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10th Death Anniversary of M. M. ALAM, the Flying Virtuoso

KARACHI: Those who still remember Air Commodore (R) M. M. Alam (the flying virtuoso) are commemorating his 10th death anniversary on Saturday (18th of March, 2023).

He breathed his last here at Al-Shifa Hospital at the age of 77.

The man who had shot nine IAF aircraft down during 1965 war –was an exceptionally well-read person who had lived an atypically simple life before calling it a day 9 years ago. 

He had been called ‘flying virtuoso’ by the leading US aviation magazine.

In a rare interview, M. M. ALAM had articulated his candid point of view with conviction and instinctive boldness of a Fighter Pilot! M. M. ALAM  predicted that war over Kashmir was a possibility.

Commenting on the likelihood of a nuclear war, he said that it was a weapon of blackmail and coercion: “But if the sovereignty is attacked then dying man can go to any extent”, he warned.

As for the long-distance missiles, he held: “If precision is achieved, those could be used as conventional weapons…

The present stalemate could only end by war because it destructs inhibitions and builds-up national integrity”, he mused.

Maintaining that if it were not for a conspiracy, Kashmir would have been a part of Pakistan. M. M. ALAM further said that the 1965 war could have been decisive, “but our politicians were incompetent”.

He warned that instead of deploying troops as a precaution we must prepare for vital war which he said was on the cards: “I don’t know when it will take place costing us $ 1 billion and India thrice as much.

Kashmir is strategically important for both: our failure will enable India to push closer to China. But if we beat them they will lick their wounds for many years, giving us a breathing space”.

Air Commodore M. M. ALAM, a legend in the history of aerial warfare, used to dwell near this scribe’s abode here.

As the friendship developed it transpired that contrary to the general credence, this ace-fighter pilot led a very simple life (as a mystic, not a mullah or recluse) sleeping on the floor, surrounded by walls of thousands of books, and small pillars of 555 cigarette packets.

For very few M. M. ALAM was an eccentric spent-force but for most a revered upright national hero who had played his part well in the making of this nation.

Belonging to that generation which dreamt of Pakistan, M. M. ALAM reckoned defending motherland as the best way to serve it.

Throughout his days as a warrior he kept cultivating his intellect by studying books quenching his quest for enlightenment (and fortunately the Air Force had inherited well-stocked British-established libraries).

ALAM, who believed that man evolves privately, graduated contemplating the chef d’oeuvres of authors like Hugo and Sartre then exalted to the transcendental plateau musing over religious philosophies.

But it was only after leaving the Air Force that he started learning Quran, which he trusted is the ultimate fountainhead of wisdom.

“We don’t need Mao’s Red Book or any exotic ideology” he said. “We just require to develop a Muslim mind”.

M. ALAM who advocated accountability and leadership by consensus believed that Muslims would have adopted democracy if they had ruled for a longer while: “We are the most tolerant people in the world”, he maintained.

Speaking about sectarianism in Pakistan Alam wondered: “For decades we lived in harmony, how come this quandary emerged suddenly following the Islamic Revolution”, he pointed out insinuating that the roots of the peril lied elsewhere.

Rejecting the western culture & economic system he said: “Their values are different from ours. We have history and civilization but instead of attempting to find our identity, we are blindly following the western trend”.

Air Commodore had observed: “Our mass media is busy projecting actors, singers and dancers as role-models in place of giving prominence to our outstanding scholars and workers.

“In lieu of showing the problems of working women, we have turned them into a commodity – sex and nudity is not our culture. All this will ruin us in the long run”.

Maintaining that tragedy of Pakistan was the intellectual failure, he held: “Public opinion requires to be developed through education.

But a particular kind of pro-western mindset is being cultivated by our upper class English-medium schools, while in other institutions incompetent teachers are busy rendering outdated lectures compelling students to resort to short cuts”.

He lamented: “None of our universities teaches the history of defense strategies, nor is there any proper institute to study the predicament of Muslims in India. As a result the problem of India has not been understood”.

He held that it would be unjust to limit the history of Pakistan just to a few decades and make few people heroes of its creation: “It is a 200-year-old struggle and people like Tipu Sultan and Siraj-ud-Daula had their role in it.

Then we too as youngsters went out on the streets and got our heads broken”.

Defending the enormous defense budget M. M. ALAM had observed: “There is a dearth of journalists specialized in defense. Those who write are only involved in day-to-day analysis and not in long-term studies”.

He said that due to this ignorance opposition of defense budget had become a cliché: “Cost of national security and its impact on economy is not understood”. 

He further held that military expenditure could not be curtailed but the percentage be diminished by augmenting the GNP.

A firm believer in Pakistan, M. M. ALAM was convinced that this country had not only come to stay but could play a role as the leader of Muslim World: “This nation has a place under the sun – 140 million people is no joke”, he asserted.

“But wishy-washy talks of our politicians are not enough. Without major social, economic and political change the present discontent will transform into a movement”, he cautioned.

“If the state of affairs remains the same the military balance will tilt in favor of India enabling it to control our policies”, he forewarned.

M. M. ALAM further said that India and Israel aspired to become regional powers: “In the long run, they are natural allies.

While Pakistan’s aspiration is limited only to trade and commerce (with Afghanistan and Central Asian Republics etc.) it is not geo-strategic or colonial”.

He said that for a sound defense we needed a strong economy, “which is only possible with national integrity and political stability. But what’s happening is that earning power of our people is declining as debts are piling-up”.

He held that every problem had got a solution: “Some are easy, some difficult”. 

