


The third possibility, the sources said, could have been that the intruders, followed by high tech aircraft, wanted to lure defending Pakistani aircraft and use beyond visual range missiles (BVR) to target PAF fighters within the Pakistani territory.


This, however, would have been an extremely serious provocation, forcing strong reaction from Pakistan. The resulting escalation would be beyond India’s control. As such, this scenario is only a remote possibility, they added.