In my last piece, I analysed how Pakistan’s foray into Indian Kashmir in August 1965 spun out of control and turned into an all-out war with India on Sept 6. I drew on an interview with Air Commodore (retired) Sajad Haider. This column concludes that conversation.
Haider’s squadron, Number 19 based in Peshawar, earned five gallantry awards during the war. It flew over 630 operational missions and destroyed 15 Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft on the ground. Among the PAF squadrons, Number 19 also destroyed the highest number of Indian tanks and armoured vehicles.
Of course, many other PAF squadrons excelled during the war. And no student of air combat can forget the kills scored by Squadron Leader M.M. Alam, the subcontinent’s only ace.
How did the PAF achieve air superiority over the much larger IAF? I put this question to Haider and he said that the PAF enjoyed superior leadership at the top. Air Marshal Asghar Khan, the first Pakistani air chief, had fashioned it into a fine fighting machine.
By early June 1965, the PAF was ready for war. Every tactical squadron “had rehearsed its war role to perfection”. The new air chief, Air Marshal Nur Khan, put the PAF on red alert as he flew over Kashmir on Sept 1. The PAF had honed its pilots to a point where “excellence became a habit and not just an option”. Haider says that the combat proficiency of the PAF pilots was borne out during training exercises in the US and Germany. Some USAF commanders felt that PAF pilots were superior to Israeli Air Force pilots.
Haider says, “We lived, talked, ate and slept with our missions. Professional excellence was also displayed by air defence controllers, maintenance crews and logistic personnel.”
The IAF high command did not have a proper war plan. And its Achilles’ heel was the airfield attack mission. Haider argues that IAF pilots tended to conduct ad hoc operations and did not display the will to achieve their mission objectives since they “were always in a hurry to attack swiftly without aiming accurately”. He faults the IAF high command for abandoning missions for inexplicable reasons and showing a lack of initiative and drive. However, he adds, that the IAF pilots were not lacking in courage.
As an example, he cites the situation that existed when dawn broke on Sept 7. The IAF was poised to launch a series of retaliatory air raids but it woke up to find the “thunder and flash of bombs raining down on the runways from PAF’s B-57 bombers. Several of the IAF raids were delayed till the all-clear sirens were sounded”. But he adds that the operation was also a tribute to the IAF fighter pilots who took the risk of rolling down runways knowing that they were smeared with shrapnel.
Haider says that contrary to the popular impression in Pakistan, the IAF had many good flyers. A pilot flying a subsonic Dassault Mystere IV fighter shot down a Mach 2 Lockheed F-104 aircraft over Sargodha. Two of the very best PAF pilots, Squadron Leader Sarfraz Rafiqui and Flight Lieutenant Yunus, were shot down over the IAF base in Halwara by relatively junior pilots flying the Hawker Hunter Mk. 56.
Years later, Haider had an opportunity to compare notes with his counterparts in the IAF. This took place in England with a MiG-21 pilot in 1970 and later in 2007 via email with an air marshal who had commanded a squadron during the war.
Haider says, “Both were eye witnesses to the PAF attack on Pathankot on the 6th where we destroyed 11 aircraft and damaged two. As acknowledged on www.bharatrakshak.com, the IAF thought it was a devastating strike.”
The North American F-86F Sabre aircraft with six half-inch calibre Browning machine guns mounted in the nose was the mainstay of the PAF. But in 1965 this aircraft which had blasted Chinese and North Korean MiG 15s during the Korean War was showing its age. Nevertheless, Haider says the Sabre performed “magnificently in all roles even though it was inferior in power and speed to the IAF Hunters”.
The PAF inventory also included a squadron of F-104 Starfighters. With its missile-like fuselage and small trapezoidal wings, the Starfighter was called the pride of the PAF. I asked Haider whether that aircraft lived up to its reputation. Haider said no, even though that squadron had the best PAF pilots. The reason was that the Starfighter “was unsuited to the tactical environment of the region. It was a high-level interceptor designed to neutralise Soviet strategic bombers in altitudes above 40,000 feet.”
Even then, the Starfighter was feared by the IAF and Haider opines that it could have been used with “devastating effect against exiting enemy aircraft, low on fuel, deep into our territory and running for life. But over-cautious commanders prevented that from happening”.
Similarly, the Starfighter’s pilots were prohibited from making strafing runs against parked IAF aircraft “because there had been one accident where the pilot crashed for insufficient pullout speed”. He says that the pilots should have been better trained in making low-altitude attacks using the Starfighter’s formidable 20 mm Vulcan Gatling gun which fired 6,000 rounds per minute.
The B-57B light bomber was used by the PAF to carry out high-risk strikes against several IAF airfields. But the extensive damage caused by these raids only came out in 2005, notes Haider, when two Indian writers (Mohan and Chopra) published their account of the air war based on interviews with IAF veterans. The PAF’s bomber pilots remain the unsung heroes of the war.
As one looks back 44 years, it is clear that no one has displayed the right stuff as clearly as those few men who valiantly flew their war-birds emblazoned with the “star-and-crescent on green”. They saved their nation from certain destruction.
The debt owed by Pakistanis to the PAF is no less than the debt owed by Britons to the RAF. Winston Churchill’s words come to mind: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. All hearts go out to the fighter pilots whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day.”
Ahmad Faruqui is the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT