Every year, PAF observes 7 September as the ‘Martyrs’ Day’ and this year was no exception. In one of its finest traditions of paying tribute to the Shuhada, Ghazis and Veterans of PAF, several solemn and prestigious ceremonies are held around the country. The editorial team brings out the first-hand account of these activities for the nation to cherish and feel proud of.
PAF observes Martyrs’ Day on 7 September every year, to pay tribute to the air warriors who paid the ultimate sacrifice to defend their motherland during the 1965 War. The day is a reminder of the indomitable spirit with which PAF out-manoeuvred and out-performed an enemy five times its size. Right from the start, PAF ruled the skies and never let the enemy achieve its nefarious designs. Several factors contributed to this unlikely success. PAF’s insightful leadership, motivation of the personnel and its carefully curated training are a few that comes to mind. However, in the 1965 war, one factor made all the difference. The do or die spirit of the men of PAF. The indescribable motivation that made the men of PAF lay down their lives for their nation.
This spirit was especially observable on 6 September, when IAF jets attacked Pak Army troops near Lahore, to help its forces on the ground. This attempt was thwarted by the bravery of soldiers on the ground and in the air. While army officers like Major Raja Aziz Bhatti Shaheed stopped the Indian forces on the ground, brilliant PAF pilots like Sqn Ldr Sajad Haider and his team ruled the skies overhead and destroyed the advancing ground forces of enemy. Next day on 7 September, enemy tried to take revenge by attacking PAF Sargodha, however, the brilliance of Sqn Ldr MM Alam turned the enemy misadventure into a nightmare. On this day, Sqn Ldr MM Alam shot down five IAF Hawker Hunters in a blink. And that was not even his total kill count. He went on to claim some more enemy aircraft, earning himself the title of the only ‘Ace’ of the region.
While remembering the feats of our great ghazis, one cannot forget the supreme sacrifices made by our legendary Shuhada. Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqui is one such air warrior who laid down his life for the nation and was bestowed with two gallantry awards, Hilal-e-Jurat and Sitara-e-Jurat. By shooting down four enemy vampires along with his No 2 in the opening round of war on 1 September, he had sealed the enemy’s fate. This exemplary air battle of wits and courage shattered the enemy’s morale once for all. Later, on 6 Sep while attacking IAF Halwara he displayed highest level of leadership and comradeship. He refused to leave behind his under command despite his guns got jammed during the thick of the air combat. He ultimately attained shahadat after knocking down a couple of enemy aircraft.
To honour such men, PAF started to observe 7 September as ‘Air Force’ day every year after 1965 war, however, since couple of years it is now observed as Martyrs’ Day. Major ceremonies are held at air bases all across the country. The day starts with Quran Khawani and dua for the PAF shuhada and deceased veterans all across mosques at PAF installations. A major ceremony is held at Air Headquarters at Islamabad where the Chief of the Air Staff, PAF lays down a wreath at martyrs’ monument. The ceremony is attended by principal staff officers, officers, airmen and PAF civilians.
During this year’s ceremony, Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Babar Sidhu, Chief of the Air Staff, PAF laid down a floral wreath on the Martyrs’ monument. During his address at the occasion, the Air Chief paid tribute to all heroes of PAF who responded to the nation’s call with unparalleled courage and put their lives ahead of others for a cause greater than life. He further added that PAF was alive to the evolving situation in the region and remains fully prepared to defend sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan. On this special day, he also extended reverence to the generations of Kashmiris who have laid down their lives fighting for freedom. He assured Kashmiri brothers and sisters of resolute commitment and steadfast moral, political and diplomatic support. The wreath laying was followed by the offering of Fateha by all present at the occasion.
A similar ceremony was held at the grave of Plt Off Rashid Minhas, NH (Shaheed). A smartly turned out contingent of PAF presented the gun salute to the one and only Nishan-e-Haider of PAF. On behalf of Chief of the Air Staff PAF, Air Vice Marshal Zaeem Afzal laid a floral wreath and offered fateha to pay homage to the young Shaheed, who has his final resting place in Karachi. Similar ceremonies were held all across PAF installations and air bases where the respective Base Commanders paid tributes to the shuhada and deceased veterans.
Another venerable tradition that is carried out on this day is the Guard Mounting Ceremony held at Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi. The ceremony is traditionally held to commemorate the Quaid’s visit to PAF Academy Risalpur (now PAF Academy Asghar Khan) in April, 1948. On 6 September every year, a contingent comprising aviation cadets from PAF Academy Asghar Khan takes charge as the guards at the Quaid’s mausoleum.
The day started with assembly and march-past of the PAF cadets. That was followed by the inspection of the honour guard by the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) PAF Academy. This year the Chief Guest was Air Vice Marshal Qaiser Janjua, AOC PAF Academy Asghar Khan. Later, a contingent headed by the AOC, laid the floral wreath on the grave of the Quaid on behalf of the personnel of PAF. The cadets then officially took over the guard duties at the mausoleum. The Guard Mounting Ceremony takes place thrice a year, with the guard duties being exchanged by the three services. On 6 September, the duties are taken over by PAF. The honour is given to the Pak Army on 23 March, while Pak Navy gets this honour on 14 August.
Every year, Martyrs’ Day is covered extensively in the media. All major channels air documentaries and programs specially made for the occasion. These programs pay homage and highlight the achievements of PAF. Well-versed PAF veterans appear on talk shows to enlighten the audience about PAF’s role in wars. Media personnel and senior anchor persons also visit Air Bases to record special programmes on the occasion. Special events are also arranged all across PAF Bases, wherein civilians get a chance to interact with the men in blue, including viewing PAF aircraft up close. It is a day befitting of the glorious men that it pays homage to.