COVER STORY

SQN LDR SARFARAZ AHMED RIAFIQUI
(HILAL-E-JURAT)

 

A MAN OF CHARACTER IN PEACE,

A MAN OF COURAGE IN WAR

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Some days after the war had started in September 1965, a poignant message arrived by telegram at 22 ILACO House, Victoria Road, Karachi. It read, ‘Regret to inform, your son Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui failed to return from a mission against enemy...’

The Rafiquis - whose grief over an earlier loss of their elder son Ijaz in a Fury crash many years ago hadn-t quite subsided - did not know what to make of this message. But gradually, sorrow began to blend with pride as details followed about the epic air battle at Halwara, in which their son had fearlessly fought in mortal combat. He was brave and chivalrous till the last. Another son had gone down but with honour, a distinction reserved for the bravest of the brave.

Born in Rajshahi (erstwhile East Pakistan) on 18th July 1935, Sarfaraz had three brothers and a sister. Education started in 1942 at St Anthony-s High School, Lahore, where his father worked with an Insurance Company. He matriculated from Government High School, Multan in 1948 at a remarkably early age of thirteen. A year earlier, he had been selected as a King-s Scout to attend a jamboree in UK and France. In Paris, we are told, his fervour for the impending birth of Pakistan knew no bounds. He hastily had his version of the Pakistan flag stitched by the Girl Guides (white bar consigned to the bottom, crescent in one corner, star in the other)! On the eve of Independence, Sarfaraz formed a troop of three Muslim scouts, proudly flaunting the new flag1. After the jamboree, it was quite a homecoming for a twelve-year old to a new Pakistan.

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When the elder Rafiqui moved to Karachi as Controller of Insurance, Sarfaraz joined the DJ Sind Science College. Scouting remained a passion and he managed another trip abroad, this time to a jamboree in Australia. But thoughts soon turned to the Air Force, where his elder brother, a dashing young pilot, had won the Sword of Honour in the 4th GD (P) Course. Sarfaraz applied for the RPAF in 1951, not yet having appeared for his Intermediate examinations. His Principal at DJ Science College found him to be ‘very intelligent and well suited for a military career’2. Sarfaraz-s above-average intelligence was to be echoed by all his instructors in later years.

Sarfaraz was selected for the RPAF, though the Services Selection Board report was not very generous about his prospects of making a pilot. He joined the Joint Services Pre-Cadet Training School at Quetta. The Commandant of the School was impressed with Sarfaraz-s command of English, his confidence and his travels abroad at such an early age3. After five months of training at JSPCTS, he entered the RPAF College at Risalpur. In 1953, he graduated in the footsteps of his brother, winning the prestigious Atcherly Trophy for the Best Pilot in the 13th GD (P) Course (and turning the Selection Board report on its head)!

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Flying came easily to Sarfaraz, which ability, as some of his instructors noted, led him to exhibit careless tendencies and some over-confidence. He once pranged a Fury in Miranshah, breaking one of its landing gear; only a belly-landing at the better-endowed airfield of Peshawar saved the day. To sober him up, he was promptly administered a reprimand. Born fliers are known to follow the line of least resistance, but luckily for Sarfaraz, guidance was always at hand. He continued with a string of above average reports in his Advanced Flying Course as well as the Fighter Weapons Instructors- Course, both done in USA. He again showed his prowess as a superb fighter pilot by topping the course at PAF-s Fighter Leaders- School in 1960. After yet another course at RAF-s prestigious Fighter Combat School, he ended up piling a unique assortment of highly rated qualifications that served him (and the PAF) in good stead. As an exchange pilot in UK, he flew Hunters for two years Sarfaraz-s Officer Commanding in No 19 Squadron (RAF), reporting on his flying abilities, eloquently wrote, ‘In the air his experience and skill combine to make him a very effective fighter pilot and leader who creates an impression of disciplined efficiency in all that he does’4. On return from UK in 1962, he was given command of No 14 Squadron. A year later, he was given command of the elite No 5 Squadron, in which he was to achieve martyrdom and eternal glory. He came to be well known as much for his highly assertive and effective control of the Unit as for his spirited attitude towards flying.

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Sarfaraz-s sense of humour, seldom evident from his sole published photograph, was a very genial trait, amply noted at home and across the shores. As an officer, he was found to be courteous and well mannered with a pleasant personality. He was extremely popular and, socially well accepted. Swimming took up his leisure time, though his keenness for flying determined the daily routine.

