Skip to main content

BOOK REVIEW: FLIGHT OF THE FALCON Story of a Fighter Pilot by S. Sajad Haider

PUBLISHED In Daily Times / 16 Jan 2010 & the PROBE & Posted in CHOWK

Sajad Haider’s (SJ) name made headlines, both in war and peace. The former remains his legacy, faithfully revisited every September. The latter became a fleeting moment in history, which no one talks about. This story would be incomplete without either - its shock and awe value – lessened, considerably. But when Haider’s debut novel - Flight of the Falcon, sets out to demolish myths of Indo-Pak wars 1965 & 1971, several other fine illusions became collateral damage in the process.

His legendary exploits during battle, notwithstanding, Haider’s fall from grace was swift. A recurring role in controversies (domestic and international) plagued his professional career. Refusal to conform caused its premature end. Out of these extraordinary, if unorthodox life experiences, is born a story that flaunts the unwritten code of silence typically held sacrosanct.

Haider saw action in both wars as commander of a fighter squadron (‘65) and a tactical fighter wing (‘71). Speaking from such a unique vantage point has advantages. It has been used to assess PAK military operations and political adventurism of that era. This fact finding mission clears away prevalent misconceptions about PAF’s alleged lacklustre performance in ’71 - indicts top leadership (military and political) for ineptitude – cross references claimed kills (aerial) against recorded data and berates the system for letting air-brushed versions of history become impediments. It does so by amassing a repository of previously documented facts and figures from both sides of the border in the hope that this serves as a catalyst for ‘deeper more incisive probes’ in the future.

To call them ‘sensational revelations’ would be inaccurate, for our war time fiascos have spawned many books and articles by local and foreign observers alike – neutral or otherwise. Exhuming carefully crafted fairytales is not uncommon. Treading what was once considered to be hallowed ground has been in vogue for quite some time. The puzzle – in this case our history - comes together more easily with so many pieces to choose from. The issue is separating true historians on a quest for truth from vindictive pseudo analysts trashing institutions for sport. Now, all these versions compete for attention with another that has a personal stake in resurrecting old ghosts as Haider re-lives painful memories of his incarceration in the final half of the book to identify the burgeoning turmoil within his professional life that became a precursor to witch hunts against the crème de le crème of our PAF. But there is more to this cautionary tale of lost opportunities and political decay. ‘Flight of the Falcons’ vividly captures these magnificent men in their outnumbered flying machines at their finest – as creators of The Falcons Four (world class formation aerobatics team) and champions of air combat (65/71) war. It is a fitting tribute to the unsung heroes, martyrs and regular men in service for accomplishing what they did with whatever little they had.

Haider’s journey, from his most triumphant moments to the bleakest hours plays out like a Shakespearean drama where, according to one observer, he is a ‘maverick, top gun and Casanova’ rolled into one, forced to go through an obstacle course laid with incarceration, intrigues, and tribunals. And while one-sided versions, however committed to the pursuit of truth, require the occasional suspension of disbelief when shades of grey are carefully edited leaving the ‘shining armour concept’ intact, they are no less entertaining.

The writers 8 years spent in the business world could spawn a sequel; one that will go after the wheelers and dealers, or as he puts it, ‘crocodiles and piranhas’, who define the underbelly of ‘the Pakistani business world’. Someone who once told President Zia exactly what he thought of his regime should have no qualms about putting up an encore performance. Back in the day, Nosey – as he is referred to by his peers - stepped on powerful toes. Today, his book continues the tradition.

Since its launch in May 2009, Sajad Haider’s book has sent ripples across the nation and garnered responses from different parts of the world. The second edition has already been sold out and a third, revised version of Flight of the Falcon is under print. The upcoming edition has been further amended to include additional comments by the author where he reiterates his views about the 1965 and 1971 wars; revisits 6th of September to analyze, what he labels as command failures at Mauripur and Sargodha, and their contentious decision making process that resulted in the ‘avoidable loss of Sqn Ldr Sarfraz Rafiqui and Flt Lt Yunus Hussain’ – jewels in the PAF’s crown. An incident about Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas has also been updated. The botched hijack attempt has now been replaced with one attested by Grp.Capt. Zaheer Hussain - President of Air Investigation Board, who was also the officer in charge of the original investigation. The revised epilogue has been topped off with some scathing commentary - and the nuclear Godfather of the nation - Dr. AQ Khan does not come off well when it is over. The third edition is expected be on the shelves in about two weeks.

Acknowledgement: Thank you Darakhshanda Khurrum for the maverick comment. It got me in trouble but hey...:)

UPDATE: The Urdu Version of this book called "Shaheen Ki Parwaz" will be available from 5 Oct 2010

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

BOOK REVIEW: Pakistan: Beyond The ‘Crisis State’ / Author: Maleeha Lodhi

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, June 18, 2011

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Published under the title: 17 Reasons to Hope

“History will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, history will have its revenge and retribution”— from the movie, ‘Good Night, & Good Luck’

A region known for most “terrorist sightings”, a place feared for harbouring medieval mindsets next to progressive thinkers and a nation shunned for having an affinity for nuclear toys. By turns a cautionary tale, an indispensable ally and an international pariah, Pakistan does not fit into any mould — for long. But its name crops up whenever things go awry.

