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.

February, 1952
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt's Visit to Pakistan

In February of 1952, Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the former first lady of the United States was on a UNICEF World tour to introduce her famous subject "Human Rights". She stayed about ten days in West Pakistan, and visited all the four provinces to see and meet a cross section of the people. She was an honoured guest in her own right, even though her husband was four times, President of the U.S.A. who had died in 1945. The Government of Pakistan placed a V.I.P. aircraft at her disposal and I was lucky to fly it.

Begum A. Waheed of Ferozsons was known to Mrs. Roosevelt and a tall journalist, Miss Wajid Ali, the daughter of a senior Government Official accompanied her. The first three nights she stayed in Karachi, with a day's visit to Ghulam Muhammad Barrage in the interior of Sindh. She met the selected groups of ladies who were active in the social and educational works. She was also invited to a high society marriage ceremony by Begum Raana Liaquat Ali Khan. The bridegroom, Aftab Ahmad Khan, a young Civil Service Officer, was my class-fellow at the Government College, Lahore in 1943/45. A few years ago, he retired as the federal Finance Secretary to the Government of Pakistan. Mrs. Roosevelt was much impressed with the marriage functions which included dances performed by beautiful girls from the leading families of Pakistan. Their gorgeous dresses and the loads of jewellery added to the glamour and enhanced the gaiety of such occasions.

On the fourth day, we flew to the Annual Baluchistan Darbar at Sibi, which was then at full swing. At the end of the ceremonies, the Agent to the Governor-General Mian Amin-ud-Din presented some sealed envelopes to the prominent Sardars. They were dressed in their colourful 'choghas' (Gowns) with fold upon fold of 20 meters 'shalwars' (Trousers) and as much length on their "Pagries" (Head Dresses.) Mrs. Roosevelt could not help asking a few questions about the baggy dresses and large turbans. She was also curious to know about the contents of the envelopes, which contained the Government monitary rewards, for keeping the various tribes under control. It was for the first time that the wives of some high officials were also invited, they drove all the way from Quetta for the occasion. This was purposely arranged so that Mrs. Roosevelt should not feel embarrassed being there by herself. All eyes were glued on the towering figure of the foreign lady who intentionally wore a long dress to cover her ankles as per local traditions.

In the evening, we flew to Lahore, a beautiful city of gardens, historical monuments and a famous centre of education and learning. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate degree at the Punjab University. In Lahore, she addressed a few social forums arranged by the academic and enlightened women's circles. After having been to Sind and Baluchistan, she relaxed at the Governor's House which was full of chrysanthmum and tulip beds. The hectic programme also included a luncheon party, given by the Nawab of Kalabagh at his fort, overlooking the Indus river near Mianwali, although he was not the Governor of the Punjab in those days. He escorted Mrs. Roosevelt inside the house to introduce his family who were in 'parda' and segregation.

The next trip was to Peshawar to show her a glimpse of the Pathan culture. She was taken to the 'Kissa Khawani Bazar' (The story teller's street) and to the Khyber Pass; on the latter trip, when she came to know that I had never visited the historical gateway to India, she invited me to accompany her. On the way, she asked me to tell the driver to stop the car. I naturally got alarmed and wanted to know the urgency, as it was a dangerous prohibited area where a sniper could shoot from behind the hills. It was an exclusive tribal zone except for that particular road. The Pathan driver from the Government House, who could understand some English stopped the car. Her personal physician Dr. Greviech who was sitting next to her got down with his camera. He took a picture of a small wooden sign board mounted low along the road, showing a motor vehicle and a camel. It was an indication to worn the camel drivers and the thousands of Nomads who start entering Pakistan from Afghanistan before the winter that they should not use the metalled road.

As a courtesy, I had to get out of the car also. Luckily we had a convoy of few government cars with a Military jeep mounted with a machine-gun, obviously, there was no likelyhood of shooting. At the Khyber Pass she crossed the Pak-Afghan Border on taken with the great lady . I was, however, a little disappointed as I did not see a narrow pass in a closed valley which I had always imagined this to be. After sometime, I realised that a large area was necessary for the invading Armies to camp there and conquer India at their own time and leisure.

