Monthly Archives: September 2013

Fly, My Girls, Fly.

By Pervez Akhtar Khan

This is a slightly modified version of on article that I wrote for the Dawn; Published on May 28th,2006.

This ; also in response to some cynics in the Pakistani Media, who after seeing the picture of Pakistan Air Force’s first operational Woman pilot think that it is just propaganda. Far from it, it has taken the PAF almost two decades to reach this hallmark.

Sitting in front of my laptop, I was struggling to design the ad for the recruitment of candidates to the College of Flying Training at PAF Academy Risalpur. The children were in their rooms and I could hear the unending fighting. The situation seemed under control so I thought best to stay out of the fray. The air-conditioners at the PAF Camp Badaber are particularly noisy. Their whirring had drowned out the approaching footsteps of my little daughter, Hadia. I suddenly noticed her standing behind me and staring at the computer screen. There was a forlorn and pathetic look on her face. Thinking that her hyperactive brother had once again overpowered her, I put my arms reassuringly around her and asked if Zulu (her brother) had something to do with her misery. She shook her head, looked at me and then pointed to three words on the computer screen: “Male Citizens Only” under the title of eligibility criteria for pilot candidates. With a challenging look on her face, she asked me, “Why Can’t I fly?”. The emphasis was on “I”. What a loaded question!! My girl is a fighter.

In my active flying days, I used to leave home in the dark so there was never time to see my children in the morning. But I always found Hadia waiting for me on return. As soon as she saw me, she would start running towards me; arms flailing, her ponytails bouncing, gaining speed all the time. Two to three steps short of me she would take off with full confidence in her Papa’s ability to catch her in mid air. She would cling to me, her arms tightly clasped around my neck. Her face nestled in the crook of my neck. She would exhale like you do when reach the top of a staircase. I would feel her little heart pounding away. This tight embrace would last for 10 to 15 seconds. Secretly I enjoyed this rendezvous, but sometime I used to ask Naveed (my wife) if Hadia felt insecure because of my profession. Naveed assured me that she never talked of the perils of flying profession in front of the children.

Now, this little girl was demanding of her father and the director of recruitment, PAF “Why Can’t I fly”. I defended PAF’s policy but she refused to budge from her position. To bring back the smile on her face, I made a promise to her that by the time she was grown up, Pakistani girls will fly for the PAF. Her eyes brightened up as she ran away to make the happy announcement to Zulu.
Today women officers fly in the blue skies over Pakistan, a feat that a few years ago many may have thought impossible to achieve

Their squabbling receded but an intense feeling of despair overpowered me. Will I be able to honour the promise I made to my girl? Three words, “Male Citizens Only”, kept mocking me. I felt guilty about the collective injustice we had been heaping on our loved ones. It was akin to clipping the wings of a little sparrow. I was shocked. I knew that my darling will never make it to the PAF because of her asthma but there were millions of Hadias across this country that could. I promised all those faceless girls that one day they would get their opportunity to go up in the air in a PAF jet.

Next day, I floated the idea of induction of women into the PAF. Some scoffed, others thought it was high time and a few were over-enthusiastic. It was decided to make a pitch to the Air Staff; We had better be prepared for the showdown.

It might surprise some readers that despite the rigid hierarchical command structure, the Air Staff officers are pretty relaxed while discussing new ideas. If a junior wishes to make a fool of himself, they give him the required slack. They grill him but never discourage him from speaking up. I guess this is a habit from their flying days; You don’t pull rank in the air. Many uninitiated to the Air Force life are quite taken aback by this permissiveness. They call it a breach of discipline; we call it two-way communication.

Time slot for the presentation to the Air Board was half-an-hour. The Board comprises, besides the Chief of Air Staff, almost all the Air Marshals and other ranking officers of the PAF. A lot of stars , a lot of operational and combat experience; graduates scholars from international institutions like the RCDS etc. One does not dare waste their time. I knew that despite the look alike in uniforms, they were all individuals with all sorts of politico-social views. I had to win them over but not by emotional blackmail. It had to be well reasoned with all the pros and cons considered. All social, operational and constitutional issues laid threadbare. It had to be a 100% professional approach.
I heaved a sigh and started my presentation. A couple of minutes had passed when an inner staffer of the CAS said something to him. I stopped in my tracks. The CAS asked me to kindly wait as the Secretary Defence was on line in his office. Kindly wait!! ‘He is going soft’ I thought. I was looking at the clock ticking away at the speed of light. Only minutes to undo so much apathy; to fight a macho tradition ; to give a break to women in a domain considered “Male Only”.
He breezed back into the room and asked me to go on. I spoke fast enough but the damned clock kept ticking away even faster. Noticing my unease he said, “Akhtar, I am all ears. Don’t rush your presentation as I have all the time for you”. There was a lump in my throat as I realized that the Chief was on the girls’ side, perhaps his own daughter had harangued him. The first and the last question he asked me was, ‘Are we ready for the induction of women officers in the PAF?’ to which I replied “Sir, you tell me a date by which we will be ready”. Normally a retort like that in any other circumstances would have got a Wing Commander thrown out of the Air Board room for being cheeky but instead he grinned and told me to carry on. I need to explain this dialogue a little further. I was throwing a challenge to the Air Board to break loose from the obscurantist thinking prevalent in the general society after the disastrous era of Gen Zia ul Haq. The CAS knew that the entire responsibility for making a change rested on his shoulders. It was big and a difficult decision. No one in Pakistan was going to get up one morning and declare ‘OK boys, now we are ready for women in the Armed Services’. The crux of leadership IS to take responsibility and lead. PAF had to take the lead as this essential trait was instilled in it by its leaders and makers like Nur Khan and Asghar Khan. It is in their DNA. 

The presentation lasted for, God knows, how many hours. I stopped looking at the clock. At the end, the Air staff’s decision was to allow the induction of women into all branches of the PAF except G.D. (P). My team was hugely disappointed but not me. The plan was working.

One year later, I rang up the Air Officer commanding of the PAF Academy to find out how the first batch of girls was doing. His answer was, “They have done as well as their male counterparts, if not better.”
Gotchaaa! I smiled inwardly. Now I was sure that very soon girls would fly in the PAF. I had honoured the promise I had made to my darling daughter, to all the daughters of Pakistan. Today women officers and aviation cadets fly in the blue skies of Pakistan. The PAF’s leadership and its officer corps have proved that if a thing needs to be done it can be done. Well done PAF.

To all the women officers of the PAF:

You are indeed very brave to break the shackles of outdated traditions; to hell with the critics. Just shrug your shoulders, chin up and keep marching. You have earned your commissions. It is not a question of a girl’s ability to fly; it is a matter of free will and the options to exercise it. Fly, my girls, fly. Soar ever higher. May God be with you — Always


“The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so that I could afford to hunt and fish”.  Sam Snead.  

Part 1

Shikar in Chashma barrage: Mid Eighties

It had become an annual ritual. Every year, us Shikari friends, officers from bureaucracy, businessmen and few of us from the Armed services made it to Chashma every first week of November. All of us would start from Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar on a given day and Rendez Vous at the Wapda rest house.

 Objective:  To plan our next move as to where to set up the camp on the river bank. Strategic intelligence would be gathered from the local Shikaris(Hunters) and from the local authority about the movement of the illusive ducks particularly the Mallards.  The first day in the rest house was consumed by excited discussions and theories about duck movements. Guides would trickle to give their own version of things- In short, an evening of bonhomie, the glow and warmth of friendship.  I always find it difficult to sleep before a Shikar.

