Months after India said it shot down Pakistan's F-16 fighter jets in a military escalation with its nuclear rival, the United States have accused the Air Force of the Imran-Khan led country of using American-made F-16 fighter jets from unapproved bases. A written reprimand was sent to the Pakistan Air Force chief by Andrea Thompson, a top US State Department official at the time. The development was confirmed by a media group US News and World Report.
Thompson, however, did not specifically mention the Pulwama terror attack after which the Indian Army launched an airstrike in Pakistan's Balakot.
India has maintained that it shot down Pakistan's F-16 during the dogfight and that it shot down one of the fighters using a MiG-21 Bison, flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Islamabad, however, has always denied it.
Varthaman's aircraft was also shot down; he was captured by Pakistan but soon released.
According to a source, the letter began by relaying the State Department's confirmation that Pakistan had moved the F-16s and accompanying American-made missiles to unapproved forward operating bases in defiance of its agreement with the U.S. using diplomatic language.
On February 27, a day after India launched airstrikes on terror camps in Pakistan, Islamabad fighter planes violated the Indian airspace in the Rajouri sector of Jammu and Kashmir and dropped bombs on their way out, officials had said.
Craters were reportedly spotted at the places where the bombs were dropped by the Pakistani jets but there were no reports of any casualty.
Shortly thereafter, an F-16 fighter of the Pakistan Air Force was reportedly shot down and was seen falling in Lam area, about three kilometers inside Pakistan, officials said.
A parachute was also seen dropping along with the crashing fighter but the fate of its pilot was not known.
In March, the United States had said that it was "closely following" the reports alleging Pakistan's use of F-16 fighter jet aircraft. However, the US News reported citing an official, saying that a matter of policy does not comment publicly "on the contents of bilateral agreements involving U.S. defense technologies, nor the communications we have about them."
Notably, Thompson, who has since left government, warned the Pakistanis that their behavior risked allowing these weapons to fall into the hands of malign actors and "could undermine our shared security platforms and infrastructures."
The Pakistani armed forces possess 76 American-supplied F-16s - by far the most potent fighter jet in its military arsenal.
Pakistan first began receiving the plane in 1982 and maintains them under strict rules imposed by the State Department, the Department of Defense and Congress.
Among the rules are that Islamabad may only house the fighters and the corresponding American missiles on two specific air force bases at Mushaf and Shahbaz and that it only uses them for counter-terror operations, not against foreign countries.