Former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Chief Air Marshal Asghar Khan, 96, passed away in Islamabad on Friday. The Dawn reported Khan died after a long illness. He will be buried on Saturday in Abbottabad.
Jammu and Kashmir-born Khan was the first Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) officer to fly the Gloster Meteor-III jet fighter in 1946.
Khan fought the World War II in Burma, commanded No 9 Squadron in Ranchi, Gurgaon and Delhi. He served as Chief Flying Instructor at RIAF’s Advance Flying Training School in Ambala before moving to Pakistan in 1947. Khan’s successor in Ambala, Wing Commander Nair, arranged an aircraft for him to fly to Pakistan.
In his book ‘My Political Struggle’, Khan wrote Nair did not want him to travel by train because of the riots. “Wing Commander Nair did us a good turn and saved our lives.’’
Khan tried to remain in touch with his former Indian Air Force (IAF) colleagues right till the end. He spoke to his RIAF colleague, Squadron Leader Dalip Singh Majithia, nine days before his death.
In October, he phoned Chandigarh-based 96-year-old IAF veteran Air Marshal Randhir Singh. The two had worked together in Kohat and Miranshah in present-day Pakistan in 1943. Randhir and Khan had been roommates in Miranshah when their squadron was deployed for bombing tribal villages in North Western Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
Khan spoke to Randhir after 74 years and offered condolences over his batchmate and IAF Marshal Arjan Singh’s death in September “Arjan was a very fine man and I am sad to hear about his passing.”
Khan’s widow, Amina Shamsi, told The Indian Express in December the former PAF chief has been asking about Dalip. “He has been very forgetful lately but he remembers him very well.” Khan had been unable to trace him as he had left the IAF early and settled in Uttar Pradesh.
Randhir remembered Khan as “a very fine person and an exceptional pilot too”. “We learnt so much from him in those days. He was heading the No 3 Squadron detachment in Miranshah when we were deployed for anti-tribal operations.” He added most of the bombing the two carried out in a Hurricane aircraft used to be ineffective. “The villages would be empty as the British agent of NWFP would pay tribals to vacate them before the bombing took place,” he said. “Asghar was a senior Flying Officer and though I was of the same rank and his room-mate, I was junior in service and we used to look up to him.’’
Randhir recalled Khan did not smoke or drink. “He did not have a roving eye. He was a gentleman.”
Khan and Arjan Singh, who were chiefs of their respective forces, spoke and ensured the PAF and the IAF did not get involved in the 1965 fight between the Indian and Pakistani armies in the Rann of Kutch.
The move to speak overshadowed their careers. Khan was relieved as PAF chief in July 1965 just a month before Pakistan launched Operation Gibralter in Jammu and Kashmir followed by Operation Grand Slam in September that year.