At the Peshawar Airport, when we were going back to Lahore she asked me if it could be possible to see the Himalayas and Nanga Parbat. I told her that I knew the area very well and even flew at night time in 1949 to keep the supplies running for our soldiers, after the Indian Fighter Aircraft fired at our Dakota during the day time. I briefed her, that we had to fly at much higher altitude and would be late by about 45 minutes for arrival at the Walton Airport. From there she was flying to New Dehli by an Indian Airline Dakota. I invited her in the cockpit so that she could have better view of the Nanga Parbat and a community of snow covered high mountains. She was very much thrilled and appreciated the invitation to the cockpit.

At the Walton Airport, she asked if I had ever visited the United States to which I said "No Madam". She invited me to visit her whenever I was in that country and asked her Secretary to take my address. On her return to New York she sent me and my navigator Flying Officer Syed a letter of thanks and her portrait with a nice caption in a beautiful silver frame. It still is one of the prized pictures in my house.

While on secondment to the Civil Aviation Department from the Air Force I was sent to the United States in 1964, on a three months U.S. Aid tour, as the guest of the Federal Aviation Agency in Washington D.C. Unfortunately, Mrs. Roosevelt had already died two years earlier in 1962. Luckily, I had remembered the name of her Secretary Miss Maureen Corr, and I had no difficulty in finding out her telephone number in New York. When I rang her up from my hotel Hilton, she was pleasantly surprised. She asked me about my programme and particularly the arrival date in New York, when I had a few days free to see the 1964 EXPO.

In Washington, she arranged my meeting with Mr. James Roosevelt, the eldest son, at the Senate House. He talked to me about Pakistan and how much his mother had admired that country and its people. He suggested that while I was in New York, I should visit Hyde Park, eighty miles from the city, where his parents were buried. He instructed Miss Corr on the Phone, to make, necessary arrangements for my visit. After visiting the Cemetery and the Archives we were invited for a dinner at John Roosevelt house, he was the youngest son. He showed me his Armoury and was very keen to visit Pakistan and shoot a Marco-Polo sheep which I could not organise, as it was a rare and declared as an endangered animal.

At the Archives, I asked the Archivist if it was possible to see Mrs. Roosevelt's 'My day' Columns which she sued to write daily until her death. He took me to the proper section and showed my name mentioned by her, during her trip to Pakistan and the wonderful flight she had of the Himalaya and Nanga Parbat. I felt proud and happy that at least the name of a Pakistan Air Force Officer would always remain in the Roosevelt Archives at the United States.

In New York, I was invited for dinner by Dr. Greviech who bought Mrs. Roosevelt's personal flat after her death, on 63rd Street in the East-End. He also invited some of his friends and made me sit at the guest of honour seat. During the dinner, he narrated an interesting story. Once Mrs. Roosevelt invited Mrs. Indra Gandhi for a dinner party. One of her guests asked Mrs. Gandhi 'How is the Goa constrictor'. She lost her temper and banged the table, saying that it was not Mr. Krishna Menon, who was then the Defence Minister, responsible for attacking Goa. The people of Portugese enclave wanted to join India, and if anybody was to be blamed it should be her, being the President of the Congress. It was her haughty and short tempered nature which made her quite unpopular even when she became the Prime Minister of India. Dr. Greviech presented me with Mrs. Roosevelt's biography and the picture of the camel and motor vehicle on a billboard, which he took on the way to the Khyber Pass.

For many years, I kept on wondering as to why a captain of the PAF aircraft was given so much importance by the family and private secretary of Mrs. Roosevelt, twelve years after she visited Pakistan and two years after she expired. I am sure, she must have liked the people of Pakistan, who honoured and admired her more than the people of other countries which she visited during that trip.

I remember having sent, her own picture printed in a post card from Rotoroa, New Zealand the same year. She visited that country during the Second World War and was standing with a Moari Princess whom we also had met during the sight seeing tour. We had also exchanged a few X'Mas cards afterwards. Those were the only contacts I ever had with that great and gracious lady, apart from the fact that I also did act as her Aide throughout her visit. She must have spoken well about Pakistan to her two sons and other people after her visit to our country. I am happy, that I extended her full courtesy and attention to make her trip comfortable, not knowing and expecting that one day, I would be given a V.I.P. treatment in her great country.