The Air Force training started with a short period at the Initial Training School at Walton, in Lahore, followed by three months at the Elementary Flying Training School at Begumpet in Hyderabad Deccan, where I learnt to fly the Tiger Moth, a small bi-plane trainer. After Begumpet I went to Ambala, to fly the Hawker Audax, also a bi-plane, which was the aircraft used in the Royal Indian Air Force at the time. On completion of the training at Ambala, I was posted to No.3 Squadron Royal Indian Air Force at Peshawar in 1942. The Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader N.A.N. Bray, a RAF Officer and was equipped with Hawker Audax and Westland Wapiti Aircraft. The ‘Wapiti’ was of an even older vintage than the Audax. After some time in Peshawar, the Squadron moved to Kohat. Our stay in Peshawar and Kohat included short periods at Miranshah in Waziristan, where the Air Force was required to support the Army in operations against the tribesmen in North and South Waziristan.
After two years at Peshawar, Kohat and Miranshah I was posted to No.9 Squadron Indian Air Force, at the time in the Arakan, in Burma. The war had entered its final phase, the Japanese Army’s thrust towards India had been checked but it was still active in Burma. The Japanese Air Force had ceased to be a threat in this theatre though its Army still posed a problem. No.9 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader Adams of the Royal Air Force and was divided into two flights. One was an Indian Flight under my command and the other Canadian, commanded by Fl. Lt. Gerry Marr of the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Squadron was based at various airfields, south of Chittagong on the Arakan coast and later at Akyab and we were employed in bombing and strafing Japanese ground positions. No.9 Squadron continued its role in support of the Army till the end of the War in 1945. I then took over command of No.9 Squadron and we were moved to Ranchi. Here, we were equipped with Spitfire Aircraft, a more modern fighter at the time and after some time in Ranchi we moved to Gurgaon near Delhi. After a few months there, I was posted as the Chief Flying Instructor at the Advance Flying Training School at Ambala where I remained till Partition except for a short interlude in Delhi. Whilst at Dehli, Air Cdr. Janjua and I were members of the Armed Force Reconstitution Committee, which was responsible for dividing the assets of the Indian Armed Forces. This did not take much time, and it was here, in Delhi, that I had my first meeting with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in November 1946 about which I have written in my book ‘We have learnt nothing from History’. It was also from here that I went to Karachi for a few days on August 14, 1947. I returned to Delhi on August 15 and a few days later to Ambala and was scheduled to leave by train for Lahore on August 23, 1947.
My wife, Amina and I lived in an Air Force house in Ambala and on my posting to Pakistan, the house was allotted to Wing Commander Nair, an officer of the Technical Branch of the I.A.F. from South India. Nair and his wife had arrived in Ambala a few days before our scheduled move and lived as our guests in our house until our departure. Killings of Muslims in India, particularly in East Punjab, had started but there was complete censorship on the news and we knew very little of what was happening. Nair, who appeared to know more, told me a few days before our date of departure not to travel by rail and to ask the R.P.A.F. Commander-in-Chief designate, Air Vice Marshal Perry Keen, to send an aircraft for me and my wife to go to Pakistan. I thought it absurd that I, a Squadron Leader, should ask for a special aircraft to take me and my family to Pakistan. Nair, however, was insistent and said that even if I did not agree, he would send a message to Air Vice Marshal Perry Keen for an aircraft to be sent for us. So, without my approval and entirely on his own initiative, he sent a message to the Commander-in-Chief designate of the Royal Pakistan Air Force, at the time in Delhi, to send an aircraft for me and my wife to take us to Pakistan. I was, therefore, surprised, when two days later, I was informed that a D.C. 3 (DAKOTA) aircraft had arrived to take us to Pakistan. Air Vice Marshal Perry Keen’s luggage was being transported to Peshawar and he had directed that the aircraft should land en-route, at Ambala, and pick us up.
As the aircraft took off from Ambala for Peshawar, I saw that some houses were on fire in almost every village from Ambala to the Pakistan border near Lahore. These were obviously houses of Muslims. The eastern border of Pakistan was clearly marked by burning houses in villages east of the Pakistan border. It was an unforgettable sight which I shall never forget. We learnt later that all those Pakistanis who were being evacuated in the train on August 23, by which we were to travel to Pakistan, were massacred and no one arrived alive. Wing Commander Nair did us a good turn and saved our lives.
In 1957 at the age of 36, I was probably the youngest Commander-in-Chief of any Air Force. I always believed that one must not hang on to a job. I had seen servility in service officers and a hankering for extensions of service and believed that such an attitude proves ruinous for a fighting service. I was, therefore, fully prepared to retire at the age of 40, on completing my four-year tenure as Commander-in-Chief. However, when in 1961, Ayub Khan asked me to continue for another four years I was so involved in the modernisation and development of the P.A.F. that I accepted with enthusiasm but with the resolve not to accept a third term. I believe that this decision was an important factor in the Air Force achieving a high professional standard. I could advise the government without fear of not being given another extension. I could run the Air Force with only one consideration, to prepare it as a sharp and deadly weapon without regard for upsetting people who might be powerful in the higher echelons of government.
When, therefore, Ayub Khan asked me, some time in March 1965, whether I would like to continue for another term, my reply was an emphatic no. The eight years in command of the Pakistan Air Force, and the earlier years before I assumed this responsibility, were an important part of my life and my attachment with the service was more than that of a profession. It had been a privilege to have been associated with such a fine body of men and we had striven together to make it an effective fighting machine. I had lost two of my brothers, Asaf and Khalid, in air crashes in the PAF and severing my bonds with it was, therefore, to say the least, an emotional experience.
My departure from the Pakistan Air Force, however, involved an important principle and there was no second thoughts in my mind about calling it a day. The president agreed but insisted that I should go to P.I.A. as its Chief Executive and as head of Civil Aviation and tourism. I had no desire to go to this or to any other job and I argued against this in vain. Ayub Khan was insistent. After a lengthy argument, in which I tried to explain that I had been looking forward to some rest and did not wish to take up any job, I agreed to the president’s suggestion that I should go to PIA until he could find someone else to relieve me. With the appointment of Nur Khan as my successor I was happy in the knowledge that the Air Force was in safe hands. I continued to shoulder my responsibilities in the Air Force with full enthusiasm until the last and left Peshawar on 23rd July 1965 to take up my responsibilities in P.I.A. and Civil Aviation. Although I was not enthusiastic about this job, I put in my best in the three years that I was there
Copyright: The News 15.8.2010