Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tea with Air Marshal (r) Shahid Lateef

This month, I had the pleasure to meet Air Marshal (r) Shahid Lateef over a cup of tea. He retired as the Vice Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force in April, 2009. My discussion with him was very casual and lasted for more than 2 hours starting from his personal life to professional one. Before I share snap of discussion I had with him, it would be great idea to know about his profile.

He was commissioned in the General Duties (Pilot) Branch on April 7, 1974. He earned top honours by winning the coveted Sword of Honour for his overall best performance and earning a gold medal for securing first position in academics, on graduation from the PAF Academy, Risalpur. He has served as a fighter pilot in various squadrons and was among the pioneers of F-16 induction programme in the PAF in 80s. During his career, he has commanded a fighter squadron, a fighter wing and an operational air base. He has held various key staff appointments at the Air Headquarters. He has been associated with the development and production of the most prestigious JF-17 Thunder aircraft for nearly eight years, initially as deputy chief project director and then as chief project director for five years. He has served as Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (Operations) and was also deputed in the Abu Dhabi Air Force for three years. His career is a text book example of success as he was a topper throughout his service and remains very inspiring for the officers of Pakistan Air Force. He holds wealth of knowledge and likes to impart it with the youth of Pakistan.

In conversation with Turkish pilots
Q: Tell us something about your background.
I am an ordinary bloke who belongs to Sahiwal which is a developing city of Punjab. I did my basic studies from Government High School before I went to Lower Topa PAF Public School. Life was very peaceful and simple in Sahiwal and so were the people. I enjoyed different stages of my young age as long as I lived there.

Q: How do you spend your time after retirement and what are your hobbies?
I am living a disciplined life. I read, write, play golf and spend quality time with my family. This all makes my day a busy day. Furthermore, I make appearances on TV to talk about national issues confronted by us and respond with possible and logical solutions. I believe this is the best I can do as a retired person now with an aim to serve the national cause which is my passion and spread awareness among masses to enable them to serve the country to the best of their potential. 

Q: When did you realize your capability of being a fighter pilot?
When you compete against the best, it is only then that the best starts coming out of you. Definitely, Lower Topa was the place where I really felt I had started to appreciate and recognize my talent. That is where I began to know what were my strengths and qualities. However, it was not untill I started flying in Risalpur that I was convinced of a bright career in this field.

Q: In public schools, a lot of emphasis is given on physical sports vis-a-vis academics? How were you as a student and as a sportsman?
While I was in matric at Lower Topa, it was closed down and we were all shifted to PAF Public School Sargodha where I did my F.Sc. Alhamdulillah, I was very balanced in studies and sports. I was the best athlete and used to play all out-door games. I created Inter Cadet College Sports record in 100 meters (10.8 seconds which was very close to the national record in those times). The National Sports Board wanted to take me into the national team but my principal stopped me saying that sports career would be a risky business and might end in a short period. As a matter of fact, he wanted to see me rise in my professional career which he could visualize based on my current performance though I was tempted and wanted to join the national athletics team.

I was also made the house captain in my final year at PAF College Sargodha. For initial physical and academic training after selection in the GD(P) branch, cadets had to go to ITW (Initial Training Wing) established at Lower Topa. I was the top appointment holder at Lower Topa. It was called ‘Wing under Officer’. I also earned the highest appointment of ‘Wing under Officer’ in the final term at PAF Academy Risalpur.

Q: This is very rare that someone becomes ‘Wing under officer’ at Lower Topa and at Risalpur as well because cadets are judged over different set of qualities at both places. How did you attain this distinction? 
I have a strong faith in Almighty Allah who has always been very kind to me. A firm belief in divine help and prayers of my elders coupled with hard work and focused attention towards clearly defined objectives was all that helped me achieve my goals. 

Q: You were among the first six pilots who tried hands at the Falcon. How do you define your experience with the F-16?
Flying it first for Pakistan was an honor. There is no doubt that F-16 is the best aircraft Lockheed Martin ever produced. This statement can be supported by the number of units sold all over the world. It was designed so well that it retains its attraction even today. Though Lockheed Martin has now produced F-22 and JSF and there are Rafale and Eurofighter but yet when you look at the F-16, it stands out. It is a design which immediately appeals. Therefore, Lockheed keeps on making necessary changes in order to keep its variants competitive with the contemporary hi-tech aircraft. I loved flying it then and would love to fly it again.