Pakistan: Beyond the ‘Crisis State’ is a compilation of articles put together by Maleeha Lodhi that countermands the grim prognosis. When Ms Lodhi, who has served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and UK, acknowledges that “resilience has been part of Pakistan’s story from its inception, obscured by the single issue lens…

BOOK REVIEW: Three Presidents and an Aide - Life, Power and Politics

Published in Daily Times / 9 Jan 2010
Author: Ambassador Arshad Sami Khan SJ
Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

MY DEAR COUNTRYMEN - three ‘nation altering words’ followed by some standard lines that come from an equally standard speech typically associated with the beginning or ending of a takeover. In Pakistan anyway. It is an increasingly familiar pattern, an unfortunate legacy and a well acted performance from otherwise green actors – that every generation gets to experience, analyze, dread and crib over for the remainder of their lives. It is also one that they seldom understand fully, can never challenge and forever speculate about. The camera eventually pans away from the triumphant or vanquished knight in fatigues! – the haze of mystery surrounding the men who wielded a nation’s fate in their hands oh so casually, remains.

What happened next – is always more interesting than scripted moments of history.

As an Aide-de-Camp (ADC), Arshad Sami Khan was perfectly positioned with an all acce…

BOOK REVIEW: Outclass Teams: Secrets of Building High-Performance, Result-Oriented Teams / Author: Qaiser Abbas

Thanks to Possibilities Publications for the review copy

Published by Daily Times / Saturday, February 25, 2012

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

Runaway Teams beware. Qaiser Abbas is an organisational psychologist, author of books like the Tik Tok Dollar and the upcoming Leadership Insights — and one canny facilitator who introduced Pakistan to the concept of ‘Management by Adventure’, or as he likes to call it, MBA. His mission of rescuing wayward teams from doom makes him dash in and out of companies on a regular basis. Prompted by the success of such expeditions, he proceeds to refine these insights for a book on team-building and a lecture on group dynamics.

As someone who specialised in using experiential learning methodology in outdoor training, Abbas swears by well-structured one-day team-building programmes over time spent bonding over social activities. His recent book takes an in-depth look at this phenomenon to determine the value of team-building, show the expertise needed to ensure…

VIEW: WOMEN in the PAF: AN ENSEMBLE CAST

PUBLISHED in HILAL (Pakistan Armed Forces Magazine) Feb 2010

By Afrah Jamal

Progressive - Conservative - Contemporary - Professional; separately these terms could apply to any service; together they were reserved for just one - the PAF.

Pakistan Air Force has kept in touch with its roots through its glorious traditions and kept up with the changing times with innovative thinking. Oftentimes, traditions that made it stand apart have also stood in the way of, well - progress. Consequently, the service nimbly skipped past the one proposed change that was going to have a profound effect on the lives of countless young girls and would forever alter the way society perceived their womenfolk.

Before 1994, Lady Officers were a rare sight in the PAF. So rare in fact, that when male cadets donned wigs to represent the female species in annual variety shows, nobody wondered why. By 2010, women have become an indispensable part of the service. While, PAF was no stranger to a woman in uniform, a f…

BOOK REVIEW: How It Happened

Published in Daily Times / Sat 9 Feb 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal
Author: Shazaf Fatima Haider

Thanks to Liberty Books for the (temp) review copy

Gwendolen: I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself . . .”
-
The Importance of being Earnest (Oscar Wilde)


Characters chasing ‘happily ever after’s’ are often pulled aside by enterprising elders who try to flag all but the most traditional road to the altar. A fiendishly funny narrative pounces on the retreating figure of Cupid and explores his cultural relevance in the sport they call match-making.

The saga of the Bandian clan comes with a perpetually scandalized, formidable old lady fiercely protective…

VIEW: Spin Cycle (A look at Media’s responsibility) - 2007

BY: Afrah Jamal & JH
Published in Pakistan Observer 2007

“People understand that democracy depends on a free press, but just as importantly, real democracy depends on a fair press."
Roger Ailes, Chairman & CEO, FOX News.”

The shift in power has been perceptible in the dominance of ‘real news’ over ‘selective views’ and a government that is no longer dogging the footsteps of journalism. A free press is powerful. With power comes responsibility and this new found freedom brings a far greater obligation, to advocate truth with as much ‘good sense’ as with accuracy and impartiality to sustain a liberated press.

This could be when potential harm from complete disclosure vs. publics’ right to information is given due consideration to avoid an infringement upon raison d’état. But this very premise raises some serious questions like ‘will a bowdlerized version of truth be acceptable when national/security interest is at stake?’ ‘And granted that the Media’s role is to further ou…

VIEW: Houbara Bustards: dead birds walking? — Afrah Jamal

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 11, 2010
Published in SHE Magazine Jan 2011

Experts disagree over the exact date when the houbara bustard might join the ranks of the spectacled cormorant, caspian tiger and woolly rhinoceros — but most agree that it is probably headed that way. The houbara has been projected as an aphrodisiac — endangered, protected, doomed — in need of conservation and on the fast track towards extinction. Because, come winter, when Pakistan gets ready to host one class of migratory birds, it also prepares to welcome several dignitaries from neighbouring Arab countries. The houbara comes for the climate; the Arabs come for the houbara. Armed with permits and falcons, visiting Arabs proceed to hunt in designated areas and, if tabloids are to be believed, their sole interest in the sport lies in what the poor bird’s meat contains and not the hunt itself. The tabloids would be surprised to learn that while the royal hunters’ main motivation is the thrill of…