Group Captain Cecil Chaudhry, SJ
AH AMIN posed some in-depth questions to one of PAF’s war heroes.
Q. Please tell us about your early life?
I was born on 27th August 1941 to the only Christian family of a little village called Dalwal, located in the Salt Range. My mother belonged to Janjua Clan while my father comes from Hoshairpur. Dalwal is well known because of a hundred years old Mission High School which was started by my grandfather, Raja Shakir Medhi, on his and his uncle’s personal property, and later gifted to the Catholic Church. The school was run by them till it was nationalized in 1972 and completely ruined. This school is known to have produced a host of officers of the Pakistan Army.
My parents, however, were settled in Lahore and that
is where I was brought up. I did my schooling from St. Anthony’s High
School followed by higher studies at the Forman Christian College, Lahore.
Q. Please tell us about some interesting and unforgettable experience in your early life? Also please tell us something about your parents, teachers, contemporaries, in short all who in your opinion had an impact on you and on the development of your personality?
I can never forget that true patriotism was
inculcated in us as students by our Principal, Brother Henderson, an Irish
missionary, as early as in 1948. He gave all the students one week in
which to learn to recite our national anthem at the cost of caning, six
“benders” if we failed to do so. He ensured a follow up and used the
cane freely. Our class teachers were told to spare one period a day to
tell us about the reasons for Pakistan. At home my parents, especially my
father, told us stories of how the Quaid stood his ground in giving us all
a homeland where we will be able to live with honour and dignity.
It was at that stage that, as a little boy of 7 studying in first
standard that I developed an intense love for this beautiful country.
Q. Your father was associated with the Pakistan Times for a very long time. Did journalism as a career ever arouse your interest?
My father started his career as a senior science
teacher but had a passion for photography. He had achieved quite a bit of
fame as a freelance photographer while covering the Pakistan movement from
its early stages. He also introduced village life through his pictures
published in leading magazines and newspapers. It was in 1948 that the
great Mr Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mian Iftikhar-ud-Din convinced him to switch
his profession to Photojournalism. That is when he joined the Pakistan
Times to eventually retire from the same newspaper as its Chief
Photographer. He received many lucrative offers throughout his life,
including those from the Pakistan Army, but he remained loyal to P.T.
Loyalty to one’s institution is another lesson we learnt from our father
by his personal example. A dark room being present in the house did help
us brothers to learn developing and printing at a pretty young age but
somehow I was never attracted towards photography or towards journalism.
However, I did learn to write articles for the press while still in school
and a number of them were published in the Sunday Children’s Section of
the Pakistan Times and the Civil and Military Gazette.
Q. Please tell us something about your interests and hobbies as a child and as a young man? Was joining the Air Force and flying your life’s most important passion or did you just join the Air Force out of force of circumstances?
The reason why I was not attracted towards my father’s profession is that I became an Air Scout in 1952 at the age of 11 and developed aero-modelling and gliding as a hobby. The Royal Pakistan Air Force under the able leadership of the then C-in-C Air Vice Marshal Atcherley started the Air Scout movement. At the age of 12, I had soloed on gliders and soon after I became an accomplished glider pilot. I won a number of all Pakistan trophies both for gliding and for aero-modelling during my school and college days. My parents and my teachers were a great source of encouragement throughout those years. I was even forgiven if I had not completed my homework because of gliding the previous day till dusk. My mother having served in the R.P.A.F. Women’s Auxiliary Corps, refused to be influenced by our senior female family members and “friends” advising her not to allow us brothers to join the Air Force as “pilots usually got killed.”
I was awarded my glider pilots wings in 1956 by the then President of Pakistan, Maj Gen Iskander Mirza at a colourful ceremony at Drigh Road, Karachi. A moment of great pride for a young schoolboy. It was during those years that I had already, very firmly, decided that I would become a fighter pilot of the Pakistan Air Force. I took to reading about Air Operations during the Second World War followed by the episodes of the Korean War. Col James Jabara of the United States Air Force, the first jet ace in the world, became my ideal.
