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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, ‘Regret to inform, your son Sqn Ldr Sarfaraz Ahmed  Rafiqui failed to return from a mission against enemy...’

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 ‘very intelligent and well suited for a military  career’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
command of English, his confidence and his travels abroad at such an  early age3. After five months of training at JSPCTS, he entered the  RPAF College at Risalpur. In 1953, he graduated in the footsteps of his  brother, winning the prestigious Atcherly Trophy for the Best Pilot in  the 13th GD (P) Course (and turning the Selection Board report on its  head)!

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
topping the course at PAF-s Fighter Leaders- School in 1960. After yet  another course at RAF-s prestigious Fighter Combat School, he ended  up piling a unique assortment of highly rated cualifications that served  him (and the PAF) in good stead. As an exchange pilot in UK, he flew
Hunters for two years Sarfaraz-s Officer Commanding in No 19  Squadron (RAF), reporting on his flying abilities, eloquently wrote, ‘In  the air his experience and skill combine to make him a very effective  fighter pilot and leader who creates an impression of disciplined  efficiency in all that he does’4. On return from UK in 1962, he was  given command of No 14 Squadron. A year later, he was given  command of the elite No 5 Squadron, in which he was to achieve  martyrdom and eternal glory. He came to be well known as much for  his highly assertive and effective control of the Unit as for his spirited  attitude towards flying.

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 representatives’  (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
rather than suffer such scorn. The matter got a bit complicated, but an  unyielding Sarfaraz would accept nothing short of an apology. The OC  repented publicly and, later made sure that the Pakistanis were never  slighted again5. Sarfaraz also drove home a point that it was respect,
not pennies that counted.

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.

Deadly Stroke:

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 Cavalry’, he recounts how the  first Vampire strike of four ‘leisurely proceeded to destroy three AMX-13  tanks of India-s own 20 Lancers, plus the only recovery vehicle and the
only ammunition vehicle available during this hard-pressed fight. The  second flight attacked Indian infantry and gun positions, blowing up  several ammunition vehicles’. The Indian forces were spared further  ignominy at their own hands when an element of two Sabres arrived on  scene. Sqn Ldr Rafiqui and Flt Lt Imtiaz Bhatti were patrolling at  20,000 ft near Chamb. On being vectored by the radar, they descended  and picked up contact with two Vampires in the fading light. Rafiqui
closed in rapidly and, before another two Vampires turned in on the  Sabres, made short work of the first two with a blazing volley from the  lethal 0.5’ Browning six-shooter. Then, with a quick-witted defensive  break he readjusted on the wing of Bhatti, who got busy with his quarry. While Rafiqui cleared tails, Bhatti did an equally fast trigger  job. One Vampire nosed over into the ground which was not too far  below; the other, smoking and badly damaged, staggered for a few
miles before its pilot, Flg Off Pathak, ejected. The less fortunate Flt  Lts A K Bhagwagar, M V Joshi and S Bhardwaj went down with their  ghoulish Vampires, in full view of the horrified Indian troops.

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.  ‘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 returning’. The PAF made no mistake and put  his skills to good use, as the Chamb encounter demonstrated. But  there was more to come ... .

Target Halwara:

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
as No 3, the formation hurtled across into enemy territory in fast  fading light. Sqn Ldr M M Alam-s formation, also of three aircraft, which  had taken-off ten minutes earlier, was returning after an abortive raid  on Adampur. They had been bounced by four Hunters, themselves  proceeding on a mission against Pak Army formations. Rafiqui was  warned by Alam-s section to watch out for Hunters in the area.

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.