Pakistan has formally commissioned a first batch of six Chinese J-10C fighter aircraft into its air force at a special ceremony, with Prime Minister Imran Khan and heads of the country’s armed forces in attendance.
A Pakistan Air Force commentary during a nationally televised induction event Friday called the Chinese jet the “Dragon from the East,” saying the “omni-role” aircraft is armed with advanced electronics weapons.
Last month, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed disclosed the purchase of the jets at a public event, saying the aircraft will serve as a counterweight to India’s deployment of French Dassault Rafale planes. Ahmed said a full squadron of 25 Chinese J-10C aircraft will take part in the Pakistan Day military parade on March 23 in the capital, Islamabad.
Pakistani officials said the agreement with China to acquire the J-10C was signed in June 2021.
“I am especially grateful to China and thank China on behalf of my nation for providing us these jets in record time of around eight months,” Khan said during Friday’s ceremony at the Kamra air base, about 74 kilometers northwest of the capital city, where Chinese diplomats and military officials were also in attendance.
“An attempt is being made to create a (security) imbalance in the sub-continent,” the prime minister said, referring to an Indian defense buildup. “This is a big addition today to our defense system to address the security imbalance.”
Pakistan and India, bitter nuclear-armed adversaries, have fought three wars since gaining independence from British rule in 1947. The long-running territorial dispute over divided Kashmir remains the primary source of bilateral military tensions.
Air force chief Air Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber described Friday’s induction of J-10C jets as a historic moment in the history of Pakistan.
“Today, after a gap of almost four decades, the Pakistan air force is inducting (a) next generation combat system,” Baber said. “The last such event was in 1982 when F-16 aircraft joined the Pakistani fleet,” he added, referring to a U.S.-built aircraft.
The United States has sold and upgraded F-16 jets to Pakistan, a major non-NATO ally.
The J-10C is not the only advanced weapons system Beijing has delivered to Pakistan recently. Earlier this year, the Pakistan navy in its fleet inducted the first of four Type 054A/P frigates developed by China under a bilateral agreement.
Friday’s ceremony came a day after Pakistan alleged an unarmed surface-to-surface Indian “supersonic missile” landed deep inside its territory, causing minor damage to civilian property but no casualties. Islamabad also lodged a protest over what it condemned as a “flagrant” violation of Pakistani airspace by the neighboring country. New Delhi confirmed Friday that “in the course of routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile.” An official statement said the government has taken “a serious view” and ordered an inquiry into the incident.
Analysts say Islamabad’s often strained ties with Washington have prompted the South Asian nation to increasingly rely on close ally China to augment Pakistan’s defenses and restore ties with bitter Cold War adversary Russia.
Khan visited Moscow last week and met with President Vladimir Putin hours after the Russian leader ordered his military to invade Ukraine.
Islamabad has since resisted U.S.-led Western pressure to condemn Russia, instead advocating dialogue and diplomacy to end the crisis. Some policy analysts say the Russian action has intensified Pakistan’s diplomatic tensions with the Biden administration.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, speaking earlier this week, dismissed suggestions his country’s ties with Washington had come under renewed pressure over Khan’s visit with Putin.
“I think our relationship with the United States is a good one. We consider the United States an important partner and we would like continued support from the U.S.,” Qureshi told VOA in an interview.