Pakistani pilot writes after 46 years to daughter of Indian pilot he shot down

Better late than never: Ex-PAF pilot Qais Hussain in Lahore, 2011. Photo by Naveed Riaz

Below: the report I did based on an email that Naveed Riaz in Lahore forwarded me, published in The News this morning with the Aman ki Asha logo. There has been a phenomenal response to this report, with most people lauding Qais Hussain’s courage in speaking out after all these years and writing what must have been a difficult letter.

Pakistani pilot writes after 46 years to daughter of Indian pilot he shot down

By Beena Sarwar

Nearly half a century after shooting down an Indian civil aircraft under orders during the 1965 war with India, a Pakistan Air Force pilot has sent a condolence message to the daughter of the pilot of the aircraft he downed.

Qais Hussain, a rookie Flying Officer during the 1965 war, made this moving and humane gesture via email, expressing his condolences and providing details of the circumstances under which he shot down the Indian aircraft. The email is addressed to Farida Singh, daughter of the Indian Air Force pilot Jahangir “Jangoo” Engineer, one of the three famous Engineer brothers in the Indian Air Force.

Qais Hussain with his damaged aircraft during the 1965 war: "I had my share of hits also but was lucky to survive to tell the story today... This was the toughest landing and possibly the worst damaged aircraft that came back after being hit by Indian Ack Ack in '65. The date was September 23, time around 1PM and the ceasefire was declared by Ayub Khan while I was still in the air trying to land this aircraft... I still remember our driver Sher Khan, a Kashmiri lad who came running towards my aircraft with a glass of leemonpani and crying. I had jumped off after stopping this Saber a foot short of the barrier and was running for my life, because smoke was emitting through the hole in the wing when Sher Khan met me. I did the air test on this aircraft the next morning... "

The email, with the subject line “Condolence”, dated Fri, Aug 5, 2011, is copied to Naushad Patel and Jagan Pillarisetti, the Indian contacts who helped Mr Hussain to reach out to the bereaved family, something he had wanted to do for some time.

Mr Hussain forwarded the email to a group email for Pakistan Air Force colleagues, saying, “Most of you would recall that I had shot down an Indian civil aircraft after being scrambled from Mauripur in 1965 War”.

Referring to an April 2011 article by Air Cdre. Kaiser Tufail (“The Gujarat Beechcraft Incident – 1965 War”), which gives details of the incident, he says that it was Naveed Riaz, the Lahore-based businessman and aviation enthusiast who helped him get in touch with the Indian contacts through whom he then managed to reach Jahangir Engineer’s daughter.

“I had decided to write a note of condolence, which I was able to do today and it is attached in full here below for your information,” he writes to his PAF colleagues, copied to Naveed Riaz. Reproduced below in full is his email to Farida Singh:

“Dear Mrs. Singh,

“I am glad that by now we know about each other and it is no surprise that I am writing to you, thanks to Naushad Patel and Jagan Pillarisetti.

“The incident happened 46 years back but it is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. The aircraft flown by your father had drifted off course by many a miles and in his search for the destination, he had been going up and down in the border area of Rann of Katchh for quite some time and it made our Radar Controllers uncomfortable.  I happened to be strapped up in my aircraft along with another pilot (my Leader) in his, on two minutes take-off alert. We were scrambled but I had to take off alone, and with the help from my radar controller, intercepted your father’s aircraft which was considered to be on a recce mission to open a new war front. I caught sight of him at 3000’ and made a pass so close that I could read his markings and the number of the aircraft. Your father spotted my presence immediately and he started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. “Instead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight seat transport aircraft  (guessing by the four side windows) and wanted further instructions to deal with it. At the same time, I was hoping that I would be called back without firing a shot. There was a lapse of 3 to 4 long minutes before I was given clear orders to shoot the aircraft.

“After the shooting, I had a sense of achievement and satisfaction that I had completed my mission and destroyed any recce data that might have been collected to open a new war front. I landed back at Mauripur, Karachi with my fuel tanks bone dry and was greeted by my seniors and other squadron colleagues. Later that evening, All India Radio announced the names of the occupants who had lost their lives in that aircraft.