As an Air Scout I also came across Sqn. Ldr. F.S. Hussein and watched him perform hair-raising low-level aerobatics on an Attacker aircraft, which was the first jet fighter of the P.A.F. In 1956, during one of our summer camps, I actually sat in the cockpit of an F86 and immediately fell in love with the Sabre. My passion for the Air Force just kept growing despite the fact that at school I was the troop leader of the Junior Cadet Corps where I had also won a number of prizes. I remember, during one of the prize distribution ceremonies the then G.O.C. Lahore, Gen. Azam Khan telling me that the Pakistan Army will be proud to have an outstanding cadet like me as an infantry officer. My perky reply to him was that I was going to become a fighter pilot and fly the F86 rather than slog it out on the ground. He was quite taken back by my firm reply but nevertheless did say a few words of encouragement.
Yes! The Air Force and Fighter Flying was my life’s
most important passion, so much so that when I decided to quit I promised
to myself that I would leave my flying professional skills in the PAF. I
did, and have not flown nor had the desire to fly since my retirement in
1986. Call it a hang-up or anything else! But that was a promise I made to
myself and I have stood by it.
Q. What were your political views as a young man?
Even as a young man I could not understand the
Army’s involvement in politics. I
was terribly disappointed with the first Prime Minister of the country.
Liaquat Ali Khan in my opinion then, and my conviction today was a great
let down as the country’s first Prime Minister. He is the one who laid
the foundation for most of the ills we face today in the form of
sectarianism and terrorism. Where he failed the people of Pakistan was to
hide behind the cover of religion and introduced the Objectives Resolution
which was totally contrary to the wishes and directions of the Quaid. In
this context we can refer to the Quaid’s address to the first
Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on August 11, 1947.
Q. What was life like once you joined the Air Force Academy?
I reported to the PAF Academy on March 12, 1958. Life
was so tough in those days that within seconds of our arrival on its soil
we knew that it was good-bye to civilian life. The ragging (to use a
polite word) had no physical, moral or mental limits. Senior cadets were
at complete liberty to make the new entry do anything. However looking
back, wrong as it may seem, I still have very pleasant memories of my
Academy days. Though all the officers were outstanding, I must single out
my flying instructor, Flt. Lt. Masud Hatmi (later Air Commodore and now
late). I was his first student and he has a very big hand in moulding me
in many ways.
Q. Any senior who deeply impressed you and was your role model in your early career?
Like Col James Jabara was my ideal as a student. Sqn
Ldr Sarfraz Ahmed Rafiqui, HJ, SJ, (Shaheed) was my role model. As a
matter of fact he was the role model for a large number of pilots in the
PAF. He was a born leader and officers like him you come across once in a
lifetime. As a pilot he was the best. During my stay with the Royal Air
Force in England many years later I found that he was a role model for
many British pilots who had served in the same Hunter Squadron during his
deputation with the RAF.
Q. How was the standard of training in the Air Force once you joined it?
One thing amongst many that the PAF can be proud of
even today is the quality of training. The credit goes to Air Marshal
Asghar Khan, the first local Chief of the PAF. He is no doubt the
Godfather of our Air Force and is solely responsible for the PAF to
achieve very high standards despite limited resources. He just believed in
professionalism and during his days only the best professionals were given
command appointments. He kept the PAF isolated from Martial Law duties and
I am glad other Chiefs followed his example. Thus the PAF continued to
concentrate on pure professionalism and I can proudly state that even
today the PAF is one of the finest in the world.
Q. Please tell us something about your service profile from date of commission till 1965?
After graduating from the Academy in June, 1960 I completed my jet conversion at No. 2 Squadron at Mauripur (now Masroor) Air Base. That was when I got to convert on my dream aircraft the F86F. We then did our Basic Weapons Course on the F86 and in June 1961 I was posted to No. 5 F86 Fighter Squadron at Sargodha. Being a new base we were living in almost survival conditions initially but enjoyed every moment of it. Since I was not in the habit of afternoon naps I spent a great deal of time in the hangars working of the F86 with the maintenance crew. This not only gave me immense technical knowledge of the aircraft but also won me the respect of the Senior NCOs and Airmen. This knowledge gave me the confidence that I could tear an F86 apart, put it together and then safely fly it. The hours spent in the hot hangars gaining technical knowledge has saved my life on a number of occasions when I encountered serious emergencies in the air. In December 1961 I was declared operational and was cleared to lead formations.
