Arab-Pakistani Security Cooperation

From Dr Hamid Hussain:

        Pakistan and
Arab World:  Security Cooperation

Hamid Hussain

desire to gain an immediate selfish advantage always imperils their ultimate
interests.  If they recognize this fact, they usually recognize it too
  Reinhold Niebuhr

 There is long
history of security relations between Pakistan and several Arab
countries.  In 1970s and 80s, many Arab countries flushed with oil money
bought state of the art equipment but local population lacked technical
skills.  A number of Pakistan army and air force personnel were deputed to
several countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain,
Qatar, Jordan, Syria and Iraq.  A much smaller number of naval officers
also served in UAE training local naval forces.  The numbers and duration of
deployment varied from less than a dozen to few thousand and from few weeks to
several years.  The main role of Pakistani officers was in training local
security forces although they also manned complicated equipment such as

sometimes got into difficulties in view of squabbles among Arab countries as
well as internal strife in some of these countries.  Pakistani troop
presence in Saudi Arabia though very small put it at odds with Egypt. 
Saudi Arabia and Egypt were supporting opposing parties in the civil war in
Yemen.  This continued till Anwar Sadat got off the ship of Arab socialism
and took a turn towards the right side of the curve.  In 1980s, in the
context of Iran-Iraq war, presence of Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia put
Pakistan at odds with Tehran. 

 Pakistani army
and air force personnel trained Saudi forces in 1970s and 80s.  Iran-Iraq
war changed Saudi security environment and both countries started to negotiate
about limited Pakistani troop deployment.  After prolonged negotiations it
was agreed to deploy a limited Pakistani contingent on Saudi soil.  Delay
in negotiations was partly due to differences among Saudi decision
makers.  Debate among Saudis was on the issues of a larger foreign
contingent (about two division strength), expansion of Saudi army and balance
between army and Saudi Arabian National Guards (SANG). Finally, a negotiated
middle ground agreed on a much smaller foreign contingent that consisted
of  only a reinforced brigade strength.  In 1982, a formal agreement
was signed and Saudi Pakistan Armed Forces Organization (SPAFO) headquarters
was established at Riyadh.  Pakistani troops were stationed at Tabuk and
Khamis Mushayet.  An armored brigade group was stationed at Tabuk from
1982 to 1988.  It was a complete formation deputed for three years and two
brigades rotated in 1982-85 and 1985-88.  Initially, Major General Shamsur
Rahman Kallu (later Lieutenant General) was appointed to the SPFAO headquarters
but he never took charge and the contingent was headed by a Brigadier rank
officer.  First commander was Brigadier Mehboob Alam (later Major General)
who served from 1982-85 and under him Colonel (later Brigadier) Saeed Ismat
served as GSO-1 Operations and Training.  From 1985 to 1988, Pakistani
armored brigade was commanded by Brigadier Jahangir Karamat (later General and
Pakistan army Chief).  In 1988, for a variety of reasons, the brigade was
withdrawn and only a small number of Pakistani personnel involved in training
remained (majority of foreign training personnel were from United States and

 In my view,
several factors such as increased confidence about Saudization process of armed
forces, modernization of forces, acquisition of surface to surface missiles and
friction with Pakistan about composition and control of the contingent
contributed to this decision.  Saudis had asked General Zia that Shia
officers and troops should be excluded from the units sent for
deployment.  Zia presented this condition during one of his meeting with
his Corps Commanders.  Several senior officers protested stating that this
may significantly damage the cohesion of Pakistani armed forces.  The
reason was that the policy could not be implemented discreetly.  They
argued that a complete formation with full cohesive battalions was to be
deputed and removing a particular group of soldiers based on their sect would
negatively affect the cohesion of the units.