“The reason that I have been trying to get in touch with you since recently is an article by Air Cdre Kaiser Tufail in April 2011, in which he researched the whole incident and came out with his story by interviewing me, the radar controller (a Flying Officer) and his supervisor  (a Wing Commander) who took the decision to order the shoot. I have also read numerous versions that appeared in the Indian media at the time, said to be eyewitness accounts from peasants of Mithapur which are unfortunately based on hearsay. Even the findings of an Enquiry Committee constituted by the Indian Government are nowhere near to what actually happened. I was alone at the site of incident while my Leader who took off finally about 6 to 7 minutes after me (due to change of aircraft and a new pilot), was perched at the border at 20,000’ acting as a relay station between me and  the controller at Badin. I had lost contact somewhere while descending to 3,000’ and had we not had this aircraft at 20,000’ at the border, I would not have found your father’s aircraft and he would not have lost his life along with all the others. Nonetheless, the unfortunate part in all this is that I had to execute the orders of my controller.

“Mrs Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that ‘everything is fair in love and war’, the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information. I did not play foul and went by the rules of business but the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones. I feel greatly grieved that you lost your brother Noshir recently. If an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father 46 years back I would grab it with both hands. I would highly appreciate if you please convey my feelings to the other members of your family, who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of Jungoo to the next world.

“I hope and pray that you and your family stay well

“My best regards…

“Qais”

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18 Responses

  1. [...] Pakistani pilot writes after 46 years to daughter of Indian pilot he shot down [...]

    • Humanity after all is not dead!!!!!….

  2. the Nuremberg judges who ruled the Nazis were equally responsible for following Hitler’s orders.

    I have no sympathy for that murderer:
    - There were no hostilties at that time
    - The Beechcraft a cvilian aircraft appeared lost and was trying to get back to Indian side of border
    - The Beechcraft pilot wagged his intention to surrender
    Yet the pilot shot him down. His guilty feeling is what haunted him all these years.

    • Please see the comments of the bereaved families – their courage and grace in accepting that what happened was a result of the madness of war; video report online at: http://bit.ly/ndtvqhrpt

    • Your facts are wrong – the war wasnt over! And for your info, both sides were dirtily using civilian aircraft for reconnaisance purposes, so its not surprising that Qais Hussein got orders to shoot it down.

      The question that needs to be asked is how an aircraft with such high personages in it was allowed to fly so close to the border by our own IAF authorities, and that too without any escort! It was foolish giving permission for such a flight.

      My dad was also a serving IAF officer and he said that if he had received orders to shoot, he would have had no option but to do so!

  3. It takes courage to own up, publicly, as QAIS sahib has done. Humanity plus moral leadership exists in individuals, in service in war-time or Peace to do the RIGHT thing and as guided by their own conscience at that time. That is chivalry of the highest kind and not any element of indiscipline, as the world construes it. Wishing you and yours the very best of the current Ramadaan and a Happy EID-’11.
    dev chopra in gurgaon (born in Lahore-1934) (heard & saw your programme with our Barkha Dutt!

    • Thank you Chopra Sahib. Greetings and best wishes to you also. Come and visit Lahore again. :)

  4. It recalls to me the famous poem of Faraz :

    ٴٴ‘پیشہ ور قاتلو تم سپاہی نہیں’

    کاش کہ سن اکہتر میں سابقہ مشرقی پاکیستان میں فوجیوں کے ہاتھوں جو کچھ ہوا اس پہ بھی کوئی فوجی ایسی ہی معذرت کرتا اور ثابت کرتا کہ وہ پیشہ ور قاتل نہیں سپاہی ہیں جو انسان کا دل رکھتے ہیں -

  5. It is commendable what Qais did because it takes courage to own up to a mistake. Fauzia was gracious in her acceptance of the apology. That shows us what a marvelous human being she is. War is a terrible thing and that is precisely the reason why our leaders should be very careful before they start stoking the fires. I remember Capt. Mubasher of PIA whose Fokker Friendship was shot down by Indian Air Force over the Indian ocean an hour outside Karachi. He was a bachelor and left behind a couple of bereaved, heart broken parents to mourn the cutting down of his young life till their last day. Sad … very sad indeed!

  6. hey guys,
    I was in the same Squadron as Qais..as a matter of fact I was there when he was scrambled and when he returned I noticed his gun ports were black…we were excited to find out what he had shot down…he said it was a Beechcraft…but again one does what is ordered to do…a week later we moved from Mauripur to Sargodha…and the very next mission he flew , he took a direct ack ack hit…I saw his wing..it was almost broken in two…yet he brought the plane back..quite a guy !!!
    I watched the entire video..I personally think it was great for Qais to reach out for the families of the persons on board that ill-fated flight..
    BUt Qais has aged a lot..!!!..he looked like a movie star back then…but they say…so did I..hahaha..cheers from Vancouver
    Pervez

  7. [...] “El incidente está tan fresco en mi mente como si hubiera sucedido ayer”, continúa en este e-mail, mandado con el asunto “condolencia”, de fecha viernes, 05 de agosto 2011, con copia a los [...]

