ISLAMABAD, Aug 3: Endorsing completely the opinions expressed by Air Marshal (retired) Nur Khan in his interview about 1965 war (Pakistan sent infiltrators to Kashmir in ‘65: Nur) in these columns on Monday, one of the heroes of that war, Air Commodore (retired) Sajjad Haider, has however, vehemently disagreed with some of the assertions made by the reporter quoting from an Indian Air Marshal’s recent article about what had happened at Pathankot, an Indian airbase, on the day (September 6, 1965).
Popularly known as ‘Nosy Haider’ for leading a devastating blitzkrieg against the Pathankot airbase, Sajjad said in a statement that the Indian Air Marshal Raghavendran, nowhere in his article asserts, quote that “PAF attacked only targets of ‘opportunity’, enabling the IAF to be up and fighting the next day.” In fact what Air Marshal Raghavendran wrote is exactly the opposite. The Indian Air Marshal actually mocks his commanders for a stupid plan, “I (Air Marshal Raghavendran) rushed across to the offices of the Mystere squadron commanders to find out which enemy airfields they had struck. Surprise and shock — no airfields had been attacked — they had gone after targets of opportunity!! I just couldn’t believe it”.
Then the Indian Air Marshal goes on to say that his commander had another idiot plan; to fly the new Mach-2, Mig-21s at supersonic speed at 1800 hrs on September 6, to be picked up by the PAF radar “which would put fear of God in the PAF commanders and discourage them from attacking IAF bases”.
The Indian Air Marshal then refers to the briefing by the Mig-21 commander, “After an impressive briefing the pilots picked up their space helmets and walked towards their aircraft, which had been pushed out of their pens for start up and take off. I am not sure of the exact time but have vague memory that it was 5:30pm. (Actually Pakistan airforce was in the attack at 5.08pm). THAT IS WHEN THE PAF STRUCK (Pathankot airfield)!!
There was pandemonium. Bullets were flying all around. We all rushed to the nearest trench and dived in, not sitting and crouching but piling ourselves flat on top of each other. We could hear and see the Pakistani Sabres going round and round, as though in range practice, and picking off all possible aircraft, including the two Mig-21s, in spite of the anti-aircraft guns blazing away. The rest is history.”
His assertion that like Pearl Harbour we didn’t attack the runway and fuel tanks ect. is very unprofessional because there is not the slightest similarity between the two actions. Our mission rightly was to destroy aircraft on the ground with guns.
Flying from Peshawar, Pathankot was beyond the tactical operating radius of our aircraft and therefore, our only munitions could have been .50 calibre guns, about 2.5 inches of bullet, as the only weapon that we could carry so far. Runways and fuel tanks are very hard targets and even bombing them on our heels the same evening by B-57 heavy bombers could not destroy runways.
If, as the Indian Air Marshal claims, his Gnat pilots were so furiously ready and able to take-off in 75 seconds, why didn’t they come after us? We were very low on fuel, because I decided that all the eight fighters including me would make 2-3 strafing attacks each, far too dangerous in face of heavy ground fire, but I wanted my fighter boys to finish every visible aircraft, and we did. Exiting, we were sitting ducks with zero combat fuel. History has honoured all those who went on this strike as well as saved Lahore earlier that morning of September 6, 1965.
The Indian Air Marshal Raghavendran in his article has, very rightly paid very high accolades to both A.M. Nur Khan and A.M. Asghar Khan and paid tributes to the gallant pilots who pulverised the Indian armoured columns at Atari and annihilated 13 IAF fighters at Pathankot.
The facts about 1965 history are stunning episodes of 1965 Air war, established beyond doubt by many journalists and historians including the Indian military historians. Surely, you would not want to demolish these few redoubtable epochs of 65 war.
“Air Marshals Nur Khan and Asghar Khan are two unique living legends and icons of this beleaguered country. They are the pegs on which the PAF and the nation can hang their gold medals and acts of valour and achievements; scarce commodities otherwise,” said Sajjad Haider.