In April 1963 I was reposted to the same Squadron as the Flight Commander that was indeed a unique honour as I had not even completed 3 years of commissioned service. It was at that time that Sarfraz Rafiqui took over as the Squadron Commander. Despite my low service experience he reposed complete trust in me and left the running of the squadron completely in my hands. He took the brunt of any pulling up by the OC Flying/Base Commander for my mistakes but never passed it on to me, instead he would guide me very lovingly and professionally. I had been promoted to the rank of a Flight Lieutenant and was holding the same appointment when the war broke out in 1965. Ours was the most operationally ready squadron of the PAF at that time. This was proved by the fact that No. 5 Squadron was the first to receive the PAF Standard for its performance in the 65 War.
Q. Any memorable incident in your flying career before 1965 war?
There were many memorable incidents before the 65 War but I will just state one as this brought a serious change in procedures. In case of an engine flame-out at low level, the procedure as we had inherited from the United States Air Force was to jettison external stores, pull up to gain maximum height and eject. However, because of my technical knowledge of the
F 86 engine I was always convinced that there was
enough time while pulling up to attempt one relight on the emergency fuel
system, but the young Flying Officer, though a flight commander, could not
convince the authorities. One morning I encountered this very emergency
while flying low level as No. 2 to Rafiqui. I attempted and got a
successful relight and landed back safely saving the PAF a costly
aircraft. The procedure was then changed and the Chief gave me a
Q. What was your perception about the Indian Air Force on the eve of 1965 war?
I had always perceived the Indian Air Force as highly
professional and better equipped. Rafiqui, having a fair amount of flying
experience on the Hunter aircraft, guided us on the tactics to be employed
against it in air combat. This really paid dividends during the war. My
briefing and training to my squadron pilots was that they should think
that they are up against the best and only then would they be able to fly
the aircraft at its peak performance and come out victors in a combat. The
Indians, on the other hand completely under-estimated our ability as well
as that of the F86.
Q. Please tell us something about your other flying experiences in the 1965 War, particularly the action in which you won an SJ?
We had started flying operational missions from September 01 in the Chamb sector during which I led a number of uneventful missions. I got to use weapons on the morning of the 6th when the Indians attacked in the Lahore sector. That same afternoon we were ordered to implement our war plans which was to carry out a pre-emptive strike at the Indian airfield of Halwara.
The details of Halwara raid have been covered in considerable detail in various books. I will just quote one passage from one book:
“All the pilots on the Halwara raid (two posthumously) were awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat, which is roughly equivalent to the British Distinguished Flying Cross. For his selfless devotion to duty Rafiqui also received the posthumous award of Pakistan’s second highest decoration for valour, the Hilal-e-Jurat. Exactly how Sarfraz Rafiqui met his end has never been established. This 30-year-old fighter leader who had been born in East Pakistan, died, however, in the finest traditions of the PAF. A year younger than his leader, Yunus Hussain also provided an inspiration to the Pakistani people through his courage and determination against heavy odds.”
However, I must add that the serious blunder committed by the then Base Commander Mauripur in not positioning the 8 aircraft in time resulted in the total failure of an
otherwise very well thought plan. This serious act of
negligence not only went unpunished but the officer rose to the rank of an
Air Commodore and headed the Operations Branch of the PAF. Why, I do not
name him, only because he died a number of years ago.
Q. What is the procedure of confirming hits scored by a pilot in the PAF?
We followed the same procedure for confirming hits
claimed by any pilot as in the United States Air Force. A team of experts
assessed the gun camera film and awarded either a “kill, a damage or a
miss” as the case may be. Since the camera did not record hits by an
air-to-air missile, these claims were awarded on confirmation by any of
the formation member.