In 1990s, need
for Pakistani troops became obsolete in view of presence of large number of
U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of First Gulf War.  In late
1990s, the key strategic issue between two countries was nuclear factor. 
There is no conclusive proof but it is generally believed that both countries
agreed in principle that in case of Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons, Pakistan
will provide nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia.  In return, Saudi Arabia
provided oil at discount rate to cash strapped and sanctioned Pakistan in the
aftermath of its 1998 nuclear tests.  This was done off the books to avoid
Pakistan’s creditors asking for more pound of the flesh.  In 2003,
revelations about Pakistani nuclear proliferation by its lead scientist Abdul
Qadeer Khan including clandestine shipments to Iran stunned the world. 
Saudis were angry and felt that Pakistanis were a bunch of cheaters trying to
milk money from all sides.  Saudis showed their displeasure by now asking
for full price for the oil supply.  Saudis have mediated between ruling
elites of Pakistan dating back to mass protest movement organized by a
coalition of opposition parties against then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
in 1977.  Saudi ambassador tried to negotiate a deal but eventually
military staged a coup.  Most recently, Saudis guaranteed exile of former
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the Kingdom as well as negotiated safe passage
to former President Pervez Mussharraf.  This has severely damaged
Pakistan’s reputation among Saudis.  Saudi royal family has very little
respect for feuding Pakistani ruling elite. 

agencies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy close relationship going back over
two decades.  Currently, main focus of cooperation is Arab
extremists.  Though small in numbers but shuttling of Saudi militants
between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Afghanistan is a major Saudi
concern.  Details of this cooperation are usually not made public and both
countries prefer to work behind the scenes.  Pakistani and Saudi
intelligence officials usually don’t leak; a nuisance that has been taken to an
art form by Americans.  One case became public when in May 2009; Pakistani
paramilitary force Frontier Corps (FC) arrested four Saudi militants in Mohmand
tribal agency.  These four Saudi militants along with a Libyan and an
Afghan national were arrested at Khapakh check post.  FC troops were
escorting them to FC camp in Ghalanai when they came under attack.  Over
60 militants attacked FC escort and gunfight lasted for over two hours with
many casualties. 

Looking from
Riyadh point of view, the security dilemma has mushroomed into a
nightmare.  Externally, Shia dominated government in a fragile Iraq,
unrest in Bahrain with potential rise of another Shia entity on the border,
unraveling of Yemen, increasing voices of demand of constitutional monarchy in
Jordan, exit of Mubarak in one of the most historic change in Egypt are enough
to cause many sleepless nights for Saudi decision makers.  Internally,
presence of a small but lethal extremist fringe and undercurrents of discontent
in Saudi society and much more alienation of small Shia minority in the Kingdom
are additional worries.  Traditionally, Saudi Arabia carefully balanced
its security structure to prevent a coup.  Army doctrine was more static
in orientation and ‘jointness’ was carefully avoided to prevent cohesion of armed
forces to a level where they could easily overthrow the rulers.  In
addition, SANG was used as a check against army.  SANG operates
independent of Ministry of Defence running its own recruitment, training and
retention.  SANG is also structured in a way to prevent it from posing a
threat to the government.  Out of total strength of over 50’000 personnel
of SANG only about 10’000 are on active duty.   Remainder is divided
into regular reserve and part time tribal irregulars.  


In case of
massive protests though less likely in Saudi Arabia, there is always the
question of how much force local security apparatus will be willing to use
against their own countrymen.  Potential requirement of foreign troops
forced Saudis to work with current Pakistani civilian government for whom they
had nothing but utter contempt until very recently.  President and Prime
Minister of Pakistan faced with grim economic situation of the country and army
brass uncertain about continued U.S. funding are too delighted at the potential
of cash windfall from Saudi patrons.  Secretary General of Saudi National
Security Council Prince Bandar bin Sultan made too quite trips to Pakistan in
the aftermath of protests.  Main subject was getting Pakistani support for
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) action to send Saudi troops to Bahrain,
encourage Pakistan to send retired personnel for Bahrain security forces and in
case of mass unrest in Saudi Arabia possibility of deployment of Pakistani
security personnel.  Presently, Saudi security apparatus is able to handle
most internal security problems and use of any foreign troops is more a
contingency plan and will be used as a last measure if things spiral down out
of control. 


In 1969, Pakistan sent a military training mission
to Jordan.  The mission’s primary task was to assess state of Jordanian
forces in the aftermath of 1967 defeat at the hands of Israelis and recommend
overhaul.  Officers from different arms (Infantry, Armor and Artillery) of
army and air force were part of this mission.  Main objective of the
mission was survey of Jordanian armed forces, find deficiencies, recommend
solutions and guide in training.  Pakistanis got entangled in Jordan’s
clash with Palestinians.  The simmering tensions between Jordanians and
Palestinians resulted in September 1970 showdown when King Hussain
ordered  Jordanian forces  to quell an attempt by Palestinian groups
based in Jordan to overthrow the Hashemite kingdom.  There were
exaggerated reports circulated by Palestinian sympathizers that Pakistani
troops helped Jordanian forces in combat.  Later, after General Zia-ul
Haq’s coup, those opposing him continued these unsubstantiated reports as Zia
was in Amman during that time period. 