An incident that deserves special mention relates to Sarfaraz-s steadfastness in matters of honour and righteousness. During a RAF dining-out night, he was enraged when the Pakistani ‘representatives’ (exchange pilots) were denied the customary toast to their Head of State, while the Europeans merrily drank to their royalty. He walked out of the dinner proceedings and, next morning, informed the bewildered Officer Commanding that he would prefer to be repatriated rather than suffer such scorn. The matter got a bit complicated, but an unyielding Sarfaraz would accept nothing short of an apology. The OC repented publicly and, later made sure that the Pakistanis were never slighted again5. Sarfaraz also drove home a point that it was respect, not pennies that counted.

Sarfaraz was unconventional in more ways than one. His aversion to an arranged marriage invoked the ire of his conservative father, who had failed to incline Sarfaraz towards one particular offer; this included fringe benefits of a house and a good bit of cash besides the damsel! Star-crossed perhaps, he ran short of time looking for the right mate. The Mess remained his home and hearth till the end.

Deadly Stroke

Two memorable aerial encounters, each a classic of modern jet warfare, capped Sarfaraz Rafiqui-s illustrious career as a fighter pilot. The evening of 1st September 1965 saw hectic and desperate attempts by the IAF to stop the rapid advance of Pak Army-s 12 Division offensive against Akhnoor. Vampires, obsolescent but considered suitable for providing close support in the valleys of Kashmir, were hastily called into action. No 45 Squadron was moved from Poona to Pathankot. The grim situation on the ground found the Vampires at work immediately. Three strikes of four Vampires each (alongwith some Canberras) had been launched in succession that evening. Much has been made of their success by the IAF, but Maj Gen G S Sandhu is not impressed; in his book ‘History of Indian Cavalry’, he recounts how the first Vampire strike of four ‘leisurely proceeded to destroy three AMX-13 tanks of India-s own 20 Lancers, plus the only recovery vehicle and the only ammunition vehicle available during this hard-pressed fight. The second flight attacked Indian infantry and gun positions, blowing up several ammunition vehicles’. The Indian forces were spared further ignominy at their own hands when an element of two Sabres arrived on scene. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui and Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti were patrolling at 20,000 ft near Chamb. On being vectored by the radar, they descended and picked up contact with two Vampires in the fading light. Rafiqui closed in rapidly and, before another two Vampires turned in on the Sabres, made short work of the first two with a blazing volley from the lethal 0.5’ Browning six-shooter. Then, with a quick-witted defensive break he readjusted on the wing of Bhatti, who got busy with his quarry. While Rafiqui cleared tails, Bhatti did an equally fast trigger job. One Vampire nosed over into the ground which was not too far below; the other, smoking and badly damaged, staggered for a few miles before its pilot, Flg Off Pathak, ejected. The less fortunate Flt Lts A K Bhagwagar, M V Joshi and S Bhardwaj went down with their ghoulish Vampires, in full view of the horrified Indian troops6.

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This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF. The shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew about 130 Vampires, together with over 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one stroke, thanks to Rafiqui and Bhatti-s marksmanship.

It may be appropriate to recollect the remarks of USAF Fighter Weapons School (Class of 1956) about Rafiqui-s adeptness at gunnery. ‘Captain Rafiqui was the high individual in air-to-air firing and was above average in air-to-ground firing ... has a thorough understanding of methods and techniques used in fighter weapons delivery and aerial combat manoeuvring ...valuable as a future gunnery instructor ...highly recommended that he be used in this capacity to the greatest advantage possible when returning’. The PAF made no mistake and put his skills to good use, as the Chamb encounter demonstrated. But there was more to come ... .

Target Halwara

On the evening of 6th September 1965, an ill-fated formation of three aircraft took off from Sargodha for a raid on Halwara airfield, one of the three that had been singled out for a pre-emptive strike. Led by Sqn Ldr Rafiqui, with Flt Lt Cecil Chaudhry as No 2 and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain as No 3, the formation hurtled across into enemy territory in fast fading light. Sqn Ldr M M Alam-s formation, also of three aircraft, which had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid on Adampur. They had been bounced by four Hunters, themselves proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations. Rafiqui was warned by Alam-s section to watch out for Hunters in the area.

At Halwara, IAF-s No 7 Squadron equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These were armed reconnaissance missions, which had had little success in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered Alam-s formation near Taran Taran. In that engagement Sqn Ldr Peter Rawlley-s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break at very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern. The remaining three Hunters aborted the mission and were taxiing back after landing, when Rafiqui-s formation pulled up for what was to be a gun attack on the parked aircraft.

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