Air Marshal Nur Khan, the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Air Force, who ably led his small but well knit force in successful air battles against a larger adversary in the 1965 Pak-India war, was paid homage by renaming the Chaklala Airbase to PAF Base Nur Khan.

His predecessor and a national icon himself, Air Marshal (retd) Asghar Khan, presided over the renaming ceremony. The current Chief of Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafiq Butt, disclosed that it was Asghar Khan, who had proposed, during a reference held after Nur Khan’s death, to rename the base as a befitting tribute to the air warrior.

This is so because he (then Squadron Leader) was Chaklala’s first commander, who assumed command on August 14, 1947 and oversaw the hub of activities, including the arrival and departures of 309 aircraft, conducted on the semi-prepared runway that was no mean feat at that time.

Chaklala provided complete ground handling facilities to 20 Dakotas of No 10 and No 31 RAF Squadrons, which were conducting evacuation flights for non-Muslims from various frontier regions and airlifting migrants from India to Pakistan.

Anyway, the Commander of the renamed PAF base, Air Chief Tahir and Air Marshal (retd) Asghar eulogised Nur Khan for his achievements as a fighter pilot, fearless commander, Governor of West Pakistan, and head of PIA, the Hockey Federation and the Cricket Board; each designation earned him laurels for his vision. While the chilly October evening reverberated with acclamations for this great icon, my mind was wandering to my own impressions of the remarkable soul.

As a student of PAF Public School Sargodha, my first exposure was when he came to visit the institution as Air Chief. Our Principal then was the eminent educationist of the subcontinent, Mr Hugh Catchpole, who had also been Nur Khan’s teacher at the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehradun. It was then that I learned my first lesson in humility and protocol.

During the visit, Nur Khan was walking one step behind Mr Catchpole and addressing him with utmost respect. It was impressed upon our tender minds that day that no matter however high stations in life you may rise to, your teachers deserve absolute reverence because they are the ones who have moulded, guided and steered you to your success in life.

Further, while studying in First Year (FSc), we were joined by Mansur, Nur Khan’s (still PAF’s C-in-C) son, who was a spoilt brat. He was sent there for grooming. To balance things, Nur Khan also sent the son of his personal batman to a junior class, who, I believe, achieved success in life because of his schooling. Though Mansur was a different kettle of fish, thoroughly brutish and a bully, but his stint at the public school did him immense good.

Indeed, by the time Mansur entered the portals of PAF Academy Risalpur, he was a polished and accomplished young man, ready to take up the rigours of training with total dedication.

More so, Mansur broke his leg while participating in gymnastics. He suffered multiple fractures and was hospitalised. But Nur Khan, who was by then the Governor of West Pakistan, did not come to visit his son, as his presence would have created a furore. However, his mother, Begum Farhat Khan, did come.

Anyway, we continued to admire and hold Air Marshal Nur Khan in high esteem, as his achievements and success became known to us. And with the passing of the years, it dawned on me what great contributions this legendary figure had made into moulding the inchoate mass of Pakistan Air Force into a well honed and proficient fighting force. It is said that a thousand years the earth rotates around its axis and then a mighty leader is born. How lucky is that tract of land, which is blessed by a great leader like Nur Khan.

The writer is a political and defence analyst.Email: sultanm.hali@gmail.com