The Gunslinger Followeth


“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” ~Stephen King

In the darkness intervening the 25th and 26th of February, the Indian Air Force executed what is now known as the Balakot Strike, also alluded to as mass extermination of terrorists, damp squib, tree-slaughter and white lie by other players in the wider theatre of brinkmanship that the world politics is. The versions have been crafted to suit respective vested interests of the stakeholders and spectators of the theatre. Constituents of the potpourri are no less than two nuclearized enemy states, one overly ambitious kingdom aspiring to tie the whole planet in knots with one belt, one road, and the two world powers that matter or not. Then there are the screaming banshees of media on the two sides of the Line-of-Control, the terrorist entities entrenched in Pakistan and the pervasively present parasites that help spill their hatred, the rabid opposition parties, particularly of India, and the last but by no means the least, the industrious research scholars and journalists who solve such riddles with a fatal twist.

But a strike is a strike is a strike, inflicted by an archenemy deep within the belly. Impelled to return the favour, a visibly perturbed Pakistan sent a massive fleet of fighters the day after to pound Indian military installations. The formation consisted of F16 Falcons among other planes. They were of course challenged by the hastily scrambled Indian Sukhoi-30s, Mirage 2000s and refurbished Bisons who happened to be at the fore. The engagement would have ended with the retreating Pak planes but one determined Indian pilot had brighter ideas. Ignoring the calls from the radar station to turn cold, he zoomed into Pak skies in hot pursuit of an F16. The ensuing dogfight between an ancient war-bird and a cutting-edge falcon would surprise the war scientists of the world ─an unexpected phenomenon in the times of ‘beyond-visual-range’ missiles. What emerged from the dust and debris of the skirmish was the saga of the Gunslinger, the Indian pilot who rode an ancient bison. Relying more on daredevilry and spunk than aviation fuel or technology, the Gunslinger chased down the escaping falcon right through the frontier and butchered it to burnish his name in the pages of history.

As he ejected from his disintegrating aircraft that had a taken a missile hit from another enemy plane, the nameless Pak pilot of the doomed F16 also ejected from his plane and both landed in Pakistan. While the Gunslinger was fortunate enough to escape being lynched by frenzied mobs, the Pak pilot had no such luck and was mauled to death by his own countrymen suspecting him of being Indian. The public relations officer of Pak Army jubilantly reported having downed two Indian planes and capturing two Indian pilots who had parachuted into Pak territory. It was stated one of the pilots was in custody of Pak Army while the other one had to be taken to a hospital due to injuries. In turn, the Indian Air Force announced its Mig-21 Bison had shot down a Pak F16 in an aerial confrontation, but unfortunately the Bison was also shot in the process and its pilot was missing-in-action.

Later in the day, Pakistan had to eat back the earlier announcement about two Indian pilots being captured when they realised that the one who was brutally thrashed and succumbed to his injuries in a hospital was their own man. The Indian side displayed the wreckage of an AIM-120 missile to prove that F16s were employed, and importantly, to establish that it was indeed an F16 that was liquidated by the Mig-21.

The Gunslinger was returned to India under intense international pressure, and possibly an Indian threat to unleash a massive missile strike. It did wonders to defuse the looming crisis of a full-spectrum war but intensified the verbal sparring. Pak have doggedly stuck to their version of no F16 being employed in the sortie against India, partly due to the stringent end-use agreement of F16s imposed by USA, but largely because of the massive loss of face it risks in accepting the truth. Not only the Pak Air Force had failed to leave any signature on the Indian terra firma, its mightiest weapon, short of the nuclear arsenal, was swatted out of the sky by a prehistoric plane.

Einstein says with every action there is an equal opposite reaction, but the shooting down of a fighter aircraft, whose exploits in the significant past have attained a status of folklore, appears to have caused more than its due share of ripples. Pakistan has flip-flopped in its claims about the number of pilots captured as well as usage of F16s against India in that forgettable mission. On the Indian side, the aura of the Gunslinger has risen above the capability of its air force that has been maimed and truncated over decades by poor planning, rampant corruption in procurement of equipment, and failure to foster indigenous research perpetuated by the congress of crooks. But manifest in reactions of the third parties is the reputation at stake of a prodigious defence equipment manufacturer, and perhaps the cult of American superiority over insistent Russian influence. Worse, it has potentials to undermine the commercial ambitions of Lockheed Martin who are trying hard to sell over hundred Falcons to India, or Boeing who are reeling under the recent debacle of 737-Max passenger planes and are pressing to sell their Super Hornets to India.