Q. Do you know the names of the pilots whose aircraft you shot down?
Yes, I met one of the pilots I shot down on the first
day of the war while on deputation in Iraq. Gandhi was a Flying Officer in
1965 and a Wing Comd. in 1982 when we met. He called on me and informed me
that he had been shot down by me over Halwara and had been looking forward
to meeting me some day. I believe he has recently retired as an Air
Marshal. The other pilot shot down by me over Halwara could not eject and
Q. Is it possible that many of the PAF claims about number of Indian aircraft shot down in actual combat inflated, having been made in the heat of battle and that later research correctly proved this on both sides of the Radcliffe Line?
I do believe our claims were somewhat inflated. I
wish the Indians had given access, like we did, to their official records
to John Fricker, an Englishman who published the book “Battle for
Pakistan.” Then a very clear picture would have emerged as early as 1967.
Q. Recent research in India indicates that many of the PAF claims were highly exaggerated. Thus they paint us as liars. There is a school of thought in airforce historians who think that we should re-assess our claims of 1965. What is your opinion?
I do not go along with the conclusions of the
so-called recent research by the Indians. Thirty-five years or more have
passed and in this much time a lot can be conveniently forgotten or
covered up. If they wanted to prove us “liars” they should have opened
out their records to John Fricker in 1966 instead of hiding them.
Nevertheless I fully agree that we should re-assess our claims of 65. As a
matter of fact I would go the extent of recommending a detailed analysis
of both the 65 and the 71 wars to highlight our weak and strong points
with the aim of learning lessons. This was never done objectively thus we
are likely to repeat our mistakes in future.
Q. How would you compare Pakistani aircraft F 86 with Indian Hunter?
had the privilege of flying both these aircraft and have a fair experience
on both. The Hunter was positively superior to the F86 in all aspects of
combat performance. However, the edge was marginal and could be
neutralized by superior combat tactics. This is precisely what we did in
Q. How would you sum up the air war in 1965?
Exaggerated claims or not it is crystal clear that the Pakistan Air Force completely shattered the morale of the Indian Air Force on the very first day of the 65 war. This was so evident from their totally non-professional performance during their strikes at Sargodha the next day. From that day the IAF, a force five times our size, just seemed to have disappeared from the skies, even their own. In a nutshell the PAF achieved complete air superiority over the IAF. This is another reason for us being dubbed as “liars” by recent research. How else can they vindicate their honour?
Q. Any forgotten hero of 1965 particularly in the air war as you saw it?
In my opinion there are many. Somehow only the performance of the aircrew was highlighted. What about the radar controllers who, on numerous occasions, completely outwitted the Indian controllers who had better equipment? The airmen who recovered damaged aircraft in record time? Even amongst fighter pilots there were officers like Syed Mukhtar Ali (later retired as an Air Commodore) who were totally ignored because of personal likes and dislikes. There were officers from the F-104 Squadron who should never have been decorated, yet outstanding people like Aftab Alam from the same Squadron were completely ignored.
Q. Please tell us something about your service profile from 1965 to 1971?
I continued as the Flight Commander of No. 5 Squadron
till June 1966 when I was posted to No. 18 Squadron in the same capacity.
The same year I was selected to be a part of the PAF formation aerobatic
team. Viqar Azeem (later retired as an Air Marshal) was the leader, I was
No. 2, Akbar No. 3, (retired as Air Commodore), Farooq Feroze Khan No.4
(became the Chief of Air Staff and then the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff
Committee and retired as an Air Chief Marshal) and Shabbir Hussain No. 5
(retired as an Air Marshal while holding the appointment of the Vice Chief
of the Air Staff). We were known as the Red Sabres and put up a number of
air displays throughout the country. We performed for the Shah of Iran and
Princess Farah Diba over Jamrud as a part of a massive Fire Power
Demonstration in 1967. In
1969 I was sent to England to attend the pilot Attack Instructors’
Course and on my return in January 1970 I was posted as an instructor at
the Fighter Leaders School (FLS). The same year I was promoted to the rank
of Squadron Leader and was still an instructor in FLS when the 71 War
broke out. However, since the FLS did not have a war role I was attached
to my old Squadron (No.18) still equipped with the Sabres (the Canadian
version) and moved to Sargodha, our war location.