 Pakistani training mission consisted of only about
two dozen army and air force officers and no combat troops (only exception was
an Anti-Air Craft detachment sent in June 1970 at King Hussain’s request as he
was worried that Syrian and Iraqi air forces may intervene in support of
Palestinians).  Pakistan military mission was headed by Major General
Nawazish Ali while Air Commodore Anwar Shamim (later Air Chief Marshal and
Pakistan air force chief) was in charge of air force officers.  
During main Jordanian offensive in September, Pakistani ambassador in Amman
Nawab Rahat Ali Chattari as well as head of military mission Major General
Nawazish were not in the country.  Brigadier Zia ul Haq was in charge of
the military mission.  King Hussain asked Brigadier Zia to take over the
command of a Jordanian division.  Pakistan’s charge de affairs got
approval of this move from Ministry of Defence.  

In Amman, 4th Mechanized Division commanded by Brigadier
Kasab al-Jazy operated and 60th Armored
Brigade of the division commanded by Colonel Alawi Jarrad was at the
forefront.  After 1967 war, 3rd Iraqi
Armored Division had stayed back in Jordan and was deployed in Zarqa. 
King Hussain was suspicious about the motives of Iraqis and he deployed 99th Brigade commanded by Colonel Khalil Hajhuj of
3rd Jordanian Armored Division near Iraqis to keep
them in check.  However, young Saddam Hussain emerging from his own recent
successful power struggle inside Iraq shrewdly pulled Iraqi troops away from
conflict area and finally removed them from Jordan to avoid getting

2nd Jordanian
Infantry Division was based in Irbid near the Syrian border.  Palestinian
guerrillas had taken control of the town.  Syria entered the fray in
support of Palestinians by sending 5th Division
commanded by Brigadier Ahmed al-Amir.  This was a reinforced division
consisting of 67th Mechanized, 88th Armored and 91st Armored Brigades of Syrian army and Hittin
Brigade consisting of Palestinians.  Commanding officer of 2nd Jordanian Infantry Division Brigadier Bahjat
al-Muhaisen (he was married to a woman from a prominent Palestinian family)
went AWOL and Brigadier Zia took command of the division at the request of King
Hussain.  2nd Jordanian Infantry Division was shaky after
desertion of Jordanian commander and Zia helped to keep the formation
intact.  This division helped to take back control of Irbid.  Syrian
armored thrust near Irbid was tackled by 40th Armored Brigade commanded by Colonel Atallah
Ghasib of 3rd Jordanian Armored Division. Major damage to
Syrian armor was done by Royal Jordanian Air Force.  Inside Syria, a power
struggle between Saleh Jadid and Defence Minister and Air Force commander Hafiz
al-Asad was at its peak and Asad decided to keep Syrian Air Force out of
conflict.  In the absence of air cover, Syrian forces were mauled by
Jordanian air force and within two days, battered Syrian troops retreated
back.  Two months later, Asad took control of the affairs of the country
sending Jadid to prison.  In 1970, Nawazish gave a bad Annual Confidential
Report (ACR) to Zia although details of it are not available.  It is not
clear whether report was written before or after September 1970. 
Apparently, report was bad enough to possibly end Zia’s career at the rank of
Brigadier.  Zia asked his former Commanding Officer (CO) of Guides Cavalry
Colonel (R) Pir Abdullah Shah for help.  Abdullah asked then Chief of
General Staff (CGS) Major General Gul Hassan Khan (Zia had also served under
Gul Hassan) and report was quashed by army chief General Yahya Khan on Gul’s


Oman recruits from specific Baluch communities to man its state security
forces.  This is not new and the practice goes back to several
decades.  Pakistan is not the sole source of manpower for security
services but citizens of a number of other countries also serve in Omani
security forces.  Oman was facing a rebellion in southern region in 1960s
and 70s.  In 1960s, two Southern Regiments consisting of Baluchis were
raised.  In 1971, a Frontier Force battalion consisting of Baluchis was
also raised. 


