A Historic Picture (and some reminiscences about 1971 BD War)


From Dr Hamid Hussain

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General Sam Manekshaw speaking to two Pakistani Air Force officers in plane bringing him to Pakistan for negotiations after 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. Gentleman sitting in suit is a public relations officer of Indian Ministry of Defence and gentleman standing in white overall is a sergeant of the Indian Air Force. Photograph courtesy of Brigadier Behram Panthaki.

This picture is dated 29 November 1972, when Indian army Chief General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw flew to Pakistan for negotiations after 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. The two Pakistani Air Force (PAF) officers were prisoners of war and brought by Sam as a good will gesture. Both officers were shot down in western theatre of war. The one near Sam with handle bar moustache (matching Sam’s own impressive moustache) is then Squadron Leader Amjad Ali Khan. His F-104 was shot down on 05 December 1971 by anti-aircraft fire while attacking Amritsar Radar. He retired as Air Vice Marshal. The other officer is then Flight Lieutenant Wajid Ali Khan. His F-6 was also shot down by anti-air craft fire during a close air support mission over Marala headworks on western border. After repatriation, he left air force and settled in Canada. He became member of Canadian parliament serving from 2004 to 2009.

Indian Air Force (IAF) TU-124 VIP plane brought Sam Manekshaw to Lahore. When plane was taxing to reach the parking bay, it passed the skeleton of the burnt Indian Airlines Fokker Friendship aircraft, ‘Ganga’, that had been hijacked on January 30, 1971 on its flight from Srinagar to Jammu and brought to Lahore. On February 02, the hijackers had set the aircraft on fire. Sam was received by Pakistan Army Chief, General Tikka Khan. Tikka was wearing his famous dark glasses.

General Sam Manekshaw and General Tikka Khan at Lahore airport 1972. Photograph courtesy of Brigadier Behram Panthaki.

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General Tikka Khan receiving General Sam Manekshaw at Lahore airport. Photograph courtesy of Brigadier Behram Panthaki.

After initial pleasantries, all got into Pakistan army chief’s seven-seater American limousine. Tikka and Sam sat in the rear most seat whereas Sam’s ADC Behram sat in front next to driver. Tikka’s ADC was his son Captain Tariq Mahmood who drove in follow-up car. For first few minutes there was an eerie silence except for the whirr of the car engine. Sam could not take this for long and he turned to Tikka and said: “Tikka, you do not drink, you do not smoke, you have no other vices, so why are you wearing dark glasses? It is I who should be wearing them.” That broke the chill and mood changed.

Punjab Governor Ghulam Mustafa Khar hosted the Pakistani brass and Indian delegation to lunch at the sprawling Governor’s Mansion. Before lunch delegation was entertained at an impressively laid out bar that was stocked with all types of alcohol, local and foreign, save one. Sam’s Military Secretary Lieutenant Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Depinder Singh requested the barman if he could have their famous locally-brewed Murree beer. To everyone’s surprise the barman blurted out, ” Sahib, bahut tha, pur sub Dacca mein reh gaya” (Sir; there was a lot but it all got left in Dacca). There was no breakthrough in talks and Indian delegation left the same night. The Indian Government did not allow the delegation to stay overnight at Lahore.

On 07 December 1972, Indian delegation came for second round and agreement reached about some border adjustment. This time lunch was arranged at Corps Artillery mess. Sam was looking at the impressive display of trophies when he recognized a trophy of his old battalion 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment; now 6 Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan army. He inquired what this trophy was doing in artillery mess? A Pakistani officer replied that this was borrowed from the battalion for this special occasion.

General Sam Manekshaw (with back to the camera), sitting next to Sam is Indian DGMO Lieutenant General Inderjit Singh Gill, General Tikka Khan (facing Sam) and Brigadier Abbasi (DGMO) sitting next to Tikka. Photograph courtesy of Brigadier Behram Panthaki.

In addition to these two PAF pilots, two who were shot down in eastern theatre also became POWs. In East Pakistan, on 22 November 1971, three F-86s of No 14 Squadron ‘Tail Choppers’ led by Squadron Commander Wing Commander Afzal Chaudhry embarked on a mission to check Indian incursion in Jessore sector. Four Indian Gnats of Dum Dum based No 22 Squadron ‘swifts’ surprised the Pakistani formation. Flight Lieutenant Pervaiz Mehdi Qureshi (known as PQ Mehdi) and Flying Officer Khalil Ahmad were shot down. Both ejected and were taken POWs.

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Flight Lieutenant Pervez Mehdi Qureshi after his ejection in Indian captivity 1971. Photograph courtesy of Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail.

