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Hilal English

The Legacy of Khan Brothers in Pakistan Armed Forces (Part II)

March 2024

Amid the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948, a period when Pakistan was still in its early stages, the remarkable contributions of Air Marshal Asghar Khan's family stood out. The nation owes immense gratitude to the entire family for their exceptional efforts during this critical period.

Major (Later Brigadier) Mohammad Aslam
Next in line after Colonel Nasrullah Khan was Aslam Khan, the elder brother of Air Marshal Asghar Khan. He was commissioned in 1939, initially posted at Rattu for nearly two years, and later at Bunji in the Indian Army. Major (later Brigadier) Aslam Khan was one of the heroes who led the attack on Kennedy Peak against the Japanese on the Burma front during the Second World War, for which he was awarded the Military Cross on the battlefield by Field Marshal Auchinleck. After the Second World War, he resigned from the Kashmir State Army, joined the British Indian Army, and was posted as General Staff Officer Grade 2 (GSO-2) in the Indian Army's 5th Infantry Division at Ranchi. At the time of the Partition of India, he opted for Pakistan. 
Aslam Khan was inducted into this area to liberate as much territory of the Northern Areas from the control of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. He defended the territory against any future invasion. Faced with the terrain and enemy challenges, he followed the motto, 'best defense lies in offensive action.' While his grandfather, Sardar Samad Khan, helped win Yasin for the Maharajah, the grandson fought to capture the territory from the Maharajah for integration into the Northern Areas of Pakistan. This undaunted man remained widely known as Colonel Pasha throughout this brief struggle. 
His mission was to defend the country so far acquired and liberate as much territory as possible within his area of responsibility with whatever men and materials were available to him. It was a challenging task, but the daredevil he was, he not only accepted it but executed it with excellent results. Back in Gilgit, Colonel Pasha established his headquarters, increased the strength of the combined force to approximately 2000 men, equipped them with arms captured from the Kashmir State Forces, and trained the rest with dummy wooden rifles.

Azad Forces and Frontier Tribesmen had captured Muzaffarabad and Domel by October 13, 1947, and started advancing towards Srinagar. To stop the advancing Muslim Forces, the 1/11 Sikh Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai, landed at Srinagar Air Field on October 28, 1948. The Sikh Battalion was given the following tasks:
▪ Secure Srinagar Airfield and Civil Aviation Wireless Station
▪ Drive out the rebels from Srinagar
▪ Assist the local government in the maintenance of law and order

Upon getting the information about the move of the Indians, Major Aslam Khan conducted a successful ambush and, besides other weapons, used 3" mortars very effectively. In this ambush, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai was killed, and his battalion withdrew in a panic to Patan and Srinagar after suffering heavy casualties. The incident was a big blow to the Indian Army; it demoralized their soldiers and accelerated the pace of victory of the Azad Forces. 

Leaving a company at Srinagar Airfield, the Commanding Officer (CO) advanced towards Baramulla and took up defensive positions east of Baramulla with two companies. Major Aslam Khan, Commander Azad Forces, with approximately 300 men opposing him, advanced towards Srinagar. A squadron of State Horse Cavalry charged them to stop the advancing forces but were severely beaten back, and the attack was repulsed. Upon getting the information about the move of the Indians, Major Aslam Khan conducted a successful ambush and, besides other weapons, used 3" mortars very effectively. In this ambush, Lieutenant Colonel Dewan Ranjit Rai was killed, and his battalion withdrew in a panic to Patan and Srinagar after suffering heavy casualties. The incident was a big blow to the Indian Army; it demoralized their soldiers and accelerated the pace of victory of the Azad Forces. 
In early July 1948, Major Aslam was recalled to Rawalpindi and posted as Private Secretary to the C-in-C of the Pakistan Army. He was satisfied with extending the boundary of Gilgit to the very gates of Kashmir. For this achievement, the Government of Pakistan awarded him the Hilal-e-Jurat, and he was later promoted to Brigadier in 1951 at the young age of 36 years. 
His distinguished career included his stint at GHQ in the Staff Duties Directorate and the Military Operations Directorate. Exceptional command experience, where he officiated as Commander 114 Brigade and later commanded 104 and 107 Brigades (three brigades). He represented Pakistan at the CENTO meeting in May 1959 and was the Director of Infantry at GHQ in 1962.  

