By Muqeet Malik Kakazai
Dear Readers! You must have read about the mesmerizing tale of Brigadier Muhammad Aslam khan, and found it intriguing. Now, it is time to pay tribute to his brother, Air Marshal Asghar Khan ascribed as ”Night flyer”. Have you ever pondered over the “Golden era” of Pakistani Aviation Industry? Who made Pakistan Air force,a fighting dragon in Air to Air battle? Did you ever for a moment focus upon the Pakistani Former Air Chief Air Marshal Asghar khan legacy? Did you ever assess the reasons which imbued Pakistan International airline to become one of the world’s top Airlines in the 1960’s? A man of principles, and unbend-able commitment to serve the Air force deserves him a place in the flying heroes of Defence Day. His tenure can be segregated into three broad areas; Pre Partition, Post Partition, and post retirement.
Air Marshal Asghar Khan was born to Brigadier Sardar Rehmatullah Khan, at Jammu Kashmir in 1921. His family Afridi originated from the Tirah valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. He became one of the greatest chiefs of Pakistani Air force for all times. He was brought up at Srinagar, and got his education at Atchison College, Lahore. He hailed from a family which endured difficulties of military life as his father was in the Maharaja’s army. Thus, to bond the armed forces certainly ran in his arteries. He began his career from the Wales Royal Military College in 1933, and joined the Indian military academy in 1939. He passed out obtaining his commission on 20th December, 1940. For a few months, he was posted as second lieutenant to Royal Deccan house. Later, he attended a Flying Training School at Walton, in Lahore, followed by three months at the Elementary Flying Training School at Begumpet in Hyderabad; there he learned to fly the Tiger Moth, a small di-plane trainer. After Begumpet he went to Ambala, to fly the Hawker Audax ,also a bi-plane, which was the head aircraft in the Royal Air Force at that time. He would have dearly loved to become a combat pilot but at the time, the size of IAF was frozen, and no new inductions were contemplated. As soon as the avenue opened up, he obtained his transfer to Air force. Thereafter, he got commission in No.3 squadron of British Royal Air force in Peshawar. The dovecots of Hindu dominants went up in flutters. Surprisingly, the war against insurgents in Miran shah was being fought by British Indian army. Thus, as a superior fighter, Squadron leader Asghar khan led the air strikes in to hold back miscreants in Waziristan thus, facilitated ground troops. However, after two years of a successful battle, he was posted to Arakan in burma, where he attested to be one of the most dynamic fighter pilots in World War 2 among the Indians. After two years at Peshawar, Kohat and Miranshah he was posted to No.9 Squadron Indian Air Force, at that time in the Arakan, in Burma. The World war 2 had initiated 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 dynamism though its Army still posed a problem. No.9 Squadron was commanded by Squadron Leader Adams of the Royal Air Force and was divulged into two flights. One was an Indian Flight under Asghar khan’s 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. Then, Asghar khan took over command of No.9 Squadron, and was moved to Ranchi. Here, he was equipped with Spitfire Aircraft, a more modern combat fighter at that time , and after some time in Ranchi, he moved to Gurgaon near Delhi. After a few months there, he was posted as the Chief Flying Instructor at the Advance Flying Training School at Ambala owing to his professionalism in combat games. He remained there till Partition except for a short interlude in Delhi. Whilst at Dehli, Air Cdr. Janjua and Asghar khan became members of the Armed Force Reconstitution Committee, which was responsible for dividing the assets of the Indian Armed Forces. He is known to be the first fighter jet pilot of Indian Air force flying the Gloster Meteor which he learnt from the Royal Air force College, U.K.
This did not take much time, and it was here, in Delhi, that he had his first meeting with Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in November 1946 about which he has proclaimed in his book ‘We have learnt nothing from History’. It was also from here that he went to Karachi for a few days on August 14, 1947 for a meeting with the founder of Pakistan . He arrived in DC 3 (Dakota) Aircraft as his colleagues did not allow him land travel, and even insisted the RAF commander -in-chief to en route his aircraft all the way through Ambala going to Peshawar. Later on,he recalled in his book that he could witness the villages burnt as a result of Hindu-Sikh Joint massacre of Muslims. Furthermore, the train that was carrying the evacuees was attacked, and everyone on board annihilated. Asghar Khan considered himself fluky to have traveled through air. He got back 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. Albeit, they came back through a special plane as the conditions around were vulnerable. He, and his family lived in Ambala where his replacement was Wing commander Nair. Air Marshal Asghar Khan was even venerated by his counterparts, and juniors in the Indian Air force. He has the dissertation of being the first combat pilot in the Indian Air force .
