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.

March, 1969
Pierre Cardin, the Designer of the P.I.A. Air Hostess Uniform

After his retirement from the Air Force in 1965, Air Marshal Asghar Khan became the Chairman of Civil Aviation, Tourism and the Managing Director of P.I.A. To acquaint himself with the working of Civil Airline and problems of the Aircrews, he got converted into a Captain of Boeing aircraft and occasionally flew as such.

One day, when I was working as the Airport Manager Karachi, the Director General of Civil Aviation rang up and informed that the air Marshal wanted me to accompany him the following day to Lahore and Rawalpindi for an important mission. His own Personal Staff Officer, the late Wing Commander C. S. Khan had suddenly fallen ill. At Lahore, he wanted to visit the Wazir Khan Mosque and the interior of the old city; from the Tourist point of view. We stayed at the Falleti's Hotel, as he had to oversee all the evacuee property Hotels in Pakistan, and he had some ideas for their improvement. At dinner-table, he briefed me about his program for the next day, and enquired if I knew the interior of Lahore. He also told me to inform the Chief of Archaeological Department to meet him at 9 o' clock at the Wazir Khan Mosque. From there he wanted to walk through the 'Mughal' Delhi Gate to the Lohari 'Darwaza' near the Anarkali Bazar. The beautiful small mosque was not in a good condition, he advised the head of the Historical Buildings for certain improvements.

While walking through the narrow streets of the interior of Lahore, he told me that he was looking for some kind of head dresses and light jewellery for the Air Hostesses. He stopped at a few shops and a small crowd started following us. When we were passing through the famous Dubbi Bazar (where I was born, in "Haveli Kabli Mal" a Mini Fortress of my maternal grandfather), one person asked him whether he was Asghar Khan? No answer was given, and he kept on walking more seriously. After a lapse of some more time, another Lahorite posed him the same question to which he replied, if he thought that way, then he was the same person. By this time everybody started saying that he was actually the Air-Marshal. The crowd became bigger and began shouting "Asghar Khan Zindabad". We also saw big portraits of the Quaid-e-Azam, Ayub Khan and of himself, which were being sold at the footpaths. I noticed some relaxation on his face, and I thought that was the crucial and wrong moment, when he might have considered that he was very popular amongst the masses and could become a political leader. In my humble opinion, a political leader is normally a shrewd intriguer or a clever, liar, which he is neither.

At the Suha Bazar he entered one of the jewellery shops but did not like any trinklet for the Air Hostesses. The shopkeeper offered him some tea or cold drink which he politely declined. The jeweller requested him that he wanted to address the crowd which had now become big and unwieldy. From the raised platform of his shop he delivered a short speech in the Punjabi language:

"We are so lucky, that today, we have Air Marshal Asghar Khan standing with us. You remember, in 1965 War when the Indian fighter aircraft were flying low over our shops we did not close any establishment. It was because of this great man who made the Air Force so strong that we did not have any fears."

Again, there were some full throated slogans of 'Asghar Khan Zindabad', which continued till we crossed the Lohari Gate and sat in our car. This unexpected reception might have reconfirmed his view that he was fit for politics and the real source of power was the masses. It was a turning point in his life and eventually he resigned from his important appointments to become a politician. The last straw which broke the camel's back was perhaps the main reason; that F. M. Ayub Khan had superseded him by making Admiral A. R. Khan the Defence Minister, a post for which Asghar Khan was better suited.

The late Commander Afzal, a brother of Air Marshal Asghar Khan related me the actual story as to why he was not made the Defence Minister. Once the Field Marshal invited him and Admiral A. R. Khan for a dinner. After the dinner the President took them out separately in the Government House lawn for a few minutes private talk. He informed them that according to the Constitution he had to appoint a 'Three Star' rank as his Defence Minister.

He posed them a simple question. "Should the C-in-Cs of the three armed forces be directly under the President, who is also the Supreme Commander or under the Defence Minister?" Asghar Khan replied that since the Defence Minister would be answerable to the President, the three C-in-Cs should be under the former. When the same question was asked to A. R. Khan, he immediately replied that they should be under the President, because he was the Supreme Commander and a direct control of three C-in-Cs was necessary. It proved, that the ex-Naval C-in-C knew the President more than the ex-Air Force Chief.