 Air Marshal Asghar Khan
He was born on January 17, 1921, in Jammu in IIOJK, in the house of his paternal uncle, General Sumandar Khan, who had served as a Major General in the Kashmir State Army and was now living a retired life. Since he had no children, he gave unfailing attention to young Asghar Khan and the five brothers nearer his age. 

When he was 12 years old, he saw a newspaper advertisement inviting applications for interviews for admission to the Prince of Wales Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehradun. The age of entry was 11 to 12 years. After completing six years at the College, one could appear for an examination for entry into the Indian Military Academy (IMA) for service as a commissioned officer in the Indian Army. He immediately made up his mind to try to get admission to this college and requested his father to get him admission there, who was initially reluctant but finally agreed and let him join RIMC. Young Asghar Khan was selected for the interview and went to Dehradun in March 1933. 
While at RIMC, Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan and Air Marshal Nur Khan were also at the same institution. They were the people Asghar Khan was closer to during his RIMC days.
He completed his studies in 1939. After completing six years of training at RIMC Dehradun, Asghar Khan was better equipped, groomed, and prepared to pursue his dreams of making a career.
An opportunity was offered when applications were called for joining the IMA. Asghar Khan took the entrance examination in Delhi for selection to join the IMA. The examination at Delhi was an exciting affair. There were almost equal marks for the written exam and interview. The interview board members were five or six senior British military/civilian officers, including Sir Hissamuddin Khan, a revered gentleman from Peshawar. The panel asked a few general questions. Sir Hissamuddin asked Asghar Khan to do a cartwheel. Asghar Khan did that as best as he could. "I am sure that cartwheel, though not perfect, got me marks, and I had no difficulty being one of the twelve selected for the IMA," recounts Asghar Khan.
He was among the twelve students from the entire sub-continent who were selected for training at IMA, and three were chosen from the ranks. Besides him, Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan and one more selected from the ranks was another well-known military officer, Tikka Khan (later General and Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) Pakistan Army). 
The two years of training at IMA were reduced to one and a half years due to World War II. Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan, Tikka Khan, and Asghar Khan graduated from the IMA at the end of 1940. He was commissioned into 9 Royal Deccan Horse. He thus becomes the only officer who joined the Air Force after being commissioned into the Army. 

In 1942, upon completing the training at Ambala, he was posted to the No. 3 Squadron of RIAF located at Peshawar. The Squadron was equipped with Hawker Audax and Westland Wapiti aircraft. After some time in Peshawar, he moved to Kohat and Miranshah in Waziristan, where the air force was required to support the Army in operations against North and South Waziristan tribesmen. After two years at Peshawar, Kohat, and Miranshah, he was posted to the No. 9 Squadron of RIAF as Flight Commander. The Squadron was deployed at Arakan, Burma, to participate in WW II. The flight under the command of Flight Lieutenant Asghar Khan was employed in bombing and strafing Japanese ground positions. He continued to play his role in providing air support to the Army till the end of the war in 1945. After the war, Squadron Leader Asghar took over the command of the No. 9 Squadron and moved to Ranchi. 
His logbook makes for an excellent study even for today's fighter pilots; in certain months, he flew as many as 30 combat missions a month against heavily defended Japanese targets. His fearless performance as a fighter pilot and the gravitas of an officer and a gentleman with an admirable personality catapulted him to the command of the No. 9 Squadron under British rule.
Historic Meeting with Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah
At about this time, Indonesians led by Soekarno were fighting for independence from the Dutch. Soekarno requested Asghar Khan to join them in their fight for freedom. Before deciding to help the Indonesians, he thought he should seek advice from Quaid himself. It was a cold November morning in 1945 when he first met Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, at Safdar Jang Airport in Delhi, who was leaving for a historic visit to Peshawar. Squadron Leader Asghar Khan went up to the Quaid to seek his advice, who replied with conviction that Pakistan would be made and that when we would achieve independence, we would need an effective air force with young officers like Asghar Khan to build it. The meeting with the Quaid was nostalgic; it left no doubt in his mind about the creation of Pakistan. He, therefore, decided to stay in RIAF and wait for the chance to serve the nation. 

