An icon, hero, legend and friend – Air Commodore MM Alam

He was a national hero with the aura, not of arrogance, but confidence of a thorough professional.

He was nearly 12 years my senior in service and I did not meet him in person till 1968 when I was posted to Sargodha. He was commanding the elite Mirage squadron, the only one in the Pakistan Air Force; an envy of all his peers while I was flying the Chinese F-6 (Mig-19).

For a youngster like me, at that time, he was the ultimate in terms of professional excellence having acquired international fame in aerial combat. I would see him in close quarters during the joint morning briefing and hear his professional input. He had an aura around, not of arrogance but confidence of a thorough professional.

On personnel level, I would see him at the Officer’s Mess, a common meeting point, where all seniority differences would diminish and one would get to know each other as person.

He was slim, short structured, an ardent smoker, a book worm, soft spoken with firm conviction and beliefs sometimes revolutionarily uncompromising. This interaction didn’t last too long as he was posted out of Sargodha having developed differences with his superiors.

During the 1971 war, when I was flying the Mirages, he was attached back to Sargodha but not allowed to fly; being too valuable an asset of the previous war to be exposed to enemy action.

Every evening during the war, he would review the films, of the claims of all aerial engagements and ground attacks, and give his opinion about the possible outcome; this brought us crossing swords on a number of occasions.

For considerable time we lost contact until we met again in 1999.

In the intervening period, he had retired and was accommodated at the TW (Transport Wing) PAF Officers Mess in Chaklala by the Air Force; he subsequently moved to the PAF Officers Mess Faisal where he spent his last few days. He had transformed into a deeply religious person and spent extensive time studying Islam.

From this time till his passing away, we met as good friends frequently visiting each other at the residences. He would never come empty handed, generally with a book or bouquet of flowers, in spite of his dire financial condition.

In my meetings with him, he reminisced about his time spent in Afghanistan, particularly with Ahmad Shah Massoud who he held in esteem. At one time he developed an infatuation with the thought that he will be marrying an Afghan girl that he had met or encountered and expected her to come to Pakistan.

It is in early 2000 that he started developing serious medical problems mostly because of heavy smoking. The last time we met was at the PNS Shifa Hospital when he was still conscious and in good spirits. We had a long discussion about national and international politics, Muslims being the main concern.

He will be remembered in times to come as an icon, a war hero and a legend, and will be missed dearly as a colleague, a mentor and an inspiration by many. He will, however, be missed greatly by me, and the others who acquired close bonds with him, as a good friend first.

His death is a loss to the country and its armed forces but his memories shall remain for time immemorial as a source of inspiration for the youth.

May God rest his soul in peace and give him room in the heavenly abode.
Air Marshal Riaz Uddin Shaikh A retired Air Force officer.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.