In Rawalpindi, we stayed at the Flashman hotel. A night before he told me to ring up the Intercontinental hotel and find out about Pierre Cardin. When I spoke to him, I informed him that the P.I.A. Chief was staying at the Hotel opposite to his and he wanted him to have the breakfast at his hotel at 8 o' clock. After that, we were going to see the Pakistan Day Parade. Pierre Cardin promptly arrived on time although I was 2/3 minutes late due to some last minute telephone calls. During breakfast the Air Marshal told him, that he could not find any head-dress or the jewellery for the Air Hostesses uniform in Lahore. As such, he should design and recommend something Oriental which should go well with the Pakistani culture.

The world renowned designer looked towards Nasreen, the Air Marshal's eldest daughter who was sitting next to her mother and said that he would be needing a model once the uniforms were ready. He invited her to visit Paris as the Company's guest. French men are extra polite towards women and I am sure, it was initially taken in that spirit by the parents of the young girl. After sometime, he again repeated his invitation that he was serious and said 'Nazreen with a French accent on 'Z' would do full justice to the clothes which he was going to design. I could notice the Air Marshal's reaction, as he always had a twitch on his nostrils if something was not according to his wishes. It was apparent, that he did not appreciate this repeated offer to his daughter. I had to nudge Pierre Cardin under the table to stop his over indulgence. By this time, I am certain he must have realised that he was not in France, where it would have been considered as a big complaint for the whole family.

The parade was excellent and General Yahya Khan, the President was in great mood and form. We remained another day or two in Rawalpindi to enjoy the brisk cold weather and the best to impress upon the Air Marshal. A brief biography may help the readers to understand him better.

Air Marshal Asghar Khan, the founder of Istiqlal Party joined the Indian Air Force in 1940 and served in Operations against the Japanese in Burma during the second World-War. He was appointed as the first Pakistani Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Air Force in 1957 at the young age of thirty-six, the post which he held for eight years. He has been an honest, and a hard task master during his long career both in the Military and Civil Service. In 1942. The Royal Indian Air Force was ordered by the British Government to bomb the Pir of Pagara's village to crush the uprising of the Hurs. He refused to carry out the order, which in his opinion, was too drastic an action for the Indian Muslims. Asghar Khan has been opposed to the military regimes of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Generals Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq. He was under detention in his house for the total of nine years on different occasions. He also condemned and was against the Military action in East Pakistan, which resulted in break up of the country in 1971. He is the main architect and builder of the Pakistan Air Force. The 1965 War with India was a clear manifestation of his contribution to the discipline and training of a young Air Force. It encountered a much bigger enemy by attaining 'Air Superiority' in 1965 War. While in the service he promoted and sponsored the game of golf in the country and, he himself achieved a single digit handicap. He has been my "Role Model" throughout the service.

In January, 1968, as the Airport Manager Karachi, I flew him and Air Commodores B. K. Dass and Rahim Khan in a Cessna 185 to Badin for a partridge shoot where I met my younger brother Flt/Lt. Khalil who was posted there as ATCO. We shot a few birds but had to walk a lot. In February, a duck shoot was arranged by the late Pir Mahfooz, a leading banker and popular figure in Karachi. This was at Shajawal lake belonging to Mir Ijaz Ali Talpur. It was very well conducted and proved to be the best shoot I ever had. We shot about one hundred ducks of different kinds between the six to seven guns. I flew the Air Marshal in a 2-seater Cherokee 140 aircraft and used the Plant Protection improvised Airfield near the lake. We were presented a sackful of ducks mainly the Mallards which were about one hundred pounds of weight. I had to reduce the number of ducks to half, as I knew that I had only consumed one hundred lbs. Of fuel weight, while coming to Shajawal. Even than I took off with some difficulty due to the short length of 'Katcha' runway.

My prayers and good wishes are always with the Air Marshal as I feel I would have not achieved much without his blessings and patronage, although some senior officers were jealous and did not like my guts.