Next day we would hire boats and go upstream to find us a suitable sand barge in the middle of the river from where one could walk a short distance to a pond or a designated site on the river. So the second day’s morning would be consumed by this activity. We would set up camp and wait fro the evening movement and if lucky get a few ducks.

This was an inefficient way of doing things –too much prospective “Blind Time” in a boat looking for the perfect place. So that particular year I, lala Asif and his younger brother Arif decided to take off earlier than the rest of the gang to set up camp after a thorough investigation and be ready for the rest of party from day One.

Setting up camp for one full week for a contingent of about 10 Shikaries and a dozen or so helpers is not an easy job. We packed Lala Asif’s  jeep with tents, camp cots, chairs, dry rations and Shikar gear and headed for Chashma through  Kohat, the Shakrdara pass, Kalbagh ,Mianwali and finally  the Chashma rest house.  Lala Asif is a sort of gourmet, Shikar or no Shikar; he wants the table full with exotic food for which we are the guinea pigs. He wants to have fresh salad with each meal. So he picks ups Mooli,Gajjar,Onions, Dhania ,Podina , green oranges(Yes sweet),cabbage and whatever else was available at that time in the market -Choosing them with their roots if possible. Intrigued, I ask him why the roots and with a smile he says “Wait till we reach the river bank”.

On arriving at Chashma around1430 hrs, we quickly organized to load our stuff in a boat and headed North in River Indus toward a spot we had camped the year before. It seemed like a good place but since we had time on our hands we decided to push further up and voila a perfect picture spot on the inside bend of the river. The water was running deep, something that I secretly liked. I knew that ducks or no ducks, this spot was going to produce fish of decent size.

Before we could turn the boat towards the landing spot, I saw a man taking bath from the river water.  I asked my local guide as to who he was, he replied” Sirjee ai Mafroor ai”( Sir, He is a fugitive from the law). Apparently he knew about the guy.  Oblivious to this exchange between me and the guide, the boatman was going full speed and as soon as the boat changed direction towards the bank, the guy ran into the bushes and came out with a Kalashnikov, cocked it and pointed it towards us. O my God, this guy thinks we are police. I ask my guide to shout that we are PEE EF. He shouted ‘ Oye Khyal karien ai PEE EF dey banday hun. Ai Shikoroo hun”( These are PAF guys and are hunters). Now let me explain this PEE EF business.

I had served in PAF Base Mianwali as the Flight Commander and as squadron commander of NO 1  Fighter conversion Unit- a total for four years. In the local lingo PAF was PEE EF. So when my guide shouted PEE EF, the gun totting desperado must have weighed in his options. These guys were not the Police after him but then it could be a ruse so he continued to point his gun towards us. So I told my guide to give him another shout and tell him that “Aye helicaptran walley hun..PEE Ef dai banday hun”( these are the helicopter guys,They are the PAF ).  That must have started a chain of thoughts i.e. If these guys are helicopter wallas so where the hell am I going to hide if I take a “Panga”( Confront) with them.  This seemed to create more doubt in his mind and his resolve seemed to be waning. Our boatman, by this time was idling his engine so practically we were not moving forward due to the river flow.

Now I had to move, if I turn back, this guy might change his mind and fire at us thinking we were bluffing earlier so I asked my boatman to stay a hundred yards or so short and bank the boat.   I calmly got out of the boat and lit a cigarette and started walking towards him unarmed. I was wearing an old flying coverall and a base ball cap-certainly not a  police uniform. I realized that he was barely out of his teens and shivering. I started to talk to him as I walked towards him. “ Bachai, Badooq thalay kar dey ,koi zakhmi ho waisee”( Kid, lower your barrel as someone might get hurt) . After some hesitation he lowered the gun. Relieved, I exhaled but ban…bang…bang  three shots flew over our heads. I looked across the river and saw three more of his comrades in the tall grass. He yelled in his typical Siraikee’ Oye..Bhain…Ch… Aye apnay banday hun. PEE EF dey Shikaroo hun( Oye you SFs ,these are our own guys,hunters from the PAF) .PEE  EF again came to our rescue .

I asked him as to why he was running from the law, “qatul ho giya ai jee mere konlon”was his reply. Now this is a difficult translation. If I translate it as “I have killed someone”,it would be wrong .  What he actually meant was that he did kill but never intended to do so.

A young man, who got into a gunfight over a minor issue with his friends and one of them got killed- now a fugitive. I told him we were going to stay for a few days, would he mind if we camped close to him. Now he warmed up saying “stay as long as you want and I will be your guard and nobody dare disturb you”. From enemy to friend, the poor fellow must have been very lonely in those boondocks.

Assured, I walked back to my party to tell me that we were safe and started  to unload our boat. He quickly changed and came over to help. Lala Asif would look at him suspiciously but managed to hide his disdain but kept reinforcing the impression of the omnipresence of the PEE EF  by his incessant chat.  The desperado, turned into a docile puppy, that done back to the business of setting camp.



 “The only reason I ever played golf in the first place was so that I could afford to hunt and fish”.  Sam Snead.  

Part 2

Shikar in Chashma barrage: Mid Eighties


 The danger over, now Lala Asif came into his old self and form and took over the command. The sleeping tents here, the kitchen tent there, the awning open to the river side bla… bla… bla.  All the while I was looking at the river flowing by  so I quickly pulled out my rods  to set one up with earth worms and at the same time  listening to a long tirade from Lala Asif about the virtue  of patience and clichés about first things first. He is handful.

 I had planned to set up three rods but, harangued by Lala, I quit after setting up only one and reluctantly joined the activity of organizing the camp under the meticulous instructions of Camp Commander Asif Khan. Every once in while I would sneak a peek at the rod tip to see any action but none for about three minutes and then I saw the rod bend and jerk… Fish on. I ran to get hold of the rod that  was about to slip into the river. A small fight and a three KG Mully( Catfish) in the ready net.  I quickly rigged another worm and cast it in the same place before returning to the chores of setting up camp. It took us another hour or so to be operational and in the interludes three more fish of about the same size. One more hour before sunset to explore the surroundings for an evening duck shoot. Lala Asif told the cook to replant all the Moolis amd Gajjars etc into the river bank sand to keep them fresh. It really worked for the entire five days we were there.

With the help and local knowledge of the Desperado, we walked for about 10 minutes from the camp to find a water hole in the middle of the small island. Looked good for three guns and 30 minutes after sunset we were back in the camp with six ducks in our bag.  All the hassle was paying off. It was going to be a perfect Shikar; the only thing was the missing friends.  Back at the camp, the cook was readying the dinner, the aroma of fried fish was appetizing and we were famished as we had skipped lunch. But Lala must go through the pre-dinner ritual of a drink, like the good old Angrez so he opens up his mobile bar to make the appropriate beverage for the occasion-Cheers and chin chin.    On the table was an assortment of salads, chutneys, freshly backed full wheat rotis, roast beef and off course the fried fish. Nothing could be grander than this on a cool star lit night on a river bank. Simply Perfect.

