after the 1965 war against India a detailed analysis of the
PAF's deficient infrastructure led to the decision to build
an alternative main base to Sargodha . Early in 1966 two
sites were selected, Jhang and Shorkot, a small village 80
miles northeast of Multan. Jhang was the better site in many
respects but the land
was too expensive and there was pressure on the PAF not to
locate an airfield so close to this historic city. The
alternative site, Shorkot was then selected and the runway
and essential facilities were completed by 1968.
The name PAF Base Rafiqui was bestowed on Shorkot in honour
of the gallant warrior of 1965, Squadron Leader S A Rafiqui
- an apt name for a fledgling airfield that would see combat
so soon after reaching maturity. The airfield had been a
satellite for three years. Rafiqui's first base commander
Group Captain Zaheer Hussain took over on 3 September 1971;
one F-86E and half an F-6 squadron were immediately moved
there. At the outset of the war that came three months
later, an IAF Su-7 was brought down on the runway by the ack.
This was the first time Rafiqui had fired its guns in anger.
The choice of building Rafiqui at the Shorkot site proved to
be an excellent one; this has been borne out by subsequent
events and threat developments as well.
After the war, the operational development of the airfield
continued at a brisk pace: fuel storage was increased,
armament depots were constructed. Hangars and other
maintenance facilities were installed to support the
projected combat force. In 1973, some additional operational
units were added to the base complement. Rafiqui now houses
the several major weapon systems in service in the PAF. A
large complex of runways, taxiways and tarmacs bristling
with aircraft has come into being. With the mushrooming of
supporting facilities, the base population expanded from 1
officer and 26 airmen in 1968 to over 3,000 officers, airmen
and civilians by 1985, and more than 5,000 people counting
their family members. This gave impetus to the growth of
civilian amenities in the small town. A cinema and shopping
center were added and a cantonment area demarcated.
The desert around the airfield also began to recede.
Thousands of trees and several fruit gardens were planted by
successive base commanders, the greatest credit for this
going to Group Captain Wiqar Azim. The desert of 1968 has by
now been turned into a pleasant surrounding of trees and
grass with plentiful recreation and sport facilities. A
swimming pool, lawn tennis and badminton courts, and a
9-hole golf course have been built. Sixteen years after its
inception as a base, Rafiqui in 1988 is no longer a support
airfield. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the frontline
bases to share the responsibility for national defence in
the central sector.