Many Pakistanis along
with other foreigners serve in Bahrain’s police, National Guard and armed
forces.  This fact has been highlighted recently in view of protests in
many Arab states and additional requirement of personnel for riot
control.  Bahrain saw large scale protests recently against ruling
dynasty.  Government needed more man power to control the situation. 
GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia sent about 4000 soldiers mostly Saudi
troops to Bahrain.  Bahrain’s foreign minister Khalid Bin Ahmed al Khalifa
visited Islamabad in March 2011 and Commander of Bahrain’s National Guards
Lieutenant General Sheikh Mohammad bin Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa visited
Pakistan in December 2010 and June 2011.  Defence cooperation between two
countries was the main subject during the talks, however Pakistan army knowing
the potential political fallout stayed in the background and let the President
and Prime Minister handle the issue.  No exact data is available but some
estimate that few thousand Pakistanis serve in Bahrain’s police, National
Guards and armed forces.  A small Pakistani contingent of about a
battalion strength has been serving mainly in training capacity long before the
start of protests.  There is no evidence that these Pakistani soldiers
were used in crackdown on protesters.  In the last few months, about 1000
additional retired military personnel from Pakistan have been recruited for
Bahrain by welfare foundations run by Pakistan army and navy. 


In Bahrain the
negative fallout is for a large number of Pakistani workers and there have been
instances of violence against them.  Several Pakistanis were killed and
many wounded by angry mobs of Bahrainis.  Many Pakistanis left their homes
for fear of their safety.  Some of these Pakistanis families are now
living in facilities run by Bahraini government as well as Pakistan Club run by
Pakistani embassy.  Bahraini protesters obviously object to presence of
foreigners in security apparatus but there is also a sectarian angle. 
Majority of population is Shia while ruling family is Sunni.  They view
recruitment of foreign Sunnis as an attempt to suppress Shia.   Iran
obviously sympathizing with Shia kin of Bahrain has strongly objected to
recruitment of Pakistanis in Bahrain’s forces.  Pakistan’s charge de
affairs in Tehran was summoned by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and warned
about negative fallout on Pakistan-Iran relations.  In addition, Shia
organizations in Pakistan also protested this action of Pakistani
government.  As expected Pakistani Sunni clerics came out supporting Saudi
Arabia and Gulf sheikhdoms. 

 The best course
for Bahrain is to use minimal force, deploy mainly indigenous forces for law
and order and institute constitutional reforms to satisfy its own
citizens.  Heavy handedness will surely radicalize some in the opposition
resulting in a self-fulfilled prophecy.  If there is any proof of foreign
involvement in unrest, they should make it public.  On part of opposition
forces, it will be suicidal for their cause to get direct help from Iran. 
This will simply confirm the ruling dynasty’s narrative that Shia are not loyal
citizens of the state thus justifying continued denial of their rights. 
Leaders of opposition movement have great responsibility to keep protests

Saudi Arabia and
Iran are engaged in a sectarian war for the last three decades.  The
battlefields are scattered everywhere including Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and
Pakistan.  New battle lines are being drawn where Saudi Arabia is trying
to scare Iran by threat of overwhelming Sunni numbers.  Riyadh is lining
up Sunni countries including almost all Arab countries, Pakistan, Malaysia and
Indonesia.   Iran is left with a smaller team of ruling Alawi Syrian
regime and Hezbollah.  The prospect of a new potential ally in case of
overthrow of minority Sunni ruling dynasty in Bahrain is quite a welcome
thought for Iran.  To counter enormous numbers Tehran is also trying to
work with Sunni schools of thought at variance with Saudi puritanical version
as well as trying to take control of the ‘emotional push button’ issue of
Palestinian cause by supporting almost exclusively Sunni Hamas in occupied


Iran is very
nervous at losing its only Arab ally Syria.  Tehran is vocally supporting
opposition movements in all Arab countries but totally silent about
Syria.  The reason is quite obvious that in case of a democratic change in
Syria, the power hold of minority Alawi regime will disappear.  Thought of
a Sunni government in Damascus is quite discomforting to Tehran.  If new
government aligns with Saudi Arabia, it can cut off the lifeline of Tehran’s
support to its proxies in Lebanon.  Tehran can potentially loose one
important ally (Syria) and left with a much weaker proxy (Hezbollah) in one
stroke.  If recently concluded Egypt mediated reconciliation between Fatah
and Hamas results in weaning of Hamas from Tehran, then Iran will be left only
with a weak Hezbollah on Middle Eastern chessboard.  The case of Bahrain
is opposite where Shia majority is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.  In case of
democratic change, a Shia dominated government more friendly with Tehran can
come to power.  It was this fear that sent shock waves in Riyadh forcing
dispatch of Saudi troops to Bahrain.  Riyadh is trying to rally Arab as
well as non-Arab countries to its cause.  GCC welcomed Jordan and
Morocco’s request to join GCC.  Saudis are also negotiating with Indonesia
and Malaysia for possible troop commitment in Gulf. 


