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PAF s' Chief of the Air Staffs

Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan NI(M)

Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan will be remembered in PAF history for far more than just that he was the first CAS nurtured exclusively by the PAF’s own system after independence. He will be remembered, above all, for responding admirably to the PAF’s need in its hour of greatest travail. Had he failed, or even faltered, in meeting the challenge, irreparable harm could have occurred to a very fine institution.

Air Chief Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan was 20 years old when he was commissioned in the RPAF in December 1950. He held a variety of flying assignments in the early part of his career such as command of a fighter squadron and then a fighter wing; also command of a bomber wing. In later years he command PAF Base, Dhaka and Sargodha as well as the PAF Academy.

Upon Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry’s departure, Air Marshal Zulfiqar, then 44 years old, inherited a PAF which had been bruised and buffeted by a consecutive series of misfortunes: the civil war in East Pakistan; the unjustly maligned air war of December 1971; and the demoralizing conspiracy investigations stretching over the next two years. In the first place, it redounded to the credit of the PAF’s earliest commanders, and notably to that of Asghar Khan and Nur Khan that badly shaken though the PAF was , its rock-like foundations enabled it to survive the upheavals essentially intact. But two things needed to be done urgently if the PAF was to recapture its earlier eminence: a statesmanlike handling of the officers and men to revive their morale and their confidence in the in the leadership; and a sustained drive to make up the deficiencies in technical manpower and operational equipment which had accumulated since the events of 1971. Air Marshal Zulfiqar tackled both these problems in an understanding but resolute manner and by the time he left the PAF, he had essentially completed its restoration.

Parallel with his priority tasks, some additional measures which he implemented included the revival of proper combat leadership training in the form of the Combat Commanders’ School, induction of a new fighter trainer, the FT-5, introduction of the PAF’s first surface to air missile, the Crotale, and establishment of the Shaheen Foundation. Perhaps his most far reaching step in the sphere of operational advancement was the launching of a comprehensive long term programme to radically modernize the PAF’s air defence system to bring it at par with the best anywhere.

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