Lt Qais Hussain with his plane at an undisclosed Pakistani airfield during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Lt Hussain was then 25 year oldÂ rookie pilot with the PAF
In 1965, as the seven month Indo-Pak war raged, an Indian civilian aircraft flown by a World War II veteran Jahangir Engineer ventured close to the Indo-Pak border. The plane was flying the then chief minister of Gujarat, Balwant Rai Mehta. A Pakistani fighter plane spotted this India Beachcraft and took an aggressive position. TheÂ Indian aircraft as per international protocol tipped its wings to indicate it was a civilian aircraft and not a threat.
The pilot of the Pakistani fighter, Flt Lt Qais Hussain spotted this, and radioed back to control room his doubts regarding the target. He hoped that he would be asked to spare the Indian plane. Within 4- 5 minutes, the orders came crisp and clear; that the target be eliminated since it was possibly a spotter aircraft on a recce mission.
Flt Lt Hussain executed the order and the Indian plane was shot down over Rann of Kutch and all the occupants of the plane died. For forty five years this deed rankled in the mind of Qais Hussain, that he had caused death toÂ innocent lives by firing at a plane which was not a legitimate military target.
This guilt probably was too much for Qais Hussain, who in an unprecedented gesture wrote a letter of remorse to the daughter of the pilot of the Indian aircraft in 2011. He wrote âIf an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father, I would grab it with both hands. I did not play foul and went by the rules of business. But the unfortunate loss of precious lives â no matter how it happens â hurts each human, and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and other seven families who lost their dearest ones.â
Farida Singh, daughter of Â Jahangir Engineer, the pilot of the Indian plane Â was a teenager when this incident happened replied to Mr Hussain. âThis was the one incident which defined our lives henceforth. But in all the struggles that followed, we never, not for one moment, bore bitterness or hatred for the person who actually pulledÂ the trigger. The fact that this all happened in the confusion of a tragic war was never lost to us. We are all pawns in this terrible game of war and peace.â She added: âMy father would have liked that this goes towards bringing a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples, who after all were one.â
An overwhelmed Mr Hussain Â remarked that while he had taken a courageous step in asking for forgiveness, Mrs Singh had taken a magnanimous leap in forgiving and extending a hand of friendship.
Behind every trigger there might be an enemy. But there is also a human being who is a helpless participant in the business of war. Till this human side is alive there is hope for peace.
The Pakistani Daily Dawn while covering this news quoted – The public response on both sides of the border has also been overwhelmingly positive. Even the ranks, Air Marshals to flying officers, have shared words of support. One Pakistani reader remarked: âThe condolence letter is very apt and speaks highly of you as a soldier and the PAF as a force. As a Pakistani you make me proud.â And one Indian said: âIf I can reach you I will personally touch your feet as a sign of respect (as you must be very old). You are my hero even though you are from Pakistan.â
The pilotâs letter â
âDear Mrs. Singh,
âI am glad that by now we know about each other and it is no surprise that I am writing to you, thanks to Naushad Patel and Jagan Pillarisetti.
âThe incident happened 46 years back but it is as fresh in my mind as if it had happened yesterday. The aircraft flown by your father had drifted off course by many a miles and in his search for the destination, he had been going up and down in the border area of Rann of Katchh for quite some time and it made our Radar Controllers uncomfortable. I happened to be strapped up in my aircraft along with another pilot (my Leader) in his, on two minutes take-off alert. We were scrambled but I had to take off alone, and with the help from my radar controller, intercepted your fatherâs aircraft which was considered to be on a recce mission to open a new war front. I caught sight of him at 3000â and made a pass so close that I could read his markings and the number of the aircraft. Your father spotted my presence immediately and he started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. âInstead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight seat transport aircraft (guessing by the four side windows) and wanted further instructions to deal with it. At the same time, I was hoping that I would be called back without firing a shot. There was a lapse of 3 to 4 long minutes before I was given clear orders to shoot the aircraft.
