Unsung heroes: Fate of lost PAF aviators uncovered

Published: September 10, 2011
Photo of Squadron Leader Aslam Qureshi (Navigator).

Photo of Squadron Leader Aslam Qureshi (Navigator).

Photo of Squadron Leader Shabbir Alam Siddiqui (Pilot). Photo of Squadron Leader Aslam Qureshi (Navigator).

When Squadron Leaders Shabbir Alam Siddiqui (pilot) and Aslam Qureshi (navigator) did not return from their third bombing mission on the night of September 6, 1965, details regarding their fateful mission remained obscure for decades.

Consequently, they were declared missing in action by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and never decorated for their valiant service. Their wives, Shahnaz Alam and Parveen Qureshi, both new mothers in their early twenties at the time, lived with an anguishing lack of disclosure.

It took Shahnaz more than 40 years of undying love and relentless determination to uncover facts about her loving husband’s fate. She was finally able to draw attention of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 2006 through help from Air Commodore (retired) Najeeb Khan, himself a decorated war veteran and a colleague of the lost officers.

In a historic gesture, then IAF Chief Shashi Tyagi responded compassionately and ordered exclusive research into the fate of this dauntless crew. He officially invited Shahnaz to India and informed her that the PAF B-57 bomber from Mauripur (Masroor) Base in Karachi had reached over its target Jamnagar Airfield shortly before dawn on September 7, 1965. After dropping two bombs it was in circuit to drop the remaining load when it was hit by anti-aircraft (AA) fire and crashed. The pilot and navigator were killed on impact and buried in nearby fields.

IAF revelations therefore cleared the various misconceptions regarding this fateful mission, which had accumulated over the decades. PVS Jagan Mohan, renowned Indian military historian and author of the highly-acclaimed book The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965, points out that, “The impression about this B-57 crashing into the sea en route was incorrect as the IAF had claimed shooting down the bomber in 1965. It seems due to the atmosphere of hostilities and distrust, the PAF may not have believed the IAF claim.”

Further research into Indian accounts of the war revealed that this crew had bombed the enemy airfield at a very critical time, when aircraft of the Indian Navy Air Squadron were preparing for a massive raid against PAF bases at dawn on September 7. Their daring mission annihilated the planned Indian assault.

Rear Admiral Satyindra Singh of the Indian Navy states in his book Blue Water – Indian Navy 1961-1965 that, “Had the eight aircraft at Jamnagar bombed the ‘seeing-eye’ of the PAF air defence establishment at Badin, the war would have been over much quicker…”

Five years after these crucial revelations from India, their families are hopeful that the President and PAF chief will at last honour these unsung national heroes.

“My family and I have never sought any financial reward that accompanies a decoration. All I have longed for nearly 50 years is the gallantry award acknowledging my husband’s valour and sacrifice alongside celebrated war heroes of 1965,” says Shahnaz.

There are numerous examples of delayed gallantry awards the world over. Squadron Leader AB Devayya of IAF, who was lost in aerial combat over Sargodha in 1965, was decorated with a posthumous Maha Vir Chakra during the 1980s when details of his last mission were revealed over two decades later. In May this year, US President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honour to families of two soldiers killed in 1951 during the Korean War.

Another example is of Sipahi Maqbool Hussain of Pakistan army who was taken as a prisoner of war by the Indian army in 1965 and tortured for decades. When released few years ago, he managed to reach his regiment where his amazing saga was revealed and he was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurat.

Parveen requests authorities to also try and bring the remains of these officers home, so they can be buried in their own soil. A cited example is that of Mati-ur-Rahman, the Bengali pilot who was killed while attempting to hijack Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas’ aircraft in 1971. His remains were excavated from a graveyard at Masroor Base and handed over in 2006. Rahman is a recipient of Bir Sreshtho, Bangladesh’s highest military award.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • Observer
    Sep 10, 2011 - 11:15AM

    This narration is only an inkling of the ordeal that has been faced by the bereaved families of the two war heroes. It certainly makes a most deserving case for a posthumous gallantry award. I hope that the concerned military and governmental authorities will look into this matter on priority.

    It may be remembered that if honest and dedicated service to the nation and sacrfices shall go unrecognized, it will only make this path less attractive for our future generations.


  • kazi jawed akhter
    Sep 10, 2011 - 11:24AM

    Both the pilots and navigator derserve Sitara e Jurrat.As accepted by enemy(india) that their timely air attacks prevented india to attack Badin facilities in Pakistan.I request the people at helm of affairs to look into the case of award of medals to the airforce officers.i


  • TL
    Sep 10, 2011 - 12:14PM

    They deserve Nishan-e-Haider! C’mon Mr.President, wake up.


