Book review: A sketch set to dazzle —by Afrah Jamal
Cutting Edge PAF: A Former Air Chief's Reminiscences of a Developing Air ForceBy Air Chief Marshal (retired) M Anwar Shamim Vanguard Books; Pp 345
Of late, there have been
numerous occasions to visit the hallways of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) history. Pioneers adorn the walls while historians glower from a corner, trying to reconstruct these men's stories. Men who went up in a blaze of glory, men who left a trail of controversy, and men who went on to lead quiet lives in the suburbs, they are all in there somewhere. Missteps aside, each of them contributed towards making the air force what it is today.
Written under duress, the air chief marshal buckled under his daughter's pressure and broke his silence about life in the PAF. The title suggests that his autobiography focuses more on the professional achievements of the service than the controversial aspects of his tenure. However, the slew of allegations and 'bizarre rumours' about him and his wife have been duly addressed at the end.
The tone is circumspect; the prose is simple; and the story follows the evolutionary path of a PAF initially composed of 222 officers and 2,342 airmen moulded into a cutting edge force that became the pride of the nation and the talk of the town. He commanded 33 Fighter Wing during the 1965 War, served as air adviser to His Majesty King Hussein Bin Talal, planning and developing a modern Jordanian Air Force, and rose to become the second longest-serving PAF chief in 1978.
Cutting Edge PAF is divided into pre-war reminiscences and post-war contributions of the man who helped shape a modern air force. It is also about the vicissitudes of life experienced as a young air force officer and the boy who was first to go solo from No 2 University Air Squadron, the graduate from Royal Australian Air Force College, Point Cook, raving about the Aussie way — their honesty, cleanliness and habit of giving host teams a thundering good time one day before a match — and the pilot who ferried a fleet of F-86s from Paris to Karachi only to make a harrowing discovery near Rome that the air traffic controller's knowledge extended to just two words, 'Continue approach'!
An analysis of both wars is embedded within to complete the look of a period piece. Mostly, it serves as a platform to restore his image as a forward-thinking leader with the foresight to choose F-16s for Kahuta — indefensible and eight minutes away from the PAF, but only three minutes ride from the Indian Air Force. A man credited with three Tactical Commands, thus decentralising tactical operations, one 'Institute of Air Safety' that trained Air Safety Specialists, seven 'Jet Stream' exercises in seven years designed to test preparedness, which also laid the seed of inter-services cooperation and a nine hole golf course in every base, leading the PAF to become inter-services champs in 1980. Sound investments — all of them, yes, even the golf courses.
This impressive list of achievements can only be rivalled by an equally formidable string of allegations that plagued his career. Stigmas are easily attached and impossible to remove. The writer tries nevertheless. His book reproaches Defence Journal for pitting a group captain against his air chief by allowing Cecil Chaudhry's views to be aired without investigation and wonders at the PAF for letting them go unchallenged. He attaches an excerpt from Profiles of Intelligence by Brigadier Syed Ali Tirmizi (1995), which gives a new twist to the story, bringing up Cecil Chaudhry's links with the Soviets. He cites the 'Legion of Merit' given by the US government as proof against drug conspiracy charges and describes the foolproof process of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to counter the kickback story where he saved, not cost, his country millions.
He also goes to great lengths to clear his wife's name. Ms Tahira Shamim is said to have revamped the entire Pakistan Air Force Women's Association (PAFWA) on modern managerial lines and started the Mujahida Academy, now affiliated with the Air University. He attributes suggestions of impropriety to natural prejudice against women taking initiatives at a time when it was not fashionable. A neat explanation — a little too neat some might say.
This carefully drawn sketch is set to dazzle. And in this group portrait, incidents have been arranged to showcase not just the expanding firepower and might of the service but also the initiative and ability of its officers — one in particular — Anwar Shamim, who as the air chief took on the challenge of absorbing F-16s in one year when the usual timeframe was three; who claims his testimony as a witness during the PAF witch-hunts got several innocents off the hook; and whose stories of command decisions range from improving the morale of his men where needed to fixing the discipline within ranks when required — like the uppity airman on probation who started walking when ordered to double march and took to running when told to halt.
Past familiar landmarks of history, through corridors of power lies the room where policies are made, decisions are taken and fates are sealed. Cutting Edge PAF provides an engrossing look at the duties of the air board, functions of the AHQ, etc., during the transformative phase of a service striving hard to achieve a higher state of operational readiness. The book shines a blinding light on the good, hoping to banish the bad and the ugly. And it works. For a while. Cutting Edge PAF is due out by April 2010.
Air Marshal Anwar Shamim in his book Cutting Edge has attacked Cecil Choudhry and questions PAF for not countering Cecil Choudhry.
