By S. M. Hali
Air Marshal Nur Khan, the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Air Force, who ably led his smaller but well knit force in successful air battles against a larger adversary in the 1965 Pak-India War, was paid homage by naming PAF Base Chaklala after him. Air Marshal Nur Khan’s predecessor and a national icon himself, Air Marshal Asghar Khan presided the renaming ceremony. The current Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt, who showered accolades on Nur Khan, confided that it was Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s proposal during a reference held after the demise of Nur Khan, for renaming a PAF Base as a befitting tribute to the Air Warrior. What better air base than Chaklala, whose first commander was Squadron Leader Nur Khan, who assumed command on 14 August 1947 and oversaw the hub of activities, including the arrival and departures of 309 aircraft, conducted on the semi-prepared runway which was no mean feat at that time. Chaklala provided complete ground handling facilities to 20 Dakotas of No 10 and No 31 RAF Squadrons, which were conducting evacuation flights for non-Muslims from various frontier regions and airlifting migrants from India to Pakistan.
The Base Commander of the renamed PAF Base, the current Air Chief and Air marshal Asghar Khan eulogized Nur Khan for his various achievements: as a fighter pilot, fearless commander, Governor of West Pakistan, head of PIA, Pakistan’s Hockey Federation and Pakistan Cricket Board, each designation which earned him, the organization he headed and Pakistan laurels for his vision, initiative and prescience. While the chilly October evening reverberated with acclamations for this great icon, my mind was wandering to my own impressions of this remarkable soul.
As a student of PAF Public School Sargodha, my first exposure was when he came to visit the institution as Air Chief. Our Principal then was the eminent educationist of the sub-continent, Mr. Hugh Catchpole, who had also been a teacher of Nur Khan at the Rashtriya Indian Military College Dehradun. I learnt my first lessons in humility and protocol. During the visit, Nur Khan was walking one step behind and to the left of Mr. Catchpole and addressing him with utmost respect. It was impressed upon our tender minds that day that no matter however high stations in life you may rise to, your teachers deserve absolute reverence because they are the ones who have moulded, guided and steered you to your success in life.
While studying in First Year (F.Sc), we were joined by Mansur Khan, the only son of Air Marshal Nur Khan, still the PAF C-in-C. Mansur Khan, a spoilt brat, the only male sibling of a couple of sisters, was sent for grooming at the famed institution. To balance things, Nur Khan also sent the son of his personal batman to a junior class to study at PAF Public School Sargodha. I am certain he achieved success in life because of his schooling. Mansur was a different kettle of fish, thoroughly brutish and a bully but his stint at the Public School did him immense good. By the time he entered the portals of PAF Academy Risalpur, he was a polished and accomplished young man, ready to take up the rigours of PAF training with total dedication. While a student at the PAF Public School, Mansur broke his leg during gymnastics. He suffered multiple fractures and was hospitalized. The Air Marshal, who was by then the Governor of West Pakistan, did not come to visit his injured son because his presence would have created a furor. His mother, Begum Farhat Khan of course came to tend to Mansur. In fact Begum Nur Khan was the Chief Guest at a number of our school functions. I distinctly remember receiving my first trophy from her hands at the public school. She presented a rare painting to the PAF Base Nur Khan. Meeting her at the ceremony brought back numerous memories.
We continued to admire and hold Air Marshal Nur Khan in high esteem, as his achievements and success became known to us but with passing years and studying PAF History, it dawned on me what great contributions this legendary figure had made into moulding the inchoate mass of Pakistan Air Force into a well-honed and proficient fighting force. They say that a thousand years the earth rotates around its axis and then a mighty leader is born. How lucky is that tract of land which is blessed by a great leader like Nur Khan.