Captain HS Panag (later Lieutenant General) who was adjutant of 4 Sikh Regiment in East Pakistan saw a pilot ejecting from the plane and raced his jeep to the scene. Mehdi had landed in area of 4 Sikh and some Sikh soldiers had been there and beat Mehdi with rifle buts. Panag secured him and offered him a cup of tea. Panag was very impressed that despite being just shot down from the sky and landing among Sikhs who beat him, Mehdi’s demeanor was dignified and confident. Panag was impressed by his bravery. Mehdi’s seat is now a souvenir at 4 Sikh mess. After repatriation, Mehdi steadily rose to higher ranks and ended his career as Pakistan Air Force Chief. When Mehdi became air chief in 1997, he received numerous congratulatory calls and letters but one from Donald Lazarus in India was unique. Lazarus was the Indian pilot who had shot Mehdi’s plane in 1971. During Kargil war in 1999, PQ Mehdi was Pakistan air force chief. Army brass kept air force in the dark and didn’t involve it in planning stage. Mehdi had heated arguments with then army chief General Pervez Musharraf and relations between air force and army brass were severely strained. After the October 1999 coup, on Mehdi’s retirement, Musharraf now in charge took his revenge and five air marshals were superseded to appoint junior most air marshal as air force chief. PAF officers jokingly call their own brass as ‘Kargil Martyrs’. Khalil had passed elite Central Superior Service (CSS) examination. After repatriation, he left PAF and joined civil services (Customs). Later, he migrated to United States.

Ironically, commander of Indian No 22 Squadron Wing Commander Brijpal Singh Sikand was POW in Pakistan in 1965 war when his Gnat was forced landed at Pasrur by a Pakistani F-104. He was son-in-law of Indian Foreign Minister Sardar Swaran Singh and later rose to the rank of Air Marshal.

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Squadron Leader B. S. Sikand in Pakistani captivity 1965. Photograph courtesy of Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail.

Another Pakistani pilot Flight Lieutenant Sajjad Noor was also shot down in a dogfight in East Pakistan. However, he was picked up by a PAF helicopter after ejection. Wing Commander SM Ahmad was also shot down near Dacca, but his body was never recovered. It was assumed that he was killed by Mukti Bahini (Bengali freedom fighters) after his ejection.

PAF fought in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) with severe handicap. PAF had only one No 14 Squadron in East Pakistan equipped with fifteen aging F-86s. There was only a single airfield in Dacca called Tejgaon. Kurmitola was secondary airfield ten miles north of Tejgaon and was only for emergency use. Sole long- range radar at Kurmitola and single C-130 plane were withdrawn to West Pakistan before war started. About thirty to forty percent of PAF personnel were Bengalis and in March 1971, after many defections, they were grounded and removed from sensitive positions. Many Bengali personnel defected and provided to Indians all information about deployment, equipment and logistics of PAF. Mobile Observation Units (MOUs) are a critical part of air defense. Mukti Bahini harassed air force personnel of MOUs and killed Flight Lieutenant Shafi forcing pull back of MOUs.

When war was declared on 03 December, 14 Squadron had now only eleven F 86s as four were lost in previous combat air support operations. These eleven F 86s were to operate without radar coverage against eleven squadrons of Eastern Air Command (EAC) of Indian air force. Against heavy odds, 14 Squadron held as long as it could. The game was over when IAF finally made sole Tejgaon airfield non-operational on 06 December. Message was received to destroy all remaining F-86s. First batch of pilots took Otter twin engine plane and escaped to Burma followed by the second batch few days later in an old Beaver used to spray crops. Indian air force now completely controlled the air space of eastern theatre of war. On 16 December 1971, eastern garrison surrendered with emergence of newly independent Bangladesh.

Acknowledgements: Author thanks Brigadier ® Behram Panthaki (Gorkha Rifles) and Lieutenant General ® H.S. Panag (4 Sikh Regiment) of Indian army and Air Commodore ® Kaisar Tufail and Wing Commander ® Hafiz Salman of Pakistan Air Force for providing valuable details.

Notes:

Brigadier Behram M. Panthaki and Zenobia Panthaki. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: The Man and His Times (Delhi: Niyogi Books, 2015

Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail. In the Ring and on its Feet – PAF in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. (Lahore: Ferozsons Pvt Ltd.), 2017

Air Commodore S. Sajjad Haider. Flight of The Falcon: Story of a Fighter Pilot (Lahore: Vanguard Books), 2009

Hamid Hussain

coeusconsultant@optonline.net

Defence Journal, January 2019.

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