Civilian knowledge and the remnants of war

Published September 6, 2015
The Army tank on display on M.M. Alam Road at Malir Cantt.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
The Army tank on display on M.M. Alam Road at Malir Cantt.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Though there are some very impressive remnants of war on display at various places in the city, it recently emerged that few civilians know much about them.

A tired laborer naps under the Air Force fighter jet placed on one side of the intersection near the Board of Secondary Education Karachi as others go about their usual business. When asked about the history of the plane some people shrug and walk off while some counter question you as others share what they understand about it.

“All I know is that it is a plane. Now if you excuse me,” says one woman holding a little boy’s hand as they prepare to cross the road.

“Why are you asking about it? Are they removing it?” says a man taking a breather near it as he gestures to a rickshaw to stop. “Look around you, there are hardly any trees here. I hope they don’t remove it as its wings provide some nice shade.”

This much is true.

And one is grateful to the woman and this man for not divulging the history of the aircraft when not knowing anything about it. Still there are people who like to look knowledgeable as they tell you their version of history of the landmark. “The plane fought in the 1965 war, also the 1971 war. Then, during the 1980s, Niamatullah Khan, the then mayor of Karachi, acquired it from the Air Force to place here some to build interest among the people about the military. He placed another one at the Golimar Chowrangi as well. The two planes have been fixed and cemented so well that no one could remove them, not even the next mayor, Syed Mustafa Kamal,” says Mohammad Hakim, an elderly gentleman trying to be helpful and who also says he lives nearby.

Who says the Navy doesn’t have planes?.—White Star
Who says the Navy doesn’t have planes?.—White Star

For those who care and may like to know the facts, there are several F-86 Sabre, Chinese F-6 aircraft and certain trainer planes of the Pakistan Air Force on display at various places in Karachi. The F-86 Sabre was flown by some 50 Pakistan Air Force pilots, including Squadron Leaders Sarfraz Rafiqui, M.M. Alam and Dilawar Hussain and Flight Lieutenant Shams-ul-Haq, who shot down several Indian Air Force planes and were decorated with gallantry awards during both the 1965 and 1971 wars. The Chinese F-6, basically a variation of the Soviet MIG-19, came to Pakistan after the US embargo following the 1965 war when the country started developing defence links with China. They have served us for some 35 years. During 1971, three F-6 squadrons flew some 846 combat missions while providing support to Pakistan’s ground forces and also shooting down seven Indian combat planes.

A couple of girls wait for the bus near an army tank displayed at Malir Cantt. It says ‘Malir Garrison 1941’ on the base the tank stands on. The girls only seem interested in the bus, which they know stops at this landmark.

There are several army tanks placed at various junctions across the city and it would be rare to find anyone with good knowledge of each and every one of these. “Well, of course the ones you see aren’t in use. They can be from a variety of old army tanks such as Sherman tanks, the T59, M47 and M48 tanks. Or they can also be any one of the tanks captured from the enemy. Each tank placed on display would have its own history and relevance but one thing is clear, you won’t find any of the new and in-service tanks such as Al-Khalid and Al-Zarrar on display like this as yet,” says an official of the ISPR.

There are also several cannons. But as it was with the aircraft, the people know more of the history that involves politicians not the military background. “Ask the military about these if you really want to know,” says one coconut seller near the KDA Chowrangi in North Nazimabad that has one such quite old cannon on display.

“Hey, the history of this cannon is given on the board,” says a drum player in his shiny yellow kurta who sat on the footpath there. And sure it was. According to the information provided there in English as well as in Urdu, the cannon originally belonged to Raja Dahir, who left it behind while fleeing from Mohammad Bin Qasim in 712AD. It was accidentally discovered buried 16 feet deep in August 1957 while the KDA was digging in the Saddar area to lay sanitary pipes.

People find shade under an old PAF aircraft.—White Star
People find shade under an old PAF aircraft.—White Star

“The Army defends the land so it will only have tanks and cannons; the Air Force defends the skies so they will only have aircraft and the Navy would only have ships, submarines and boats,” says another civilian.

This is, again, a misconception because the army also has its aviation unit as does the Navy. In fact, a visit to the Pakistan Maritime Museum can provide a lot of information in this regard. Passing through Karsaz you can see the Navy plane Atlantic on display from just outside. You can also spot a black submarine from there. According to the Navy, this is the famous PNS Hangor, which sank Indian Navy’s anti-submarine warfare frigate INS Khukri while scaring away INS Kirpan during the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

There is a major need for people to know the history and significance of these remnants of war. The city administration and municipal corporations must look into providing proper information about the tanks, cannons, aircraft and sea vessels wherever they are put on display rather than just putting a plaque about who got them installed there.

Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2015

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