The last three years were highly challenging for the Pakistan Air Force. The year 2019 saw arch-rival India making a misadventure, only to be responded by PAF. 2020 even more so, as a dangerous pandemic spread across the world like an unstoppable wild fire. The mental and physical demands were so enormous that all those involved had to push themselves to the very limit. A great nations’ heart beat tumultuously as long days passed and odds looked almost insurmountable. Pakistan Air Force as well as the nation needed a leader who was organized, had foresight and was armed with foresight. A thinking man who knew that winning peace was more difficult than winning wars. Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan fought brilliantly at all fronts, not once showing he was carrying the world on his shoulders. God knows where we would have been without him but God knew where we would go with him…
When Air Marshal Nur Khan took over as Air Chief, just weeks before the 1965 war with India, his challenge was sending young boys to certain death. However, as the war commenced, his biggest challenge became restraining them. More than five decades later, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Mujahid Anwar Khan, Chief of the Air Staff, sitting in the war room faced a similar test. The cowardly Indian attack, which had stunned the world, had infuriated the entire nation, especially its air force. Did they not know the spirit of the PAF or the tough fibre of its airmen who have been trained to value freedom far above their lives? There was no fear, no despair. Nothing but determination and high courage amongst the ranks. There could be no talks or deals with the adversary but only a fight to the finish without giving the enemy any breathing space. The entire force turned to their Air Chief to give the enemy a bloody nose. And what a bloody nose he gave.
Quid Pro Quo (QPQ) Plus
In the operations room, there was a surge of unity and anger. Pressure mounted on ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan for a counter-attack which would make Dante’s inferno look like a picnic in comparison. The waiting became more stressful and pilots were on the edge. But, his words rallied the spirit of the airmen, “Have faith in God and confidence in your Air Chief.” Their belief in their Air Chief is implicit. After due deliberations, he made up his mind; the response will come but at the time and place of his choosing.
The Indian raid on the morning of 26 February 2019 brought new words to the terrifying vocabulary of war. PAF response was going to be based on QPQ+ (Quid Pro Quo +) and “Operation Swift Retort” commenced. Keeping aspirations of the nation and PAF in mind, ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan, like a brilliant leader, conceived a strategy in every detail and ran it perfectly. After basing his campaign on meticulous planning, he returned home as usual. There are no signs of panic. He must appear indestructible.
Subsequently the pilots were briefed, ground crews loaded the weapons. It was a quiet night, but it would not be a quiet morning, that was for sure. On the frosty 27 February morning, the pride of the nation moved down the runways in regular order, in state-of-the-art, Fighting Faclons, Thunders, Mirages, along with all the required elements of EW wizardry. As the raid built up like a thunderstorm, PAF’s warriors, chosen for their intelligence and free thinking, but trained to conquer their inner fears to get to the edge, took off in their killing machines that could head-butt their way through oak doors. Time on target, 0930 hrs.
Just when India was sniffing victory that went to its head, PAF put the enemy on the ropes and cut it to its size. Indian ground radars saw an armada of PAF aircraft heading their directions. It not only cluttered their radar scopes but also the minds of their leadership. There was panic, seen everywhere in enemy quarters. The Mirage struck first by dropping stand-off weapons, without giving the enemy time to organize. Pride of the Nation, Thunders followed, with their state-of-the-art PAF’s indigenously designed smart weapons.
EW aircraft jammed their communication & surveillance systems. The Fighting Falcons escorted. All went well as per planned. It appeared a textbook operation for the PAF warriors. However, the catastrophe of war fell on Indians when its modern SU-30 jet was put out of commission by the PAF fighters. The ill-fated aircraft along with many others was trying to challenge the PAF’s resolve. Plunged into chaos, the Indian Air Force shot down its own helicopter, confusing it for an intruding PAF aircraft. The PAF’s top guns were not done yet. Next up, another IAF Mig-21 shot by PAF, went down, taking down the pride of IAF once for all. Engine smoking, the aircraft plummeted down and crashed into Pakistani territory. Its pilot, Wg Cdr Abhinandan, was taken prisoner. The enemy was demoralized and the success of Ops Swift Retort was immediately recognized worldwide as a masterpiece of modern air warfare.
It was a daunting time to be a leader during these testing times. In their cowardly attack, Indian pilots decimated nothing more than a few pine trees. Although there were no casualties or loss of property, Pakistan’s sovereignty had been violated and Air Chief’s response had to be controlled and measured, one that would demonstrate Pakistan’s resolve and capabilities. General areas in close vicinity of military installation were chosen as points of targets across the line of control inside IIOJ&K (Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kahsmir). PAF’s response broke the Indian Air Force and the morale of the Indian nation went down the drain. The success of the massive blow to the enemy, was his incredible achievement. Whatever was to come, nothing could take it away from him. The entire nation showed its gratitude to the man whose courage had been an inspiration in the darkest of hours. All his past life had been a preparation for this hour and this trial.
