Below: A report I did based on an email that Naveed Riaz in Lahore forwarded me, published on the front page of 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. Here’s the link to my interview on PRI about it.
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.
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…
Read her reply here