It was just a month after the end of the 1999 Kargil War. Though the war, the fourth between India and Pakistan, had ended, the militaries of both countries were on high alert.
On August 10, 1999, a Pakistani Navy aircraft carrying 16 naval personnel, including five officers, flew from Mehran in Sindh at 9.15 am. The plane, a French-built Breguet Atlantic, belonged to the 29 Squadron of the Pakistani Navy.
The Atlantic is a patrol and reconnaissance plane which is also capable of anti-submarine warfare as well as ground attack operations.
Two hours after the plane’s takeoff, at about 11.17 am, two Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jets intercepted the Atlantic inside Indian territory over Rann of Kutch.
By this time, the Pakistani aircraft had already made more than one round inside Indian territory. Usually, planes try to escape enemy territory but the Atlantic was continuously straying into Indian territory. Even when the Indian fighter jets reached the Atlantic, it was way inside India’s airspace.
Following proper protocols and seeing that the Pakistani Naval aircraft was in no mood to comply with Indian orders of landing at an Indian base, one of the MiGs commanded by Squadron Leader P.K. Bundela fired an air-to-air missile and brought the Pakistani aircraft down.
All 16 personnel on board died.
Indian Air Force released maps showing the flight trajectory of the Pakistani aircraft before it was shot down.
It was this incident which angered Pakistan. Islamabad accused India of shooting down a training aircraft and claimed that the Atlantic was not inside Indian airspace.
India, on the other hand, presented evidence in the form of maps and debris of the downed aircraft. New Delhi destroyed Pakistani claims by questioning why a training aircraft, if it was at all, was flying close to the border and came inside enemy airspace.
New Delhi also reminded Islamabad that the 1991 bilateral agreement between the two countries prohibited any military aircraft from coming close to 10 km of each other’s border.
India also presented evidence showing routine violations by Pakistani military aircraft in the Rann of Kutch region since January 1999.
Finding itself on the backfoot, Islamabad went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on September 21, 1999 demanding compensation of $60 million (approximately Rs.258 crores as per 1999 average exchange rate) besides compensation for the families of the crew of the aircraft.
In its argument, India cited two things:
1. That Pakistan violated the 1991 bilateral agreement, and,
2. That the ICJ had no jurisdiction on this matter because of a clause of exemption filed in 1974 which excludes India from the jurisdiction of the ICJ with relation to any dispute with any Commonwealth State.
Nine months later, on June 21, 2000, the ICJ ruled in India’s favor and threw out Pakistan’s compensation claim. Islamabad, obviously, made a hue and cry but to no avail.
And two months after the decision of the ICJ, then Pakistani army chief General Pervez Musharraf removed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a coup.