Making of the Man
During 1970’s, stories of the famous Pathankot strike and legends in the likes of Rafiqui and MM Alam, were fresh enough to excite the imagination of any boy and young Mujahid Anwar Khan was no exception. Looking back over the years it’s hard to say the precise reason why Mujahid Anwar Khan decided to make the air force his profession, except for his love of flying. No one could deny the material of a pilot in him when he was a boy. Under the shadow of his disciplinary father, a bureaucrat by profession, he showed extraordinary brilliance in studies at Islamabad College for Boys (ICB). It was the Pakistan Air Force Academy that provided the kind of environment, articulated to encourage a young man with ambitions. He was an honoured graduate at Risalpur, where the bright flight cadet began to prove himself. Mujahid Anwar Khan, was soon known as a dazzling all-rounder and gained the reputation of a courageous man who faced danger, completely unafraid.
On the graduation day, he was bestowed with all three coveted awards, the Sword of Honour, Best Pilot Trophy, and Chairman Joint Chief of Staff gold medal, which only a handful of graduates have been able to achieve in the last 70 years. It was the beginning of an extraordinary career that brought duty with various flying squadrons and he soared as a fighter pilot. His reputation of being a thinking mind, was to follow him throughout his career. Emerging from the Academy as one of the most promising young officers and later well versed in the business of air warfare, Mujahid Anwar Khan, had the privilege of commanding two Fighting Falcon air bases at Mushaf (Sargodha) and Shahbaz (Jacobabad). It was an honour only distinguished officers have received.
Much has happened to the world since Mujahid Anwar Khan joined the PAF. It caught fire, ignited by a few global arsonists, who enjoyed their work. This war we are fighting today, is a war of the air. The whole world knows it and so does Pakistan Air Force. Wars of the future will be more dangerous than ever and threats to freedom and security will be hydra-headed. “Will we be ready?” was the overriding thought that heavily occupied his mind..
After taking over the command of the PAF in 2018, ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan was determined to build PAF into a premier fighting force equipped with military technologies ahead of the enemies, ahead of time. And for that he had already envisaged a plan; a vision that materializes with the centenary of Pakistan and PAF. He knew that the PAF of 2047 would need a well-trained and well-honed personnel that could stand head-to-head against the challenges of that time. Not only human resource but also an infrastructure that could absorb the weapon system procurements envisaged for the future. And above all, he knew, that this was the time to nurture the mindset of the force to start thinking ‘Futuristically’. Finalising the plan, he embarked upon a three-pronged strategy to meet the vision 2047 for PAF.
PAAK Stands Up
When Mujahid Anwar Khan took over the command, he found that much of the instructions and training imparted to airmen had fallen behind. The hard-driving man, with passion for facts, was not satisfied to refight old wars. It was the present and the future, which concerned him. He knew that the pilots may be the spearhead of PAF but on the front line of every battle, are the airmen. He embarked upon a plan to propel PAF airmen into the future, adapting to a constantly changing high-tech world of air combat environment. He envisioned an air force drawing heavily on stealth technologies, next generation training protocols along with artificial intelligence by the year 2047, and for that airmen needed to be trained in the same vein. To accomplish this vision, he laid the foundation stone of PAF Airmen Academy at PAF Base Korangi Creek in April 2019. It was named as PAF Airmen Academy Korangi Creek (PAAK). In a brief period of less than a year the Academy started to function as per the envisaged plan.
It is considered to be a paradigm shift in the domain of basic training for the airmen. It would promote standardization of the training regime, inter-trade harmony between the various airmen trades and above all comradeship. Moreover, the organisational structure of airmen training in PAF was redefined by bringing together all basic training schools under one umbrella, thus paving the way for envisioned Next Generation Training program. The Air Chief is lucky enough to see his vision bear fruit, as the first batch of Aero Apprentices passed out from the new Academy in December, 2020. Addressing at the occasion, the Air Chief said that the event was a significant milestone towards achieving a new training paradigm under PAF’s Next Generation Training Program. He further added that being first of its kind institution in the region, PAAK aims not only to produce proficient technicians but also develop “Thinking Airmen”, capable to work in a technology-intensive environment.
PAF’s Indigenous Programs
While the training remained under his radar for quite some time, the significance of indigenously manufactured state-of-the-art aerial platforms was also one of his top priorities. Much of his plans stems from experience and the fact that while battles will be fought on land and sea, they will never be won without supremacy in the air. PAF’s various indigenization programs bore fruit under his secure leadership.Formulating a proactive strategy that would bring an enemy to its knees, quickly and efficiently, there would soon be a new noise in the sky, rich, powerful and reassuring; the JF-17 Thunder Block-3. It represents a quantum leap in aerial warfare for the PAF, which is now acknowledged by the world as the combat-proven aerial platform. With enormous potentials including the superb Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability, the new Thunder, is a real match for any modern jet. With its induction, the PAF has already entered the incredible world of 21st century aerial combat. Also during his command, the much awaited dual seater JF-17 ‘Bravo’ joined the PAF fleet. Besides, PAF’s indigenous and proud project by the name of ‘Project Azm’ to develop a fifth-generation fighter aircraft also remained on track under his able leadership.