After dinner, over a cup of coffee, it was decided that no duck shooting in the morning- only an exploratory ride in the small boat to locate other spots. Time to go to sleep and as soon as we switched off the small generator the night sky brightened up even further and peace and quite descended on us. We realized how foolish we were in polluting the environment with noise. All night we could hear the rustle of the wings of the migratory ducks, the whistle of the Wigeons, the quacks of the Mallards and the splash of the playful fish. Eventually sleep caught up with us, we slept like logs.

In the morning, as usual, the last to get up was Lala Asif; Arif was already on the bank with an assortment of rods and a few fish on his stringer. The call of nature attended to in the nearby bushes and we were ready for our cuppa tea. That done we got in the boat, but Arif refused to leave his rods; he was having the time of his life hooking into Mullies  So the four of us went round scouting for duck shoot spots for our incoming friends. We located a few good ones and were heading back silently along the river bank in the rush boat when I observed the phenomenon. We had tall reed all along the river bank; a perfect place for predator fish to lurk in. As we were moving forward, every 30 to 40 feet I would see a circle in the water as if a sunbathing fish had just dived.  I theorized that it was the snakehead Murrel (Sole –In local language or the Channa Striata).  Lala straightaway debunked and rejected my theory, reminding me that he is a third generation angler. According to him, the Sole did not live in fast river waters and preferred ponds and slow streams. In fact in praise of Sole as table fish, he would often remind me  of a  Peshawari  proverb ‘machchi siruf Sole ai, tai baqi sub makhol ai”( There is only one fish and that is Sole -the rest is a joke). I always suspected that he himself manufactured this one. Whatever, it is a very good fish to eat, no doubt about it.

 So here I am claiming that were camped right over a goldmine of Sole fish and he rejecting my theory. He sort of threw in a challenge which was readily accepted.  The trick was to find bait fish or frogs to put on my hooks. In about half an hour we were able to catch silvery minnows from the shallow waters. Instead of the normal rod and reel business, I just cut off 25 feet of some 20LB test line, tied one end to the bunched up stems of the reed and the other end to a hook. Baited the six lines and threw them  30 to 40 feet  from each  all along  the river but slightly  downstream and away from the camp.

Now I had read somewhere in the “Field and Stream Magazine” that the Red Indians would employ this tactics with overhanging trees on the river bank to catch the American  catfish. Since I didn’t have  the luxury  of a tree so I used the flexibility of the bunched up reed stems. The only difference was that they would hang the minnow just so that it touched the surface and remain alive. I just threw it in the river hoping that the free floating minnow would attract the Murrel.

After Lunch and a siesta, the time of reckoning had arrived. We checked the first line- nothing, the second line broken and the reads flat on the ground. Excited, we ran for the third line and as we saw the reed going shaking  crazily. Easy rider, pull it in gently and a 3 Kg Sole.   Another line broken but the other three had fish from 4-6 kgs. 4/6 in hand, and what was it that got away, we could only guess.

The good thing about the Mully is that one can string and it can keep alive for days, but the Murrel is not that sturdy nonetheless we strung them individually so that they could move around freely and stay alive for  as long as  was possible.

 Now we were  getting worried, we had only one ice box so what the hell are we going to do with all the ducks and fish once we got down to the real business .we hoped some of our colleagues would be mindful of that.

A little later we saw a Sindhi fisherman pass by us carrying his catch towards the barrage. Lala Asif couldn’t hold himself; he called him in to show us what he had caught that day. He had a few Carps and loads of small fish called the “Sarya”.  While tasty, this fish is full of fine bones so it sells relatively cheap in the market. Asif gave him Rs 200 hundred and he unloaded some 50 of them. He got a good bargain as the ‘Thaikedar ‘(Contractor) would have given him pittance for it. I was a little pissed as to why buy when we were catching our own. To that Asif says, I want to do an experiment. He asks the cook to prepare Atta, like for Rotis, gets the fish cleaned and spiced up and encloses them in the Atta. Lights a big bon fire and throws the whole lot in it. Bemused, I say all you are doing is wasting Atta and some fish that a poor man could have eaten. “Wait till the bonfire simmers down”, he replies.

Just before dinner the bonfires simmers down and he starts fishing in it for the remains of his contraption. He pulls one out, it is burnt black and rock hard. He cracks open one and it opens up like a coconut. The skin of the fish remains sticking to the almost burnt Atta but inside is a sight to hold. White steaming whole fish and despite the open area the aroma fills our nostrils. Tentatively we tuck in and despite the bones, it is juicy soft and flakey. A fish considered lowly, turned into an Hors-d’oeuvre.

We ate some at dinner time, the rest remaining in the still warm pit. We let it be there.  In the middle of the night we hear   a commotion outside out tents. We see a jackal pull out a fish from the pit and runaway. We laugh and go back to sleep.


We ate some at dinner time, the rest remaining in the still warm pit. We let it be there.  In the middle of the night we hear   a commotion outside out tents. We see a jackal pull a fish out from the pit and takeoff. He too had the right to partake from the bounty of the river. We laugh and go back to sleep. It happened the next night too but this time three jackals came visiting. Apparently they had some sort of an internet connection. So we would eat from the ample supply during daytime and the jackals at night, living harmoniously with our distant cousins.

Second night was approaching and yet no sign of our friends from Lahore and Islamabad. That evening a boat arrived to announce that the Lahore party had cancelled the trip due to some unknown reasons and the Islamabad party’s chief was stuck in Tashkent.

Now we had the whole field open, we could unleash and fish & shoot to our hearts content. There, however, was one restriction, we could not take from the river more than we could carry in our ice box.

Quickly, we established a bag limit by promising to train our guns only at male Mallards and retaining  fish above 3Kgs . Catch and release for fish and stopping our itchy fingers from shooting anything in range.

We were relaxed and we enjoyed every shot that we made or every fish that we hooked. For the first time, we would let the ducks sit amongst our decoys and enjoy their playful behaviour. We would laugh aloud when they would rise in panic as we moved or made a noise.

Four nights in the wilderness, close to nature and full of excitement is an ultimate for a hunter. we floated back to Peshawar.  We have done many a Shikars since then but we often relive this experience. It was wonderful.

Water ,Electricity, Pakistan and Sustainability: The Challenge



Military men and the foreign office types will expound on the geographic pivotal position of Pakistan. They will make you believe that Pakistan is the centre of the world in geopolitics and the world can not ignore its role in shaping events that will define the 21st Century. Like the Americans, Pakistanis hold a somewhat illusionary view of their exceptionalism. The citadel of Islam that punches above its weight is often a commentary by Pakistan’s detractor. But ask an Afghan or a Turk and he will say the same thing about his country. Patriotism can sometimes blind men of good faith and intention. Love for patrimony, childhood memories, the narratives held close to one’s heart however false clouds thinking and judgement.  This article, however, is not about historical and perceptual distortions but about the real issues that the Pakistanis face today in their daily lives.

 Lack of clean water supply for residential, agricultural and industrial use, a highly irregular and inadequate electricity supply and the ever growing urban pollution is something that I doubt can be tackled by religious jingoism or wishful thinking. Pakistan will remain short of electricity for at least a decade with adverse consequences on its larger economy. This article does not address the demand side of water and electricity. Suffice to say that we are criminally negligent and wasteful in the use of these two precious resources. A gain of a few percent in efficiency in water and electricity use can make a huge difference. Our irrigation efficiency hovers around 10-15 %.  This article addresses the issue of supply side for both of these commodities. Water that can be stored and electricity that can not be stored once produced.

