with Air Marshal Asghar Khan, so also with Air Marshal Nur
Khan, there was unanimous opinion in PAF ranks that he would
be the most suitable successor. Although he had been running
an airline for the preceding six years and, to that extent,
been out of touch with prevailing air force affairs, he had
earlier demonstrated his instinctive understanding of air
force problems and a flair for finding their solutions.
Air Marshal Nur Khan was 18 years old when he was 18 years
old when he was commissioned in the IAF in January 1941.
Earlier he had attended the Royal Indian Military College at
Dehra Dun after completing his education at Aitchison
College, Lahore. Notable amongst his assignments before
partition was that of a flight commander in No 4 Squadron.
In the RPAF, he held various key appointments including
command of Chakala and Mauripur stations and, as an air
commodore, of No 1 Group at Peshawar. In 1959, following a
series of mishaps in the country’s airlines, Air Marshal Nur
Khan was deputed to head the amalgamated Pakistan Airlines
Corporation where he remained till taking over from Air
Marshal Asghar Khan in July 65. During that period, he made
a name for his airline as a safe and reliable organization,
and for himself as a dynamic go-getter. It was not
surprising therefore that he was named as Air Marshal Asghar
Khan’s successor; he was then 42 years old.
What did puzzle those who could sense that the end of the
Rann of Kutch episode did not necessarily spell peace for
very long, was the wisdom of a change of command in that
extremely tense situation. However, the combat elements of
the PAF had never felt more confident about their state of
preparedness for war than in the preceding year or so, and
the change did not affect that confidence either way.
At the outset of Air Marshal Nur Khan’s tenure, the PAF
became engaged in a war which had been simmering for some
time and which did not catch any thinking person unawares,
least of all Nur Khan who seized the finely honed instrument
of war he had just inherited and held it poised, while the
rest of the national war machinery seemed unable to throw
off the ‘no war’ spell cast upon it by the foreign office.
Had Nur Khan done the required homework with regard to the
PAF strike plan, he may even have avoided the one needlessly
wasteful operation which marred his otherwise commendable
conduct of the war.
It was immediately after that war, however that Nur Khan
faced his real challenge. Over a period of nearly ten years,
the US aid programme had lulled the PAF into a false sense
of security with regard to where the next squadron was
coming from, so to speak. Now with the abrupt termination of
the aid agreement, Nur Khan stepped into the breach with
confidence to recast the PAF in an entirely new, self-made
Amongst the measure which Air Marshal Nur Khan implemented
while restructuring the air force inventory was the creation
of an operations command which rectified the anomaly of Air
Headquarters staff trying to be critics of their own
operational policies. That concept, after a series of
mutations, eventually resulted in the PAF’s present
operational organization into four air commands. Another
major step was the systemization of PAF-wide welfare
activities through a Pakistan Air Force Women’s Association
Perhaps because of his long involvement at PIA with workers
unions and prolonged exposure to the high pressure public
relations activity which normally prevails in such
environments, Air Marshal Nur Khan had brought back with him
two characteristics which did not stand him in good stead in
the PAF. Firstly, he considered it unwise to supersede
anymore because that was likely to cause some resentment.
This led him sometimes to assign even critical combat
appointments according to the seniority list rather than on
merit; over a period of time, this practice led to a
lowering of combat leadership standards.
The other characteristic was an overemphasis on
image-projection, both of the PAF as well as of himself. To
many in the PAF ranks who, over a period of 18 years, had
grown accustomed to a low profile in this respect, the
frequent exercises in high visibility publicity were often