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.