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  9. War is fought b/w countries on issues, related to its security and territorial integrity/soveriegnity. When the hostility breakout every thing moving close to the bdr or aircraft flying is supposed to be interdict and destroyed, in the best interest of the country, saving lives of people & nation from being killed and collatral damage. Specially when a hostile ac ingress into the air space of the country with a recce mission to find location, concentration of troops with a view to inflict max casualty and damage, to renders ones country incapable to fight on a new front intented by the hostile force.1965 war, was started & aggression was committed by our neighbour,to capture Lahore and other recce mission / diversionary attack was launched in other part of Pakistan to facilitate capture of Lahore and surrounding area. Pakistan posture being offensive defense was/is legitemately correct action / decision was taken to destroy the hostile Beechcraft in its airspace to defend its people & soveriegnity of the country. Pakistan troops with the support of people fought bravely sacrificing their lives to save the country from being captured in 1965 war. Today after 46yrs, a Pilot, who was defender of the airspace of Pakistan and was given legitemate & correct order /action for the defense of the airspace to avoid/neutralize the future hostile action /opening of new front against Pakistan, extending apology to the family of down hostile aircraft pilot, tantamount to maligning his own commander decision & proving Pakistan action during the war as unwanted thereby throwing mud on sacrifices given to save the soveriegnity & honour of the country in 1965. Before projecting such humanity type gestures in media, due cognizance of own country honour and sacrifices given, should have been taken into account. Humanity at the expense of lives of own people/nation and sacrifices of troops is not understood. However, as Pakistani and Muslims we must have soft corner into our hearts in our daily life during peace but not at the cost of our own people, sacrifices and soveriegnity/integrity of the country. No sorry/apology for decision / action taken during war to save the country.

    • Things are not as one-sided as you’ve projected. There was aggression not only by India, but also by Pakistan. It is to Qais Hussain’s credit that when he learnt the full details of the incident in which he shot down an ‘enemy’ aircraft, he felt remorse at the loss of innocent lives he was instrumental in taking. He is well aware, and proud, that at that moment he only did his duty – but he also has the large-heartedness and courage to express his condolences for the loss of innocent lives at his hands. It is also to Farida Singh’s credit that she took his condolences in the spirit with which they was expressed, acknowledged that in wartime such things happen, and hoped that their exchange helps “heal wounds, not just on a personal scale but in a much wider arena. And most of all, my father would have liked that it goes towards bringing a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples”. Read her reply: “Indian pilot’s daughter writes a deeply touching reply to Pakistani pilot who shot her father’s plane down

  10. Well, Beena, I percieve you have mis-understood the War & its repercussion, if the enemy suceeded in his mission. Since it is an establish fact, (Offr confession in the letter), the hostile aircraft was on a recce(Reconaissance) mission inside Pakistan Airspace to open up new front’ means nefarious design/aggressive posture against Pakistan. How, could he(hostile ac pilot) be believed as innocent and thereafter, a letter of condolense should be written and is projected. If the offr (pilot)believed that, the ac by mistake entered into our Airspace, he should have given accurate info /picture to his superior commander and opted for taking the hostile ac / pilot as “Prisonor of War, the matter would have been different. However, he feded his commander with wrong information, so he recieved wrong orders / instructions, which cannot be attributed to superior commander or mistake on the part of Pakistan. Though there is no remorse in war when it comes to our own people & Country, even than if remorse is felt, it should be solely in personal capacity, not covering ones mistake by saying “he was ordered to do so”. For more clearity; Hostile ac of any type entering the airspace during war cannot be judge as innocent/mistaken. Flattering of ac wings doesnt mean surrender, it is also considered deception.(I feel projecting such incident is inappropriate, injustice to ourselves and those who laid their lives for the defense of the country).

    • Thanks for the comment, Muhammad sahib; you’re entitled to your views, just as I’m entitled to mine.

  11. Very kind act given the circumstances. I feel very sorry for those civilians who lost their lives and their aggrieved families but in war this can happen unfortunately. Had India honoured the UN resolutions on Kashmir, this war would not had happened. Pakistan had no choice but to try to take back some territory and in the process got India under pressure which resulted in their attack on Pakistani Punjab starting a bigger war. Both sides lost so many lives. Let Kashmiris decide their fate. India keep saying its our “Atot ung” and ignoring to talk about it will not bring peace. Just by saying that we want to live in peace will not bring peace. It needs action from both governments.

  12. Major Quais Hussein is an honorable man, and I am proud to name him as my friend. One cannot blame him for his unfortunate actions on that day, but one can and should commend him for reaching out to apologize.

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