So, when Lara Seligman through her article in ‘Foreign Policy’ dated April 4 galvanised the credulous Indian, ‘Did India Shoot Down a Pakistani Jet? U.S. Count Says No’, quoting a couple of ‘senior defence officials’, what was the underlying theme of her exposé other than the point she scored in the title? By her own admission, “the news comes just days before the start of India’s general elections, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking another term in office.A glance at the photograph of Modi waving at a public rally in Kolkata inserted at the top of her write-up betrays her preoccupation. It is worth looking back to an earlier story by Ms Seligman run on April 3 by the same journal, titled ‘Amid Re-Election Campaign, Modi Takes the Fight to Pakistan’, and checking out the photograph associated with the article: ‘Sarees bearing the image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a shop in Mumbai’. Further in the article about Balakot Strike, she has quoted Mr Milan Vaishnav, a director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “With general elections just weeks away, the conflict gives Modi… a clear advantage.” Both reports of Ms Seligman appear poised precariously between half-truths and falsities, and the overall tone is certainly not complimentary to the Indian PM or the air force. If Indians have traditionally preferred Russian, French and Israeli defence equipment, both mutual trust as well as cooperation have played crucial roles, and USA has to traverse a longish road on the two parameters.

In a weird twist to the opera, Pentagon has claimed having no knowledge of any such count of Pak F16s conducted by USA. As the motley crew of political pirates stoke up the fire under the cauldron in which they plan to boil Mr Modi alive, the ingredients added by the foreign agents make the broth murkier. Even if Modi manages to beat his detractors and retain his thorny crown, the djinns of doles and loan-waivers unleashed en route to power will starve the armed forces further, leaving it with no alternative but to recruit a force of Gunslingers to blunt lethal weaponry in future battle zones.

*End of post*

Addendum 08 Nov 2020: Tyler Rogoway has in his well-reasoned article in ‘The Drive’ tried to dispel the myth of an ageing ancient aircraft like Mig 21 Bison downing a much acclaimed war machine that the F16 Viper is. He avers that much more than the might of the Bison it was the situational awareness created by other aerial assets of the Indian Air Force that led to the Viper being shot down.  I don’t disagree, and I understand it merely underscores the myth of the Gunslinger:

“With all this in mind, is it possible that a MiG-21 Bison shot down a Pakistani F-16? 

Of course it is.

In fact, India’s claim that the Bison got off an R-73 shot just before being shot down fits exactly with what we know about the Bison’s sneaky tactics dating back to Cope India 2004. 

Does this mean the Bison is superior or equal to the F-16? Or does this put into question the F-16’s capabilities? Absolutely not. Networking alone could have been the decisive factor, along with tactics, experience, and electronic warfare, and especially supporting airborne early warning and control aircraft capabilities.”


  1. Nicely articulated. Hope the political regime of India will entrust it’s faith it it’s traditional allies like Russia rather than sitting in the lap of uncle sam and giving in to the world’s biggest terror funder the Saudis.

    1. The US hypocrisy about the many butchered pieces of Mr Jamal Khashoggi holds a key to their strategic interests. Thanks for approving –it matters a lot.

  2. Written with a clarity that only an Uma could muster. I’m pretty aware of the depth of putrefaction festering in multitudinous political crevices, but having the Indian/Pakistan scenario portrayed so vividly and clearly was a real eye-opener. I once had a tiny bantam rooster that ruled the hen-house despite there being some huge roosters in the flock. He did it with cunning and skill – such as being able to run between the legs of the more powerful cockerels. The image of the Gunslinger is a good one.

    1. I hate writing about politics but India is being pillaged by its rapacious politicians. Lusting for the lustrum throne, they will stop at nothing to install themselves in power. They will openly bribe, bluster, intimidate and indulge in worst crimes to milk the electorate, appease and pander to the radicalism of Muslim voters and sow cunning seeds of division among Hindus. They will even let the country disintegrate into pieces in their quest to bulge their personal fortunes which have been soaring to astronomical heights. As a matter of fact, the business of ruling a nation consisting largely of myopic and gullible plebs is so profitable that some families have remain glued to it for generations. Now whoever conceived and propagated the model called democracy never though of the rot it could lead to. The situation within is a festering cesspool and it’s has been drawing hordes of vultures from without, but then isn’t that the law of the Nature? Thus, With absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel, I felt compelled to wail at the wilderness, not that it’s going to help.
      The image of the Gunslinger is real, taken at the point of his release by the enemy. It has taken over the country like a perfect storm —I have posterised it a bit with whatever warmth I have for him.