Air Marshal A Rashid Sheikh greeting pilot of 1st F-16 to land in Pakistan

Q: What does it take to be an excellent flier in the Air force?
In the air force, you need to have flying aptitude along with good academic record.  Flying is all about your motor skills – the coordination between the mind and the limbs. You may not be a genius or studious person yet you can be a very good flier. On the other hand, flying is not just stick and throttle. There is science behind it. The more you understand, the better you will fly. Attention to details and prompt response to situations confronted in the air differentiate you from others.

Q: You were writing very frequently in the newspaper The News. Why don’t we see your columns so frequent these days?
I was writing almost every fortnightly. But now I have dropped down to a month for the simple reason that I don’t write for the sake of writing. I write when I am convinced I should write on something. I pen down my thoughts whenever there is a significant change or development and when I feel I should give my opinion which somehow is not coming forth from others. In short, I am driven by the urge and don’t force myself into this activity. 

Q: There has been a rumor that newly acquired F-16 fleet is handicapped and cannot be used against conventional enemy of Pakistan. Is there any contractual binding upon PAF?
It is not true. These aircraft are not handicapped in any way and can be used aggressively against anyone. The only restriction is that the F-16 fleet has to be kept at a separate place and shouldn’t be mixed with the Chinese aircraft. The rationale was that the Americans wanted to protect their technology. Therefore, we maintain a separate base for Block 50/52.

Q: India is aggressively working on acquisition of aircraft carriers these days. This will certainly create power imbalance in the region. Do you see any potential role of maintaining aircraft carrier in PAF?
I don’t think we need one. Carrier is an offensive platform which you use to demonstrate your power against the enemy. We have no offensive designs against India or for that matter against any other country. Our posture has always been defensive/counter offensive. The objective is very clear and that is to protect our country against any aggression. Instead of a carrier, we should have solid defense, potent counter offensive capability, and credible nuclear deterrence in order to make the cost of any adventurism against us unbearable for the enemy. 

Q: This year has really been unfortunate as PAF met around 7-8 air crashes in just 7-8 months. Is there anything wrong with current flight safety policy or its implementation?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with our flight safety policy. As a matter of fact, Pakistan Air Force has a very tight flight safety mechanism in place but we need to acknowledge that Mirages are over 4 decades old fighter jets which should have been grounded by now. We would have avoided many crashes if we had not overstretched the use of these planes. I’m happy that the leadership of air force is not sleeping over this issue and has been aggressively working on phasing out Mirages by 2014-2015. As per my knowledge, each aircraft which is going to be retired will be replaced with JF-17 Thunder.

Q: One out of your achievements has been successful development and delivery of JF-17 aircraft. What makes it a potent fighter plane and can it be considered as mainstay of PAF in the future?
F-16 is the most advanced plane we have in PAF. However, it can be paralyzed by Americans as a result of any friction with them as we saw during the sanctions imposed in early 90s. Therefore, we really need to have an indigenous aircraft which fits in the modern category.

JF-17 Thunder is an answer to address such apprehensions and future challenges. It is a beautifully designed aircraft with great capabilities like long range radar, comprehensive avionics package, BVR capability, glass cockpit and many other features we mostly see in the latest generation aircraft.  It is to be noted that the aircraft is designed on US specs in order to make it attractive in the international market. It has a modern avionics architecture that is compatible with the universal standards, allowing easy integration of any Western equipment with plug-and-play capability.  The aircraft is designed on a block-building concept that permits regular upgrades like the F-16 in order to keep the platform relevant with time and in sync with the changing technology. 

Air power is likely to play a decisive role in any future conflict as witnessed over the last two decades. Against this background, the JF-17 occupies a central position in the defence of our country and will remain the backbone and life line of the PAF.
A memorable moment with Sir Shahid Lateef at his place

Q: We haven’t seen any progress on ending of drone attacks in Pakistan. What is your take on it as a fighter pilot and what should be the role of government to end such attacks?
First we need to remember that the moment you violate the territorial boundaries of a country, it is considered to be an act of war. From a fighter pilot’s perspective, shooting a drone is no difficult task. You don’t need a very hi-fi sophisticated technology. It can be shot down easily by the PAF in case the government shows the will to do so. Anyways, drone attacks are a menace and they must be stopped. 