Saudi Arabia and
Iran are actively involved in Afghanistan and Pakistan through their proxies. 
Recently, Director General of Inter Services Intelligence (DGISI) Lieutenant
General Ahmad Shuja Pasha disclosed during in-camera briefing to Parliament
that some Pakistani clerics were receiving funds from Saudi Arabia.  It is
an open secret that a large number of madrassahs in Pakistan receive funds from
government and non-government sources from Gulf and Saudi Arabia.  Iran on
its part is trying to counter this by supporting its own proxies inside

Tehran and
Riyadh are embarking on a very dangerous course and both countries are equally
guilty of stoking the sectarian fires all over the Muslim world.  Every
effort should be made by citizens of both countries to put pressure on their
respective governments to focus on internal problems and avoid proxy war. 
Citizens of both countries deserve a peaceful and prosperous future and not to
be used as instruments of another round of fratricidal war.  Tehran should
remember that the ‘spring’ is not going to be restricted to Arab world. 
Young Iranians are as disappointed from their own cleric cum politicians. 
Large scale protests in the aftermath of President Ahmadinejad’s elections were
the first warning shots.  The pressure from below is gradually building
and in the next 2-3 years, it is very likely that streets of major Iranian
cities will see large scale protests.  It is in Iranian interest to focus
more on internal problems and avoid stoking the sectarian fires.

involvement of Pakistan in the security affairs of Arab countries can have some
negative fallout.  It will increase the sectarian gulf inside Pakistan and
first shots were recently fired.  In Karachi, there was wall chalking
against recruitment of Pakistanis in Bahrain’s security forces and Shia
organizations staged protests.  In response, clerics of Ahl Hadith (group
close to Saudi school of thought) and Deobandi school of thought gathered and
raised concerns about criticism of Sunni ruling houses of Arab world. 
There was a grenade attack on Saudi Consulate in Karachi and few days later a
Saudi diplomat was assassinated in Karachi. A large number of Pakistanis work
in Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.  Pakistan’s involvement in security
affairs in the context of protests entails the risk that all Pakistanis will be
linked with the state’s oppression thus coming under attack from opposition
forces of these countries.  Recently, there were attacks on Pakistani
workers in Bahrain causing fear among all Pakistanis. 

Pakistan’s main
problem is its economy.  Pakistan’s increased engagement in security
affairs of Gulf is transactional in nature.  In view of deteriorating
relations with U.S. and potential drying up of economic resources from
Washington is forcing Pakistani civilian and military leaders to look towards
newer and greener pastures.   Oil prices running over $100 a barrel
means that new checks will come from Arab patrons.  No one hands money
freely and in return Pakistan will be asked to do some heavy lifting. 
Poor countries like Pakistan are now caught in the fratricidal war in the house
of Islam.  Pakistan can diminish the fallout for its own country by
following the example of Bangladesh.  Bangladesh has so far kept its
forces out of the Middle East fires.  Instead it gets economic benefits
from increasing troop contribution to more acceptable and less risky United
Nations peace keeping missions.  If Pakistan can strictly limit military
missions to training in Gulf then it can mitigate some of the side effects of
such ventures.
Some more tidbits from Arab Air-Force historian “Crowbat”
Here some additional ‘bits and pieces’ that might be useful to enhance Mr.
Hussain’s write-up. It’s based on interviews with several Jordanian, Egyptian,
and one of Bangladeshi (ex-Pakistani) pilots that served during those fateful
times (entire story can be found in books Arab MiGs, Volume 3, and Arab MiGs, Volume 4):

– Pakistani Air Force was
posting two of its pilots to the RJAF already since early 1960s. One of them,
Hamid Anwar, barely survived a crash with a two-seat Hunter flown by RJAF pilot
1st Lt Amer Zaza, in 1964 (Anwar ejected on time, Zaza too late: he descended
with the parachute right into the burning wrecakge of their aircraft…).

