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


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…

FILM REVIEW: West Bank Story a live-action short film (2007)

Published in The POST May 17, 2007

Directed by:Ari Sandel
Written by: Kim Ray and Ari Sandel
Duration: 21 Minutes
(An official selection of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival)

The Middle East is better known for staging violent uprisings, certainly not for inspiring comedic masterpieces.

Since 1967, the West bank has spawned a surge in Arab hostility, frequent visits to the Middle East by Condoleezza Rice and lately, a small little inspirational musical comedy about competing falafel stands, directed, co-written and produced by Ari Sandel (part Israeli, part American Californian native). Since there is no easy way to represent both sides fairly, the very notion of West Bank Story is greeted with a justifiable mix of scepticism, wariness and resentment at first. No doubt, it is a precarious balancing act that mandates such a film to be witty without being offensive, show compassion without discrimination and entertain without losing substance. So does West Bank Story deliver?

West Bank Story

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Sunset — The Rise & Fall of the Lahore Durbar Author: Amarinder Singh

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times under the heading: Lahore Durbar in free fall

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

After the Mughals exited, but before the British arrived, the Lahore Durbar was presided over by Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur, affectionately known as the ‘Lion of Lahore’, who makes a brief appearance in Amarinder Singh’s narrative, but leaves a lasting impression on his history.

Ranjit Singh, who has been described in the book as a great man and an outstanding military commander, was a mass of contradictions. For instance, he was against the death penalty but not averse to robbing widows, believed treaties were meant to be broken but treated the vanquished with kindness, and thought nothing of inviting guests only to divest them of their most prized possession — like the Kohinoor diamond. He may have spent the better part of the day leading military campaigns, yet he did not always harbour territorial designs and is said to have waged a war on hi…

BOOK REVIEW: Hira Mandi / Author: Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson

Published in Daily Times Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reproduced on Claudine Le Tourneur Dlson's Website

Translated from French by Priyanka Jhijaria

Reviewed by Afrah Jamal

A programme about Hira Mandi did the internet rounds a couple of years ago. It claimed, among other things, that the sons of the ‘dancers’ reportedly end up as lawyers, doctors, artists — a few join politics and some even reach the military. These outrageous statistics may be one of the reasons the documentary was banned from the mainstream media. That and its primary premise — the plight of the fallen women — would prompt the conservatives to howl with dismay before scurrying off to bury any evidence in the backyard along with other bodies.

Claudine Le Tourneur d’Ison embeds such wrenching moments in a bold narrative where its doomed protagonist can hail the brave new world and its genteel patrons from an extraordinary vantage point. The expedition to the underworld with the unfortunate progeny and the hapless…

BOOK REVIEW: Inside the Pakistan Army: A Woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror

Thanks to Liberty Books for the review copy

Published in Daily Times / Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Author: Carey Schofield

First Abbottabad, then Admiral Mullen, and now the BBC — whispered allegations against the Pakistan Army have picked up pace. Thus far it has been unable to build an effective counter against the barrage of accusations headed its way. Thus far it has watched its credibility plummet and the problems mount. That the military’s weakened standing can be attributed to a series of unfortunate events — some of their own creation, others beyond their control, have left their image tarnished. Even the fact that a Pakistani checkpost recently came under NATO fire and suffered heavy casualties did little to alter the negative perception.

Carey Schofield, the author of Inside the Soviet Army, who admits to having spent seven years studying the Pakistan Army, is off to vindicate her hosts. Since she does not practice the military’s customary caution, her…

OP-ED: Fashion Week – More Than A Pretty Footnote

First Published in Economic Affairs June 2013 Issue

‘Artists are the gatekeeper of truth. We are civilizations radical voice’. Paul Robeson

There was a conference on counter-terrorism underway in Hyderabad as fashion week was winding down in Lahore. One of the presenters, a Dutch with a Phd and a thesis on the effects of fear on social behavior had indicated resilience as part of the counter-terrorism strategy. ‘We had a fashion show, does that count?’ I later asked Dr. Mark Dechesne who was in town recently. If he was startled, he did not show it.

Two things have been trending on twitter since April 2013. Fashion week finds itself in the same time slot as politics and as politicians perfect their strut on the political ramp, the fashionistas have taken to the red carpet and designer-wear floods the catwalk. Though fear overshadows both events, people refuse to let the claustrophobic environment dictate their social calendar.

The famed fashion week which started from Karachi and co…


First Published inDaily Times / 5 Jan 2013

Reviewed by: Afrah Jamal

Demigod fans who bade farewell to Percy – (son of Poseidon) & the Olympian franchise a few years ago must have wondered what the writer was up to as they came across a ‘final’ Prophesy conveniently left unresolved at the end of the saga.

The Last Olympian’ concluded the five part series wrapping up Percy Jackson & his merry band of demi-gods' extended arc with a high-octane finale and an emotional send-off. Though Rick Riordan had moved on to explore Egypt in ‘The Kane Chronicles’, he wasn’t done with Olympus, its ever shifting centre of power or its hoity-toity god population for that matter.

The cryptic warning heard in the final pages is used to establish the credentials of this spin-off. The gods return in the ‘Heroes of Olympus’ series - distant as ever and in Roman form heralding a brand new dawn with the promise of new crusades, a shiny new quest, fresh faces and an ancient threat. And Percy is b…