Q: When was the last time you flew a jet and do you miss strapping up in the cockpit?
My last flying was as the Base Commander. It’s been over 12 years now I haven’t flown anything. It is natural that a true fighter pilot would always miss flying in his life. 

Q: Do you visit your native city frequently?
I usually go there to attend family events. Since, I am settled in a different city now and that place is too far, therefore, I hardly get time to go there. Personally, I would want Sahiwal to be a developed city with proper infrastructure. Though, it has been given the status of a ‘Division’ in recent years but I feel a lot has to be done to improve the associated facilities. The biggest handicap is the non-availability of an airport there. For faster mobility, there should be one in my opinion. 

With Air Marshal (r) Shahid Lateef

Q: In your life, you have seen so much and you have done so much for the country. Do you plan to write a biography?
I very much want to write for posterity and have been trying to find time but the national matters which have been deteriorating rather rapidly continue to capture my mind. Every time I sit to scribble a few things, there is some development at the national level that takes precedence. Nonetheless, I will write to express my rich experience of life inshAllah.

Q: What is your message to the nation and to Armed Forces of Pakistan?
When I look around, I feel that the moral values have taken a hit. The merit has been pushed to the back seat.  There has to be a radical change, otherwise whatever our elders had earned and established for us, we would lose it. Therefore, my message is to develop and protect a solid character. Those who deserve must rise. Those who use other means to gain benefits must be detected. This is the only way our institutions and society can develop itself to achieve excellence. Nepotism must be curbed in all forms and professionalism should be the main criteria for promotions and appointments.

This interview was conducted on Sep 1, 2012. Please leave your comments here or contact on Twitter by following @faisalriaz. The interview was later republished on StickNthrottle - an aviation blog.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Talk with Imaan Hazir Mazari Over the Role of Youth of Pakistan

This year, Pakistan has turned 65 years old. In all these years, we as a nation have seen and survived many ups and downs. We have proven ourselves against difficult times. Despite fighting many wars; we won world cups in Hockey, Cricket, Snooker and Squash; built amazing infrastructure in some parts of the country; helped other countries like Singapore and UAE to come here and study our systems and replicate in their own cities and towns; laid down foundations of advance and efficient  airline like Emirates, trained soldiers of other Islamic states; helped UN in peace missions; defeated Soviet Union in our neighborhood; made nuclear bomb as a 3rd world country; won Nobel prize in the field of science and the list of achievements can go on and on forever.

But on the other side, the kind of downs we have been experiencing for the last 4-5 years, are really unlike compared to the past even when we had lost half of the country in 1971. The rapid increase in sectarian violence, religious extremism, nepotism, corruption and inflation, lack of merit, demotivation and fall of national pride have badly demoralized the whole nation. Post 911, we have engaged ourselves in a baffling war which has started slaughtering our own people now. The dilemma is that no one is out there to take full responsibility and act accordingly – if not to stop then to slow down this self-poisoning and self-devastation. Military and elected political parties couldn’t reap us results as expected. The incidents like of Raymond Davis, OBL, attacks on GHQ, Salala check post and other sensitive installations of Navy and Airforce have shaken confidence of the nation on current administrative regime. A stage has come where the youth of Pakistan (which makes most of the population) have started raising voice for the change by rejecting status quo. Since, I am also a tiny cell of youth body of the state so I throughout of getting hold of some youth leader who could answer few questions we often feel like asking from the leaders beyond our access.

Imaan Hazir Mazari who represents face of the youth in Pakistan under banner of PTI, was my obvious choice for the interview.  She is talented daughter of Shireen Mazari - a Pakistan political scientist and a prominent geostrategist. Here is account on discussion with her on most of the issues we see today.

Q1: I would like the readers to know about Imaan Hazir Mazari. Who is she?

