A Lucky Pilot - Pakistan Aviation

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Wing Commander Lanky Ahmad passed away on October 12, 2004 at Lahore, Pakistan where he was born in 1924 and is buried in the Pakistan Air Force graveyard located just before the landing strip of the Lahore International Airport runway.

October, 1951
Assassination of the Quaid-e-Millat

The mystery surrounding the murder of Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan remains unsolved to this day. I remember, that fateful day of 16th October 1951 very clearly.

It was about 7 p.m. in the evening when I was escorted by the duty officer from Mauripur Officers' Mess to the C-in-C's office for an urgent mission. Without the preliminaries, the acting C-in-C, Group Captain Asghar Khan asked me, "Lanky", have you heard the news"? Seeing my blank expression, he disclosed that the Prime Minister had been shot dead that afternoon in Rawalpindi, and his body had to be brought to Karachi in the C-in-C's aircraft. He then asked me how long would it take to get airborne, as he had to coordinate the plan with the people in Rawalpindi who were getting the P.M's. coffin ready for his last journey to Karachi. This had to be coordinated so that the body could be loaded immediately upon my arrival. I told him that it would take about two hours; nevertheless, he desired to speed up the arrangements and take off as soon as possible.

I could not get airborne before 9 p.m. as a co-pilot was not available. The unserviceable auto-pilot of which I had known from my previous flight was another serious problem. It was the darkest of nights; it probably was so, because of the sad and the tragic occasion. Nothing was visible, except the stars and the rivers. The Indus and Jhelum rivers were strung out like silvery ribbons and the occasional glimmer of late night lights of a few towns enroute. We made the flight to Chaklala airfield on schedule at 1.15 a.m. The Air Force ADC to the Governor-General was waiting on the tarmac and asked about the number of seats on the DC-3.I gave him the configuration which consisted of 8 VIP seats and 2 sleeping cabins. He informed that Khawaja Nazimuddin had decided to travel in my aircraft and send the PM's body in the G.G's. Viking. He also inquired how long would it take to get airborne. Despite fully knowing the additional time, the aeroplane required to refuel and do the pre-flight clearance, I said about an hour on sensing his anxiety. The PM's coffin was already at the Airfield and Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar, a senior Minister in the Liaquat's cabinet decided to accompany it.

Nishtar was also a likely choice for the PM's post. I remember when he was appointed as the Governor of the Punjab in 1949 he ordered his staff that in future no alcoholic drinks would be served in the Government House. His ADC Shakir Durrani and three sons late Jamil and Ajmal and the only survivor Dr. Tarique and I saw the draining ceremony of the vintage wines and other beverages. In those days' I also flew him to Multan to lay the foundation ceremony of the Nishtar Hospital in 1951. It was the month of May and the temperature of the D'Haviland Dove aircraft engines were at the dangerous point. We could hardly climb, I prayed and God helped us to arrive safely at Lahore.

The Governor-General was at Nathiagali hill resort on vacation, when the alarming and disturbing news reached him. For him it meant a possible transformation and change from being the head of State with all its privileges of that high office, to the position of a Prime Minister, with full involvement in politics and its intrigues. The Viking took off at about 2 a.m. One can imagine my condition and the prospect of flying alone manually for another four hours, to repeat the same track but in the reverse order. Karachi city was blanketed with a thick fog and the visibility was below the prescribed minima for landing. The Viking had already landed at 5.30 a.m. ahead of us when the fog had not yet settled in the area. I had the option of diverting the flight to Nawab Shah, an alternate airfield, about a hundred miles away but decided against it and put the aircraft safely down at first light. The visibility was so bad that I could barely see the acting C-in-C who was waiting on the tarmac to receive the Head of State.

The crew of a VIP aircraft normally leave their seats after the dignitary has left the aircraft. I could not see the Governor-General and his staff leaving the plane. After what I considered a suitable waiting period, left the cockpit along with my two crew members Flg. Off. Syed and Sgt. Siraj. We found that Khawaja Sahib was still in his seat and talking to Chowdhry Muhammad Ali, the Secretary-General who had boarded the aircraft when the entrance door was flung open by the ground crew. We, therefore, retreated our steps into the cockpit and waited for another fifteen minutes before the party finally disembarked. I remember, I was half asleep after flying the whole night without prior notice and the rest required for such emergencies.

I do not know what these two distinguished gentlemen had talked about and both of them have since left this world. One can safely imagine that the talk might have been focused on the funeral arrangements and about finding a successor to the departed Prime Minister. Perhaps, Chowdhry Muhammad Ali might have suggested that the GG should take over the more powerful position of the P.M., to save the country from further chaos. A bad situation might occur from the effects of a second tragedy to befall upon our nation within three years of its existence. As the Secretary-General of the Cabinet, he could have also recommended that the senior most minister Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, who was considered to be too inflexible for the PM's job, should be appointed as the GG in Khawaja Sahib's place. The Cabinet on its 17th October meeting, did indeed endorse all these top positions including Ch. Muhammad Ali as the Finance Minister.

As luck would have it, he later became the Prime Minister of Pakistan when the bureaucracy had a strong grip over the national affairs. One extra hour of waiting in the fog at the airfield after the departure of the PM's body, did indeed help him to reach the highest position in the country. He was removed by Mr. Iskander Mirza who brought Dr. Khan Sahib to form One Unit of the West Pakistan and subsequently Mr. Suhrwardy took over. Ch. Muhammad Ali was also the architect of the 1956 Constitution which was eventually abolished by the Martial Law in 1958. Had Khawaja Sahib not agreed to the suggestion by Ch. Muhammad Ali that fateful morning he might have remained the Governor-General for life with a different chain of command.

Mr. Nazimuddin was removed from the office, a year and half later by Mr. Ghulam Muhammad, the Governor-General who wanted to be in complete control of the Government affairs. Mr. Muhammad Ali Bogra, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States was appointed as the Prime Minister. But that is all in the game of political intrigues, which have always been prevalent in our country, resulted in instability and retarted the progress badly needed for a newly developing country.

Unfortunately, Pakistani leadership has of lately involved itself more in the corruption than the fair game of democracy and politics. The aim of some leaders has been to keep the seat and make as much money as possible, while they are in power. The results of 1997 election are the eye opener for all of us. Lets hope that an honest era starts from now.