 Most of the Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and the southern parts of KPK are climatically arid zones.  Take the extensive canal system out and they will become deserts in no time. Despite this apparent disadvantage, Pakistan produces vast quantities of food and fibre. It is a different story as to why a lot of Pakistanis can not afford to feed themselves properly. After Egypt, Pakistan’s agriculture benefits the most from its extensive canal system. Surprisingly Pakistan does have a template for success yet they chose to ignore it at the peril of their existence as a stable state in the 21st century. Terrorism might impede progress for a while but extreme food insecurity will surely kill Pakistan as a stable state. Instead of praying and dreaming for oil and gas gushers and becoming rich like the Sheikhs of the Gulf, they need to plan and focus on their natural advantages.  Pakistan’s geography may not be as unique in the geopolitical or geostrategic sense as some vehemently believe in but it is exceptional by all accounts in its naturally endowed topographical features.

To the North and the North West lies the great Himalayan and Karakorum wall that protects Pakistan from the bitter arctic winds in the winters and directs the Monsoons winds and rains towards Pakistan’s northern areas from the East. To the south, Pakistan has deserts and gentle sloping plains almost perfect for three crops an year – sunshine hours per year. The average flow of water in our riverine system is estimated to be around 143 MAF. The contribution of monsoons to this flow is around 113 MAF. The rest are local rains and snow melt.  Now how can we somehow increase the local contribution of water into this cycle?

Before we tackle this issue, let us take the example of a swimming pool. If you want it to dry out, probably it will take weeks but if you pump that water out and spread it around the lawn and other open areas it will evaporate in hours with some of it percolating down into the soil.  Now think of very big swimming pool, say the size of Tabela, take its water out and take it Cholistan and spread it around. What will happen is that most of it will evaporate and cause additional local rains.  The question is how much?

Currently we are trapping only 13 MAF of water and even that is   diminishing at a fast rate due to silting of the two major dams Tarbela and Mangla. Now imagine trapping all the 143 MAF, in the northern valleys and spreading it through a more efficient system to the vast deserts and plains of Pakistan, the water resources can be increased from 195 MAF to 250 MAF due to the feed back mechanism of locally induced rains.-Hydrological Cycle lesson No 101.  OK, this is an exaggeration because technically or politically it is not feasible.   How about trapping 50 % of all that water?  Is it Possible?   The answer is an emphatic” Yes”.

Now that could be a real advantage of geography. The hydrological cycle can be altered and very few geographical areas in the world as vast as Pakistan lends its self to this type of modification. Pakistan can alter the climate to its advantage. Off course half measures would not do.  Storage and drainage systems will have to be designed at the same time. The altered climate will have to be adapted to. Cropping patterns will have to change. The Indus civilization of Mohenjodaro and Harappa could not adjust to Sarasvati river drying up and hence died.

 All water storages have a useful life and we should be ready not only to build but also break dams if required. If we do not adapt and adopt new technologies, in fifty years from now 200 hundred million of our hungry children will condemn this generation as people who lived selfishly and foolishly.

 Dam building, creates tensions between the upper and lower riparians, nationally and internationally therefore legal and constitutional agreements should ideally precede all technical and financial matters relating to the projects envisioned. Sweeping the environmental issues under the carpet or fudging the figures for short term gains will only cloud the feasibility of the projects. Are we ready to face the reality of altered hydrology and climate change? Can we evolve political acceptance by all stakeholders if risk and opportunity are defined scientifically?

 Everyone knows that the life of a storage dam is limited and therefore over the years it becomes a barrage like the Warsak dam in Pakistan. KBD is currently a big issue between the provinces. Three provinces are opposed to it and the largest province Punjab is its major proponent. Each province has its own reasons for its stance, some are purely rhetorical and parochial and others meriting   thorough investigations.

One of the reasons, the opponents of KBD, state is “what happens to the Peshawar valley in 50-100 years from now?”   Or why should KPK sacrifice this valley to irrigate lands in Cholistan, Thal or Thar. To put it more crudely, why should they sacrifice their lands to make the Sindhis or Punjabis richer?  Or what’s in it for us? These questions need to be answered unequivocally to convert sceptics into supporters if the answer to the rising Kabul  river bed can be found that is technically and or economically feasible and sustainable. The fear of floods is real in the dwellers of Peshawar valley if one is not convinced they just need to take a trip to Nowshera and ask the residents about the last deluge. Proponents of KBD need to answer a simple question like “What happens to the river bed of Kabul River in 50 -100 years if KBD is built?” What steps need to be taken before embarking on laying the first brick of KBD? How much will the check dams like Munda, Akhori help in delaying the silt formation in KBD? What can be done to keep the river flow at fast speed going through the Attock gorge during peak flood season? These are the questions that can not be brushed under the carpet for near term political expediency. They have to be addressed squarely. You increase storage capacity to 40 – 50 MAF ,you solve two problems:  Reduce extreme food insecurity and balance the energy mix. GOP has correctly identified and prioritized Basha dam, Kudos to them but…



Next, without a regular 24/7electricity how can we even think of feeding our burgeoning population let alone join the ranks of developed information age economies. Now consider this for a while If even half of the Pakistan hydro power potential (42000 MWs) is exploited we should be able to use these Hydro plants for base or intermediary loads against the thermal plants. Water storage means life for Pakistan without it we are dead. We have no other choice but to develop storage dams.

 The organisations responsible for the development of Water and Power know this and have even planned for it yet there seems to be no traction towards the resolution. Check out their websites and you would think electricity would be flowing out of our ears by 2016.  It would not happen. We have even co-opted the private sector but were and are in a hurry without considering the long term implications. A cursory glance at the Power policy excites the investors from abroad and yet only measly mega wattage has been added since the inception of PPIB. Why?

First the GOP does what it should not be doing. I.e. sponsoring and giving life line to businesses which should be left best to the private sector. This has sapped and squeezed its budgets over the years. The subsidies given to PIA, Steel mills are prime examples of politically motivated actions. If water and power is so critical to our survival as a nation than this sector should be the top priority. The business of Government of Pakistan should    be the business of water and Power, the rest they should leave to the private sector.

 One hears of talk of putting competent people on top of these loss making enterprises and that step alone would stop the bleeding. One has heard this music before and it will not work simply because it is a failed paradigm and one would advise the GOP to sell these enterprises for RS 1 and get on with by building life saving projects like storage dams even if the construction time goes beyond their current mandate of 5 years. The support for these projects must come from all parties.

Getting back to the electricity 24/7 and generally energy issues, there is world wide debate on sustainability of the current consumption patterns. Al Gore would have you believe that humanity has gone beyond the power curve with his peak oil pitch. There are two reasons why we should move away from fossil fuels no matter how attractive they may sound in near term. One, these are diminishing resources and will eventually diminish to a level where it becomes uneconomical to continue with them. The other is the external cost that is not accounted for during most calculations. The cost of cleaning up the environment far outweighs any short time benefits. Sustainability is a big issue that needs a sharp focus not only nationally but also internationally. The whole of humanity’s future is at risk and Pakistanis can not abdicate from it role in ensuring a sustainable future of the planet. This is one issue missing from the current debate in the Pakistan. We have so far give only lip service to generating energy from renewable resources and even have formulated decent policies yet not a single MW is produced though Photovoltaic. The Wind corridor of Southern Sind has just begun to be exploited. Hopefully the current GOP will extend full support to this vital renewable resource.