Ans: I'm an individual with a multitude of interests, the main one being politics. Being a woman in Pakistan has taught me resilience and the significance of change in a society where the status quo is plagued with injustice and corruption. Though I was born and raised in Islamabad, I currently study Law and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. My village is in Rajanpur District, which is an embodiment of the backwardness and neglect Southern Punjab suffers. Hence, my motive is to constantly work in that area, for the people who are repressed by the Tumundaari (feudal) system. From the age of 14, I was politically active; working through various forums. I was the Media Spokesperson of two youth-run organizations; Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) and Zimmedar Shehri (Responsible Citizens). Moreover, because of the fact that I grew up in a household where my mother has dedicated her life to her country, I realized how important it is to give back to the soil that has made me who I am today.

Throughout my school years, I took an active part in all extra-curricular activities, particularly social work and debating, which is why I had the opportunity to interact with a variety of interesting people from all cross-sections of society. When I was the head of the school's social work society for 2 years, I was not only able to interact with Internally Displaced People and Cancer patients but also work for the victims of the Gaza Massacre, thus giving me an opportunity to understand the situation in the Middle East on a whole new level.

My school also allowed me the opportunity to be trained by two amazing debates coaches; both of whom I am grateful to for teaching me how to voice my opinions and understand that there are always two sides to a story, each as important as the other.

Imaan Hazir Mazari travelling for party work

Q2: Were you always interested in politics or was there anything else you wanted to be or follow?

When I was younger, I had dreams of becoming a Commando in the Pakistan Army, so my parents always understood my obsession with working for my country, which is why I have been blessed with a series of opportunities to do so. My father is a doctor, and my mother is a defense analyst and senior leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Despite this, I never felt pressured to choose either field. In fact, it is due to the freedom I was given that I know for sure that politics in Pakistan is exactly what I want to do.

Q3: What did convince you to join PTI and how old this association has been so far?

Well, my decision to join PTI was one that I took my time thinking about to be sure that what I was doing was in line with my greater goal. I came to Pakistan for my study leave from Edinburgh in April to try and focus on my then-upcoming exams in May. However, being back, I continued to see things that disturbed me; bribery, nepotism, illiteracy, unawareness, poverty and rampant corruption. I had previously been critical of PTI and other political parties in Pakistan till I realized that I really did need to be part of a political party with the same shared ideology as myself in order to be politically active, in addition, to the social work I engage in. With its slogans for change, determined and honest leadership and the integrity to speak up against the status quo, I knew PTI was the party for me. What I will say is that all political parties, like all individuals, have their flaws. The innate democratic structures within PTI and the ability of all to debate decisions taken even by the chairman is exactly what Pakistan needs.

Q4: In your opinion, what are the challenges Pakistani youth face today and what could be the best role of youth in politics of Pakistan which has largely been considered as ‘family enterprise’ sort of thing for the last few decades?

The Pakistani youth is divided into two categories, as far as I'm concerned; the apathetic elite who couldn't care less about what's going on in Pakistan as long as they can live in comfort and of course, those who have worked for Pakistan consistently, be it through political activism, social work, journalism, blogging and so on. Unfortunately, Pakistan is a victim of brain-drain which is one of the focal reasons we lack in the education and development sectors.

The founder of our nation, our great Quaid-e-Azam, M.A Jinnah, outlined the role of the youth, so what could be better than reiterate those golden words? He rightly and eloquently stated, "Pakistan is proud of her youth, particularly the students, who are nation builders of tomorrow. They must fully equip themselves by discipline, education, and training for the arduous task lying ahead of them."

As far as association with PTI is concerned, I definitely think the youth of our nation is given a lot of power and opportunities through PTI. However, I would just like to emphasize on the fact that we all should work as one instead of trying to throw dirt on one another simply because of party differences.

Q5: We witnessed violence in educational institutes due to political activities in 90s. Don’t you think propagating youth would sprout such issues again resulting in bloodshed?

No, definitely not. What we must encourage, however, are peaceful and non-violent political activities not only for the youth to engage in but for all segments of society.

Q6: Today we see erosion of national pride among individuals and groups that form our society. How would you restore national pride in youth of Pakistan?

This is very simple to do yet because of "dirty politicking" our leaders have failed to strengthen the Pakistani identity which has resulted in confusion, and hatred amongst different religions, sects and ethnicities. What we don't understand is that Pakistan is one country; so whether we're Muslim, Christian, Balochi, Pathan, Shia or Sunni, we are Pakistani. Unity was something that our Quaid emphasized on time and time again, establishing how pertinent it is for us to stand together as one against internal and external forces trying to destabilize Pakistan. The youth themselves need to understand this concept because at the end of the day, we are the leaders of tomorrow and our mindsets are what will shape policies for our country.