Q. Please tell us something about your experiences in the 1971 War?
Our squadron was assigned the role of flying
interdiction and close support missions. The squadron was very ably led by
Wing. Comd. Ali Imam Bukhari and I was the operations officer. The overall
performance was very good but close support missions were a great
disappointment, as we seemed to be hitting the same area throughout the
war indicating that the army was asleep. The poor GLO remained at the
receiving end from us throughout the war. On the 7th I was shot down by
Ack Ack while leading a “search and destroy” mission in the Zafarwal
sector. I was forced to bail out in the no man’s land but was recovered
by our recce patrol. Though I had suffered hairline fractures of two of my
ribs due to the opening shock of the parachute I continued to fly in the
rest of the war. Just four days later, I was involved in combat with five
Indian SU 7 aircrafts in which I destroyed one and Bukhari destroyed one
and damaged another over the same spot. A number of pilots from our
squadron got a kill each during chance encounters with the enemy.
Q. How would you sum up the 1971 War?
On the Western front that war was fought by the Air
Force alone. The Indians tried their level best to neutralize the PAF by
carrying out extensive raids both by day and by night at each and every
one of our airfields for the first three days. However, the PAF was able
to inflict unacceptable (to the Indians) attrition without any achievement
by them. All our airfields continued to remain operational and we
continued to launch counter-air operations against their airfield and
installations. Due to this failure of the IAF they gave up offensive
operations and resorted harmless interdiction missions by dropping an odd
bomb here and there. Had the IAF succeeded the Indian Army would have launched a
massive and successful land offensive and sorted us out once and for all.
Without a shadow of doubt it was, once again, the Pakistan Air Force which
saved what was to be left of Pakistan.
Q. Was the fiasco of 1971 avoidable?
I wish we, as a nation, were bold enough to have gracefully accepted defeat and carried out a detailed and objective analysis of the events leading up to the 71 fiasco and the war itself. The Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission was a complete farce. I had no faith in it then nor now therefore I had refused to testify before it. No, the fiasco of 71 was not avoidable, at that stage because the seeds for it were sowed immediately after the 65 war.
Nobody can question the fact that it is the nation,
which fights the war and not the forces. 1965 was a glorious example of
the whole nation standing up as one without any bias to caste, colour or
creed when attacked by an enemy 5 times our size. It was the exceptionally
high morale displayed by the nation that gave courage to the Armed Forces
and it was the nation, which kept the morale of the Armed Forces high.
Whereas by 1971 the nation already stood divided on the basis of language,
provincialism, economic disparity etc. The 71 war was thus NOT fought by
the nation but by the Armed Forces alone and was doomed to failure. I
shudder to think what will happen in case we are put to the test again.
Today we are totally destroyed as a nation! We stand divided on the basis
of religion, sects, provinces, language, bradaris, caste, colour, etc.
etc. We are tearing ourselves apart by severe sectarian strife and no
government, including the present one, seems to be even pushed about it
and is allowing Pakistan to head towards self-destruction.
Q. Please tell us about your service profile from 1971 till retirement?
After the war I returned to my parent unit the
Fighter Leaders School and was soon reposted as its Chief Instructor till
1973 when I was detailed to attend the Staff College Course. It was during
that course, quite surprisingly, I was promoted to the rank of a Wing Comd.
After the course I took over the command of No. 9 Mirage Squadron at PAF
Shorkot in 1974. During my stay the base was renamed as PAF Base Rafiqui.
