ISLAMABAD, Sept 5: Air Marshal (retired) Nur Khan, the man who led the airforce achieve complete superiority over the three times bigger Indian airforce on the very first day of the 1965 war, had all but resigned the post the very day that he took command of Pakistan Air Force on July 23, 1965.
“Rumours about an impending operation were rife but the army had not shared the plans with other forces,” Air Marshal Nur Khan said. Sharing his memoirs with Dawn on the 40th anniversary of 1965 war, Air Marshal Khan said that he was the most disturbed man on the day, instead of feeling proud.
Air Marshal (retired) Asghar Khan while handing over the command to Nur Khan had not briefed him about any impending war because he was not aware of it himself. So, in order to double check, Nur Khan called on the then Commander-in-Chief, General Musa Khan.
Under his searching questions Gen Musa wilted and with a sheepish smile admitted that something was afoot. Nur Khan’s immediate reaction was that this would mean war. But, Gen Musa said you need not to worry as according to him Indians would not retaliate. Then he directed a still highly skeptical Nur Khan to Lt-Gen Akhtar Hasan Malik, GOC Kashmir, the man in-charge of “Operation Gibraltar” for further details. The long and short of his discussion with Gen Malik was, “don’t worry, because the plan to send in some 800,000 infiltrators inside the occupied territory to throw out the Indian troops with the help of the local population”, was so designed that the Indians would not be able retaliate and therefore the airforce need not get into war-time mode.
A still incredulous Nur Khan was shocked when on further inquiry he found that except for a small coterie of top generals, very few in the armed forces knew about “Operation Gibraltar”. He asked himself how good, intelligent and professional people like Musa and Malik could be so naive, so irresponsible.
For the air marshal, it was unbelievable. Even the then Lahore garrison commander had not been taken into confidence. And Governor of West Pakistan, Malik Amir Mohammad Khan of Kalabagh did not know what was afoot and had gone to Murree for vacations.
It was at this point that he felt like resigning and going home. But then he thought such a rash move would further undermine the country’s interests and, therefore, kept his cool and went about counting his chickens — the entire airforce was too young and too inexperienced to be called anything else then — and gearing up his service for the D-day.
The miracle that the PAF achieved on September 6, to a large extent, is attributed to Nur Khan’s leadership. He led his force from up front and set personal example by going on some highly risky sorties himself. But then no commander, no matter how daring and how professional, can win a battle if his troops are not fully geared to face such challenges and that too within 43 days of change in command.
The full credit for turning the PAF into a highly professional and dedicated fighting machine goes to Air Marshal Asghar Khan who was given charge of the service in 1957. Thank God, unlike the other service no darbari or sifarishi was given the job. And by the time he left on July 23, 1965, Asghar Khan had turned the PAF into a well-oiled, highly professional and dedicated fighting machine and had trained them on the then best US made fighters, bombers and transport planes. Those who flew those machines and those who maintained them on ground worked like a team, and each one of the PAF member performed beyond the call of duty to make a miracle.
The PAF performance had crucially allowed the Army to operate without interference from the Indian airforce.
“The performance of the Army did not match that of the PAF mainly because the leadership was not as professional. They had planned the ‘Operation Gibraltar’ for self-glory rather than in the national interest. It was a wrong war. And they misled the nation with a big lie that India rather than Pakistan had provoked the war and that we were the victims of Indian aggression”, Air Marshal Khan said.
When on the second day of war President Gen Ayub wanted to know how we were faring, Musa informed him that the Army had run out of even ammunition. That was the extent of preparation in the Army. And the information had shocked Gen Ayub so much that it could have triggered his heart ailment, which overtook him a couple of years later.
This in short is Nur Khan’s version of 1965 war, which he calls an unnecessary war and says that President Ayub for whom he has the greatest regard should have held his senior generals accountable for the debacle and himself resigned.
This would have held the hands of the adventurers who followed Gen Ayub. Since the 1965 war was based on a big lie and was presented to the nation a great victory, the Army came to believe its own fiction and has used since, Ayub as its role model and therefore has continued to fight unwanted wars — the 1971 war and the Kargil fiasco in 1999, he said.
In each of the subsequent wars we have committed the same mistakes that we committed in 1965.
Air Marshal Khan demanded that a truth commission formed to find out why we failed in all our military adventures. It is not punishment of the failed leadership that should be the aim of the commission but sifting of facts from fiction and laying bare the follies and foibles of the irresponsible leaders in matters with grave implications for the nation. It should also point out the irregularities committed in training and promotions in the defence forces in the past so that it is not repeated in future.
Mr Khan believes that our soldiers when called upon have fought with their lives but because of bad leadership their supreme sacrifices went waste. And after every war that we began we ended up taking dictation from the enemy — at Tashkant, at Simla and lastly at Washington.
He said at present Pakistan is engaged in another war, this time in Waziristan. This war can also end up in a fiasco and politically disastrous for the federation if it is fought with the same nonchalance and unprofessionally as we did the last three wars.
He, therefore, called for an immediate change of command at the GHQ insisting that President Gen Pervez Musharraf should appoint a full-time Chief of Army Staff and restore full democracy in the country. He suggested appointment of an independent chief election commissioner in consultation with all the political parties.
“Look at India. There a religious party comes in power and nobody cries foul and it goes out of power and nobody alleges rigging. We can also do this,” he added.
And we must make unified efforts to restore the country in the vision of the Quaid-i-Azam. Turn it into a non-theocratic and truly democratic state. And all the three forces should model themselves on the lines set by Asghar Khan when he was commanding the PAF, he suggested.