Sometimes, solace comes from the “enemy”

August 14, 2011 01:31 am | Updated November 17, 2021 12:35 am IST

There are other incidents in which the pain and anguish of losing a loved one in war has prompted families of “enemy combatants” to reach out to each other across the India-Pakistan divide in order to come to terms with their loss. Conventional military histories rarely record these stories, but that does not erase them. We feature here two instances from the 1965 war.

Sqd. Ldr. A.B. Devaiah, Indian Air Force

Squadron Leader Ajjmada Bopaiah Devaiah did not return from a mission to attack Sargodha airbase in Pakistan, on September 7, 1965. He was flying his sub-sonic fighter Mystere. For long years he was classified as ‘Missing in Action.' After a time period stipulated for all MIA cases, he was moved to the “presumed dead” category to facilitate the payment of pension and other benefits to his family.

The courage and bravery of this officer might have gone unsung had it not been for an account of how he met his end by an officer of the Pakistan Air Force, Amjad Hussain, a Flight Lieutenant at the time of the incident. The account, contained in the book Battle for Pakistan by John Fricker, led to a Mahavir Chakra for Sqd. Ldr. Devaiah after an IAF officer stumbled upon it in the book.

According to the open source version available on the net, Devaiah's aircraft was intercepted by a supersonic F-104 star fighter piloted by Hussain who fired air-to-air sidewinder missiles. The IAF pilot evaded the missiles successfully. The F104 then closed in rapidly and fired repeatedly, damaging Devaiah's aircraft.

Despite taking a hit that had rendered the aircraft uncontrollable, Devaiah went in pursuit of the F104 and shot down the Pakistan aircraft. Flt. Lt. Hussain managed to eject. It was later conjectured that Sqd. Ldr. Devaiah was unable to maintain control over his aircraft and was killed in an unsuccessful low-level ejection or in a crash because of the damage to the aircraft.

According to the former Air Force pilot, Sqd. Ldr. R.T.S Chinna, now with the Armed Forces Historical Research wing of the United Services Institute, the Pakistan Air Force had given Fricker access to its records, where he found Hussain's account. Sqd. Ldr. Devaiah was decorated posthumously in 1988 with the second-highest gallantry award.

As for the PAF pilot, he was taken a Prisoner of War in the 1971 conflict after his plane was shot down in Punjab sector.

Sqd. Ldr. Alam Siddiqui, Pakistan Air Force

Sqd. Ldr. Siddiqui had taken off on September 7, 1965 in his B57 bomber. Before leaving on the mission inside Indian territory, he bid goodbye to his wife Shenaz Hayder. They were newly married. He never returned, and his wife continued to hold the hope that he was alive. Years later, Ms. Hayder, then living in Canada saw the Hindi film ‘Veer Zara', in which an Indian pilot languishes for years in a Pakistani jail, her hopes for her husband were rekindled.

It was then that his friend, Air Cmd. (retd). Najeeb Khan wrote to the then Indian Air Force Chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, as well as Shahrukh Khan, the main lead of the film, for permission to visit the place where the plane had crashed. The former Pakistani pilot wrote that he was sure his friend was killed, but wanted to make the trip for Ms. Hayder's sake.

Air Chief Marshal Tyagi was quoted by IBN 7 saying that as an air warrior himself, the appeal of Air Cmd. Khan “struck a great emotional chord'' with him and he facilitated the visit to help Ms. Hayder find closure to her husband's death.

After getting the necessary clearances, Ms. Hayder, along with Air Cmd. Khan and another friend visited the village in Jamnagar, Gujarat where the B57 bomber had crashed, killing its pilot, and prayed for her husband at the site of the accident.

Sqd. Ldr. Chinna said there are some 50 cases of Indian service personnel, including 28 from the IAF whose whereabouts are still not known from the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan conflicts. He expressed the hope that this issue would now be re-visited, especially with the people-to-people contact that both governments say they want to encourage.

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