  • Imran Mazhar
    Sep 10, 2011 - 12:36PM

    This is a very touching story, and I wish the families of these national heroes well. Their sacrifice has not gone to waste. Thank you Haris for sharing with us thir untold story.


  • lahori
    Sep 10, 2011 - 12:36PM

    Indeed a sad saga for the families of these unsung heroes. I salute to their valour and courage. In a request to the colleagues of these heroes to pay heed to the requests made by the wives to facilitate. Atleast, Indian Airforce is more compassionate that PAF.Recommend

  • Sep 10, 2011 - 12:44PM

    brilliant story. amazing to hear that so many details of individual missions and targets are covered by historians (Indian, mostly?)


  • shuja
    Sep 10, 2011 - 1:01PM

    The PAF chief should himself take up this matter.No doubtSILA-E-SHAHEED KAYA HAY,TABO-TAB-E-JAWIDANA.These brave sons of this soil should be decorated.We are proud of them.


  • a PAF kid
    Sep 10, 2011 - 1:13PM

    I remember reading about Shehnaz Alam, the wife of the pilot in a magazine called Xpoze a couple of years ago. I just dug out the old issue and saw that too was written by you. I really appreciate your efforts to bring this story to the masses. I hope the government and the PAF will look into the matter and decorate these war heroes as they deserve.


  • @TL
    Sep 10, 2011 - 1:17PM

    i don’t think a Nishan-i-Haider will be awarded so many years after the incident, but as the writer has correctly pointed out, these heroes definitely deserve some sort of medal. I think even a Sitar-i-Jurrat will console the families a great deal.
    It is a good article and I hope it will be read by someone in a position to make a decision about the matter soon!


  • Saba Akhter
    Sep 10, 2011 - 1:22PM

    Haris Masood Zuberi, thank you for writing about these unsung heroes. I am sure there are hundreds of more such stories out there that need to be highlighted aswell. If somoene dies for his country and people, he should be held in high regard and awarded with the right medals also. Ofcourse he is not there to enjoy the pride, but it will definitely help the family come to terms with the grief of losing their loved ones.
    May the Pakistan Army, Navy and PAF live long and prosper!


  • Usman Malik
    Sep 10, 2011 - 4:02PM

    So should we expect Mr. Zardari to decorate this hero???Recommend

  • Sep 10, 2011 - 5:20PM

    Recommended an appropriate Military award with monetary benefits


  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 10, 2011 - 6:30PM

    Mashallah what a story oh man they deserved Nishan e Haider.

  • Ishrat Salim
    Sep 10, 2011 - 7:10PM

    We salute these unsung heroes….They are truly shaheed & deserve recognition as one ofour many ” National Heroes “….hope the govt looks into this case instead of giving national awards to undeserving people.Recommend

  • wasif m khan
    Sep 10, 2011 - 7:30PM

    Good coverage. What is not publicly known is that PAF bomber pilots in 1965 had strict orders to make only ONE bombing run on IAF bases and then head for home, but given the black-outs the first run would only serve to light the target and thus these indomitable men would make two and often THREE bombing runs facing a horrendous barrage of anti-aircraft fire. So little has been objectively covered about these genuine heroes whose exploits are so badly needed to be read and eulogised in such times as we are living through.


  • Aatif
    Sep 10, 2011 - 9:05PM

    Hats off to lady. Air Chief and Govt must do something.


  • Arshad Hussain
    Sep 10, 2011 - 10:35PM

    Mr. Zuberi s’ initiative to bring the untold story of unsung bomber pilots of 31 bomber wing of the PAF about Sqn Ldr Shabbir Alam Siddiqui & Sqn Ldr Aslam Qureshi is commendable.

    Both the gallant pilots truly derseve war medals from Government of Pakistan even after 46 years time frame as well compensation for wifes & children of both !


  • Sep 11, 2011 - 7:51AM

    I posted this tale of great valour and fortitude onto the Facebook yesterday in the hope that someone will reads it and convey the nation’s gratitude to the concerned quarters (Air HQ)


  • Rock
    Sep 11, 2011 - 8:39AM

    I am surprise. Not a single comment appreciating Indian efforts. Anyway now it seems I have to thank my countrymen. Thank you IAF Chief Shashi Tyagi and others for helpng pakistani civilians.