– Two PAF officers served with No. 1 Squadron RJAF (flying Hunters),
during the June 1967 Arab Israeli War, and were granted permission to fly combat
sorties over Jordan. Flt Lt Saif-ul-Azam flew two sorties on 6 June 1967, then
evacuated to Iraq with rest of RJAF fighter-pilots, and flew another sortie with
Iraqi Hunters over H-3 airfield, two days later. He was credited with three
confirmed kills and highly decorated (by Jordanians, Iraqis, and Pakistanis),
before quitting the PAF and joining the newly-established Bangladesh Air Force,
following the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. Flt Lt Sarwar Shad fell ill and was
hospitalized, on 5 June 1967, and did not fly during that war.

– After
the June 1967 War, Azam and Shad were replaced by two unknown pilots. For most
of the next two years, they served with the RJAF contingent in Iraq (based there
because nearly all of Jordanian Hunters were destroyed and airfields had to be
repaired). In March 1969, these were replaced by Flt Lts Noor Khan (future Air
Marshal) and Akmal: immediately on arrival in Amman, Noor Khan and Akmal were
sent to Dmeyr AB in Syria, where they joined the rest of reorganized No.1
Squadron RJAF. Within few weeks, they were reinforced by a bigger group of
advisers, including Muhammad Mahmood Alam (probably the most famous PAF pilot of
the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War), Arif Manzoor, Atique Sufi, Shahid Foozi and
Sarafaz…. (there would be a lot to say about what kind of training they run in
Syria, but that’s ‘a different story’…).

– As soon as Mafraq AB was
completely rebuilt and extended, they moved back to Jordan and then the RJAF
began receiving F-104 Starfighters from the USA. During the summer 1969,
Pakistanis assisted in conversion of about 15 Jordanian pilots to that

…that said, it seems at least a few Pakistanis did remain in
Syria until at least 1972, when they were met there by the CO of an Egyptian
MiG-17-squadron deployed in that country…

A big delegation from
Pakistani Army visited Jordan immediately after the June 1967 War. I don’t know
much about it though. Jordanians only told me that the Pakistanis were
instrumental for reorganization of the Jordanian Army and introduction of
divisional structure.

– In regards of Saudi Arabia… it was around the
same time – i.e. between 1967 and 1970 – that another group of PAF pilots was
seconded to the RSAF. They flew six Hunters acquired to support introduction to
service of Lightning interceptors purchased by Saudi Arabia from the UK, and did
so together with a small group of contracted British personnel. It was them that
saw the ‘standoff’ with Egyptian forces involved in Yemen War ofthe 1960s,
mentioned by Mr. Hussein. I do not know any of their names, though…

and from Pakistani Air-Force writer Group Capt. M. Kaisar Tufail (PAF)
Post-haste summons for volunteers found an eager band of sixteen Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighter-pilots on their way to the Middle East, in the midst of the 1973 Arab-Israeli ‘Ramadhan’ War. After a gruelling Peshawar-Karachi-Baghdad flight on a PAF Fokker F-27, they were whisked off to Damascus in a Syrian jet. Upon arrival, half the batch was told to stay back in Syria while the rest were earmarked for Egypt. By the time the PAF batch reached Cairo, Egypt had agreed to a cease-fire; it was therefore decided that they would continue as instructors. But in Syria it was another story.

The batch in Syria was made up of pilots who were already serving there on deputation (except one), but had been repatriated before the war. Now they were back in familiar surroundings as well as familiar aircraft, the venerable MiG-21. They were posted to No. 67 Squadron, ‘Alpha’ Detachment (all PAF). Hasty checkouts were immediately followed by serious business of Air Defence Alert scrambles and Combat Air Patrols from the air base at Dumayr.

Syria had not agreed to a ceasefire, since Israeli operations in Golan were continuing at a threatening pace. Israeli Air Force missions included interdiction under top cover, well supported by intense radio jamming as the PAF pilots discovered. The PAF formation using the call-sign “Shahbaz” was formidable in size – all of eight aircraft. Shahbaz soon came to stand out as one that couldn’t be messed with, in part because its tactics were innovative and bold. Survival, however, in a jammed-radio environment was concern number one. As a precaution, the Pakistanis decided to switch to Urdu for fear of being monitored in English. Suspicions were confirmed during one patrol, when healthy Punjabi invectives hurled on radio got them wondering if Mossad had recruited a few Khalsas for the job!