Besides the Indus river system, there is another advantage of the geography of Pakistan i.e its annual sunshine hours (Solar Irradiation). It is very good in Sindh and the Punjab and exceptional in Baluchistan.  If only 2 % of the land is converted into Solar farms that should take care of all the demands in peak summer periods.


Hydroelectric generation is a special case. Hydro generation is very low cost and is firm, dispatchable capacity to the degree there is water in the dam’s reservoir. However, operators have to consider not only how much water is currently available, but how much may be available in upcoming months, and competing demands for the water, such as drinking water supply and irrigation. These factors make hydro dispatch decisions very complex. In general hydro is used to meet load during high demand hours, when it can displace expensive peaking and cycling units, but if hydro is abundant it can also displace baseload coal plants. Coal plants are being retired anyways by sensible nations.

Sustainability and not quick fixes should be the core and spirit of new policies. We have gone down that road before and are suffering the consequences.  Ideally speaking, as Pakistan plans an expansion they should be heading towards distributed power generation and dispatch. As it is, the national Grid is in a mess because of various governance and technical issues.  New policies should motivate and incentivize home owners and industrial units to become net producers of electricity rather than consumers.  County’s like Canada, despite sitting on vast reserves of hydrocarbons has given incentives through Feed -in -Tariffs (FIT) to home owners to install Photovoltaic systems and wind generators. The best and most efficient use of solar energy is for heating water (Killing germs at the same time to make it drinkable) and pumping water for residential and agriculture use. GOP should not try to play god and promise something which they have consistently failed to deliver so far. At the same time Pakistanis should not treat Bijli and Pani as Sadqa -e –Jaria ,it is not. They have to pay their bills. Read More

We, cadets of PAF Public School Lower Topa, Murree Hills, were minding our daily routines when we heard the distinct high frequency whine of a jet engine and the fluttering of helicopter rotors. It was something unusual, in fact, the first time we saw a helicopter make a circuit over Lower Topa. All hell broke loose as we realized that it was going to make a landing in our games field. We started running downhill towards the field and by the time we reached the field,  it had landed and its rotors were winding down. I remember, Mr. Karim, our  Urdu teacher and  the acting principal  being cajoled by the other teachers to go down the last 50 or so steps to the games field to receive the dignitary.  However the dignitary, a  thin, wiry and a smart man in civvies, with an air of authority ,sprang out of the helicopter along with a uniformed  Group Captain, and started  up the steep steps of the games field to meet midway with our  rolly polly Mr Karim. Evryone recognized him. No protocol needed for man with a mission, the Commander –in- Chief of Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Nur Khan. We all, including the teachers, were surprised and over awed by the presence of Nur Khan, the legendary leader of PAF amongst us.  By then, a long and a haphazard lot of cadets, staff, and teachers had lined the route all the way to the top of the hill. All we could think of doing was come to attention and respectfully say “Assalam mu alaikum” as he passed by us.

I quickly followed behind the entourage of four, trying to figure out as to what the hell was happening, when the Group Captain asked me as to which house I was in. “Babar House Sir”, I replied. So you must know Naseer,my nephew. I said “Yes, he is my friend and my house mate”. We chatted a while   about games, extracurricular activities etc. All this while, we were climbing the road to the top. I realized that he was breathless but Nur Khan seemed impervious to the altitude As he scurried to catch up with his boss, the last sentence he spoke was” You speak much better English than Naseer.” Now this was the first time in my life that someone had complimented me on my spoken English. I was frankly surprised as Naseer was always ahead of me in academics. However I never ever mentioned his uncle’s impression about him to him.  He was my friend.  

Now dear readers, PAF Lower Topa is situated at 6700+ feet and anyone who is not used to a daily rigorous exercise in the plains would definitely feel the pressure on his lungs at this height. The Air Chief was definitely fitter than his PSO.

 However, we were still puzzled by his presence in Lower Topa. House Captains, House Master and the staff slowly regained the composure and discipline of a semi –Military school and we were told to mind our businesses and restrict our movements, curiosity, and  whispering  etc. We were restricted to the dorms and common rooms. A few hours later, we could hear the helicopter take-off and head back to the plains of Rawalpindi.

We found out that C-In-C and the President Pakistan Hockey Federation had come to survey and inspect first hand if Lower Topa was a fit place to be the training camp for Pakistan hockey team that was to leave for Mexico Olympics. Mexico city-7350 and Lower Topa 6750 Feet (above sea level).

 Mission-To beat the arch rival India and win back “The Olympic Gold Medal” from them which we had lost to them in 1964. Ah, the glory of sports.

A week or so the selected Olympians arrived and were billeted in Tipu Sultan house. They took over the games field and we were asked to stay away and out of their noses. But how could that be. Our sporting legends like  Hatif, Tariq Aziz, Tariq Niazi, Asad Malik, Tanvir Dar, Khalid Mahmood , to name a few, were amongst us and yes the balding Goal Keeper, Zakir Hussain, the Joker of the team , kept the camp animated. Rashid Junior,the future legend in making was then the kidoo of the team.

Sometimes we would go down to the field to watch them practice. Hatif was a terror commander, when angry or frustrated his booming voice could be heard miles away. In their green track suits they would make long runs 10s of miles a day around the hills, followed by rigorous practice on the field. No fancy gyms. Pure down to earth hard work, sweat and a spirit to win the Gold back.

I remember one evening an impromptu gathering of the Pakistani Olympic team and we Topian cadets. They were standing as a group in front of Tipu Sultan House and us cadets on the road just below the house. We got into a competition with them singing national songs which were popularized after the 65 Indo-Pak war and Punjabi Tappas. They would sing one and we would sing back another like a ‘Bait Bazzi”. I still remember one ’O Badal aa gaye wich khareyan de baghan’; Mesmerizing ,the way ZAKA and Tariq Niazi led that one.

One day, our school hockey team challenged them for a match. Mr Zafar,our drawing teacher was in his own time a known hockey player, became part of our team. They drubbed us thoroughly but one of our boys, the center forward, was able to sneak a goal against the mighty Pakistani team and the whole college went into ruptures. Zakir shook his hand and said that he could become an Olympian one day. I wondered then as to how could a school boy break through the defenses of Tariq Aziz and co. Now I know better. It was to encourage a talented young boy and to motivate each one of us to reach for the sky.

Pakistan went on to win the GOLD at Mexico. Anyone interested to read the full account should read Gul Hameed’s article at;

Pakistan hockey has lost glory and the oomph. Why, like everything else, leadership is gone. A look at Akhtar Rasool’s ever expanding girth tells the story. Lamentably, it is no more about the glory of sports, the country and honour. 


Later,Fl Lt Naseer , God Bless him ,had a mid air collision  over  PAF  Smungli,Quetta. He crashed right in front of his wife as she watched a  four shipper of FT 5s take – off from the hillside Officers ‘Mess overlooking the airfield.  Life is so unpredictable.

My dream home in Pakistan.

Pakistan is, they say, the most urban country in the region .  There are many reasons for living in a well designed city and I would like to enumerate a few:

  1. Central provision of services like water, electricity, gas, security and public transport.
  2. Centralized discharge and treatment of black and grey water and trash from households.
  3. Convenient access to offices, schools, hospitals, markets, restaurants, gyms and entertainment etc.
  4. Public spaces and parks where one can go and enjoy nature.