  • Saddique
    Sep 11, 2011 - 9:07AM

    @Usman Malik:

    No politics please in this matter.


  • Noble Tufail
    Sep 11, 2011 - 10:05AM

    Respect and honor to the heros. God bless you Haris for writing this.


  • nwaq
    Sep 11, 2011 - 3:37PM

    Awesome,i just pray they get a due honour.


  • nwaq
    Sep 11, 2011 - 3:39PM

    Awesome,i just pray they get due honor.


  • woohoo
    Sep 11, 2011 - 5:09PM


    Not a single comment appreciating
    Indian efforts

    I am not surprised. Were you?


  • Caesar
    Sep 12, 2011 - 12:53AM

    There’s no doubt the IAF and its officers played a very commendable role. We salute them for honouring fallen soldiers and their families.
    It’s this camaraderie in arms. There comes a time in every battle when ‘it doesn’t matter which flag you wear’, the person in uniform facing you appears after all a brother-in-arms, answering his call of duty and keeping his honour, just like you. This respect is inherent in every human being who has the honour of calling himself/herself a soldier.
    A Salute to PAF for producing such sons of the soil.
    It must be mentioned that PAF has also shown acts of equal compassion in the past.
    I’m sure PAF CHIEF and President would honour these men of honour with high gallantry awards. Sitara-e-Jurat definitely and Hilal-e-Jurat would be most fitting. It is after all the hounour of these men that has become the glory of PAF, which calls itself the Pride of the nation!


  • M.A.S
    Sep 12, 2011 - 9:03PM

    Brillient strory!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    An eye opener for the nation that how our heroes have fought to save this motherland.
    There are many other unsung heroes who need to be uncovered and decorated.


    Sep 13, 2011 - 12:48PM

    I really hope some officers and gentlemen from Air Head Quarters, the Presidency, GHQ, ISPR and PAF DMA would take up this matter quickly.

    I hope highest gallantry awards are announced asap and these heroes are decorated soon or latest by the coming 23rd March 2012!

    I read up more on the story of the pilot Sqn Ldr Alam Siddiqui, he was a gem of a guy, and he had actually volunteered to fly this 3rd mission, within 9 hours when one of his senior pilots chickened out at the last moment.
    Now if heroes like this don’t deserve Nishan-i-Haider, who does!?


  • Sqn. Ldr (R) Ansar Ahmad
    Sep 14, 2011 - 8:32AM

    I also belong to the same squadron and flew two missions to Jamnagar the same night. I was at the target with Sqn. Ldr. Ansari just 3 hours before this historic mission. The clouds were drifting in from the sea and it was difficult to locate and aim at the target. S/L Alam and Aslam did the most courageous attempt to go below clouds and bomb. I salute the IAF Chief for allowing PAF contingent to visit the crash sight. I request our President and PAF Chief to keep the traditions of giving gallantry awards posthumously to their heroes like India, Bangladesh and USA.

    I will take this opportunity to correct the misconception by another reader (PAF Fan), who mentioned that one of the senior pilots chickened out at the last moment. That senior pilot was the wing operations officer, controlling the launch of all other bombers, sending the after mission reports of all bombing missions to Air HQ. Getting the aircraft prepared for next day. He was not even required to fly any mission, but had already flown the first mission with 6 B-57s at dusk. S/L Alam was a very energetic pilot and flying 3rd mission of the day was not only his passion, but every crew wanted to fly as many missions as possible.

    Ayub Khan’s historic address to the nation and his speech saying , ” Allah Tallah nay Pakistan ki musallah afwaj ko apnay johar dekhanay ka muaga diya hay ” had put so much passion in to us, that we had to stop crews to fly more missions and sent them home. The day light was breaking and we could not launch any more missions, otherwise crews were ready like Alam to go for 3rd and 4th missions.


  • Umer
    Sep 14, 2011 - 7:26PM

    I salute the will of family of gallant pilots of PAF who have struggled for 50 long years to unearth the real story. I shall also thank IAF Chief who has helped the bereaved families by providing them with correct information and allowed them to visit the sites.

    I shall expect PAF to posthumously announce a medal for these gallant pilots for their brave deeds.

    Jazakallah Khair


  • Sajjad Hussain
    Oct 26, 2011 - 3:59PM

    The Pakistani pilots deserve gallantry awards, the IAF chief our sincere thanks and families of the pilots regards for uncovering the truth and correct history of our PAF heroes 45 years after the war.Their remains must be brought back to Pakistan for burial in our soil..


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