After several months of sporadic activity, it seemed that hostilities were petering out. While the Shahbaz patrols over Lebanon and Syria had diminished in frequency, routine training sorties started to register a rise. Under these conditions it was a surprise when on the afternoon of 26th April 1974, the siren blasted from the air-shafts of the underground bunker. Backgammon boards were pushed aside and the “qehva” session was interrupted as all eight pilots rushed to their MiGs; they were airborne within minutes. From Dumayr to Beirut, then along the Mediterranean coast till Sidon, and a final leg eastwards, skirting Damascus and back to base – this was the usual patrol, flown at an altitude of 6 km.

The limited fuel of their early model MiG-21F permitted just a 30 minutes sortie; this was almost over when ground radar blurted out on the radio that two bogeys (unidentified aircraft) were approaching from the southerly direction ie Israel. At this stage fuel was low and an engagement was the least preferred option. Presented with a fait accompli, the leader of the formation called a defensive turn into the bogeys. Just then heavy radio jamming started, sounding somewhat similar to the “takka tak” at our meat joints, only more shrill. While the formation was gathering itself after the turn, two Israeli F-4E Phantoms sped past almost head-on, seemingly unwilling to engage. Was it a bait?

Flt. Lt. Sattar Alvi, now the rear-most in the formation, was still adjusting after the hard turn when he caught sight of two Mirage-IIICJ zooming into them from far below. With no way of warning the formation of the impending disaster, he instinctively decided to handle them alone. Peeling away from his formation, he turned hard into the Mirages so that one of them overshot. Against the other, he did a steep reversal dropping his speed literally to zero. (it takes some guts to let eight tons of metal hang up in unfriendly air!) The result was that within a few seconds the second Mirage filled his gun-sight, the star of David and all. While Sattar worried about having to concentrate for precious seconds in aiming and shooting, the lead Mirage started to turn around to get Sattar. Thinking that help was at hand, the target Mirage decided to accelerate away. A quick-witted Sattar reckoned that a missile shot would be just right for the range his target had opened up to. A pip of a button later, a K-13 heat-seeker sped off towards the tail of the escaping Mirage. Sattar recollects that it wasn’t as much an Israeli aircraft as a myth that seemed to explode in front of him. (The letter ‘J’ in Mirage-IIICJ stood for ‘Jewish’, it may be noted.) He was tempted to watch the flaming metal rain down, but with the other Mirage lurking around and fuel down to a few hundred litres, he decided to exit. Diving down with careless abandon, he allowed a couple of Sonic bangs over Damascus. (word has it that the Presidential Palace wasn’t amused). His fuel tanks bone dry, Sattar made it to Dumayr on the vapours that remained.

As the other formation members started to trickle in, the leader, Sqn. Ldr. Arif Manzoor anxiously called out for Sattar to check if he was safe. All had thought that Sattar, a bit of a maverick that he was, had landed himself in trouble. Shouts of joy went up on the radio, however, when they learnt that he had been busy shooting down a Mirage.

The Syrians were overwhelmed when they learnt that the impunity and daring of the Pakistani pilots had paid off. Sattar was declared a blood brother by the Syrians, for he had shared in shedding the blood of a common enemy, they explained.

Sattar’s victim Captain M. Lutz of No. 5 Air Wing, Israeli Air Force (IAF), based at Hatzor, ejected out of his disintegrating aircraft. It has been learnt that the Mirages were on a reconnaissance mission, escorted by Phantoms of No. 1 Air Wing, IAF operating out of Ramat David Air base. The Phantoms were to trap any interceptors while the Mirages carried out the recce. Timely warning by the radar controller (also from the PAF) had turned the tables on the escorts, allowing Sattar to sort out the Mirages.

The dogfight over Golan is testimony to the skills of all PAF pilots, insists Sattar, as he thinks anyone could have got the kill had he been “Shahbaz-8” on that fateful day. Sattar and his leader Sqn. Ldr. Arif Manzoor, were awarded two of Syria’s highest decorations for gallantry, the Wisaam Faris and Wisaam Shuja’at. The Government of Pakistan awarded them a Sitara-e-Jurat each. Sattar, an epitome of a fighter pilot, befittingly went on to command PAF’s elite Combat Commanders’ School (CCS) and the premier PAF Base Rafiqui (Shorkot). He retired recently as an Air Commodore. 

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