A column written by Admiral Arun Prakash for ThePrint sparked a debate with Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail. Here’s the exchange between the two.
Earlier this week, Admiral Arun Prakash wrote a column for ThePrint talking about the need for military historians on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. He wrote about the book by Pakistani Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail (Retd) called “In the Ring and on its Feet” about the Pakistan Air Force’s role in the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
The article led to an enriching exchange between Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail and Admiral Arun Prakash.
ThePrint is publishing this exchange to continue the conversation that the column has generated.
Air Commodore M. Kaiser Tufail’s response:
1. I clearly conceded in the Preface that we lost the war, so I find the surrender picture out of place, though it may have been inserted by the publisher to rub it in.
2. As to the initiator of the war, how can the Indian invasion of East Pakistan on 22 November be denied, or is it that an invasion must have the ingredients of air strikes and armour assaults? I touched upon the much-flogged point that Indian writers regularly harp upon – PAF’s pre-emptive strikes. We were not pre-empting an Indian invasion (which had already taken place), so technically it was not a pre-emption per se. It was just opening up another front. Therefore, the comment about a “half-hearted attempt at obfuscation” is rather strong and unwarranted.
3. As for your ‘cherry-picking’ of some adverse remarks about Air Mshl Rahim Khan, I would have appreciated if you had also included some of the following points: “The PAF was led by Air Marshal Abdur Rahim Khan, an officer with a bearing as impressive as his credentials. Soon after his commission in 1944, Rahim saw action in World War II, when he flew Vultee Vengeance dive-bombers in RIAF’s No 7 Squadron while stationed in Burma. Interestingly, Air Marshal Rahim Khan’s IAF counterpart in 1971 was the former Squadron Commander of No 7 Squadron, Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal. Later in the PAF, Rahim flew Hawker Tempest and Hawker Fury in No 9 Squadron. He started to move on the fast track in the PAF when, in 1951, he was selected to command No 11 Squadron, PAF’s first jet fighter unit equipped with the challenging Supermarine Attacker. Rahim went on to command PAF Station Mauripur (later named Masroor), which was PAF’s largest Station in terms of assets, as well as physical area. He did his staff course at RAF Staff College in Andover, and later, his defence studies course at Imperial Defence College in London. Well qualified in air power and war studies, he went on to command the PAF Staff College in Karachi. His staff jobs at Air Headquarters included those of ACAS (Ops) and ACAS (Admin). As ACAS (Ops), he was at the forefront of planning and conducting air operations during the 1965 Indo-Pak War. The C-in-C, Air Marshal Nur Khan, who had been appointed just 45 days prior to that war, was completely out of touch with the PAF, having been on deputation to PIA for a long period of six years. Rahim not only assisted his boss competently, but gained useful experience in the conduct of operations that he was to put to good use in 1971.”
4. I never mentioned that Rahim Khan’s ‘problems were compounded by low service morale’, though I did say that, “Two incidents that occurred prior to the 1971 war – which are sure to have rankled Air Marshal Rahim and exacerbated his wrath – need to be seen in context of their subsequent impact on the mind-set of the C-in-C and his Air Staff.” I have, regrettably been misquoted.
5. Your comment that, “all PAF Western-origin fighters carried Sidewinders or R-530s” needs to be tempered with a clarification that only about 75 per cent of the Sabres carried Sidewinders, and there was only ONE sortie flown on the Mirage III with the useless R-530.
6. About Chuck Yeager, all I have to say is that he was a big mouth and a braggart. If you have read his book, he makes a preposterous claim that he had exceptional vision, and could easily spot an aircraft as far as 25 NAUTICAL MILES. Now, as for the bit where he states, “I also worked with their squadrons and helped them develop combat tactics,” it is utter balderdash. All he did was to fly a couple of sorties on the Sabre in Peshawar, due to his friendship with Air Mshl Rahim, both having a penchant for hunting and fine Scotch.
7. Your comment: “However, a dichotomy surfaces when it comes to PAF losses. While Tufail lists the tail numbers of only 27 aircraft destroyed, the HoW mentions IAF claims of 75 PAF aircraft destroyed, but credits only 46 (27 in the west and 19 in the east).” My comment: I have given the tail numbers of 22 aircraft that the PAF lost in the West, while tail numbers of the five lost in East Pakistan were not available, as the squadron authorisation book, as well as individual pilot log books were left behind in Dacca. I am willing to challenge any Indian historian or military person to share with me details of lost PAF aircraft that number more than 27. In fact, if I were to obfuscate these losses, I would have easily covered up at least three in the Murid raid by IAF’s 20 Sqn that the IAF did not know about, or the F-6 aircraft shot down by Wg Cdr S.S. Malhotra over Lyallpur that the IAF was never sure about, or a Sabre which ran out of fuel and was lost while chasing IAF Hunters.
8. Your observation: “….. attrition rate as a percentage of (only) the offensive missions flown by both air forces, the HoW declares that the IAF’s utilisation rate being almost double, and its attrition rate being half that of the PAF, …had the war continued, the IAF would certainly have inflicted a decisive defeat on the PAF”. My comment: Why would HoW cherry-pick only the offensive missions? Sir, EVERY mission is to be counted for determining the attrition rate, so let us be fair in conceding that the IAF and PAF had an EQUAL attrition rate at the end of the war. I have taken the number of sorties flown based on the ‘Official History of the 1971 Indo-Pak War’ by S.N. Prasad, which was ‘leaked’ to Times of India (by the government of course) in 2000.
9. Your final comment: “He ends his narrative on a sanguine note, remarking that, “The PAF denied a much stronger IAF …the possibility of delivering a knock-out punch to it”. My comment: Yes sir, SANGUINE! Why not? To force a draw on an opponent two-and-a-half times bigger calls for a drink. Bottoms up, Admiral!
20 Feb, 2018.
Admiral Arun Prakash’s reply:
While this is not a ‘Jawabi Hamla’, I do owe you a few ‘clarifications too……
- I would certainly not have used that particular picture, but media people will do as they please.
2. While 22nd November 1971 may be a cardinal date, whose technical/historical implications could be argued interminably, 26th March 1971 is also considered significant in the Indian narrative vi-a-vis the succeeding chain of events. As adversaries in a war, we are, each, entitled to our own and respective perceptions and we should leave it at that. But as a historian, you may just like to take note of the firm Indian belief that the 3rd December PAF air raids (whether technically ‘pre-emptive’ or not), were the opening gambit of a formal war on the Western front – that had remained quiescent till then. I remember Indira Gandhi broadcasting on radio that night that we were at war.
3. I do feel a twinge of regret that I may have caused you some embarrassment with my remarks about A/M Rahim Khan. Since I could not have reproduced the full text devoted to him, I did ‘cherry-pick’ your remarks on p. 40: “not given to articulation”, “… insipid enunciation of his plans for impending hostilities”, and “unduly quick-tempered”. I did not realize that my commentary would be read across the border, and hope that this will not harm the late Air Chief’s reputation in any way.
4. The ‘low morale’ comment was my own deduction, and I did not attribute it to you.
5. Your frank views about Chuck Yeager were enlightening! He just celebrated his 95th birthday, and I don’t think we should pass them on to him!!.
6. As far as statistics and conclusions are concerned, I do not have the data or background to offer authoritative comments. All I did was to cite S.N. Prasad, as well as your own account. Btw, Prasad’s work is also available on the Bharat Rakshak website.