Friday, December 12, 2008

Crossing Swords

For those of you who don't already know, my father has just recently completed a long and arduous mission of writing his autobiography. He started this project about 10 years ago and it really picked up the pace the year I graduated from College (2004). He is a decorated retired Air Force Pilot and war hero. His mission has been a challenging, yet rigorous task of finding the accuracy in his account of history and substantiating it by engaging numerous people of his past and present. Through the course of his mission, he uncovered many emotions; some lost and some new. 

My father to me is the greatest hero in my life. His contribution to history as an individual is remarkable. Despite our family setup, he has retained his dignity by doing what he could to ensure all his dependents and loved ones were and are comfortable. 

His book, Flight of the Falcon, will be available in bookstores throughout the major parts of Pakistan shortly. Please watch this space for announcements. In the meantime, take a moment to read an article about him in The News - Online (Pakistan's #1 selling print newspaper). It was written by Anjum Niaz, a recognized freelance journalist.


Crossing swords
 Tuesday, December 09, 2008
By Anjum Niaz

The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting

Secretary of State Condi Rice has categorically pointed to “Pakistani soil” being used in Mumbai attacks. And she expects “Pakistan to act.” This is a blunt order from our benefactors who have doled out 10 billion dollars to keep the terrorists at bay. News has it that Barack Obama has received an intrusive dossier on how our military has spent the money. “The message of the report is that you can’t win in Afghanistan without first fixing Pakistan,” says a senior US official. “But even if you fix Pakistan,” the official thinks, “that won’t be enough.” Some analysts in Washington think that the money has gone into revamping Islamabad’s military capability against the Indians and not in fighting the militants as per our pledge to the Americans. Obama is likely to husband the flow of funds in the future. “The truth is that $10 billion later, they (Pakistan) still don’t have the basic capacity for counterinsurgency operations. What we are telling Obama and his people is that [this] has to be reversed.”

Reversed? 

Our exemplar of national pride was once our army, the symbol of crossed swords. We saw the shahadat of our jawans; we witnessed hilal and jurat medals pinned on our best and bravest; we heard stories of heroism that made us marvel; and our hearts beat in unison when Nur Jehan sang aay watan key sajeelay jawano, meray naghmey tumhera liya hein. Oftentimes we lived lives encircled in awe with what the future held. The promise of Islamabad becoming a shining city upon a hill never did leave us for long. Hope was always around to hold our hand whenever we were down. 

Today our nation’s star has elsewhere its setting. We watch it sinking and can do nothing about it. No longer are we the architects of our destinies. “What’s going to happen?” is on every lip. The TV channels and newspapers daily log stories of affairs gone awry; of men in power run amuck; of suicide bombers’ annihilation of the powerless and the meek; of the dogs of war (US, India & Israel) hunting down our nuclear arsenal and cutting us asunder. It happened in 1971; it can happen again.

Raining missiles on us will continue. America has replaced its Predator drones with MQ-9 Reapers just rolled off the assembly line. These unmanned killing machines pick up every word that humans utter down below 50,000 feet. Their infrared rays pick up your body heat and relay the information to the pilots sitting in trailers in Las Vegas. They sit before huge computers directing the planes through remote control. Underground and underwater fiber-optic cables link these trailers to Europe, where a satellite dish makes the connection directly to every Reaper in the air over Pakistan. 

“Worry not,” says our Air Force chief bravely. Pakistan has its own drones to counter the Reapers raiding us. The chief is ready to deploy them, but is Zardari willing? “I don’t understand why we don’t use our own drones?” says a Pakistani journalist writing for Arab News. “We can fit them with Griffo (Falcon, in Italian) radars imported from Fiar, Italy.”

The buck stops here!

Air Commodore (r) Sajjad Haider, the decorated war hero of 1965 and 1971 wars with India has written a whole new book on how the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was kept out of the loop by the high command during combat. He has named people in the military and air force who were “afraid of their own shadows.” Not only did they let down PAF, but they let down the people of Pakistan. No authentic soul searching was conducted; nor those found guilty of betrayal nailed. “Instead these men capitalized on our successes to award themselves the highest awards in gallantry,” says Sajjad Haider, who led the No 19 squadron that chased away the Indian pilots at Wagah and later bombed Pathankot destroying their planes parked on the airfield. 