Below are some interesting intercepts pertaining to Cecil Choudhry on Anwar Shamim:---
Q. Please tell us about your service profile from 1971 till retirement?
After the war I returned to my parent unit the Fighter Leaders School and was soon reposted as its Chief Instructor till 1973 when I was detailed to attend the Staff College Course. It was during that course, quite surprisingly, I was promoted to the rank of a Wing Comd. After the course I took over the command of No. 9 Mirage Squadron at PAF Shorkot in 1974. During my stay the base was renamed as PAF Base Rafiqui. In January 1976 I was posted as the Deputy Director Operations (Tac Ops) in the Operations Directorate in Air Headquarters Peshawar. I really enjoyed that posting after very hectic field jobs for 13 years. I enjoyed it more because if one was well organized you needed to work for just a couple of hours a day. I really found out at AHQ as to what was meant by the expression "look busy do damn all," because that is what most officers seemed to do. However, my joy was short-lived as the Chief hand picked Gp. Capt. Hakimullah (later to become the Air Chief) and myself to set up the most super advanced fighter-training unit, The Combat Commanders' School (CCS), and I was then posted to Sargodha in April 1976. In January 1978 I took over the Command of CCS. In January 1979 I was stopped just one day before my departure, from proceeding to UK as the Air Attache on some very flimsy grounds. All I was told by the Chief, Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim (the worst ever yet the longest, thanks to the despot General Zia) that the Government had not cleared me to precede. I asked for an immediate release from service and was told by him "look you are one of my finest officers I cannot let you go." What a laugh! I offered to proceed on an immediate deputation to Libya which I declined. I was then detailed to proceed to Iraq on deputation and I kept dragging my feet till September 1979 when I decided to take my family and myself away from the prevailing madness in the country for a few years. I returned from Iraq in December 1983 after a very enjoyable and a professionally satisfying experience. After a short posting in AHQ I was deputed to Shaheen Foundation and moved to Lahore in April 1984 from where I retired in July 1986.
Q. Does sycophancy and intellectual dishonesty play a major role in promotion to higher ranks?
Not as a matter of routine at least in the PAF though that became the order of the day during the tenure of Air Chief Marshal Anwar Shamim. Officers who had earlier been superseded at lower ranks rose to higher ranks. Some who had been removed from command of a squadron as failures rose to command bases. Credit goes to dedicated young field commanders for keeping the PAF on track despite very poor leadership. It was highly professional Chiefs like Hakimullah, Farooq Feroze Khan and Pervaiz Medhi Qureshi who were able to get the PAF back on track.
Q. What is your opinion about the F-16 deal?
Though the finest aircraft of its kind we should never have gone for the F16s. Like I said earlier we never learn from our past mistakes. The Americans have a very poor political track record with us; they let us down in 65 and 71 despite we being members of their CENTO pact. On the other hand France has been a reliable friend, we should have gone for the Mirage-2000 instead. I don't know but we hear about kickbacks in the F16 deal but NAB does not seem to think so or they don't want to go that far. But I do know of a number of ex PAF officers who could not afford a car, now own flats in England — thanks to British weekly lottery I guess.
Q. You also served as a Defence Attache abroad. How was that stint?
I served in Iraq from September 1979-83 on deputation and took over as the Head of the Pakistan Military Mission in 1980. As I mentioned earlier I enjoyed working with the Iraqis as I found them to be very cultured people. Shamefully, I have to admit I got more professional respect from the Iraqi Leadership than our own. Oh! The whole family enjoyed the stay in Iraq.
Q. What do you have to say about the assertion that our Intelligence agencies indulge more in petty reporting and in settling personal scores rather than solid intelligence gathering?
What can one say about something that is almost God's truth. My personal experience during both the wars was that the way these agencies were being made to function was a complete waste of resources. We had no authentic information about our targets that we could rely on in our planning. We were provided information that was 10 years old.
Q. Who was the finest air force professional that you saw in your entire service?
This is a very difficult question to answer because we are covering a wide spectrum. The finest was Sarfraz Rafiqui. The finest Chiefs were Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan in that order. Most professional officers I worked directly under, Syed Mukhtar Ali, Hakimullah and (late) Masroor Hussain. Highly professional officers I worked with were P.Q. Medhi (ex Chief), Aliuddin (present DGCAA) and late Hashmi.
Q. How would you compare the PAF with IAF in 2001 in terms of operational efficiency?
In terms of operational efficiency the PAF certainly has an edge over the IAF, but we need to get them the badly needed equipment to enhance that edge. This is the only factor that can neutralize the numeric imbalance/inferiority.
Q. How would you compare the PAF of 1965, 1971 and 2001 in terms of operational efficiency?
As I mentioned earlier the PAF has remained a highly professional fighting force despite having gone through many crises. I have full confidence that it continues to remain one of the most operationally efficient Air Force in the world.
Q. What recommendations do you have in mind to make the PAF more effective and combat worthy?
Provide it with the badly needed replacement of the undelivered F16s and other equipment.
Q. Is the system of training in the PAF in line with requirements of modern warfare?
Oh! Absolutely beyond any doubt.
Q. Which Head of State had the finest understanding of airpower as an instrument of national strategy?
No doubt it was General Zia-ul-Haq who really did support PAF modernisation but unfortunately his energies remained diverted towards perpetuating his rule through his so- called Islamization process. This resulted in doing damage to both the country as well as Islam.
Q. What has been the negative contribution of the First Ladies in erosion of professionalism in the PAF?
Actually there has not been any negative contribution of the First Ladies in erosion of professionalism in the Air Force. On the contrary most of them have had a positive contribution. This sort of thing has only taken root because of just one First Lady, Begum Anwar Shamim. She ran the Air Force while her husband twiddled his fingers in the office. But then, that is all he was expected to do as the Chief because from the time I came across Squadron Leader Shamim and had the opportunity to observe him from close quarters all he did was twiddle his fingers. Twiddling twiddling he became the Chief! There may have been some magic in it ! I don't know !!!!
Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death." --
Albert Einstein !!!