“Never in the history of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few,” said Winston Churchill while paying tribute to the valiant fighter pilots of the Royal Air force. During the 1965 war the “so many” were the people of Pakistan and the “so few” were the brave lads of the Pakistan Air Force. Standing out conspicuously among this elite group of national heroes was air commodore M.M. Alam.
The mighty juggernaut of the Indian armed forces rolled across the international border in the early hours of August 6, 1965, spitting fire and brimstone and leaving death and destruction in its wake. The hour of trial for the nation had begun. It was a fight for survival and the only forces arrayed against this ferocious tidal wave were armor and air force. The Indian advance was blunted and the rest is history.
The infamous strategic blunder, tactical mistake and political folly Operation Gibraltar was launched on August 7, 1965, thus provoking India to launch a full-scale war against Pakistan. PAF tasted victory for the first time on September 1, when two F-86 Sabers shot down four enemy aircraft, giving a bloody nose to the much superior Indian air force. Account for the PAF was opened by Squadron Leaders Sarfraz Rafiqui and Imtiaz Bhatti.
Slightly built, quiet, unassuming and painfully modest, Alam carved a name for himself in history by the remarkable feat of shooting down five enemy aircraft in a single sortie over the skies of Sargodha all in a few minutes. By the end of the war, Alam had about a dozen kills to his credit. Nine confirmed, two probable and one possible.
During the 1965 war, Squadron leader M.M Alam was leading the 11th fighter squadron based in Sargodha. He led his brave pilots against enemy ground forces repeatedly and emerged as a national hero and household name in Pakistan. He was showered with honors, praise and medals that included Sitara-i-Jurat and Sitara-i-Imtiaz, making him one of the most decorated heroes of the country’s armed forces.
On April 12, 1982, Alam was interviewed by the Chief of Air Staff PAF and unceremoniously retired from the PAF for reasons best known to the authorities concerned. A brilliant career was cut short, a hero fell from grace, MM Alam’s 28 years of service with the PAF ended and Alam became history. It is indeed mind boggling to think of such treatment meted out to this national hero.
Alam migrated from his ancestral town in India in 1947 and joined the PAF in 1951 as a flight cadet. Through sheer hard work and merit, he continued to rise in the PAF and as a wing commander he had logged 3,300 hours on twelve different types of aircraft. In 1968 he formed and led the first ever Mirage Squadron of the PAF.
During the 1973 Arab-Israel war, Alam was the leader of 16 PAF pilots in Syria and flew combat missions against the Israeli air force. Subsequently, he commanded a squadron of MIG 21s of the Syrian Air Force. In July 1978 he was posted as ACAS. His efforts in improving flight safety were a great success and he was awarded Sitara-i-Imtiaz.
Alam completed the RCDS (UK) in 1980. On his return from the UK, Alam rightly expected to be given command of an operational base but he was denied that honor despite having the unique distinction of commanding four fighter squadrons during his unblemished and distinguished career as a fighter pilot.
In March 1981, he was posted as ACAS (Plans) and in that capacity he made a constructive and meaningful contribution to Pakistan Army’s exercise Zarb-e-Kaleem held in May 1981 as the air commander of Blue Land Forces. The entire US aircraft and weapons procurement planning was accomplished by Alam and he was designated as the deputy leader of the PAF delegation to the USA to negotiate the details of the military assistance program. In spite of the highest qualifications, command and staff experience and an unmatched military record, MM Alam was never allowed to lead a wing or base which impaired the future career prospects of a living legend and perhaps the greatest fighter pilot of the PAF.
By mid-1981, the PAF was rife with rumors about corruption at the highest levels and even the personal integrity of the chief of air staff (CAS) was the subject of gossip in the rank and file of the PAF. It was widely rumored that the CAS had purchased a ranch in the USA for half a million dollars but nobody had the courage to inform or question the CAS about this. Out of sheer loyalty to the PAF and his chief, Alam took upon himself to inform his boss of his unsavory reputation and to recommend an investigation and stern action against people who were spreading and fanning such rumors.
This action was the beginning of the end for MM Alam. The first salvo fired against him was an uncomplimentary report at the end of the year and more was to come. It was later revealed that the CAS, who was the blue-eyed boy of the military regime, submitted a report to the Ministry of Defense. The report cast aspersions on Alam’s character. Integrity, personal conduct and even his extraordinary war record. To question the credibility of Alam’s war performance would amount to casting doubts on the personal integrity of the then C-in-C PAF Air Marshall Nur Khan and the then base commander Air Commodore Zafar Masud.
It appears as if a crude attempt was made to rewrite the history of the 1965 war, create false heroes and to reduce and destroy the real heroes of Pakistan’s first major conflict with its archenemy India, and MM Alam became victim of an insidious and cruel conspiracy.
This epitome of courage, patriotism, humility and honesty who I had the honor of calling my friend left for his heavenly abode on March 18, 2013. Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.