Among other propositions, he suggested, expansion of tax-base: “From agriculturists to top lawyers and doctors down to roadside vendors all should contribute. Then over-manning of organizations should also be contained”.

He said that instead of slogan mongering like ‘Pakistan ka Mat lab Kya La-Ilaha-IllAllah’, we should toil to provide roti, kapra aur makaan to the masses.

Renouncing ad-hocism, such as relief in electricity charges etc, he said that thus we were avoiding the real issues of Pakistan.

Commenting on the political developments in recent past, M. M. Alam asked: “What impact the Shariat Bill is going to have on the common man’s quality of life? We need to work towards a respectable growth rate of 6-7% increase of the GDP to $150 billion and per capita income to $ 2000”.

Advocating decentralization in the federation he said that we should learn from our past mistakes: “Bangladesh was created only because the West treated its brethren badly. This made nationalists powerful enough to take hostage the majority”.

He said that our sincere politicians got disillusioned when they saw that feudal bootlickers of the British Empire became masters of Pakistan: “There is a sense of deprivation among smaller provinces and in Mohajirs of Karachi”.

He observed that MQM, which emerged essentially as a middle-class leadership: “Ultimately ended-up harming the Mohajir cause by criminalizing politics, which resulted into their backwardness in economic, political and educational fields”.

Rejecting the political leadership (including PPP & PML) as corrupt, he admonished how two centuries ago English captured “not a nation but disunited people who accepted immoral drunkards and thieves as their rulers”.

He stressed on the importance of electing a correct government, making sure that it completes its term. But how new leadership can emerge?

Commenting on Talibaan phenomenon M. M. ALAM had opined: “They have often been wrongfully bashed by our Press. A one-sided view is not in the interest of Pakistan”. 

He strongly believed that Talibaan were a response to the increasing western influence: “They can only be what they are and cannot exist in any other form”. 

He was of the view that Talibaan leaders had a revolutionary role: “They cannot run a country eventually. Talibaan will slowly disappear after playing their part”, he prognosticated.

Terming killed Osama Bin Laden as “an irrational reaction to the irrational westernization”, M. M. ALAM rebutted Laden’s modus operandi: “Jihad is the noblest thing which does not permit killing of innocent people”, he said.

Holding that Pakistan produced excellent individuals in every walk of life he stated: “Take, for instance, squash, hockey, and cricket. But what we lack is a system and leadership.

Cheap politics have crept into everything, thus deserving men are not given opportunities. It is the same in trade and commerce”.

He believed that Pakistani Air Force was always ready to combat: “It has upheld its tradition of being one of the best in the Third World. Not only by maintaining its equipment but also training its men most efficiently”.

Speaking about the image Pakistani fighter pilots had kept-up; he stated that it was not a myth: “Our pilots have successfully tackled and killed a number of Israeli and Russian aircraft. They strive to acquire high tactical skills due to their burning ambition to excel”.

Evaluating the PAF’s requirements he said that the fleet needed to be updated by furnishing it with modern equipment.

M. M. ALAM, who had been called ‘flying virtuoso’ by a leading US aviation magazine, had test-flown modern aircraft at Fort Wart (hometown of General Dynamics) and A-10 at Edwards Air Force Base (home of test pilots), in December 1981.

ALAM was sure that: “Americans will never give F-16s to Pakistan: So is the case with Swedish Grippen which uses American engines. As for the SU-35 and MIG 29 M, submissive to the wishes of India the Russian President himself had intervened into the matter barring its sales to Pakistan”.

He had spent over six months in France for Mirage-related exercises later to fly the aircraft back home.

He believed: “Mirage is not top of the line aircraft. And as European Consortium’s Eurofighter would cost too much, we should go for futuristic fourth generation equipment…Test on hi-tech French Rafale is going on.

If we recover economically in a few years we will be able to spend a few billion dollars to buy two squadrons of hi-tech French Rafale. Defense is expensive no doubt”, he added. 

He said that due to the dearth of bombers in PAF, Pakistan should consider buying Anglo-French Tornado.

Answering a query M. M. ALAM told: “It was proposed in the early ’80s to develop an advanced version of MIG 21 using American engine but the idea was given up”. 

As to how Pakistan could counter Indian Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), M. M. ALAM stated: “I am confident that Pakistan could always rely on its traditional friend China”. 

Speaking about Sino-Pak Super-7 he said that with its advanced wings, fuselage, and MIG-29 engine it was more or less a new aircraft.

India complains that its finest men are not joining armed forces, is Pakistan also facing the same problem? 

“Every country in the world has this difficulty. The military is either not getting the first-rate people or they leave after serving for a while.

We are fortunate that our Air Force is running public schools from where committed pilots come out. They don’t care about money and join Air Force for thrillers”.

He had suggested that to motivate Pakistani students, exceptional young officers could lecture at Universities. Sending the message across as to what security means and how to contribute towards it. He maintained that they were not articulate enough; language is also a barrier for them.

He said that military too, like the overall middle-class, was suffering from the slump in economic condition.

However, the hardship borne by army officials was not unbearable especially when the security, housing and medical facilities they enjoy were far better than what civilians get.

“Pakistan could not afford to increase the salaries of half-a-million men when a big chunk of the military budget goes towards paying pension to retired personnel.

With expensive degrees like MBA and MCS, one can avail better money-making opportunities in the corporate world. Hence only those who want to serve the nation shall join the armed forces.” M. M. ALAM concluded.

Text and Photos by the Scribe

M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.