Later on, he took over command of the flying, and engineering complex Risalpur where his contributions led to indigenous discoveries by the Pakistani Air force like missiles, flares ,investigate as well as concurrently, highlighting upon the training of GD Pilots. Pakistani Pilots training manual was also conceived by Air Marshal Asghar Khan, and later on expanded to include modern warfare to annihilate the IAF’s superiority. Furthermore, this realm of his tenure can be known as the post partition phase where he evolved an invincible Air force which was deemed to succeed in the coming years. In his command of Risalpur, work was carried upon the new-fangled warfare tactics, and overhaul of F-86 Sabres coming from the US Air force. Moreover, he helped his brother Brigadier Aslam in 1948 war by surveying the Hawk, Deosai planes, and the whole of Chillum. This helped Aslam Khan to divert his troops to areas where enemy was in pockets so, capture was made plausible. The Director General Air operations is an imperative appointment in any Air force, and Asghar khan was particularly, selected as the DG in 1950. During the seven years till his promotion, he evolved a culture of model discussions, and regular combat practices through mapping, and bringing up a potent elucidation to any complex strategy. Moreover, he was sent to the Imperial College London to pursue his degree in Military Ethics.
In 1957, General Ayub Khan promoted him, and appointed him as the commander in chief of Air force at the seasoned age of 36. Therefore, he was a unique person in the history of aviation to become a head up at such age. Though, he acted maturely, and curbed all threats through effective planning; Asghar Khan acquired fighter jets from the United States along with the modernization in Air facilities. Combat squadrons numbers raised from 4 to 9 equipped with the state of the art F-86 Sabres, F-104 Star fighter,-57 bombers, C-130, T-33 ,and T-37 Aircraft. The F-104 was the multi role combat aircraft at that time. Moreover, he played a role to amalgamate 4, and 9 squadron into the first Tactical attack 14th squadron. Mirages are currently operating as naval-Air coordination aircraft to deter any enemy approaching from Arabian sea. Air Marshal Asghar khan’s contributions are uncountable to He established three bases at Samugli, Peshawar , and the all powerful Sargodha. Pakistani eavesdropping huge radar stations developed at Sakesar , and Badin. The Pakistan Aeronautical complex, Kamra owes to Asghar Khan. He supervised this laborious task, and gave an arena for Aircraft manufacturing. Side winger Missiles of F-7 , JF-17, Mirage, and the roaring F-16 Block C/D Aircrafts are all locally prepared. The JF-17 thunder win at Paris Air show in terms of its built and light multi role jet owes to PAF complex, Risalpur. The renowned Combat schools such as Fighter Leaders School, and PAF staff college were over arched by him. He also directed the inspectors designated as well as brought the culture of air staff presentations. A balanced paradigm was developed by him as he firmly believed of academics as an essential ingredient of a pilot. Though, a competent officer but he never hesitated in ruffling a few feathers to bring juniors to higher ranks if they were the best men to fill the combat unit gaps. Autocratic decisions were taken by him but he always stood by his word without flinching off his implementation strategies. He got retired from service before 1965 war, but deserves the credit of bringing PAF to the front Aviation. Supremacy of our Air force was corroborated by the fierce destruction of Indian Fighters in 1965 over Lahore, Sialkot, and other adjoining areas. Even pilots like MM ALAM, Sissal Chaudhry, and Qais Hussain ET cetra got training in reign of AM Asghar Khan demonstrated spectacular air . Asghar khan was offered extension by General Ayub but out rightly denounced, as, he firmly believed of servility in service, and wanted seniority to prevail. Consequently, as attitude of Hankering for extensions of service proves ruinous for a fighting service thus, he retired at age of 43 in 1965. He did not want to solely hold over the affairs of the ever prospering Airforce. Consequently, upon Ayub Khan’s insistence, he joined the Pakistan’s carrier wing PIA as Chief Executive Officer. His work during those times made PIA a profitable organization. For instance, PIA earned a net record profit of Rs.55, 000,000 as well as opened new routes thus, generating revenue. A whole jet fleet induced into PIA is still in operation. New outfits were introduced for the cabin crew. His peculiar characteristic was that he never got overshadowed by the temptations o the higher echelons in the government. He left PIA in 1968 as he was frenzied over the bureaucratic muddle beaming at that time in the carrier. People did not come to job on time as well as tried to exploit the treasury thus; he relinquished himself going to politics. In Politics, as an impartial like the crow flies person, he could not have succeeded. Resultantly, this coerced him to retire early as he has also written in his book “My Political Struggle”. He eulogized the role of his successor Nur Khan in supervision of PIA after him. Air Marshal Asghar Khan had received phenomenal respect, and honour from fellow counterparts praising him for his command in knotty times.
In an epilogue, Asghar Khan is among our living legends and exemplary models for the newly graduated cadets as well as the officers of PAF. He is now settled near Abbottabad with his nephew Mr. Arif Aslam Khan, the chairman Shangrila Resorts. Asghar Khan lost his both brothers Flying officer Asif Khan, and Squadron Leader Khalid Khan plus helped his brother Brig. Aslam in 1948 war, thus, showing his bond with the PAF. Today, it is hard for him too to realize that his hard work bore fruition after his resignation but he will always be commemorated for the services rendered by him. I would like to end on the quotation that: “Those nations who are oblivious of their heroes are tantamount to failure”