A MAN OF CHARACTER
Some days after the war had started in September 1965, a poignant message arrived by telegram at 22 ILACO House, Victoria Road, Karachi. It read, â€˜Regret to inform, your son Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui failed to return from a mission against enemy...â€™
The Rafiquis - whose grief over an earlier loss of their elder son Ijaz in a Fury crash many years ago hadn't quite subsided - did not know what to make of this message. But gradually, sorrow began to blend with pride as details followed about the epic air battle at Halwara, in which their son had fearlessly fought in mortal combat. He was brave and chivalrous till the last. Another son had gone down but with honour, a distinction reserved for the bravest of the brave. Born in Rajshahi (erstwhile East Pakistan) on 18th July 1935, Sarfaraz had three brothers and a sister. Education started in 1942 at St Anthony-s High School, Lahore, where his father worked with an Insurance Company. He matriculated from Government High School, Multan in 1948 at a remarkably early age of thirteen. A year earlier, he had been selected as a King-s Scout to attend a jamboree in UK and France. In Paris, we are told, his fervour for the impending birth of Pakistan knew no bounds. He hastily had his version of the Pakistan flag stitched by the Girl Guides (white bar consigned to the bottom, crescent in one corner, star in the other)! On the eve of Independence, Sarfaraz formed a troop of three Muslim scouts, proudly flaunting the new flag1. After the jamboree, it was quite a homecoming for a twelve-year old to a new Pakistan.
When the elder Rafiqui moved to Karachi as Controller of Insurance, Sarfaraz joined the DJ Sind Science College. Scouting remained a passion and he managed another trip abroad, this time to a jamboree in Australia. But thoughts soon turned to the Air Force, where his elder brother, a dashing young pilot, had won the Sword of Honour in the 4th GD (P) Course. Sarfaraz applied for the RPAF in 1951, not yet having appeared for his Intermediate examinations. His Principal at DJ Science College found him to be â€˜very intelligent and well suited for a military careerâ€™2. Sarfaraz-s above-average intelligence was to be echoed by all his instructors in later years.
Sarfaraz was selected for
the RPAF, though the Services Selection Board report was not very
generous about his prospects of making a pilot. He joined the Joint
Services Pre-Cadet Training School at Quetta. The Commandant of the
School was impressed with Sarfaraz-s
Flying came easily to Sarfaraz,
which ability, as some of his instructors noted, led him to exhibit
careless tendencies and some over-confidence. He once pranged a Fury
in Miranshah, breaking one of its landing gear; only a belly-landing
at the better-endowed airfield of Peshawar saved the day. To sober
him up, he was promptly administered a reprimand. Born fliers are
known to follow the line of least resistance, but luckily for Sarfaraz,
guidance was always at hand. He continued with a string of above
average reports in his Advanced Flying Course as well as the Fighter
Weapons Instructors- Course, both done in USA. He again showed his
prowess as a superb fighter pilot by
Sarfaraz-s sense of humour, seldom evident from his sole published photograph, was a very genial trait, amply noted at home and across the shores. As an officer, he was found to be courteous and well mannered with a pleasant personality. He was extremely popular and, socially well accepted. Swimming took up his leisure time, though his keenness for flying determined the daily routine.
An incident that deserves
special mention relates to Sarfaraz-s steadfastness in matters of
honour and righteousness. During a RAF dining-out night, he was enraged
when the Pakistani representativesâ€™ (exchange pilots) were denied
the customary toast to their Head of State, while the Europeans merrily
drank to their royalty. He walked out of the dinner proceedings and,
next morning, informed the bewildered Officer Commanding that he
would prefer to be repatriated
Sarfaraz was unconventional in more ways than one. His aversion to an arranged marriage invoked the ire of his conservative father, who had failed to incline Sarfaraz towards one particular offer; this included fringe benefits of a house and a good bit of cash besides the damsel! Star-crossed perhaps, he ran short of time looking for the right mate. The Mess remained his home and hearth till the end.
Two memorable aerial encounters,
each a classic of modern jet warfare, capped Sarfaraz Rafiqui-s illustrious
career as a fighter pilot. The evening of 1st September 1965 saw
hectic and desperate attempts by the IAF to stop the rapid advance
of Pak Army-s 12 Division offensive against Akhnoor. Vampires, obsolescent
but considered suitable for providing close support in the valleys
of Kashmir, were hastily called into action. No 45 Squadron was moved
from Poona to Pathankot. The grim situation on the ground found the
Vampires at work immediately. Three strikes of four Vampires each
(alongwith some Canberras) had been launched in succession that evening.
Much has been made of their success by the IAF, but Maj Gen G S Sandhu
is not impressed; in his book 'History of Indian Cavalryâ€™, he recounts
how the first Vampire strike of four â€˜leisurely proceeded to destroy
three AMX-13 tanks of India-s own 20 Lancers, plus the only recovery
vehicle and the
This single engagement resulted in a windfall of strategic dimensions for the PAF. The shocked and demoralised IAF immediately withdrew about 130 Vampires, together with over 50 Ouragons, from front-line service. The IAF was effectively reduced in combat strength by nearly 35% in one stroke, thanks to Rafiqui and Bhatti-s marksmanship.
It may be appropriate to recollect the remarks of USAF Fighter Weapons School (Class of 1956) about Rafiqui-s adeptness at gunnery. â€˜Captain Rafiqui was the high individual in air-to-air firing and was above average in air-to-ground firing ... has a thorough understanding of methods and techniques used in fighter weapons delivery and aerial combat manoeuvring ...valuable as a future gunnery instructor ...highly recommended that he be used in this capacity to the greatest advantage possible when returningâ€™. The PAF made no mistake and put his skills to good use, as the Chamb encounter demonstrated. But there was more to come ... .
On the evening of 6th September
1965, an ill-fated formation of three aircraft took off from Sargodha
for a raid on Halwara airfield, one of the three that had been singled
out for a pre-emptive strike. Led by Sqn Ldr Rafiqui, with Flt Lt
Cecil Chaudhry as No 2 and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain
At Halwara, IAF-s No 7 Squadron
equipped with Hunters had flown four strikes during the day. These
were armed reconnaissance missions, which had had little success
in finding worthwhile targets. The fourth and last strike for the
day was on its way to the precincts of Lahore, when it had encountered
Alam-s formation near Taran Taran. In that engagement Sqn Ldr Peter
Rawlley-s Hunter impacted the ground as he did a defensive break
at very low level, with Alam firing at him from stern. The remaining
three Hunters aborted the mission and were taxiing back after landing,
when Rafiqui-s formation pulled up for what was to be a gun attack
on the parked aircraft.
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