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PAF s' Chief of the Air Staffs

Air Marshal Zafar A Chaudhry, SQA

There is no ready explanation for what happened to the PAF over the next two years.

Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry was one of the PAFís brightest officers with an agile mind and an excellent grasp of professional matters. With these credentials he seemed eminently suited to lift the PAF out of the doldrums after the debilitating events of 1971. But fate had other designs.

Air Marshal Zafar Ahmad Chaudhry had been commissioned in the RIAF in April 1945 when he was 18 years old. Among his important assignments in the PAF were: after commander of the PAF Academy and later of PAF Base, Sargodha; at Air Headquarter, he did a tour as chief of operations. In between, he graduated from two British staff colleges as well as the Imperial Defence College.

Soon after he assumed charges as Chief of the Air Staff at the age of 45, the countryís intelligence network unearthed a conspiracy to overthrow the government in power. The plotters were mainly from the army but 4 PAF officers were also suspected of being accomplices. As the preliminary investigations by the army and civilian intelligence got under way, Air Headquarters debated the options of letting those agencies carry on as they saw fit or of taking over the investigation of the PAF officers. It was felt that, if the PAF conducted its own inquiry, these officers would be spared the rough interrogation methods likely to be employed by the other agencies. The matter was therefore handed over to the Director of Air Intelligence (DAI) at Air Headquarter.

What happened thereafter was a complete negation of Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhryís avowed intention. Between the DAI and his colleagues, a sequence unfolded in which the net of suspicion was cast wider and wider, based more upon conjecture than upon evidence. Even the methods of interrogation were no more civilized than those it was intended to avoid. Before long, a virtual fog of fear and mutual mistrust seemed to settle upon a large segment of the PAF community. And yet Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry failed to move forcefully to arrest this destructive virus by subjecting the DAIís activities to ruthless scrutiny. On the contrary, he seemed overly trustful of his staff and only too willing to accept the DAIís assertions about the rectitude of his subordinatesí mode of operation.

Towards the end of this sad chapter, some Ministry of Defence officials adopted a distinctly unhelpful attitude towards the air chief and, amid allegation of miscarriage of justice at the ensuring trial as well as of unfair summary action against some untried officers, Air Marshal Chaudhry was also prematurely retired. In the end, it was not so much the conduct of the investigation which led to his retirement; it was more his refusal to reinstate the summarily dismissed officers. In fairness to him it must also be stated that his abrupt departure may have been precipitated by the anti-Qadiani sentiment sweeping the country at the time. Later, with hindsight, he felt that it would have been wiser for him to have left the matter to the original investigators after all.

During his tenure, despite his preoccupation with the conspiracy case, Air Marshal Chaudhry was able to implement certain important measures such as the launching of a crash training programme to redress an acute shortage of technicians, and the commissioning of Nawabshah as a forward operational base.

 

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