So which city ( Not enclaves) in Pakistan fits or meets all of the above criteria? None as far as I am concerned. You will scream “How dare you ignore Islamabad the beautiful, the apple of our eyes”. So let me start with Islamabad as I have some experience of living there 2003 to 2007.

I moved to F-10 after retirement from the PAF as I had no other choice because as my elder two children were in the last years of their “ A” levels in a school in Sector H-8 and their younger sister in another school nearby. In the absence of a safe and efficient public transport system, I had to buy an old car and hire a driver to take them to the school. Given the prima donnish nature of drivers, sometimes my wife used to commute to Polyclinic and more often would pick and drop the cadette at the same time. During school time, this trip would entail at least an hour.

The rent of the house, the salary of the driver and the batman consumed my entire pension, my wife’s salary. Luckily and suddenly , our life time investment in real estate (plots) became very helpful in fulfilling our desire to send our children to the best schools.

Now tell me how is that for living in supposedly the most organised of the cities of Pakistan? Small children should be able to walk safely to a school and not be driven around the whole city. The city planners in their unfathomable wisdom gave amenity plots for schools only to government schools that have been rejected by a large population due to its poor performance and apathy. Every now and then, the CDA threatens to close down small schools that have been developed in the residential areas. What kind of a residential area is it if it does not have school for small children? That logic beats me.

Coming to social side, living in a city one is expected to make new friends and expand one’s social circle. Well during that time I met only one neighbour, that too by chance, in a funeral. There is no club, no community centre where the residents can get together for socializing. On the street that I lived in, I only saw Chowkidars, servants and vendors. The actual residents of the homes were somehow invisible.  Almost every house had its own security arrangements.

Yes, markets are plenty but those have to be motored to. Without a car one is dead in Islamabad. This city is a poor copy of an American suburb. We had a chance to build a new city on a blank sheet of paper and we blew it.

Now if you live in a house which can range from half a million dollars to a million dollars you expect to get services 24/7.  No… no  you have to store you water under ground ,store electricity in your UPses or run generators ,keep your own security guards and shortly will be  digging your own sewage pits as the old infrastructure is falling apart. The natural drainage which the topography of Islamabad offers has been compromised by perniciousness and apathy of the civic body CDA.

Today it takes anywhere between 35 to 40 minutes to commute from East to West when the traffic is light, this, for a city which is just 50 years old. The MTS has not been even planned for let alone built. Now I believe, the CDA is trying to go vertical. All I can say to them “Beware”, you are sitting on a geological fault line but more importantly a civilisational fault line. Check out the way our people live in apartments and flats. Have you noticed the dirt, the grime and “Pan Peek” in the stair cases?

A city designed by uncaring and straitjacketed bureaucrats  who can not empathize with  poor people. However the  Islooites can not do without them. After all who will clean, cook, drive and guard the Begums and their Sahibs. So the dwellers of Islamabad have found a solution, a pigeon hole called servant quarter is often built on the top story or the shanty towns mushrooming in the green belts. Does remind you of Paris before the revolution  but then they ransacked the Bastille, when told to eat cake by their beloved queen.

Islamabad, the newest city of Pakistan glaringly reflects the contrasts and paradoxes of Pakistani society.  Islamabad is Urban but not yet urbane, calling themselves city folks yet behaving like villagers, living in close proximity of each other yet socially far apart. The only place you will see the natural Pakistani bonhomie and warmth is Karachi Company and not the so called upscale posh markets.

Oh Yes, it is also the” Waddhi Rajdhani”, the representative of the poor people of Pakistan have to be escorted around ,comforted by all sorts of services during their laborious stay in Islamabad. They have to go to assembly and Senate sessions, official engagements, reluctantly attend to soirees in foreign embassies to discuss serious business over a glass of non- alcoholic drink ( after all it is the capital of the Islamic Republic) with their interlocutors. I wonder why the price of bootlegged alcoholic drinks shoots up during NA sessions. I seriously wonder.

Not satisfied with the cramped living in a 2000 Sqr yd home, the Islooites have resorted to another scheme, the so called “Farm House”. Now that is a capital idea if the Farm actually produced vegetable and chickens etc for the Islooites as envisioned by the original master planner. Not to be. Everyone and anyone who has the money wants to build his own Château de Versailles with liveried servants scurrying around to serve their masters.

On top of all that it is a soulless city, no one owns it. Come Eid it is like a ghost town devoid of its residents. Nobody loves Islamabad.- Poor Islamabad.

Romancing a Pashtun girl from the air.

One of my responsibilities as Flight Commander of the Primary Flying training squadron was to keep an eye on the instructors and their students. I would scan the after mission reports to check the progress of our student pilots. Mission Scheduling, of Ab initio pilots, is an art as well as a science. Our scheduling Officer (SO) was particularly good;   he never missed a milestone and kept the training programme flowing smoothly. Most of the instructors were young fighter pilots doing their tour as instructors in PAF Academy Risalpur. Most of us were also bachelors. Besides matching a student to his own instructor, he was responsible to allot the tail number of the aircraft and a training area to each instructor.

 The Mushshak( the primary flying training aircraft of PAF) training area is generally north of Risalpur airfield and they generally stay below 7000 ft and above that the jet trainer T-37 occupy the airspace. I noticed that one particular area close to Takht-Bhai   had lately become much contested amongst the young instructors. The SO would grant the area with a knowing smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. I thought that since this area had some good wide and length fields to practice their simulated flamed out patterns (SFOs), therefore the high demand.

One day, I overheard a banter between two of my youngest instructors “ yar aaj us ne kiss rang ki chadar pahni thee?” “ Pink rang ki” was the reply.  A little bit intrigued, I walked into the crew room to inquire about this mysterious “chadar”. “Kuch nahi sir Waisey hee gup mar rahe hain.” Protocol demanded that I do not insist or pursue my curiosity and left it at that.

At the Academy, there is also a programme called SCT (staff Continuation training) for the Instructors. In this programme instructors fly amongst themselves and try to improve their skills as well as prepare for the up gradation of their Category. This is done when flying effort is available or the weather is particularly bad for instructional flying. So I was scheduled to fly In Takh -Bhai area with one of the young instructors mentioned earlier.

We headed out towards the area, gained some height to practice aerobatics etc. One series by him and another one by me and debriefed each other on the mistakes committed. You can never meet the exact requirements of the book. Once done, I surprised the youngster by cutting the throttle and asked him to make an SFO. Like a parrot he rattled out the checks, quickly picked up a suitable field and put the aircraft in a glide towards it.  Now the aim of this exercise  is to lose height so as to arrive at beginning of the intended landing zone with just enough energy to rotate the aircraft and make a controlled landing and stay within the bounds of the selected field i.e. without under or over-shooting. It is a disaster if you miscalculate. There are so many variables that one can easily go wrong.  The young one was doing well but at the last moment a gust of wind upset his plan. So at about 300 AGL( Above ground Level), I ramped up the throttle to go round and asked him to  climb and give it another try. As we broke the glide to climb out, I noticed a flash of pink on a rooftop below my wing as we crossed a hamlet. A pink shawl… A pink chadar!!!! Eureka…..