In January 1976 I was posted as the Deputy Director Operations (Tac Ops)
in the Operations Directorate in Air Headquarters Peshawar. I really
enjoyed that posting after very hectic field jobs for 13 years. I enjoyed
it more because if one was well organized you needed to work for just a
couple of hours a day. I really found out at AHQ as to what was meant by
the expression “look busy do damn all,” because that is what most
officers seemed to do. However, my joy was short-lived as the Chief hand
picked Gp. Capt. Hakimullah (later to become the Air Chief) and myself to
set up the most super advanced fighter-training unit, The Combat
Commanders’ School (CCS), and I was then posted to Sargodha in April
1976. In January 1978 I took over the Command of CCS. In January 1979 I
was stopped just one day before my departure, from proceeding to UK as the
Air Attache on some very flimsy grounds. All I was told by the Chief, Air
Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim (the worst ever yet the longest, thanks to the
despot General Zia) that the
Government had not cleared me to precede. I asked for an immediate release
from service and was told by him “look you are one of my finest officers
I cannot let you go.” What a laugh! I offered to proceed on an immediate
deputation to Libya which I declined. I was then detailed to proceed to
Iraq on deputation and I kept dragging my feet till September 1979 when I
decided to take my family and myself away from the prevailing madness in
the country for a few years. I returned from Iraq in December 1983 after a
very enjoyable and a professionally satisfying experience. After a short
posting in AHQ I was deputed to Shaheen Foundation and moved to Lahore in
April 1984 from where I retired in July 1986.
Q. Does sycophancy and intellectual dishonesty play a major role in promotion to higher ranks?
Not as a matter of routine at least in the PAF though
that became the order of the day during the tenure of Air Chief Marshal
Anwar Shamim. Officers who had earlier been superseded at lower ranks rose
to higher ranks. Some who had been removed from command of a squadron as
failures rose to command bases. Credit goes to dedicated young field
commanders for keeping the PAF on track despite very poor leadership. It
was highly professional Chiefs like Hakimullah, Farooq Feroze Khan and
Pervaiz Medhi Qureshi who were able to get the PAF back on track.
Q. What is your opinion about the F-16 deal?
Though the finest aircraft of its kind we should
never have gone for the F16s. Like I said earlier we never learn from our
past mistakes. The Americans have a very poor political track record with
us; they let us down in 65 and 71 despite we being members of their CENTO
pact. On the other hand France has been a reliable friend, we should have
gone for the Mirage-2000 instead. I don’t know but we hear about
kickbacks in the F16 deal but NAB does not seem to think so or they
don’t want to go that far. But I do know of a number of ex PAF officers
who could not afford a car, now own flats in England — thanks to British
weekly lottery I guess.
Q. You also served as a Defence Attache abroad. How was that stint?
I served in Iraq from September 1979-83 on deputation
and took over as the Head of the Pakistan Military Mission in 1980. As I
mentioned earlier I enjoyed working with the Iraqis as I found them to be
very cultured people. Shamefully, I have to admit I got more professional
respect from the Iraqi Leadership than our own. Oh! The whole family
enjoyed the stay in Iraq.
Q. What do you have to say about the assertion that our Intelligence agencies indulge more in petty reporting and in settling personal scores rather than solid intelligence gathering?
What can one say about something that is almost
God’s truth. My personal experience during both the wars was that the
way these agencies were being made to function was a complete waste of
resources. We had no authentic information about our targets that we could
rely on in our planning. We
were provided information that was 10 years old.
Q. Who was the finest air force professional that you saw in your entire service?
This is a very difficult question to answer because
we are covering a wide spectrum. The finest was Sarfraz Rafiqui. The
finest Chiefs were Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar
Ali Khan in that order. Most professional officers I worked directly
under, Syed Mukhtar Ali, Hakimullah and (late) Masroor Hussain. Highly
professional officers I worked with were P.Q. Medhi (ex Chief), Aliuddin
(present DGCAA) and late Hashmi.
Q. How would you compare the PAF with IAF in 2001 in terms of operational efficiency?
In terms of operational efficiency the PAF certainly
has an edge over the IAF, but we need to get them the badly needed
equipment to enhance that edge. This is the only factor that can
neutralize the numeric imbalance/inferiority.
Q. How would you compare the PAF of 1965, 1971 and 2001 in terms of operational efficiency?
As I mentioned earlier the PAF has remained a highly
professional fighting force despite having gone through many crises. I
have full confidence that it continues to remain one of the most
operationally efficient Air Force in the world.
