The report of a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) pilot being lynched to death by his own countrymen sounded straight out of a movie script. Turns out the report—based on a singular Facebook post—may have very well been a result of the Facebook post’s writer’s imagination.
On March 2, a Firstpost report by Praveen Swami stated that “Pakistan Air Force Wing Commander Shahzaz-ud-Din, the F-16 pilot shot down in a dogfight over the Nowshera sector, is reported to have been lynched by a mob who mistook him for an Indian airman”.
On March 1, a day before the Firstpost report was published, a London-based lawyer, Khalid Umar, had posted the exact same details of the purported killing of a PAF pilot on Facebook. The Firstpost report cited Umar as a source stating that he [Umar] had received this information “privately, from individuals related to the F-16 pilot’s family”.
Like the Firstpost report, Umar identified the PAF pilot as Shahzaz-ud-Din and stated that his father Waseem-ud-Din is an Air Marshal of the Pakistan Air Force. Comparing Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman and Shahzaz-ud-Din’s plight, the London-based lawyer also wrote: “Two sons of Air Marshals fought it out mid-air up in the skies…Wg Cdr Abhinandan (Ind) in MiG and now late Wg Cdr Shahzaz-ud-Din (Pak) in F-16. Both fell from the skies, one could not survive.”
Umar said Shahzaz-ud-Din, who had ejected in Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, was “lynched (beaten mercilessly, nearly to death) by the mob who took him as a fallen Indian”. On his identification as “our own man”, the PAF pilot was taken to a hospital. He did not survive, Umar wrote: “Nothing can be more heartbreaking than the untimely termination of a young life. My heartfelt condolences to the family of Shahzaz.”
Fact or fiction: Khalid Umar’s U-turn
On March 2, Newslaundry contacted Umar by telephone to verify his claims relating to the PAF pilot’s death. Umar claimed he had received information relating to the PAF pilot’s death “not from a single source but from multiple PAF sources”. He said, “My sources in PAF informed me that the F-16 was flown by Shahzaz-ud-Din. It was shot down by MiG 21 of the Indian Air Force in aerial combat.” He added that authorities would “never accept this” and that they had “even denied using F-16” to breach the Indian airspace.
Umar told Newslaundry that Shahzaz-ud-Din was one of three sons of Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din, who had retired from the PAF. He claimed that apart from multiple PAF sources, this was also confirmed to him by Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din’s family.
However, Newslaundry’s investigation proves these claims to be false. When we asked Umar about it, his responses were nothing short of a U-turn.
Here’s what our investigation revealed: Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din has two sons, not three. Neither of them is in the PAF. When Newslaundry brought this up with Umar, he said it “doesn’t matter” who was in the aircraft: “It doesn’t matter whether it was some Abbas or some Shahzaz. But someone definitely was on it.”
Umar also stated that in a military press conference held by Indian military officials, high-ranking representatives of the three armed services had said that an F-16 aircraft had been shot down. “They are saying a fact and definitely somebody must be on the aircraft and ejected out of it. It doesn’t matter who was in the aircraft, an aircraft has been shot down and pilots have ejected out of it. You should find about them,” he told Newslaundry.
So, the single source for news reports on the PAF pilot’s death and background has been Umar’s post, which identified the pilot as “Shahzaz-ud-Din”. Newslaundry’s investigation shows that Air Marshal Waseem ud-Din has two sons named Waqar-ud-Din and Aleem-ud-Din. In this picture found on Facebook, Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din stands with his two sons.
The photo of the Air Marshal and his two sons.
According to their Facebook profiles, both sons live in the UK. Aleem-ud-Din studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He previously worked with companies like Telenor—as CLM planning and design officer and pricing executive for four years, till 2018—and Starcom Worldwide in Pakistan. He did his Bachelor’s degree in economics from the National University of Sciences and Technology.
A screenshot of Aleem-ud-Din’s LinkedIn profile.
The Air Marshal’s other son, Waqar-ud-Din, lives in Warwickshire, according to documents accessed by Newslaundry. Since September 2015, he’s been working as a system engineer at Jaguar Land Rover in Gaydon in Warwickshire. Before joining Jaguar Land Rover, he worked with Tetra Pack in Lahore as a field service engineer and project engineer for more than three years.
Waqar-ud-Din graduated from Pakistan’s Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology. He did his Master’s degree in energy and power engineering from the University of Warwick. His job record shows that he was never in the Pakistan Air Force.
A screenshot of Waqar-ud-Din’s LinkedIn profile.
These details were confirmed by several sources as well. One of them is Taha Siddiqui, an award-winning exiled Pakistani journalist and founder of SAFE newsrooms, a digital platform documenting media censorship in South Asia. He told Newslaundry: “I have spoken to some people who are very close friends of Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din’s family and they have informed me that both his sons are alive and live out of the country.”
Siddiqui said: “They told me that it’s is a fake story.”
Siddiqui, who has been critical of Pakistani Army’s media censorship in Pakistan, currently lives in Paris. He has been living in exile following Pakistani Army’s failed attempt to abduct him. He said, “I have been informed by two of my PAF sources that no one has been killed and both airplanes—F-16 and JF-17—were used. Inventory remains accounted for so it’s unlikely they lost any planes or anyone was killed.”
Siddiqui added that the Pakistani media is heavily controlled by the military. “The Pakistan military might feel if they say that someone from their side is killed, then they will lose the higher ground they are currently on. But as per the information provided by people close to the family and reliable sources in PAF, this seems to be a fake story.”
A family friend of Air Marshal Waseem-ud-Din also posted on social media that the Air Marshal has only two sons and they are not in the Pakistan Air Force. The Dubai-based family friend tagged the Air Marshal’s wife in the post. She wrote: “Noreen and Waseem-ud-Din have two sons none named Shahzaz or whatever. And MA they are alive and well.”
The family friend’s Facebook post.
Newslaundry tried contacting Waqar-ud-Din and Aleem-ud-Din through social media. This story will be updated if and when they respond.
A photograph has also been doing the rounds on social media of “Wing Commander Shahzaz-ud-Din”. Newslaundry found pictures of a joint air force training between China and Pakistan which took place in October 2015 at China’s Yinchuan air base. One of the photos shows Chinese and Pakistani Air Force pilots standing in a group photo, while another is captioned “Pakistani fighter pilot before Chinese Su-30”.
There’s no mention of Wing Commander Shahzaz-ud-Din, but the photo has been circulated on social media claiming to a picture of the “fallen” PAF pilot. Yet this photo is of Group Captain Agha Mehar, a pilot with the PAF. Mehar has approached several senior journalists in Pakistan pointing out Indian media’s misuse of his photo.
The photo of Group Captain Agha Mehar misidentified as Shahzad-ud-Din.
Newslaundry confirmed Mehar’s identity with Pakistani journalists. Salman Masood, editor of The Nation, an English daily in Islamabad, told Newslaundry: “According to my official sources, the picture of the pilot which is being circulated as the F-16 pilot is a picture of Group Captain Agha Mehar, who has never flown an F-16 in his career.”
The same photograph is used in this blog, which details Shahzad-ud-Din’s “martyrdom” on February 27, using the same inaccuracies found in Khalid Umar’s Facebook post.