By S. M. Hali

September 7 was observed as “Air Force Day”; till President Musharraf declared September 6, to be jointly commemorated as “Defence Day of Pakistan” for all three services. Air Force Day was being observed because of PAF’s overwhelming preponderance over an air force many times its size in 1965.

Pakistan Army’s 12 Div launched an ambitious but ill executed “Operation Gibraltar” in August 1965. Gibraltar Force comprising regular troops and volunteer Mujahedeen were infiltrated into Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) to commence guerrilla war and arouse local Kashmiris to engage in insurgency operations but were provided limited logistics. Despite the secrecy, the Air Chief on his own initiative prepared PAF on war footing. On August 23 a SOS message was received that the local Kashmiris in IHK, instead of helping the Gibraltar Force, had turned them in and now the Force required immediate logistic support. Two unarmed PAF C-130s laden with supplies were launched in the dead of the night during a raging blizzard and inspite of the treacherous valley operations, with the Air Chief on board PAF executed blind supply drop with 500 yards accuracy near Wullar Lake at Srinagar.

The Indians retaliated to “Operation Gibraltar” by attacking and capturing Azad Kashmir territory in Tithwal and Haji Pir Pass areas. Pakistan Army launched “Operation Grand Slam” at 0500 hours on September 1, 1965, to threaten Akhnur through Chamb. Once again PAF came to the rescue and provided air cover to the advancing troops and shot down four Indian Air Force (IAF) Vampire aircraft attacking Pakistan Army, raising the morale of the ground troops.

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Despite intercepting an Indian Dispatch Rider carrying the comprehensive orders of Indian 1 Armored Division for the Indian offensive and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to New Delhi, Mian Arshad Hussain sending a warning on 4th September to the foreign office of Pakistan through Turkish Embassy that the Indians were planning to attack 

Pakistan; the Army command did not bring its force on war footing and 25% of its personnel was on leave because reportedly, the foreign office had assured it that India would not dare to attack Pakistan. When Indian forces attacked Sialkot and Lahore on September 6th, it was Pakistan Army that was caught criminally napping. Such oblivion is inexcusable because the C-in-C Gen Musa and his General Staff knew fully that the entire Kashmir Valley had been ablaze for over a month and ferocious air and land battles were being fought in Chamb-Jaurian sector for nearly a week, involving large formations of armour, infantry and artillery, yet the C-in-C General Musa narrates on page 48 of his book My Version that he was “surprised.” If an independent inquiry had been held for such blunders, 1971 debacle, Indian incursion at Siachen and Kargil misadventure could have been avoided.

Acknowledgement of PAF’s role also comes from Pushpindar Singh, Ravi Rikhye and Peter Steinman’s book Fiza’ya—Psyche of the Pakistan Air Force, p.33: “10 Division, responsible for the defence of Lahore, was hosting football matches when India’s XVI Corps made its three-pronged strike for Lahore. But what few know is that the PAF also had a major role in stalling the Indians. But for the PAF, the weak Pakistani defenses would have poured across the BRB Canal into Lahore.”  

PAF high command’s obduracy resulted in the unnecessary sacrifice of Rafiqui and Younus, two of PAF’s finest officers by insisting on continuing on their mission to attack Halwara, despite the fact that of the five planned simultaneous preemptive strikes for 1705, only the Pathankot raid was successful while the other missions were delayed owing to aircraft unservicablities. Responsibility must be assumed for this gross error.

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Similarly, MM Alam’s claim of shooting down six Hunters over Sargodha on September 7th has been refuted by experts. The wreckages of only two Hunters were found and a third pilot ejected close to the border. Even three kills make MM Alam the highest achiever of the war. His claim, made in the fog of war, needs amendment. Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain’s claim of having shot down an IAF Mystère over Sargodha the same morning with his F-104 but “ejecting after flying through its debris” was revisited by experts. His victim Squadron Leader Devayya apparently shot him before going down, acknowledged by IAF, which awarded him Maha Vir Chakra posthumously after 23 years.  

Indeed the PAF gave an excellent account of itself but in this age of information technology, facts and figures can be corroborated and some myths and false claims need to be laid to rest.

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