Man of Steel

 

 

 

 

 

There must be a hush in the extraterrestrial firmament as an unusual meteor is blazing with tremendous velocity towards his heavenly abode from his temporal one: Air Marshal Nur Khan, my mentor, a leader whose body and soul were forged in tempered steel.

Nur Khan always exhorted the 1965 war as a senseless one perpetrated by unprofessional men at the helm

There are few intrepid men in history who lived with such courage and incontrovertible conviction as did AM Nur Khan, to his last breath, as I saw him descending with such grace. He was the second Pakistani Chief of the country's air force but second to none as the legacy of the father of the nation had ordained for the air force which AM Nur Khan led. Excellence was never an option for him; it was an instinct and he proved it as he took Pakistan International Airline to the galaxy of the best airlines in the world and returned to the PAF in July 1965 to take over from the father of the air force AM Asghar Khan. Then Nur Khan oversaw the PAF as it went into the war of 1965, which he always exhorted as a senseless war perpetrated by unprofessional men at the helm. I knew him from the time he commanded the base at Mauripur (Masroor) and led a fly past of 100 F-86 Fighter aircraft on the 23rd March fly past. He wanted every single fighter on the PAF strength to take to the air. It was not a herculean task, but it was more than a little difficult. Nur Khan, however, had the gumption to motivate the men in blue to achieve the impossible, and the spectacle was witnessed by millions in Karachi in the 1950s with Nur Khan leading, just before he left to take command of PIA.

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A Pakistani soldier at Khemkaran, 1965

A Pakistani soldier at Khemkaran, 1965

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The goon fired his gun and wounded the Air Marshal, but Nur Khan overwhelmed him in the end

His achievements as the MD PIA were not limited to the airline alone. His penchant for sports was a history-making epic in itself. He transformed Pakistani squash and hockey into matters of world championships. Nur Khan's individual courage was tested when a Fockker Friendship was hijacked by a bunch of terrorists and landed at Lahore. When all negotiations had failed, AM Nur Khan flew to Lahore and decided to take charge of the imbroglio. To everyone's bewilderment and admiration he entered the small cabin and physically overpowered the assailant. The goon fired his gun and wounded the Air Marshal, but Nur Khan overwhelmed him in the end.

He took over the PAF in July 1965. Much to his chargin, and more so of Air Marshal Asghar Khan, neither was consulted by President Ayub Khan or General Musa about launching thousands of mujahedeen including Pakistan army commandos to annex Kashmir. Nur Khan shot off to GHQ to confront Gen. Musa and asked why the PAF had been kept in the dark. Musa procrastinated and told him that the president did not want to escalate the limited operation and the PAF had to stay out. Nur Khan had anxious moments knowing that the ill-conceived action would inevitably conflagrate. What would he say to the nation if the Indian Air Force pre-empted and ground the PAF in a relentless air operation?

He would arrive straight from his residence to our squadron, get in to his flying gear, order a coffee and hamburger, and off we would go to the firing range at Jamrud


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  Nur Khan receives Indian air chief marshal Arjan Singh during his visit to Peshawar in February 1966
Nur Khan receives Indian air chief marshal Arjan Singh during his visit to Peshawar in February 1966
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The rest, as they say, is history. But for his alacrity and strategic perception the PAF would been devastated by a numerically preponderant Indian Air Force. Nur Khan ordered the PAF on Red-Alert on 1st September as the Army's Operation Gibraltar came to a grinding halt and the Indians began a massive assault against Pakistan. In those ominous moments Nur Khan was deeply concerned about the survival of the Mujahideen Force operating in the Kashmir valley with no hope for supply reinforcements. Against the illogical expectations of the leaders suffering trepidation from an all-out Indian invasion, Nur Khan ordered C-130 flights in the valley after consulting with 12 Division command in control of the Kashmir misadventure. He boarded the first C-130 mission after midnight in inclement weather with a rudimentary radar, and took in total darkness to the treacherous valley. When Group Captain Zahid Butt overshot the Drop Zone, placed between high peaks on either side, he decided to abandon the perilous mission. Nur Khan, peering over his shoulder, asked him to make another attempt. This time the supplies were dropped on the target. Such was the audacity of the man in command of the Air Force. The news propelled the morale of the PAF to incredible heights; its performance in the 1965 war is a testament to that splendor.

He transformed Pakistani squash and hockey into matters of world championships

I had the honor to fly with him as escort fighter during the many missions he flew with my squadron in Peshawar. He would arrive straight from his residence to our squadron, get in to his flying gear, order a coffee and hamburger, just like any young fighter pilot, and off we would go to the firing range at Jamrud. Every day he returned with incredible scores which the very best pilots in complete form could hardly achieve. When I would tell him that he was going too low in the attacks, he would reply: "That is how you would need to attack the enemy in war." The war was not on, yet he was irrepressible and like a fiery fighter pilot would wait for the "Hit count" and rocket results.


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  Nur Khan in an F-104
Nur Khan in an F-104
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One day when I had to abort for air craft malfunction, my flight commander escorted him to the range. When he returned he had already been informed by the range officer how many hits he had scored on the target. As he stood on the wing of the Saber Jet he smiled at me and said, "Now you beat that BLOODY score, Haider." He had scored 100 % hits on the target and beaten my score, a record never broken by the very best anywhere to the best of my knowledge. That was my mentor, our Commander-in-Chief, a man who considered nothing impossible and proved it with his professional excellence, integrity and intrepidness, a legacy few air forces in the world can boast to have inherited.

Farewell, my chief. I know you hated it when I wrote in my book that you were a maverick, but you know that I meant you were incomparable and lightening-fast at the draw. You liked that. Pakistan's history would place you at the highest pedestal of military leadership where few have preceded you. May your heroic and noble soul rest in heavenly peace.

Air Commodore (Retired) Syed Sajad Haider is the author of the bestselling 'Flight of the Falcon' and its Urdu translation 'Shaheen ki Parwaz'

Write a comment

Comments: 3
  • #1

    Mudassar (Thursday, 19 January 2012 04:19)

    Salute to the Man of Steel.

  • #2

    Zohare (Thursday, 19 January 2012 08:11)

    Great work. But need to refresh your web site.

  • #3

    http://bestresumewriting.services/cvresumewritingservices-org/ (Tuesday, 24 January 2017 07:52)

    This was an outstanding pilot! He knew his purpose and followed it relentlessly