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Reaching out through the fog of war

On September 19, 1965, when India and Pakistan were at war, an Indian civilian aircraft carrying the Gujarat chief minister Balwantrai Mehta, his wife, and five others was shot down in the Rann of Kutch area by a Pakistan Air Force F-86 Sabre. All aboard the Beechcraft, including two crew, were killed. The Indian plane was piloted by Jehangir “Jangoo” Engineer, who had flown with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, and after Independence, had a distinguished career with Indian Airlines. The Sabre was flown by Flying Officer Qais M. Hussain.

Forty-six years later, the controversial incident has brought together the Pakistani pilot and the family of the Indian pilot in an extraordinary expression of condolence and acceptance.

Last week, the PAF pilot took the decision to write to Engineer's daughter, Farida Singh, explaining his understanding of the chain of events that led to his controversial shooting down of a civilian plane. He had tried five years earlier to contact Ms. Singh but that attempt failed. This time, the contact was facilitated by mutual friends — two Indians, Jagan Pillarisetti and Naushad Patel, and one Pakistani, a Lahore-based businessman Naveed Riaz.

“Qais said he'd been living with this for 46 years and he wanted to contact the family of the pilot to put his point of view across,” Mr. Patel told The Hindu. The contact with Mr. Hussain was made only in the last 15 days, and, he said “everything moved very fast after that. Two weeks ago, [Qais] was wondering if he could ever face the family. Two weeks later, he and Ms. Singh have met on air. It is indeed extraordinary.”

As reported first by journalist Beena Sarwar in the Pakistan English daily The News, Mr. Hussain wrote the letter to Ms. Singh in an email, writing one simple word in the subject line: “Condolence.” He also forwarded the letter to Mr. Riaz and to a group email for PAF colleagues with the note saying, “Most of you would recall that I had shot down an Indian civil aircraft after being scrambled from Mauripur in 1965 War.”

An April 2011 article by Kaiser Tufail, a former PAF pilot, appeared in a Pakistani magazine, Defence Journal, detailing the Beechcraft incident is available at >http://www.blogger.com/profile/05733145033238064933

We reproduce here Mr. Qais's letter, along with Ms. Singh's response, and an interview with her on her decision to accept the condolence.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 1:50:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/reaching-out-through-the-fog-of-war/article2354506.ece

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