Around September 1, 1965, a senior civil servant in Ayub’s government receives an unscheduled visit from the then British ambassador in Islamabad. “India is going to attack you,” says the envoy. “Warn your president about it.” Ayub’s aide picks up the ‘secrophone’ after his visitor leaves and relays the urgent message to the presidency. The president is ambivalent. On the night of September 6, Rawalpindi gets its first taste of Indian ire. Their bombers fly overhead and rain bombs. Lahore is next. Foreign Secretary Aziz Ahmad and his Foreign Minister Z A Bhutto have since April planned and executed infiltration into Indian-held Kashmir by 7000 regulars and volunteers, provoking an Indian assault on Pakistan. “There was no empathy or tangible plan to keep our soldiers supplied with food and ammunition. Most were massacred because our ‘Field Marshal’ was no Field Marshal Rommel,” Haider says sarcastically. Nur Khan, who had recently been made the air chief was disgusted with Ayub’s dalliance. He got hold of a C-130 at Chaklala, stocked it with stuff, and took off for Kashmir in the middle of the night. “Nur Khan risked his life” as the plane navigated through a thick cloud cover guided by “dead reckoning” which means rudimentary weather radar, to reach the ‘drop zone’ in the valley below saving the lives of our soldiers. 

Bravo Nur Khan!

A grand plan for “pre-emptive” strikes on Indian airfields was ready with the PAF. The outgoing air chief Asghar Khan had prepared it. “Had the plan gone through, we would have crippled the IAF (Indian Air Force) in the first hour of September 6th attack,” says Haider, appearing to relive every minute of the dogfights he ever fought. “But the commanders at Mauripur and Sargodha – our two largest airbases – procrastinated.” 

Haider, 75, spent his early retirement years “earning money legally” through lucrative defence deals. He insists that no kickbacks were involved. However, he’s earned enough to live a gentrified life, shuttling between the comfortable environs of Islamabad and his villa in the Spanish resort of Marbella writing his memoirs. His book Flight of the Falcon should be in the bookstores very soon. It contains many bombshells. “I want to remove the haze and opaqueness surrounding the truth. Ayub Khan’s Diaries bypass the 1965 war, while Glimpses into the Corridors of Power by his son Gohar Ayub tries to cover up the gaps of his father’s memoirs by mutilating the truth,” says the “enraged” airman. 

There’s plenty of hyperventilation by Sajjad Haider in his book. He blames president Ayub Khan, army chief Mohammad Musa, commanding generals Rana and Yayha Khan for failure. “All these men capitulated to their self-created fears. The hand of the winning general Akhtar Malik was stayed and the gun taken away from him and given to Yayha just when Malik had the ‘chicken’s neck’ (Akhnoor) in his grasp and would have infiltrated into the valley of Kashmir. Musa got on the pulpit and hollered ‘Do not provoke the Indians.’”

According to Haider, well-known Indian historians corroborate his version of the two wars. They praise his No 19 squadron and the team of pilots that earned six Sitara-e-Jurat. “My book tries to show how independent units, like mine, achieved beyond all expectations.” Air vice marshal Sadruddin, first commander of F-104 Star Fighter Squadron, ratifies this claim when he says: “Sajjad Haider was a flamboyant character with a quick wit, outspoken, irrepressible, daring, articulate and given to exercise initiative beyond his terms of reference. His book gives fresh and candid accounts of some major events of the last 50 years now appearing in a different light devoid of the embellishments of those times. In the long run, truth prevails.”

Today, the word accountability has almost a criminal tinge because if ever done properly it will open up many carcasses and expose our leaders masquerading as saviours and heroes of our nation. Our president, says Sajjad Haider, lives in opulence with liveried guards standing post behind him. “What he lacks in substance and depth, he makes up by creating symbols of grandeur and pomp.”

I may not agree with few of Sajjad Haider’s fixations, his thicket of words, some of them excessively hubristic, but I agree with Haider that whoever advised President Zardari to back him up with uniformed guards decked up in red and gold extravaganza and holding lances before the TV cameras should be fired! Oops! Is it by any chance the president himself!

Email: aniaz@fas.harvard.edu
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