In the year 570 of the Christian era that blissfully happened to be the year of the birth of our Master – May Peace of the Allah and Blessing be upon him and his progeny – Abraha, the Abyssinian potentate of the Yemen, invaded Makkah.

The invading horde had a mammoth – called Mahmūd by the Sīrah writers – elephant that created such panic among the Makkans that they fled from the city, and, in the words of ‘Àbd’ l-Muttalib the Makkan Chief, “Left the House of Allah in Allah’s care”. But ‘astute, Àbd’l-Muttalib did care for his own herd of camels that was plundered by the Abyssinian soldiers and got them back from Abraha. What happened to the invading force and their Mammoth is best narrated in the Sūrah named after the elephant, Al-fíl, which reads in ‘Allama Yusuf Ali’s English translation:

Seest thou not

How thy Lord dealt

With the Companions

Of the Elephant

Did He not make

Their treacherous plan

Go astray?

And He sent against them

Flights of Birds,

Striking them with stones

Of baked clay.

Then did He make them

Like an empty field

Of stalks and straw,

(Of which the corn)

Has been eaten up.

(105 : 1-5)

The flabby, slow-moving elephant represents the brutish brawn while the small, slick, sparrow flitting over the field, picking up its nourishment from tiny pieces of grain and chirping all the while in merriment symbolizes the quick brain collecting its data to feed back the plan of action. And we know that it is always the brain (sparrow) that vanquishes the brawn (elephant).

In our ancient history the elephant force of the powerful Paurava of Jhelum – called Porus by the Greeks – crushed its own army being out maneuvered by Alexander’s superior military skill, and, in the modern history the richly caparisoned elephants carrying the blustering, swaggering Moghul chiefs in their bejeweled howdahs failed to stand in the face of the bayonet charges of the scarlet-clad feringhi foot-soldiers.

The steel elephants – the modern tanks – came into their own towards the end of the First World War to break the stalemate created by the trench warfare, but had a short–lived glory. In the Second World War, after one thousand three hundred and sixty-nine years, the Quránic prophecy of the ultimate superiority of Air Power – the “the Tayran ábābīl” – was fulfilled in a convincing manner. All that is well-known and needs no repetition here.

It took the world over a millennia to benefit from the Divine prediction of the superiority of Air Power and use it in a convincing manner during the Second World War. So much so that Sir Winston Churchill, the greatest statesman of his times, minced no words in acknowledging candidly the role of air power during his address at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1949):

“For good or ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power. And fleets and armies, however necessary and important, must accept subordinate rank. This is a memorable milestone in the march of man.”

Pentagons of all the Western powers had learned their lesson from this Armageddon very well. How well, was vividly demonstrated in the Kosovo War that was won against a ruthless, relentless and resilient enemy entirely by the Air Power without a single combatant from the Land and Naval forces. It was simply unbelievable and the skeptic analysts continued to shake their expert heads in disbelief till the last moment. But it did happen. Believe it or not.

In our own context Pakistan has been lucky that during its formative years, it was blessed with one of the most dynamic leaders of modern times, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. His precognition was tremendous. During his stay in Europe, he had watched the emergence of air power very closely. From its limited role in First World War to the unprecedented death and destruction unleashed on the hostile forces by the use of this new weapon, the Quaid perceived the over-riding role that air power would play in future conflicts.

It was the Quaid’s amazing prescience that convinced him of the inseparable link between survival and air power, which would guarantee the security of Pakistan in the shadow of the neighbouring implacable enemy. It was his love for PAF which, on 13 April, 1948 brought him to the RPAF Flying School at Risalpur despite his poor health.

As the Quaid stood before this small band of adoring PAF Officers and Cadets of his fledgling nation’s air force, despite his frail health, the air reverberated with his famous speech which became a source of inspiration for PAF in the trials and tribulations of the years to come. He professed: “A country without a strong Air Force is at the mercy of any aggressor. Pakistan must build up her Air Force as quickly as possible. It must be an efficient Air Force second to none.”

These stirring words have rightly become enshrined in the creed of the Pakistan Air Force. In the formative years, every officer, airman, cadet and civilian of the Air Force worked with untiring effort and never-ending zeal to build PAF. Despite constraints of resources and equipment deficiency, Air Marshals Asghar Khan, Nur Khan, Rahim Khan and PAF’s successive leadership did their best to fulfil the Quaid’s dream of making the PAF second to none.

Pakistan Air Force has always been numerically at a disadvantage as compared to its adversary, the Indian Air Force, but in each and every confrontation: be it the skirmishes in Kashmir and Kutch to the 1965 & 71 Indo-Pak Wars, the Afghan War (1979-89) where the entire PAF was mobilised to meet any threat — the Air Force has lived up to the Quaid’s expectations.

In more recent times, on 27 February 2019, after the Indian Air Force dared to sneak into Pakistani territory, air warriors of PAF meted such a shock to India that it will not forget the humiliation for years to come.

Finally, it is only the Air Power – the Tayran ábābīl – that has the strategic outreach to the material resources and the moral stamina of the enemy. Kosovo demonstrated that in the present-day military context the Ultimate Weapon is not the, Atom Bomb, but the Air Power.

For the former is, eventually, self-destructive—a M.A.D. proposition. Thus, the Air Force is the strategic arm of a country’s Security Forces. And we know it from Kargil that brilliant tactical moves do win battles, but war is won only by sound strategy.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst


Comments are closed.

Nisar Apr 28, 2022 08:48am
You made no mention of Polish PAF officers.
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Sultan Mahmood Hali Apr 30, 2022 09:03am
@Nisar, Read my detailed article "Pakistan's Polish Patriot" published in Dawn cowritten with Natalia Laskowska
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Abdullah May 03, 2022 11:29pm
Building a strong air force requires a strong economy, manufacturing base, financial resources, R&D and trained man power other wise it will evaporate like Saddam's or Gaddafi's air forces. The aircraft requires many inputs to keep flying day after day, if you run out of lubricants or bearings or many other seemingly insignificant spare parts, your days in the air will be numbered.
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