Q7: How is your platform different and better from other leading political parties when you have plucked politicians from the existing setup?

First and foremost, we must realize that PTI is the only political party in Pakistan that has stood by its principled position for the last 16 years while all other political parties have worked for personal gain, as we see with Swiss bank accounts and the facade of democracy PPP and PML-N propagate.

On a second level, let's be realistic; no political party is going to ban entry of politicians just because they happened to be in another party before. I think the criticism against PTI for taking in politicians from other parties is unjust simply because we have not altered our ideology or moved away from our stance against corruption or anything else for that matter. When someone joins PTI, they agree to our terms and our manifesto; not the other way round.

Q8: Unfortunately, personal attacks have been notorious part of DNA of political wings of our country. PTI has also done similar attacks on its rivals. Now what does make it different from run of the mill political parties?

All I'm going to say regarding personal attacks is that they should have no place in politics. Having dealt with vicious attacks against my personal life launched by people who are threatened by my work, has only made me realize what Imran Khan said a while back. He stated that when people have no dirt on you because you are politically clean, they try and pick on your personal life. I would urge all members of society to condemn such disgusting practices and understand that what someone wears or how they live their personal life, is no one else’s business. None of us are angels and trying to score points by bringing personal lives into politics is simply unacceptable.

Q9: What are your views about Talibans and how PTI would approach the issue of talibanization? Adding further to my question, what steps you think can contain US to stop drone attacks over Pakistani territory? 

Talibanization and US interference are directly related. The increase in drone attacks and meddling by the US government angers the Pakistani population, some of them resorting to terrorist activities in response and some being funded by external agents to engage in such activity. At the end of the day, we must acknowledge that we have a problem, but the solution to that problem is very simple. We need to distance ourselves from the US, educate our own people and provide them with opportunities for development so that they aren't driven out of desperation to join terrorist organizations. PTI has a very clear stance against covert agreements with the USA, which guarantees that inshaAllah, if and when PTI does come into power, we will ensure a level playing field with the US, and a relationship based on mutual respect. We are not anti-USA; we are simply pro-Pakistan. Similarly, our leaders have constantly spoken up against religious extremism so it’s very clear that accusations hurled against our leader for being a closet taliban are unfounded and ridiculous.

Q10: We have very poor public educational system in place which has hampered progress of Pakistan as the next great nation. This has been due to either no sound educational policy or educational disparity among public and private institutes. What are those key steps in your opinion which should be taken to address this challenge?

PTI believes in a strong educational system. I'm not one of the experts on our policy formation, so it'd be best if these questions were addressed to them. However, what I will say is that we do intend on ensuring education for all, and improving the literacy rate, as education is key to development. Personally, I feel that we should work for a system where there is little to no disparity between private and public educational institutions as this results in greater inequality in society, as per the status quo.

Q11: Would you continue working for youth if the nation rejects PTI in coming election?

Ofcourse!! There is no doubt in my mind that I will ever stop working for Pakistan. Political parties win and lose elections, but there is so much more to work on than just electoral politics. There are opportunities to work on education and health projects which would do so much good to our country! I intend on engaging in these regardless of any political outcomes. Also, after getting my law degree, I feel I will be in a better position to help those deprived of justice and those who cannot afford it, in Pakistan.

Q12: Where do you see yourself after 5 years?

To be honest, I don't know how well plans work out and though I have a 5 year plan which I intend on sticking to, life is very unpredictable so I guess its better to take one step at a time. But I definitely do see myself living and working in Pakistan, politically and otherwise. And I also definitely will be contesting in mainstream politics, from Rajanpur District, after getting my degree.

Q13: What is your message to youth in particular and rest of Pakistanis in general?

Being part of the youth, all I would like to say is that we must work together to help those who can't help themselves. We must go to those places in Pakistan where people have been repressed by the system and help them fight against it. Education, health, justice, development should all be key concepts in our minds when thinking of what Pakistan is in need of.