Major Mohammad Anwar Khan, SJ 
Major Mohammad Anwar Khan was a Brigade Major of Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts during the liberation of GB. He was the first recipient of the award Sitara-e-Jurat in 1948. He had served in 3 Rajputana Rifles on the Burma front in WW II. After 1948, he was in the Baluch Regiment till his retirement in 1964. He was retained for reserved force and recalled at the Lahore front during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965.  
Anwar Khan was married in Lahore to Hamida Begum; they had five children: four girls and the youngest, a boy. 
Pilot Officer Asaf Khan
Pilot Officer Asaf Khan was another younger brother of Air Marshal Asghar Khan. He was one of the first five pilots who passed out from PAF School Risalpur, as it was called then. A daredevil pilot, he eventually died in an air crash near Gilgit in 1948.  
Commander Afzal Khan
Mohammad Afzal Khan was born on October 16, 1926, in Jammu. Afzal went to St. Joseph's School, Baramulla, and then to college at the famous Aligarh Muslim University before joining the Navy. Afzal joined the Royal Navy and graduated from the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, England, in 1947. During partition, his family migrated from Kashmir to Abbottabad. This was not known to Afzal until the last minute, and he had to decide whether to be in the Indian Navy or the Pakistani Navy. Luckily, he got the word in England that his family was moving to Abbottabad, and he joined the Pakistani Navy from the Royal Navy. Afzal was the only one of his military brothers to join the Navy. 

In 1954, he married Sunnaiya Baig Mohammad in Karachi and had six children. Afzal retired from the Navy as a Commander in the 1960s, as he was interested in working and developing the Agricultural Sector in Pakistan. 1964, Afzal and Sunny started Arbor Acres Farms, a poultry breeding business, and Sunshine Dairy. They were pioneers in both these ventures. Arbor Acres was the first poultry breeding business in Pakistan, and Sunshine Dairy was the first to pasteurize milk in Pakistan. 

