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Random thoughts

May 6, 2019

Our brave shaheens


May 6, 2019

Today, I would like to tell you about some of the great deeds of our air force heroes. They have served Pakistan gallantly many times over, the most recent occasion being the shooting down of two Indian Air Force planes that had intruded into our air space.

Most of you know that we had come to Karachi for our annual holiday in December 1975 when, in a meeting with Mr Bhutto, he requested me to remain in Pakistan to help set up a nuclear programme. It was a tough decision as I had an excellent job in Holland and my wife’s elderly parents lived there. After lengthy discussions between my wife and myself, it was agreed that we would take this important step in our lives. I had wanted to go back for a few months, arrange our affairs and have the chance to say farewell to my colleagues, but Mr Bhutto insisted that I remain there and then. This meant that I could not sort out and bring any of the literature that I had collected on the subject and had, initially, to work from memory. By July 1976, our programme had been established. Many army engineers and officers were part of the team.

By 1979, the Western world had got wind of what we were doing. Upon instruction from Gen Zia, round-the-clock surveillance of the plant was ordered. A squadron was posted at Kahuta with Crotale anti-aircraft missiles and efficient radar systems put in placed. A senior officer, an air commodore, was put in charge of the facilities. All the officers were highly professional and visited our facilities inside Kahuta. They never failed to show confidence and pleasure after seeing our facilities. Many officers became good friends of mine and would sometimes drop in to have tea with me. AVM Abbas Mirza was later posted as our ambassador to Burma and, upon his request, I collected $25,000 for the repair of the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Moghul emperor who died there after the British exiled him to Burma. AVM Abbas Mirza did an excellent job with the renovations.

During the 1965 and 1971 wars, I was in Europe and could get news only through local TV stations and newspapers. In 1965, the air force was our protector. Stories about the feats of M M Alam and other officers made headlines and their names are permanently written in our history with golden letters. Brig Thomson, a veteran of the British Indian Army, paid glowing tributes to our air force. It is very unfair that late A/C M M Alam was not given an honorary higher rank. Not surprising, since he was a foreigner and not a son of the soil. No matter what you do then, you are still not one of them.

In 1971, our air force showed tremendous gallantry. I saw the last four planes taking off and attacking Indian positions. Two were shot down; the pilots got shahadat. One was disabled and landed somewhere. Only one returned to base, refueled, loaded up on ammunition and took off again like a tiger for a kill. Brig Thomson later said that the gallantry of that pilot was unmatchable. With the last plane at his command, he did not surrender and face disgrace. He attacked a second time and was then shot down. He did not eject. He embraced shahadat and left his name in history. His statue should be put in front of the National Assembly. A nation that does not remember and honour its heroes faces disgrace. We hear of many other heroes, but very little about this one.

I had already recognized the importance of a missile delivery system. With the consent of Gen Mirza Aslam Beg and financial support from Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, we developed a 500-kilometre range guided missile. Admiral I A Sirohey, chairman of the JCSC, made me chief coordinator and gave me charge of the Guided Missile Programme (from 1990 to 2000). Later, during the tenure of Gen Waheed Kakar and Benazir Bhutto, we developed the Ghauri nuclear-capable ballistic missile. During all that time I had close contact with the Pakistan Navy bosses. I had wanted to have some naval officers at Kahuta (we had three very good officers from the air force), but they were short of manpower. Long Live Pakistan Air Force! Long Live Pakistan!

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