âAfter the shooting, I had a sense of achievement and satisfaction that I had completed my mission and destroyed any recce data that might have been collected to open a new war front. I landed back at Mauripur, Karachi with my fuel tanks bone dry and was greeted by my seniors and other squadron colleagues. Later that evening, All India Radio announced the names of the occupants who had lost their lives in that aircraft.
âThe reason that I have been trying to get in touch with you since recently is an article by Air Cdre Kaiser Tufail in April 2011, in which he researched the whole incident and came out with his story by interviewing me, the radar controller (a Flying Officer) and his supervisor (a Wing Commander) who took the decision to order the shoot. I have also read numerous versions that appeared in the Indian media at the time, said to be eyewitness accounts from peasants of Mithapur which are unfortunately based on hearsay. Even the findings of an Enquiry Committee constituted by the Indian Government are nowhere near to what actually happened. I was alone at the site of incident while my Leader who took off finally about 6 to 7 minutes after me (due to change of aircraft and a new pilot), was perched at the border at 20,000â acting as a relay station between me and the controller at Badin. I had lost contact somewhere while descending to 3,000â and had we not had this aircraft at 20,000â at the border, I would not have found your fatherâs aircraft and he would not have lost his life along with all the others. Nonetheless, the unfortunate part in all this is that I had to execute the orders of my controller.
âMrs Singh, I have chosen to go into this detail to tell you that it all happened in the line of duty and it was not governed by the concept that âeverything is fair in love and warâ, the way it has been portrayed by the Indian media due to lack of information. I did not play foul and went by the rules of business but the unfortunate loss of precious lives, no matter how it happens, hurts each human and I am no exception. I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones. I feel greatly grieved that you lost your brother Noshir recently. If an opportunity ever arises that I could meet you face to face to condole the death of your father 46 years back I would grab it with both hands. I would highly appreciate if you please convey my feelings to the other members of your family, who were equally hurt by the untimely departure of Jungoo to the next world.
âI hope and pray that you and your family stay well
âMy best regardsâŚ
And the reply â
From: Farida Singh
10 August 2011 09:49
Subject: Re: Condolence
To: Qais Hussain
Dear Mr. Hussain,
Firstly, thank you for your condolences on the passing away of my brother Noshir.
I am somewhat overwhelmed at receiving this letter, even though I was expecting it as Jagan Pillarisetti had been in touch with me recently on this.
It took courage for you to write this. And for me, too, (I say this humbly) it takes the same to write back . But my father was Courage and Grace at their finest and I now speak on behalf of him, my extraordinary, gracious mother (who survived my father by just 16 years), my late brother Noshir and my elder sister in Canada who is unfortunately legally blind.
Yes, this was the one incident which defined our lives henceforth. But in all the struggles that followed, we never, not for one moment, bore bitterness or hatred for the person who actually pulled the trigger and caused my fatherâs death.The fact that this all happened in the confusion of a tragic war was never lost to us. We are all pawns in this terrible game of War and Peace.
A little more about my father. An ace pilot if ever there as one. A WWII veteran fighter pilot, a great leader of men, a willing team player, strong in body and spirit. This would have been just the view of an adoring daughter, had it not been reflected by all those fortunate enough to know him. Most of all was the generosity of spirit, and his intuitive understanding of the pain of others. Hence it is now easy for me to reach out my hand to receive your message. This incident is indeed a prime example of what damage strife and mindless battles can drive even good men to do.
Thank you again for your gesture. I know it was not an easy thing for you to do.
In closing, I would like to say that I have no idea as to how your email has made the front page in some prominent dailies here. (Jagan knows how publicity-shy I generally am). A friend told me about it and I then re-checked my inbox and opened your mail this morning, 4 days after you sent it.
However, I am glad that it is now public as it can do nothing but heal wounds, not just on a personal scale but in a much wider arena. And most of all, my father would have liked that it goes towards bringing a spark of forgiveness between our two peoples, who after all were one.
Feature Photo Credit: Garima, 2000 (Flickr)