Another SFO and this time a much better approach, so at around 300 feet I took over the control from him and instead of climbing up maintained my height and made a steep turn over the hamlet.  Glory be… a sight to behold…., I see a pink chadar dancing on the roof of one of the houses, a typical Pashtun woman folk dance with arms flailing and circling around.  A little lower and I could discern that it was a young woman not because of her features but by the way she danced. She was putting up a vigorous show for her Romeo, flying and dangling overhead. She was dancing for her prince charming on a flying horse. How romantic and how dangerous: dangerous for the girl and dangerous for my pilots. Little did she know that it was not just one Flying Prince Charming but almost half a squadron strength that was romancing her from the air.

 I looked closely at the house and I was relieved to see that the roof had a boundary wall high enough so that she couldn’t bee seen from the ground, Sensible, but still a danger to my pilots. While these thoughts were racing in my mind when I heard my co-pilot say “  Sir,dhaik lee hamari girl friend”. I laughed out and said “ Achaa nachti hai”, made a final fly past before heading back .

Those of you who know the tradition of the area would know that a woman can be  killed even if suspected of liaison with a stranger. But if a Pashtun feels that his Pardah has been violated intentionally, he can go to any extreme. The Yousufzai Pashtuns cried in anguish when their Pardah was violated by the Mughals. They rose en mass against Akbar, the great. Beerbal, the famous courtier of Akbar along with his 8000 soldiers were killed by the Yousufzais for this violation. One of the greatest losses that Akbar, the great Mughal suffered.

In this case, one could not predict what a brother, a cousin or an uncle would do if he found out that one of their girls was dancing on the roof for these winged paramours. Fire a burst of Kalashnikov at the girl or the aircraft or both. One never knew.

The joke was out. Immediately, a briefing was held in the crew room. I explained that this may seem a harmless sideshow for most of them but it could turn deadly. I had to impose a restriction of 500 feet AGL in that area and no steep turns over that particular hamlet. 

First SOLO Check Mission: T6 G Harvard: PAF Academy Risalpur, 1972.

The first solo mission in any pilot’s life is one event that he never forgets. Ask any pilot. PAF Academy Risalpur ‘s primary and secondary training aircraft in the  late 50s to the mid 70s was a World War 11 fighter trainer called the T6G. We called it Harvard and another name for it was the Texan. They used to say if did your training on a Harvard then other fighter aircraft were a piece of cake.

It seems the designer of the aircraft had only one thing in mind i.e. to keep the student and his instructor on their toes all the time. It was supposed to be a high performance trainer not meant for joy rides. It was not, supposed to take a student out and give him a good time. It was also known as ‘Pagri Uchchal” in the local parlance, as I shall explain later. The student had to get better every day otherwise suspension from flying. We had to learn and feel every nuance of this mean and unpredictable machine.

And for our flying instructors- all I can say about them is “They were the Olympian gods.”  Most were veterans of 1971 war. They had been sent back to the Arena (Academy) to train the future gladiators, the Air Warriors of Pakistan. If the instructors were the Olympians than the Officer Commanding Wing was Zeus-the King of sky and fate.


The Harvard was terrible in ground handling. When you sat in its cavernous cockpit, you could not see in front because of a huge 600 horse power radial engine and its cowling blocking one’s frontal view. The poor instructor sat even lower at the back, almost blind when on ground. When you pressed the starter, the engine   would make a whine followed by Chug,Chug,chug…puff…puf..bangbang and burrrrrrrrrrrrrr  for a while before   spurting into life  bellowing black and white smoke over the cockpit.  During this bone shaking start, all the checks and procedures that one had so laboriously learnt by heart in the cool of one’s room simply vanished into thin air. The mind went blank.

When you wanted to taxi out towards the runway, you had to move forward like a sidewinder snake. Right 30 degrees to look at the taxiway centre line, left 60 degrees to again clear the area in front, making Ss on the track. 10 -12 aircraft would be zigzagging along the No1 Taxi track to Runway 27. It was just the beginning of a grand spectacle, albeit a very well choreographed and a disciplined one.  If you were not too careful you could chop and eat into the tail of the aircraft in front, alternately someone in the rear could do the same to you. Unlike most aircraft one sees today, the Harvard had a tail wheel to steer the aircraft on ground.

 Before the beginning of the runway there was a huge platform called the ORP (Operational Readiness Platform) where all the T6s would park side to side unlike the airliners waiting their turns to take-off from civilian airports. After performing their checks, they would be permitted to enter the runway one –by- one because of this frontal visibility problem. Generally ,a new student was asked to line up on the centre line, but what do you do if you can not see the centre line .Estimate and when you do not see the line you are on it, was the brief. Seeing is believing, was not true for once.

My first instructor was Fl Lt Nafees. A. Najmi. With full confidence I can vouch that if anyone ever wants to meet “An officer and a Gentleman”, he is the one. His dress, his bearing, his polished mannerism, his professionalism, his briefings, command over his language was a source of great inspiration to all of us. After seeing so many Hollywood films we have associated a certain image of a fighter pilot- a gung-ho, swashbuckling persona.  He was none of it. He was more like a “Zen Warrior”. He was truly “nafees”

After a rather exasperating mission of circuits and landings, he was debriefing me on my take-offs. He, very seriously suggested, that the Air Force should change the design of the runway for me to be able to take –off without difficulty. So when he saw my puzzled expression, he explained that since I liked to take off in a zig-zag manner therefore the runway should also be constructed in a zig –zag manner. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

Most Ab-intio students have a problem of really understanding the nature and mechanics of the final turn and lining up with the runway.  He explained the relationship between speed, glide slope, power and effect of wind in so many different ways that I never had a problem during the landing phase. This was a major problem for most students. I thought nothing of it. Oh, the impetuousness of youth.

Besides the students, there was a sort of competition amongst the instructors as to whose student would go “SOLO” first. By the 12th or the 13th mission, I thought I was ready to go. But I dared not express my view. In the 15th mission every time I made a touch down (A Three Pointer), I would hear my instructor applaud me by saying words like “good landing” and beautiful landing”. I was over the moon hearing all this praise.

Mentally I was now ready to fly “Solo”. All students have to fly a check mission with a senior designated instructor to be cleared for the “First Solo Flight”. I was scheduled with the Officer Commanding of the Harvard Wing, Wing Commander Rais. A. Rafi. I was a bit uneasy to be flying a check mission with Zeus himself, a decorated veteran of two wars. Besides other attributes, he was very distinguished in his looks- he was blond.

 On the day of reckoning, he asked me what all I was going to show to him. I rattled out, a well rehearsed mission profile to which he agreed. The first part of the mission went like a breeze. I came into the circuit to make a few TOUCH & GOs. On my first landing: Good on glide slope..Crossing the threshold… flare out.. perfect…level-off..Sink..Check..Sink..Check. I held my breath. A squeak and a three pointer TOUCHDOWN right on the centerline. And before I could exhale in relief or start moving my throttle up for the go-round, all hell broke loose. To this day, I have not been able to figure out as to what happened at that instance. The aircraft swerved viciously to the right leaving the runway at angle of 30 – 35 degrees. Oh shit…Instinctively, I kicked in the left rudder to stop it from skidding further till it started running straight but still at the same angle to the runway. We were now running on what we called the “Kutcha” strip. It is the surface all along the runway,   reasonably leveled but an unpaved one. The propeller was blowing dust and dried grass all over the aircraft but I could see the end of Kutcha and a fence coming up.  Surly we will either end up in a ditch nosed over or go cart wheeling into the sugar cane fields further ahead. Even the opening up the full throttle and unleashing the power of the 600 Horse Power of the Pratt & Whitney engine was not going to get me out of this jam. I was late, it was too late. I put the stick fully back into my stomach, slid my feet up the rudder paddles and sat on the brakes with all my might. The aircraft shuddered and bounced a bit but eventually came to stop slightly short of the edge of the Kutcha.