As a visionary leader, the Air Chief knows that Fighting Falcons may be the most advanced jets and that the future fighter, Thunder, may already be here, but they will not survive against enemies that have accelerated the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in aerial warfare. The global arms race in the backdrop of AI poses a new existential threat to the country’s defence. He is cognizant of the fact that long before someone puts Pakistan to the test and exposes its Achilles Heels, we have to be prepared. That’s why he wants to put PAF in the driving seat by planning and developing advanced capabilities instead of catching up later. Instrumental in leading the Air Force into the future, ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan established the Centre of Artificial Intelligence and Computing (CENTAIC), where AI will stress its existence for the coming years in combat platforms. As the manpower-centric strategies in warfare are replaced by technology-centric operations, learning is multifaceted gamut at CENTAIC. Here, software programming and AI centric applications will familiarise aircrew with a multitude of battle systems required during air operations. With the objective of obtaining full spectrum of dominance, its roles will also extend to guarding military infrastructure against cyber-attacks.
Clean, Green and Compassionate PAF
While Mujahid Anwar Khan foresaw the need for a futuristic PAF that became capable of rapid expansion, he answered the call for duty again. This time PAF wore team jackets with the Government of Pakistan to save the country from the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change. As a little boy, he remembered how serene the woods were and how trees kept out the noise. On school trips to Rose and Jasmine garden in Islamabad, he would often plant trees. Over the period he has not forgotten it at all. Soon after assuming command of the PAF, the Air Chief came up with the slogan of ‘Clean, Green and Compassionate PAF’. Knowing well that there’s no life without green, the PAF responded to his call. Saplings were planted in and around PAF bases across the country so that future generations could enjoy their shade, and thank the trees for giving them clear air and water. As for him the ‘Clean’ not only means the cleanliness of the surroundings but also the cleanliness of minds, hearts and above all, to be clean while discharging routine duties. Besides clean and green, the organisation and its leadership has to be compassionate as well. This is what ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan has always believed in his life.
Officers who have worked closely with him know that anyone occupying such an elevated position would have been up right, exercising authority. However, one thing that impressed his team, was his humility. He urged those he led, to surround themselves with humble people, stay committed to the mission and regard humility as their biggest strength.
As the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic engulfed the world, ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan was faced with one of the biggest challenges of his career. As the pandemic spread like a wild fire across countries, it increased the risk of the contagious virus spreading across the ranks of PAF as well. In December 2019, when the world leadership was still undecided on tackling the issue, as a visionary leader, he knew what to do. He raised his concerns in meetings while talking to his air staff and started to devise a proactive strategy to face the impeding challenge. He ordered to revamp, restructure and revitalise the PAF medical facilities to cope with the pandemic. In March 2019, he decided to lockdown all bases across the country to ensure that PAF minimized the risk of the Covid-19 spreads.
PAF personnel were ordered to incorporate social distancing as much as possible. Strict protocols were introduced all across PAF to curtail the spread of this deadly disease. Negligible number of cases among the PAF personnel were reported during the first wave, which is the testimony to his successful proactive plan.
Moreover, one of the salient feature of the strategy was to ensure that the PAF’s mission of safeguarding the aerial frontiers of country always remain on track. While the training continued in a safe and effective manner with unwavering commitment and incomparable dedication, the Air Chief continued to review decisions, boldly rising to every challenge, taking proactive steps to control the spread of the deadly disease. Faithfully following his lead, the air force continues to drive results during the second wave of the deadly virus.
Pakistan Air Force has come a long way. Even with meagre resources and against staggering odds, it has continued on its quest to develop cutting edge human resource, weapon systems and infrastructure, under command of intensely sincere and patriotic Air Chiefs. However, the PAF stood a little taller under the charismatic leadership of ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan, who has successfully raised its ‘Second to None’ image to new heights. He has trained, developed and inspired some of the finest airmen in the world. He forged PAF’s readiness and lethality, moulding warriors, honing their skills, sharpening their minds and helping them reach their full potential as individuals, who have pledged their lives to defend their country. PAF personnel found in him what they were beginning to discover in themselves, a spirit of intense determination. An unremitting enemy of enemy aggression, he always wished to be on the front besides his comrades.
During Operation Swift Retort, PAF’s response was swift and calculated, one that reflected the awareness of a great commander and his understanding of both, war and peace, as a visionary leader.
Operation Swift Retort may have passed into history, but if PAF is ever compelled again to take up arms against the adversary, one thing is for sure; its service members, stronger in their purpose, will always be ready…thanks to the remarkable leadership of ACM Mujahid Anwar Khan.