Memories flooded my mind as I stood in the row to offer my prayers at the funeral of Air Chief Marshal Farooq Feroze, the thirteenth Chief of Air Staff and former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, who was buried with full military honours at Nur Khan Air Base. His handsome visage, towering personality, style and wit were overpowering; yet he was so down to earth. While he was Deputy Chief of Air Staff (Operations), Lockheed Company posted his picture in its magazine, calling him “Hollywood Handsome”.
Farooq bhai was a product of the first entry of PAF Public School Sargodha, which I joined in 1964. My first encounter with him was in 1980, when he was a Group Captain and posted to PAF Base Sargodha, OC Flying Wing, to be promoted as Air Commodore and command the Base. We Sargodhians rejoiced as he was the first student of our institution to reach that rank. I was posted to my alma mater to teach Air Navigation. I noticed that the cadets undergoing training lacked motivation. I shared my apprehensions with Farooq bhai.
Within a week, the officer commanding of Combat Commanders School (CCS), Sargodha, invited the cadets for a visit to the prestigious institution. I was asked to accompany the cadets, who witnessed a demonstration of scramble and take off by PAF fighter aircraft, some low-level aerial maneuvers and were given a briefing by the OC regarding the induction plan for CCS for various courses and the entry date of the cadets present at the briefing. Their faces lit up when Farooq bhai addressed them, gave them a pep talk and presented the collar tag of an F-16 aircraft (which was being considered for induction in PAF) to the Head Boy. The motivation level of the cadets shot up; one of the cadets then was Mujahid Anwar Khan, who rose to become the 22nd Air Chief and gained fame during Operation Swift Retort in 2019.
In 1989, I was posted to Air Headquarters and was given the post of PAF’s first Director Public Relations. Farooq bhai by then was an Air Marshal, serving as Vice Chief of Air Staff, and was my direct boss. One morning I was summoned to his office, where the famous TV producer Shoaib Mansoor, who had recently produced the thrilling song “Dil Dil Pakistan” and Junaid Jamshed of Vital Signs fame were waiting. Junaid was the son of Air Commodore Jamshed Akbar Khan and was a close friend of Farooq bhai’s children. In his mercurial style, Farooq Bhai asked Shoaib Mansoor to produce a motivational song for PAF and asked me to provide full support. No PAF motivational song had been produced for almost a decade. He handed over some cash to Shoaib, stating that it was his total budget and dismissed us.
Shoaib was aghast at the figure because it would not even cover the expenses of hiring recording and editing equipment. I promised the use of ISPR technical facilities to save expenses. Farooq bhai was posted as Chairman PIA, but we undertook the task diligently. Shoaib Mansoor would demand exotic flying and positioning of aircraft and I would organize it. The ultimate result after a year’s toil was the motivational song “Oonchi Bahut Oonchi—in fizaoon main hai zindagi.” ACM Hakimullah, then Air Chief, refused to clear the video for release since it depicted only F-16 aircraft and operators of other weapons systems would be demoralized. He tasked me to produce the song “Shaheed ki jo Maut Hai woh Qaum ki Hayat Hai” and include all weapon types.
I was shocked by the decision and informed Farooq bhai, who advised me to be patient and follow the Air Chief’s directive. Experience gained in producing the Vital Signs song resulted in the epic song “Shaheed ki jo Maut Hai”, which aired on the day ACM Hakimullah retired and the command baton was passed to Farooq bhai. A few days later, the Vital Signs song also aired, which became a hit as a welcome song to ACM FF Khan.
Meanwhile I had been posted to Riyadh as Naval and Air Attaché. As I was bidding farewell to ACM Farooq Feroze Khan, I asked him if I should organize his visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). He replied: “We Pakistanis love to visit KSA, but no Saudi Air Chief has ever visited Pakistan. Unless you bring my Saudi counterpart for a visit first, I will not come for a visit.”
On the first opportunity, I invited the Saudi Air Chief to visit Pakistan. But the Gulf War broke out and the visit did not materialize. A year passed by in which the Saudi Air Chief visited the USA, France, Italy and UK but not Pakistan. Meanwhile our Army and Naval Chiefs visited KSA. I was getting desperate so on my next call on the Saudi Air Chief, I managed to convince him. The visit was set for the following month.
Since convincing the Saudi Air Chief for the visit was a miracle, I recommended to Farooq bhai that he should request the President to award Nishan-e-Imtiaz (M) to the Saudi Chief. The rest was smooth sailing and even the designations of the officers accompanying the Saudi Chief were decided after consultation with me. When he was informed of his call on the President and Prime Minister, he wanted my opinion on gifts for them. I recommended that pieces of the Ghilaf-e-Kaaba in gilded frames would be priceless gifts.
On landing at Chaklala Air Base, after Farooq bhai had received the dignitary, he offered me a ride on his own car on our way to the hotel where we were staying. His confidence in me during the visit remained steadfast. We remained in touch during the very successful visit which included the investiture ceremony of award of Nishan-i-Imtiaz (M) to the Saudi Air Chief. Pak-Saudi air force relations soared high.
I started working on organizing a return visit for Farooq bhai to KSA. He agreed but stated that his wife, Farzana apa would be accompanying him. The Saudi Air Chief said that no formal arrangements would be made for her since KSA is a patriarchal society and my wife could accompany her to various shopping centers. Farzana apa would have nothing of the sort. I took the initiative of informing the Saudi Air Chief that people in Pakistan have the perception that Saudi women only remain behind closed doors. This was a grand opportunity to show Begum Farooq Feroze, who would be accompanied by my wife, the activities of Saudi wives to shed the misperception. He agreed; during the visit, Farzana apa and my wife were hosted by the daughter of Shah Faisal, Princess Sara at Al Nahda, a prize-winning charitable organization. This was the first time that the wife of a Pakistan Air Force dignitary was formally invited and interacted with Saudi women. During the memorable visit, Farooq bhai was conferred upon the ‘King Abdul Aziz Medal of Excellence’, the highest military award of Saudi Arabia.
Before I returned from my posting in Riyadh, my service driver met with a serious accident, damaging two Saudi-driven cars. Insurance did not cover the accident, so I appealed to Farooq bhai for support. The kindhearted ACM FF Khan promptly ordered the transfer of funds to support the hapless driver.
We remained in touch as he was a regular participant in Sargodhian get togethers. He took the initiative of establishing the Sargodhian Spirit Trust (SST) to set up more public schools in less developed areas of Pakistan on the lines of PAF Public School Sargodha. I participated in the venture wholeheartedly and recorded the minutes of several meetings to establish SST and the SST Public School at Rashidabad and helped in fund-raising for the project. Other similar schools are in the offing.
Now that Farooq bhai has folded his wings and gone to meet his Maker, I wish him a turbulence free flight to the portals of paradise.
Rest in peace, Sir.
The writer is a former Group Captain PAF and an author.