Pakistan on Tuesday called India's claim of downing a Pakistani fighter jet "baseless," referring to an aerial dogfight in 2019 following which relations between the two archrivals took a nosedive.
In a statement, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry rejected New Delhi's claims that in February 2019 Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistani F-16 aircraft.
On Monday, Indian President Ram Nath Kovind awarded the pilot Vir Chakra, the country's third-highest wartime gallantry award.
"The citation of the award to the downed Indian pilot is a classic case of Indian fabrications and pure fantasy to appease domestic audience and hide the embarrassment," the ministry said.
Islamabad maintains Varthaman was instead captured in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and his aircraft was downed by Pakistani jets. A day later he was released in a gesture of goodwill widely hailed by the international community.
US defense officials also debunked the Indian claim during a visit to Pakistan in April 2019 where they did a count of Pakistan’s F-16s and found none missing. The F-16s are manufactured by US firm Lockheed Martin.
Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.
Since they were partitioned in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965, and 1971 – two of them over Kashmir.
Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence or unification with Pakistan.
According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.
On Aug. 5, 2019, India stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its autonomous status and divided it into two centrally ruled territories, sparking fresh tensions in the restive region.