  3. Being an ex-servicemen I first hand experience of many of the incidents you have narrated here. I hear that during China invasion our soldiers were so ill equipped half of them died or fell sick before reaching the border. Forget about snow boots, soldiers walked barefoot. While the world is moving at faster pace, when it comes to decision making for crucial issues of defence, the matter often drags for decades.
    Your blog post, especially the conclusion aptly depicts the crisis faced by the armed forces.

    1. The pathetic state of affairs speaks volumes of our leaders who are mostly leeches and vipers, which brings us to the zillion dollar question whether democracy is the appropriate instrument to run this country? The majority today will vote for bribes, doles and loan-waivers, a candidate from his own subset of castes, a leader endorsed in the Friday prayers, a note of Rupees 500 and a ride to the polling booth. The grossly incompetent leaders that get selected through this charade of democracy have been wreaking unbridled havoc on the country which is fast headed to an untimely demise.

  4. I thought of you when this was going on, and wondered how it would affect you. Your analysis is brilliant, but very painful. Thank you for the clarity. Sometimes I am reminded of how fortunate I am to live where I do.

    1. How very kind of you, Derrick! I was praying for the well-being of our Gunslinger at the moment. As the controversy is being kept alive by interested agents, I couldn’t resist giving voice to the dryness of facts. You and Jackie are indeed blessed to be in your heaven.

  5. Thanks for sharing this insightful and passionate depiction of what is going on in your country Uma. There often seems nothing we can do but despair at the levels of corruption and self-interest that rule the world.

    1. Unprovoked terrorism and aggression are strategic ideologies of certain entities emanating from their existential dilemmas. Peace is an immensely endangered species.

  6. I have read this at least 4 times Uma Shankarji. I have neither the eloquence nor the vocabulary to articulate my response to this wonderful outpouring of your thoughts and emotions. I quote Gulzar ” sirf ehsaas hain ye, rooh se mehsoos karo”…..I am confident you will understand the depth of my feelings, thank you so very much

    1. I am touched by your kind words, Shubha Ji; the compliment will be cherished. These are testing times for country loving, middle class, non-privileged citizens like me.

      1. Uma Shankar ji, chota mooh, badi baat nahi karna chahti, main Bharat se bahar rehti hoon, par dil chota na keejiye, aap ke jaise citizens hee to desh ki shann hain… can take a girl out of India, but never the love of India out of the girl. May is going to be a challenging month for both my countries as there are Federal Elections. I don’t mind if my party does not come to power in Ausralia because elections are held every 3 years, but I pray that my party comes to party in India….

        1. Indian politicians have gone feral. You don’t need an astrologer to tell you how the future of the Indian state is afloat on half a wing, a prayer, and a Gunslinger. So, prayer is important here, and I too shall pray for your parties to win the elections in both the nations.

  7. Following that eventful night, there was so much drama. So many conflicting reports and mixed messages.

    The saddest part is to see that politicians (not just in India) are using stories of soldiers for their political gains.

    Salutes to the Gunslinger. Salutes to soldiers everywhere. Salutes to the blogger behind this wonderfully written piece.

    I hope you are doing well and having a good 2019.

    1. The dragon and the scorpion that India has for neighbours, and former baring its fangs at the drop of a hat and the latter sworn to sting us a thousand times through its terrorist outfits, constrain India to have a potent army. Posturing alone won’t win a skirmish with the enemy stuffed to the gills with hatred and deadly weaponry. As for political dividends of inevitable military responses, it will be naive to believe it’s going to matter with the significant proletariat divided on the lines of cast and religion.
      I salute you too for showing love to my desolate pen.

    1. The international hypocrisy, bluster and conspiratorial chatter in the aftermath of India successfully warding off a Pak aerial misadventure is execrable. What has made it deeply painful is the methodical wrecking of our valiant armed forces by the crooked leaders of the country.

  8. Brilliant article, Uma. ‘Follow the money’ – this statement never gets old. So sorry that your country has always been a desirable territory for the powerful governments of the world… Whatever happens in the future, I do hope that the government of India is skeptical about friendship with Russia. You guys are their access to the ocean, nothing more. Russia is ‘geographically impaired’, it is why they have always targeted the countries with the access to water – The Baltics, Finland, Manchuria, Ukraine. India is too big for making it a target, so the cunning helps. Prayers for your country.

    1. India has had a turbulent past and it now lives in a dangerous neighborhood. However, much more sinister than the threats posed by the outward forces are the internal legions of termites. Thanks for those kind words and the prayer which we do need urgently.

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