In 1971, Afzal Khan moved his family to Hartford, Connecticut, as the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hounding him because he was Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s brother. Afzal migrated to the U.S. to safeguard his family. Afzal and Sunny were still very involved in Pakistan, even while living in the U.S. Afzal and Sunny had been giving scholarships to deserving Pakistanis to study abroad for many years. 
Unfortunately, Afzal was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in the late 1980s, and he passed away in London at the young age of 62. Afzal is buried in the family cemetery near Ilyasi Masjid in Abbottabad.  
Salma Rahmat
Salma Rahmat, a sister of Asghar Khan, was full of life—a happy child brought up with all boys, joining them in their games and escapades. When Asghar Khan, recently recruited, saw his little eight-year-old sister dressed in a burka for the local school, he insisted that she, along with her sister Shamim, must go to the Presentation Convent School in Srinagar to open their minds to endless possibilities in life. 
Salma was married to Colonel Ghulam Hyder, who was posted in Gilgit with the Gilgit Scouts during the India-Pakistan partition from August to December 1947. After retirement in 1968 from the Pakistan Army, Salma and Hyder built a home for themselves in Peshawar, educating their five children: two girls, a dentist, an MBA, and three boys as engineers. 
Squadron Leader Khalid Khan
Squadron Leader Khalid Khan, another younger sibling of Air Marshal Asghar Khan, stood out for his brilliance, remarkable professionalism, striking appearance, and demeanor, which was truly admirable. In the early years of his career in the 1950s, he swiftly established himself as one of the most exceptional pilots in the PAF. His prowess as a top-quality fighter pilot and his membership in aerobatic teams highlighted his excellent skills.
Tragically, his promising journey was cut short in a fateful accident in June 1958. Air Commodore Sajad Haider, who flew alongside Khalid Khan, shared insights into the incident, emphasizing its profound loss. According to him, Khalid Khan's untimely demise was a tremendous loss not only for his family but also for the PAF. He described Khalid as an outstanding officer and gentleman, and many believed he could have been a future CAS—a sentiment shared by numerous others deeply acquainted with Khalid Khan's remarkable potential.
Mohammad Tariq Khan
Mohammed Tariq Khan was born on October 14, 1933, in Srinagar. His early childhood was spent in Srinagar. He studied with his sisters till the age of twelve in the Presentation Convent and then in Burn Hall School, Srinagar, walking or bicycling to school with his brothers and sisters. In school, he was an avid sportsman; he played hockey and soccer, was the captain of his school cricket team, and established long-term friendships through sports and school that lasted his entire life. He was very close to his brother Khalid Khan, and his sister Shamim Afridi was the closest in the age group.
Tariq Khan and his brother Khalid Khan, with their father, were left behind in Srinagar after the partition. As the situation worsened and the Kashmir conflict became more apparent, in August 1948, Tariq Khan and Khalid Khan were sent to Pakistan by their father. So, both brothers left everything behind and came by bus via Sialkot to Pakistan.
He initially joined the PAF Academy, where he excelled in his professional training and even distinguished himself as a sportsman. His happiness and dream of becoming a pilot were short-lived when he developed pleurisy that could not be cured despite his best efforts, due to which he was medically boarded out. 
Tariq Khan married Naeema Adam, daughter of Major General Adam Khan, in April 1965. They raised five children, four boys and one girl, in Abbottabad. He died on November 20, 2012, and is buried in his ancestral graveyard in Abbottabad.
Shamim Rahmat
Shamim Rahmat was another bright, strong sister of Asghar Khan. She, too, studied in the Presentation Convent, Srinagar, with her sister Salma. Shamim married Captain Aleem Afridi in 1953, and they had one son and two daughters. Another relative, Aleem Afridi, had walked across the hills from Srinagar when it was evident that the situation was not improving. Aleem joined the Pakistan Army and was posted in Kakul at their marriage. 
Shamim proved her ancestral resilience during these very trying years. She set up from scratch a farm at Sihala near Rawalpindi. She constructed a house in the hills of Nathiagali from the design made by her husband, taking his instructions on her jail visits in subsequent years, starting from Attock to Haripur to Peshawar. She drove herself from one location to another, resting at her brothers' homes in Abbottabad or sisters in Peshawar or Rawalpindi, getting love, support, and help whenever needed. 
Zarina Rahmat
Zarina Rahmat came to Pakistan at the age of seven in October 1947. She stayed with the Asghar Khan family in Risalpur till June 1948, when she, along with her parents and siblings, shifted to Abbottabad. A happy, loving child, Zarina could see the funny side in each situation and was observant enough to be able to relate the story, which would bring laughter to the home for everyone.
Zarina's early education was initially at Srinagar Presentation Convent, which she attended because she did not want to stay home without her older sisters, Salma and Shamim. In Abbottabad, she joined Burn Hall School, which was across the road but had girls only until the fourth grade. Later, her brother Afzal admitted her to the Convent of Jesus and Mary at Murree. 

Zarina married her relative Ayaz Ahmed Khan in Karachi at seventeen in February 1958, and they had five children: three girls and two boys. Zarina was blessed to have a husband who appreciated her sense of humor, helped her with household chores, and was a responsible father to his children. Air Marshal Ayaz served as an Abu Dhabi Air Force advisor and later became Vice Chief of Air Staff. After retirement, he was assigned as Ambassador of Pakistan to Syria in 1982. 
Farooq Rehmatullah
Farooq Rehmatullah was the only one of his male siblings with his father's first name as his surname. His schooling was at Burn Hall School in Abbottabad, after which he joined Peshawar University and graduated in the 1960s with an LLB degree. Farooq joined Burmah Shell in Karachi in 1968, serving for over 33 years with hard work and dedication. 
Farooq became the first Pakistani appointed as Chairman of Shell Companies in Pakistan and Managing Director of Shell Pakistan Limited in 2001. From 1968 to 1994, he traveled to most parts of Pakistan to inspect the Shell Petrol Pumps and lived in Karachi and Lahore at different times. He is still on several multinational and national company boards of directors. He has also been the Director General of the CAA. 

During the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948, when Pakistan was in its infancy, the role and contributions of Air Marshal Asghar Khan's family were extraordinary. The entire family deserves immense gratitude from the nation for their phenomenal efforts during that war.

The writer is a military historian and biographer. 
E-mail: [email protected]