This interview was conducted on Sep 5, 2012. Please leave your comments here or contact on Twitter by following @faisalriaz.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In conversation with Retd. Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed

My quest to explore and learn about Pakistan Air Force keeps me moving from one place to another. On 8th of January 2012, I had the pleasure to meet Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed at his place in Lahore. He is a retired four-star general and a career Air Officer in the Pakistan Air Force who commanded, as the chief of air staff of the Pakistan Air Force, from 2006 to 2009.The sitting was informal, a question and answer arrangement over a cup of tea which turned out to be a great dialogue and persuaded me to make it available in written form for all the avid readers of flying and enthusiasts of PAF.
Air Chief Marshal Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed in his ceremonial dress 
This is 2nd interview of my compilation “In Dialogue with Aviators of Pakistan Air Force’. Before I reveal the discussion we had, I believe it’s a good idea to know about caliber of Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed.  He did his high school from PAF Public School Sargodha where he belonged to 15th entry (767 – Fury House). Then, he joined PAF Academy, Risalpur in 1969 and was commissioned in Pakistan Air Force as a fighter pilot in 15 April 1972 in the 53rd GD(P) Course. He holds Best Pilot Trophy – which is remarkable achievement and a symbol of pride for any fighter pilot. The air marshal is a graduate of Turkish Air War College and National Defence College, Islamabad from where he did his masters in Strategic Studies. He has flown the American F-86 Sabre and F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and other aircraft of Chinese and French origin in the PAF inventory.
With his Best Pilot Trophy - 1972
How do you look at the last 10 years of your service where you had to manage critical positions?
During the last 10 years of my service, I occupied very vital and key positions like Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Administration (DCAS- Admin), then Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Operations followed by Vice Chief of Air Staff and finally the Chief of Air Staff. While these posts kept me extensively very busy from morning till mid-night.  They also provided me the much needed experience and an opportunity to contribute towards the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in a whole hearted manner.

Change of the rank to Air Chief Marshal by Air Chief Marshal (r) Kaleem Saadat
 How was your first day as an Air Chief of PAF?
Since I had already prepared my blueprint for the three years of PAF command, in my opening address (which lasted over 90 minutes) I spelt out detailed outline of the plan to re-engineer the PAF for the challenges of 21st century.

Change of Command
What were your strengths as a professional?
Alhamdulillah, being well experienced in the fields of operations, administration, logistics, budget accounts, office and general automation related to IT and HR management, I felt highly qualified to the assignment of Chief of Air Staff (CAS), PAF. Added to this was my total devotion and determination to bring results on ground. I felt lucky to get an opportunity for realizing my dreams for the PAF.

With Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah
How air warfare of today is different from the conventional air combat method?
Due to perpetual process of evolution, the air warfare today stands to be vastly different from the previous 2 to 3 decades. Network-centric capability and long range weapons (as indeed the hi-tech weapon systems) have made air warfare very complex and demanding. The envelop in the air has spread to scores of square kilometers and sharp response from the pilots are now a much needed virtue.

What was your motto as an Air Chief? What have been your major achievements?
It was ‘lean-efficient and hard hitting’ PAF fully responsive to the needs of the new millennium. What it meant was ‘doing more with less’ and being ‘second to none’, as the Quaid-e-Azam desired from the PAF.

My majority achievements were  procurement of much needed new hardware (Hi-Tech Aeroplanes) like: the F-16 C/D, Advanced Real-time Digital Reconnaissance Capability,  smart and highly effective weapons including long range missiles, AWACS, Aerial Re-fuelers, co-production of JF-17 Thunder in Kamara with China, Networking the advanced and modernized Air Defense System, new and potent Surface to Air missiles, UAVs, New Generation Network for Integrating Airborne and ground based sensors, induction and modernization of existing transport aircraft fleet. Other achievements were building of new housing units for PAF personnel, re-building record number of PAF runways and operating surfaces, building newer and efficient medical facilities, improving the children education system, enhancing welfare activities, improving and revising innovative war plans, improving the overall efficiency of the PAF working by man-hours utilization etc.  Logistics support and its inventory management was brought at par with the latest IT trends. Accounting and budgeting was brought truly online and fully transparent and automated. Overall working environment was made nearly paper-free.

