Air Commodore Mohammad Mahmood Alam, commonly known as M. M. Alam, breathed his last on March 18, 2013, after a prolonged illness. He was buried with full military honours at the PAF graveyard in Masroor Air Base, Karachi.
He shot to fame during the 1965 Pak-India war, when on September 7 he came on the top of the list of ace fighters in the world. His name became emblazoned in golden letters forever in the annals of Pakistan’s history and he is remembered for his feats as a fighter pilot, but little is known about Alam - the man.
Alam was a humble person and he never let fame and success swell his head; if anything, it increased his humility and faith in the Almighty.
During the 1965 war, I was a student of class VIII in PAF Public School Sargodha. After the war, I requested him for his autograph. He didn’t spurn me away and to this day, I proudly carry his autograph, scribbled in a neat hand: “God is Great!” signed Muhammad Mahmood Alam.
The next encounter with him was in 1967, just after the Arab-Israeli war, when Alam came to deliver the Friday sermon at our school mosque. He was an outstanding orator and his speech was so full of vigour and fury as he spoke of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians that we youngsters became so charged that had he given the command, we would have marched to Israel to defend the faith.
Much later in life, I used to have numerous sittings with him and listen spellbound to his views on life, politics and professionalism. He shared with me that whereas remarkable fighter pilots like Rafiqui, Yunus, Alauddin, Munir and numerous others embraced shahadat, Allah did not grant him his wish to make the supreme sacrifice of his life in defence of the nation, perhaps, because he was destined to serve other purposes.
On September 6, the PAF’s plan to carry out a pre-emptive strike at Indian air bases, simultaneously with a time on target (TOT) at 5:05 pm, did not materialise since the strike aircraft at Sargodha were not ready on time, while No 19 Squadron from Peshawar successfully struck Pathankot at the designated TOT. The PAF pressed on with the attacks, despite the delays.
Resultantly, having lost the element of surprise, Alam’s strike formation, heading for Adampur, was greeted by a vigilant formation of Hunters. In the ensuing air battle, he shot down one Hunter and extricated his formation. As Alam and his boys were returning, Rafiqui’s formation was exiting to attack Halwara, where Rafiqui and Yunus embraced shahadat.
Alam’s faith in Allah and destiny was reinforced each day. Two days before the war, while flying a reconnaissance mission over Jammu, his aircraft’s canopy was shattered by ground fire. Despite this, he continued and destroyed Indian heavy artillery, and lived to fight another day. The episode of downing numerous Hunters was no fluke; having flown the superior aircraft, he knew exactly where to outmanoeuvre it.
Being a principled person, distressed by the Air Chief’s involvement in shady defence deals, he tried to apprise the ruling military dictator of the Chief’s transgressions. When the dictator responded that he was aware of it, Alam stated that he had come to ask him to take action against the Chief; and if he (the dictator) chose to remain oblivious of the Chief’s misdeeds, then he had no right to serve. But eventually, Alam rendered his own resignation, spending his time teaching the Holy Quràn to youngsters in a mosque.
When the Soviets attacked Afghanistan, he participated in the jihad, received serious injuries and returned. He continued his Spartan bachelor’s life, since he claimed to have been wedded to his profession. It was Air Chief Marshal Abbas Khattak, who tried to resurrect the veteran war hero, inviting him to reside in the officers’ mess. He also asked him to address PAF personnel and motivate them.
The legendary war hero kept his side of the bargain and wrote pamphlets on air combat and inspired aircrew all over Pakistan to give their very best. With his demise, Pakistan has lost a genuine warrior, who devoted his life to the service of the nation, sans any lust for power, pelf or authority, and fearlessly expressed his opinion.
The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence & Diplomacy on PTV. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org