Q. What recommendations do you have in mind to make the PAF more effective and combat worthy?
Provide it with the badly needed replacement of the
undelivered F16s and other equipment.
Q. Is the system of training in the PAF in line with requirements of modern warfare?
Oh! Absolutely beyond any doubt.
Q. Which Head of State had the finest understanding of airpower as an instrument of national strategy?
No doubt it was General Zia-ul-Haq who really did support PAF modernisation but unfortunately his energies remained diverted towards perpetuating his rule through his so- called Islamization process. This resulted in doing damage to both the country as well as Islam.
Q. What has been the negative contribution of the First Ladies in erosion of professionalism in the PAF?
Actually there has not been any negative contribution
of the First Ladies in erosion of professionalism in the Air Force. On the
contrary most of them have had a positive contribution. This sort of thing
has only taken root because of just one First Lady, Begum Anwar Shamim.
She ran the Air Force while her husband twiddled his fingers in the
office. But then, that is all he was expected to do as the Chief because
from the time I came across Squadron Leader Shamim and had the opportunity
to observe him from close quarters all he did was twiddle his fingers.
Twiddling twiddling he became the Chief! There may have been some magic in
it ! I don’t know !!!!
Q. Did you ever experience any discrimination at any stage in your service because you were a Christian?
I was cleared for promotion to the rank of an Air
Commodore by the Air Board but was not approved by Zia, who in any case
was supposed to be a rubber-stamping authority. No Chief, Shamim or Jamal
had the moral fibre to tell me why. Would I then be wrong to conclude that
it was my religion that came in the way?
Q. Does the Christian Community have faith in the future of Pakistan as a State, which is in line with the Founder of the nation’s speech of 11th August?
Not just the Christian Community but all the
non-Muslim citizens are fighting for their rights as guaranteed by the
Founder. We are totally disillusioned by what is happening to Pakistan. We
created Pakistan, we are developing Pakistan, we fought gallantly for the
defence of Pakistan against external enemies and now we are fighting
against the internal enemies who are trying their utmost to destroy
Q. Has induction of Pakistani Christians in the Armed Forces particularly the Air Force increased or decreased from 1947 till 2000?
It has definitely decreased and there are a number of reasons for this. Because of gross discrimination against the minorities Christian youth have become demoralized and generally do not attempt to join the Armed Forces. Actually seeing highly professional officers being by-passed for higher promotions and eventually being superseded, thus asking early retirement, especially during the Zia era, has been a strong contributing factor. Lastly, a large number of educated Christian families have since migrated due to frustration.
Q. How has been your latest stint in education and as Principal of Saint Anthony’s?
I must mention that I feel highly honoured to be the
first “old Boy” Principal in 109 years history of this school. I find
education a very satisfying experience despite many frustrations. The
national curriculum needs to be completely overhauled. Because of
non-existent and or bad policies the country has got stuck in a rat race
of aimless education. The sad state of affairs in Pakistan has been that
no government has so far shown any serious concern for education, the most
important element for the development of a country. We just keep fooling
ourselves by inflating the literacy rate figures every few years.
Q. Saint Anthony as the alma mater of many of our highly decorated heroes including Shabbir Sharif. How do you assess the influence of education in forming a man’s personality, now that you are an educationist yourself?
As I mentioned earlier the Irish Brothers, and under
their guidance the entire staff inculcated a great spirit of patriotism in
the students. They also imparted moral education, taught us to be upright,
not to cheat or lie, developed our qualities of leadership through sports
and extra curricular activities. Our Principals and teachers set excellent
daily examples for us to follow. The emphasis then and even now is on the
holistic development of a child. You will agree that these are the basic
qualities that make a man a hero when put to the test. I am proud to
mention that St. Anthony’s High School Lahore, despite being a
non-military missionary school, produced more decorated officers than some
of the military education institutions if not all of them.
