The Hero of Skies
Matloob Bokhari goes back into memory lane to remember one of PAF's authentic sons.
On 12 March,1933, God blessed Syed Dur Hussain Bokhari with a son named Shabbir Hussain.The child with large brown eyes and moon-like shining face was given the nickname of "Chan" moon. According to his cousin, Syed Sajjad Hussain, Shabbir, since his childhood, had a passion for flying. His dearest pastime, in those days, was to make models of aircraft. Shabbir did his matriculation from MC High School Mozang, Lahore and then got admission to FC College, Lahore. His cousin, Syed Abid Ali told that Shabbir had an average interest in studies at the college. His fondest dream was to become a fighter pilot. His joy found no bound when he got commission in PAF in February,1954. His brother Colonel Saghir Bokhari told that Shabbir achieved all successes in life due to his strong faith in God. His faith carried him through hazards courageously. He used to say, " If you work hard with sincerity, God will give you more than you deserve".
The study of annual reports of his early service career shows that he was an enthusiastic fighter pilot who had a great passion for flying. " To get ability, you need good training" (Colonel Enrich cited in Robert. I. Shaw,1986, p.333) . Shabbir worked against time to gain consummate flying skill. His service record reveals that he was a true professional who loved his job. He served in various fighter units as a squadron pilot and fighter commander for 9 years. He took over command of a fighter squadron in 1963. From 1963-1970, he commanded three different fighter squadron at Masroor, Dacca and Peshawar. Afterwards, he commanded two fighter wings at the different bases. In 1975, he was posted to Air Headquarters as Director of Operations. He was given the prestigious appointment of Base Commander Sargodha in 1979. Subsequently, he took over as Air Officer Commanding, Northern Air Command in July,1982. Shabbir always put service before self. Similarly, service befittingly rewarded his dedication to duty and professionalism. He was made DCAS (Ops) and later on, he retired from PAF as VCAS in 1988 after rendering 34 years of brilliant service.
During his service, Air Marshal Shabbir attended a number of professional courses. His course reports reveal that he was highly disciplined, hardworking, self-confident officer who was driven by a dream to become the ace of aces. His service courses include: Fighter Leaders' Course, Flight Safety Officers' Course at University of Southern California, USA; Pakistan Air Force Staff Collage; Royal College of Defence Studies, UK; and Senior International Defence Management Course, USA. Also, he had the honour of training the pilots of Iraqi Air Force in 1968. PAF acknowledged his services by awarding him Hilal-i-Imtiaz Military, Sitara-i-Jur'at and Tamgha-i-Basalat.
As he progressed in career, Shabbir's unparalleled professionalism, excellent marksmanship and exceptional flying skill distinguished him as a fighter pilot. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood who strives valiantly, who knows the great enthusiasms who spends himself in a worthy cause." (Roosevelt cited in Nixon,1982, p.345) . Certainly, the time came in the life of Shabbir when his mettle and Leadership were tested in the flames of war. He bravely stood the test of time and made a permanent niche in the temple of fame. A formation of 5 F-86 aircraft with Squadron Leader Shabbir Hussain Syed, the Squadron Commander, in the lead, took off at 0635 hrs to strike against Kalaikunda. The total loss to the enemy on that single day was over 14 aircraft, whereas, PAF lost only two aircraft during the war in the Eastern Theatre.
During the strikes, Sqn Ldr Shabbir and his flight destroyed on the ground 10 Canberra (Light Bombers) and two unidentified enemy aircraft and damaged two more. In an aerial combat following the strike, the lion-hearted Shabbir destroyed one enemy Hunter aircraft. For his exceptional flying skill and outstanding valour, Squadron Leader Shabbir Hussain Syed was awarded Sitara-i-Jur'at. After these epoch-making missions, No 14 Squadron earned the nickname of ‘Tail Choppers'. "Despite the Kalaikunda strike becoming a classic in the PAF, I never heard Shabbir giving an embellished account of it in any company. When pressed, all he ever said was that he had trained his squadron for that mission and when the time came, his boys performed upto his expectations.This rare leadership quality and his distinguished performance in more senior ranks and assignments in the subsequent years earned Shabbir an enormous amount of respect and he accepted it with quiet dignity."Air Chief Marshal Jamal, commending the leadership and courage of Air Marshal Shabbir, Air Marshal Nur Khan writes, "In spite of the advice from local army soldiers and the Government of East Pakistan not to take any initiative that might provoke Indian, it was difficult to hold back Shabbir and his Squadron from launching an offensive... This courageous strike and continued aggressive air operations by Shabbir and his men totally brought the sky of East Pakistan under the control of PAF. The strike of Kalaikunda in East Pakistan was thus one of the most humiliating experiences by IAF". Air Chief Marshal Shamim in an interview with the writer said, "Shabbir was a jewel of a man who always had good opinions about others. As ACAS(Ops) , he always gave solid recommendations instead of only writing, "Recommended and forwarded" on files. I valued his professional and matured opinions. He was an unassuming person who never liked to discuss his historic strike against Kalaikunda". Air Cdr Kamal talking with the writer said, "Shabbir was a great man who never discussed people. He was one of the best leaders PAF ever produced. Shabbir was a humble person who never liked to talk about his classic Kalaikunda Strike". In an interview with the writer, Air Cdr M M Alam paid tribute to Air Marshal Shabbir in these words "Sajad's strike against Pathankot, our superior air combat and Shabbir's strike against Kalaikunda tipped the balance of war in favour of PAF". Of all the galaxy of military attributes that which shone brightest in Air Marshal Shabbir was leadership, Air Cdr Sajjad Haider praises his leadership talent in these words "My friend was a great leader. He led the Kalaikunda Strike with remarkable valour, professional skill and meticulous precision". Air Marshal Shabbir's mastery over his flying machine proved that, in the aerial warfare, the factor of quality is relatively more decisive than the factor of quantity. The story of lightening and roaring raids over Kalaikunda continue to be a resounding chapter of the air combat history. Perhaps, the greatest tribute paid to Air Marshal Shabbir was by Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, Chief of the Air Staff, Indian Air Force when he writes about sound and fury of this memorable attack "When we have not realized... and once in a while we have not, as at Kalaikunda, we have paid for it". Very few in the history of warfare have enjoyed the unique distinction which Air Marshal Shabbir has — that in spite of inflicting heavy losses to the enemy, he was admired by him as a brave and courageous fighter pilot. His high order leadership, excellent professionalism and brave deeds will be a great source of inspiration for all the fighter pilots.
"The fighter pilot is an independent character. He does not like too many people around him. He is an individualist".(Colonel Hartman cited in Robert. L. Shaw, p.282) . These lines truly portray a true picture of Air Marshal Shabbir. He was an independent character and an individualist In the history of aeral warfare, Shabbir will ever be remembered a hero who was respected and praised by the friend and foe alike. Born and bred in a small village, Shabbir inscribed a saga of courage and valour in the azure sky.
On 29 April,2002, he closed his large brown eyes for all the times. His moon-like shining face waned away. The "Chan" eclipsed forever never to appear again.
PAF never forgets its heroes. From Air Marshal Nur Khan to Air Chief Marshal Pervez Mehdi Qureshi — all the former Air Chiefs went to his village to pay homage to the hero of the nation. Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir with his PSOs was there to salute the permanent resting abode of the Hero of The Skies.
Every soul shall have a taste of death: And We test you by evil and by good by way of trial: To Us must ye return. (XXI: 35)
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.I would like to translate this poem