Iconic war veteran MM Alam passes away
Celebrated war veteran air commodore (retd) Mohammad Mahmood Alam, popularly known as MM Alam, died in Karachi on Monday after a protracted illness. He was 78.
The hero of the Pakistan-India 1965 war, who inspired several generations to join armed forces, breathed his last at the PNS Shifa, where he had been under treatment for several weeks.
MM Alam had been suffering from respiratory problems but his health had deteriorated lately due to his age. He had been under-treatment for about 18 months, said the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy spokesmen.
MM Alam’s funeral prayer was offered at the PAF Base Masroor – the same place (formerly Mauripur) where he served some finest years of his air force life, conducting fighter conversion courses for younger under-training pilots on newly acquired fighter jets. He was later laid to rest at the Shuhuda (martyrs) graveyard at Masroor airbase.
Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad, air chief marshal (retd) Farooq Feroz Khan, Sindh corps commander Lt Gen Ijaz Chaudhry, Pakistan Rangers (Sindh) Director-General Maj Gen Rizwan Akhter, several war veterans of the 1965 war and a number of colleagues of MM Alam attended the funeral. One of the younger brothers of the deceased, Zubair Alam, was also present.
In their respective messages, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Khalid Shameem Wynne condoled the demise of MM Alam and eulogised his war services.
A decorated serviceman
Being the eldest among 11 siblings in his family, MM Alam never married as he had to share the financial responsibilities of his younger sisters and brothers. Several of his younger brothers excelled in various academic and professional careers, owing their success to MM Alam’s hard work.
Born July 6, 1935 to a well-educated family of Kolkata, India, MM Alam completed his secondary education in 1951 from Government High School, Dhaka. He joined the PAF in 1952 and was granted commission on October 2, 1953.
During his air force career, MM Alam underwent many courses including Fighter Conversion Course, F-86F Familiarisation Course, Fighter Leader Course, PAF Staff College Course, Orientation Training Course-USA and Royal College of Defence Studies Course, UK.
His major appointments included Air Gunnery & Tactical Instructor at Fighter Leader School, Officer Commanding No 11, No 5 and No 26 Squadrons, Director Operation Research, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Flight Safety) and Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Plans) at Air Headquarters. He also served in Syria on deputation.
While commanding No. 11 Squadron at Sargodha, M M Alam shot down two and damaged three Indian air force aircraft on September 6, 1965.
The next day, MM Alam rewrote the history of air warfare by shooting down five Hawker Hunter fighters in air-to-air combat in less than sixty seconds, with the first four within a span of 30 seconds only. He was awarded Sitara-i-Jur’at two times for his inspiring feat of gallantry.
His photographs taken during the war in front of the F-86 Sabre fighter aircraft, which he flew during his legendary missions, remained iconic images of the 17-day Indo-Pakistan battle for decades.
MM Alam had developed his flying proficiency on Sabre aircraft, which the PAF received in the late 1950s after Pakistan joined the US-dominated regional treaties of Cento and Seato.
The jet fighter remained an edge for several years for the PAF against India, which had wider air superiority in numerical terms.
The decorated war hero left for his eternal abode with several conspiracy theories about his services. Some defence analysts and patriotic quarters believed that MM Alam had been denied deserved promotions in the PAF owing to political considerations marring the affairs of the armed forces.
Some others say MM Alam was stopped from taking part in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, which led to the East Pakistan debacle, due to his ancestral background linked to Bengal.
War veteran Lt Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, a former Quetta corps commander, lamented that MM Alam was denied further promotions in air force like several other deserving and meritorious armed force officers. “But we could not do much due to the peculiar working of our system on unmeritorious lines especially the system evolved after 1971 debacle,” he said.
Air vice-marshal (retd) Mehmood Akhtar, another 1965 war veteran and a contemporary of MM Alam, however, said it was wrong to presume that the late war hero had been deliberately denied promotions.
“In the first place, air commodore was an exalted rank in the air force. Secondly, getting further promotions in armed services is a complicated affair depending on a number of factors, including passing several training courses,” he opined. “In my knowledge, every successive air chief gave Alam the due promotion he deserved.”
Akhtar cited the example of Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire, a British Royal Air Force bomber pilot who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his services during the Second World War, but despite his excellent war services, he was just promoted till the rank of a group captain.
He recalled that he too was an air force squadron leader like MM Alam during the 1965 war and was deputed at the PAF Peshawar Base while the late hero was at Sargodha airbase. “MM Alam was not only an icon of pride for the air force but for the whole nation,” he said. “We are truly proud of him.”
“On September 8th, 1965, I was ordered to fly a B-57 bomber from Mauripur airbase along with another bomber for an across-the-border mission. We flew at 40,000 feet from Mauripur to Jodhpur and Amritsar in India and landed back in Peshawar without the Indian air force or their air defence intercepting us. This was the air superiority we had just two days into the war because of the war heroes like MM Alam and Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui,” said Akhtar. “Although he was of a shorter height, he proved himself as the flying man of a taller stature.”
Lt Gen (retd) Moinuddin Haider, a former Sindh governor, recalled meeting MM Alam in Kharian, Punjab some months earlier before the 1965 war for an inter-services war planning meeting during the peak of Rann of Kutch conflict.
Haider said that he had heard from colleagues and contemporaries of MM Alam that in the later part of his service, he had become too outspoken, blunt, and forthright, which had obvious repercussions. “But then there also are some peculiar requirements of higher command of any armed service for promotion, which sometimes don’t exactly match with exemplary bravery of a fighter pilot.”
May GOD rest his soul in peace.
Source: Azeem Samar, Karachi (thenews.com.pk) News - 20 March 2013
Photo: Pakistani Hero Mohammad Mahmood Alam died. The Pakistan Air Force officials carrying the coffin of Air Commodore (R) Muhammad Mahmood Alam for the funeral prayers at PAF Masroor Air Base. (Photo by APP)