 Prrrrrrrrrrrr,,, the engine idling as if nothing had happened. From the rear cockpit, silence on the intercom and after a pause I heard a growl from Zeus “Hold the brakes tight, I am getting out of the aircraft”. A few shakes and I see him on the left side parachute et all, visor down peering below the aircraft, inspecting the aircraft for damage by going around it. I   fully expected him to give me a cut throat signal to switch off the engine, but no, he climbed back. “Let’s go back to the tarmac” was the only instruction I got from him. With a shaking and wavering voice I asked the mobile control to cross the runway and headed back. This was a ride of about 5 to 6 minutes and during that total silence on the intercom, no incrimination, no lecturing. It was the longest 5 minutes of my young life.


My dreams were shattered. From the age of twelve I had been hoping of becoming a pilot in the PAF. Three of my distant cousins had tried earlier. One medically unfit, the other suspended from T-37s and the last couldn’t stop vomiting for the 10 hrs or so that he had flown. Now I must follow suit. It was the end of a six year long journey from the PAF feeder schools to PAF Academy.  From 1965 to 1972 …Gone… puff… buried in the dust of the Kutcha strip. All of my comrades were to be left behind in the PAF, to go for the moon but I, Flight Cadet Pervez Akhtar Khan, was to become only a footnote in the records of PAF as “Suspended from flying”.

 I could visualize the disappointment of my family, especially my mother’s face when I would tell her that I had been suspended, that I couldn’t make it. In those days it wasn’t unusual for 40% of the students to be suspended from flying. Getting the coveted flying badge in the PAF is not something normal. It is a great privilege and one had to earn it the hard way.

Those minutes, chugging along the taxi track to the tarmac, were like an eternity.

As I was switching off, I looked at the bewildered face of the crew chief. He was noticing all the dirt, grime and grass cuttings stuck in the underbelly wondering as to what the hell had happened. When we came out of the aircraft, the OC Wing started to walk towards the Engineering Desk with his parachute still on his back. Not normal procedure. He should be going to the parachute bay to deposit his chute but then it was not a normal day. I was following meekly behind him. He still had the swagger of young man. When the Engineering Wing people saw him approach, the chatter stopped. They had heard of the incidence on the runway. The senior man came forward with a typical sub- continental posture showing reverence and respect by rolling his shoulder forward and bending slightly from the hip. OC Wing of his stature, and a war hero normally did not come calling on his desk. He asked them to check the aircraft thoroughly for damage as it had swung into the Kutcha. Took off his chute, looked at me and said “ Go ,freshen up. We launch again in half an hour” and took off for his office nearby. I stood there confused and full of dread. I thought he is completing the formality of burying me by going through the motions – a mere ritual to log the full hour. I ran to the tea bar to have a glass of water and a cup of heavily sweetened tea in three minutes flat. I was very thirsty.

By the time he came back to the flight lines, I had done the pre-flight, his parachute on the wing and me waiting for him in the cockpit. As soon as he connected the intercom, he told me “Same mission but just stay in the circuit.”

By the time I reached the ORP most of the first mission was landing back and the circuit was getting empty. I started tentatively. First circuit and landing: normal. 2nd circuit and landing: normal. 3rd circuit, a good no flap landing. With each circuit and landing, I was getting confident and, my calls to the mobile control getting more assured. As the circuit was empty, he would pull a close and ask me to land in all sorts of configurations. Around the 7th or 8th landing, he kicked the rudder to one side and the aircraft started to veer away from the center line. I was late and this time he gave me a verbal lashing “ Control karo is baigharat ko”. I controlled this purposely induced swing and made the aircraft go straight.   When finally the 2nd mission of the morning was arriving at the ORP, we had already managed to cover all normal and emergency procedures and much more. Finally, he asked me to make a full stop landing (the last landing)- a total of 18 touch downs.

He went away to his office and me to the refuge of our changing room awaiting my fate. No summon for a debriefing. I imagined he was filling up my after mission report in red ink. As most of my course mates were in the air, I sat alone going over the events of the morning. I realized that I had endangered the life of a senior officer of the PAF. As a minimum and  embarrassingly, we could have been seeing the ATC building hanging upside down from our straps or worst, killed, if the aircraft had cart wheeled. Anything could have happened. Anything!

 My instructor was out flying with his other student. Soon enough the 2nd mission guys started trickling in, first the instructors followed by the students. Everyone looked at me with sympathy and pity in their eyes.  I felt like crying.

My instructor went to the OC Wing’s office, stayed with him for a while and when he came out he told our senior man to get all instructors and students in the briefing room as the OC wished   to address all pilots. There wasn’t room enough so some instructors stood by the door. Poor I, sat crestfallen in a corner. I knew what was coming.

As he came in, the whole lot snapped to attention. “Please sit down” as he approached the rostrum. He turned around to scan the room for someone and his eye stopped on me and he smiled.  A flutter in my stomach and a very tiny glimmer of hope flickered in my breast.

He starts”Gentlemen, this morning I was flying with Akhtar and we swung the aircraft. (We… No sir. Not you, It was I.)  It was as vicious as a T6 can be   during landing. There was nothing I could do about it but Akhtar did a very good job of controlling it. His decision to go on the brakes was the only option left under the circumstances.” Looking at me he said “ Well done, Akhtar”. I could have jumped up and kissed him but he went on to explain at length the idiosyncrasies of the Harvard during landing. Words like gyroscopic effect and gusts of wind etc etc flew past me. The briefing room became unusually misty. At the end he said “ Ye Jahaz kabhi bhi  aur kisi ki bhi pagri uchchal sakta hai”- a lesson of humility for every one of us in that room.

Looking at my instructor, he said “Send him solo first thing in the morning as he has had enough for one day”.

This incident happened 41 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. Most of my flying career in the PAF, I was an instructor. I have selected, trained and motivated at least two generations of PAF pilots. I must have sent at least a hundred “First SOLOs” on all types but I never forgot the lessons of humility and compassion learnt from the stalwarts like NAJMI and RAFI.

Wg Cdr  Rafi could easily have said “Enough” or ask my instructor to give me a few more missions before another ‘Solo Check” with another check pilot. Instead he chose to go up with me again, to check me out if I was really a bad pilot or was it   the bite of the Harvard. He did not shirk from his responsibility; he faced it squarely and with great equanimity and grace. Whatever action I took was instinctive as no amount of briefing could have prepared me for something like that. For him, the mission was not over till he ensured that I had got all my confidence back.

I call this leadership, putting your life on the line- Leading by example and from the front.

Post Script.

Wg Cdre Rais  A Rafi, retired as Air Commodore after a bright and distinguished career and has left us with a lot fond memories of him. He died three years ago. God Bless him.

His son –in- law, a brilliant pilot, an Aero space Engineer, a sword of honour winner crashed with Air Chief in Kohat.  God Bless him.

Air Vice Marshal Nafees A Najmi is still around and I pray for his long life and wellbeing. His son, like his father, is a top notch commander of an elite PAF squadron.

All of you, my instructors, who read this post, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

All of you, my students who read this post “Don’t let me down, you… drumheads.” I love you.

And thank you PAF for making my dream come true.Image