With his bird F-16
There is naturally huge power distance in Forces. It has indeed its pluses and negatives. Did you do anything particular to reduce power distance between ranks in your tenure?
PAF has traditionally provided itself in being a very open service. We communicate freely between the highest and the lowest ranks. I followed the policy to its utmost. It really helped me change the mind-set of PAF personnel and that meant greater achievability of my objectives. 

You had a vision which was to transform legacy systems of PAF into most advanced computerized systems. To what an extent you feel accomplished when you look back?
In the words of a colleague, I was ‘able to re-engineer the PAF’. I think this says it all. 

How did the idea come into your mind of automating Air Force where people are considered averse to change? Was it challenging to transform systems and human recourses there?
Being an Aquarian, I’m designed to be ahead of my age. As such I learnt a great deal from my experience of dealing with the Americans, the Chinese and the Europeans. This gave me a firm foundation of my vision for the PAF in 21st century. I am proud of the fact that I was able to achieve a very high degree of success in my endeavors to bring about a change and land the PAF in 21st century.

What was the most essential thing to change before increasing pace of transformation in PAF?
To change the mind-set of PAF personnel so they could move on the desired path voluntarily and willingly. 

Without having any Information Technology background, do you think it was your right decision to start changing things at a massive level with great pace?
I had a counsel from a large spectrum of IT specialists; both in public and private sector. The vision was mine, solutions were theirs. I think I was able to achieve a lot.

What should be the ‘must have’ traits of any officer who wishes to lead the Air Force efficiently?
Vision, dedication and loyalty to the service and the country and the determination to face all odds/ risks and head towards one’s objective with single minded devotion.

Why was the need felt to modernize Pakistan Air Force in 2006 and not before?
PAF’s real induction of hardware and concepts was back in early 1980s with the induction of F-16s. It had been over two and half decades and we badly needed change; all over.

25 years is quite a lengthy time. Any system or technology can go obsolete during such a long time. Why didn’t your predecessors feel the need before?
All of my predecessors realized the urgent requirements for change. However, due to various political and internationally imposed restrictions and constraints, they could not really bring about a big change. Allah was kind to bless me with an opportunity (post 9/11) and I had the will and the courage to exploit this opportunity.

In flight suit with F-16 Fighting Falcon
How do you see value system in today’s Pakistan? Are the values intact as a nation?
Our value system (as a nation) has undergone a huge change – not for the better. We have not invested enough in education and human resource development. Hence, we are paying the price through our noses.

The western media has misrepresented and misinterpreted Islam as a religion after 9/11. What do you want to say about that?
In fact, we have ourselves to blame for the West misinterpreting Islam. Were we to truly practice Islam as a code of life, the West would not be able to levy such criticism. We need some soul searching.

What is your definition of Islamic State?
Where we truly and practically follow the golden teachings of Islam and not just give it a lip-service.

Why did you change the ranks knowing the fact that it had long history before and had become part of tradition of the air force?
Wearing of rank badges is to make distinction between one another. Our older ranks were not doing that job well. Our new rank badges are distinct and clear – obviating the possibility of mix-up.

A memorable picture with Tanvir Mahmood Ahmed

After Mumbai attacks, there was standoff between Pakistani and Indian forces. How did you preempt the war in 2008?
Post Mumbai attack of 2008, the Indian civil and military leadership was all prepared to carry out ‘surgical strike’. I order the PAF on high air defense alert around the clock. This led to preventing a war between the two nations. I think this was timely and bold decision.

Now you are retired. How do you spend time? Do you use social media sites like Facebook to kill time?
Frankly, I don’t find time to spend on social media sites. Along with my youngest son, I’m engaged in Chicken Farming thereby contributing to the society and keeping ourselves productively busy.

What is your take on the current leadership of PAF in the shape of Rao Qamar Suleman as an Air Chief?
Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman had a huge task of assimilating and operationalizing all of the newer equipment that we had contracted during my tenure of office. I think he is doing a good job and continuing to move PAF forward as a 21st century hard hitting and efficient service. 

Do you miss flying?
No (chuckles). I have done enough flying. I even flew fighter jets as an Air Chief.

What is your message to the nation and the PAF?
Selfless devotion should be the way forward for my nation and the PAF.

Please leave your comments here or contact on Twitter by following @faisalriaz. The interview was later republished on SticknThrottle - an aviation blog.