Q. Please tell us something about your daily routine and activities as a civilian?
My childhood habits are really paying dividends as
far as my daily routine is concerned. No matter how late I retire at night
my waking up time remains the same which these days is between 3:30 to
4:00 a.m. School life fits into my lifestyle very well because we start
and finish early. This leaves me plenty of time for my activities as a
commited human rights activist as well as the usual socializing. I spend
time writing articles for the press, addressing seminars, public meetings,
joining protest marches, sitting on hunger strikes etc. demanding the
rights of the minorities and the oppressed citizens of Pakistan. I love
doing this work no matter what the consequences only because I want to see
my beloved homeland become Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan where all citizens
have equal rights and equal opportunities without any bias to caste,
colour or creed. I am working for National Unity and Solidarity.
Q. What are the reasons for the rising religious extremism in both India and Pakistan and what measures do you think can infuse greater sanity in the region?
The reasons for religious extremism in Pakistan are totally different and I must mention more dangerous than those in India. In Pakistan our political order is based on religious apartheid through the Separate Electorate System. This is further aggravated by the gross misuse, by the extremists, of state legislated discriminatory laws some of which incidentally are even un-Islamic. The Separate Electorate System, thrusted upon the nation by Zia-ul-Haq in 1985, divides the entire nation into five religious groups and does not allow any political interaction between any two of the groups. The seats of the National and the Provincial Assemblies are so divided that Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, and other religious minorities can only contest for and vote within their own group. This system has completely broken down social harmony thus paving the way for sectarianism strife.
A political system so deeply rooted in religion when allowed to perpetuate will most definitely cause dissentions within each group and give rise to religious extremism, even to the extent of spreading terrorism in the name of religion. This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan today. Bullets have been sprayed in Mosques, Churches have been put to the torch, Temples have been destroyed and brother is killing brother daily, tragically all this in the name of religion. The way to end this dangerous state of affairs is by bringing about religious tolerance and restoring social harmony. This can only be achieved by ending religious apartheid through the restoration of the Joint Electorate System.
Every government, including the present, do not seem to realize that the Separate Electorate System is a National Issue and a minorities problem. This system also usurps the basic political rights of the entire 140 million people of this country. When a Muslim candidate is denied the right of vote of the non-Muslim registered voters of his constituency he is being denied his basic political rights as much as the non-Muslims.
We have been campaigning for the restoration of the Joint Electorate System for these very reasons. The non-Muslim citizens have proved that they do not want the Separate Electorates by very effectively boycotting the first two phases of the on-going Union Council elections. Surprisingly, the Chief Executive does not seem to have been made aware of this situation by his advisors nor his intelligence agencies. Let me recall a fact of history of our country for the General. It has always been the advisors and intelligence agencies that have brought about the downfall of almost all our Governments right from 1947 till today by feeding incorrect information or by hiding facts. Please talk to us, General, who feel the pain and whose hearts bleed seeing our homeland fast heading towards self-destruction through the hands of the bigoted extremists who were against the creation of Pakistan in the first place.
Having said this let me state that in India the
extremist Hindu is targeting the Christians mainly. In my opinion the
reason for the rise of extremism there is because of the failure of the
secular parties, especially the Congress. In-fighting within these parties
divided them and smaller parties by joining hands managed to form Federal
Governments for the past few years. The Hindu extremists parties were and
are still needed by these groups to maintain a majority. This rise to
power activated the Hindu extremists though the scale is very, very
limited as is the target group. I also believe this situation will not
last and we can already see things improving in India.
Q. How would you compare the state of religious tolerance and equality of opportunity between India and Pakistan?
With deep regret I have to admit that there is no
comparison. India is a proven secular country and the state of religious
tolerance and equality is far better than that of Pakistan.
Q. What in your opinion is the future of Pakistan as a State?
If this government allows the present state of gross sectarianism to continue we are doomed as a nation. We must all understand that if Pakistan exists we exist and we must, therefore, shun all our differences, especially religious, unite without any bias to caste, colour or creed under our glorious flag and hand-in-hand march forward. The government must put a complete ban on all sectarian political parties and restore the Joint Electorate System immediately. Let us all be only and only be Pakistanis, first and last as directed by the Quaid in his address to the first Constituency Assembly on 11th August 1947.