On 19 September during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 an American F-86 Sabre jet fighter of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) accidentally shot down an Indian-registered civilian Beechcraft Model 18 twin-engine light aircraft carrying Balwantrai Mehta, who at the time was the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, was killed in the attack along with his wife, three members of his staff, a journalist and two crew members
Qais Hussain, a PAF flying officer, was the pilot who fired on the civilian aircraft under orders from his superiors who confused the Aircraft with IAF reconnaissance plane.
In August 2011 he wrote to Farida Singh, the daughter of the deceased civilian pilot, via email, expressing his condolences.
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On a fateful afternoon in September he was scrambled from Mauripur Base near Karachi to intercept an Indian aircraft flying over a sensitive area along the Pakistani border.
The aircraft was suspected of collecting reconnaissance data which could be used by India to open another war front in the Runn of Kutch area.
Upon interception, it was clear that a small plane – a Beechcraft – had gone considerably off-course. Its pilot Jahangir Engineer confirmed this by waggling his wings.
Hussain didn’t want to shoot at an unarmed plane so he communicated the situation to his ground controllers. There was a deliberation of about 3-4 minutes.
The controllers decided that it was too risky to let the plane escape. He carried out his orders and shot it down.
“When I shot down the aircraft, we (the Radar Controllers and our superiors) thought that it was on a Recce mission and was carrying sensitive border information for the Indian Army to open a new front in the south or possibly dropping troops on Runn of Kutch border. Please keep in mind that during the earlier part of 65 (April onwards for about 3 months), tensions were high in the Rann of Kutchh and both sides were on high alert. So there was a back ground to our sensitivity. I was very satisfied and it would not be farfetched if I say that I was very proud that I had single-handedly thwarted the Indian Army from opening a new front.”
“But I wished that I would return without firing a shot,” Hussain candidly shared.
On the ground there was a sense of achievement. But, by evening when the Indian radio confirmed that the plane was registered with Civil Aviation and carried only civilians including a VIP, the mood became somber.
War is a cruel thing. But ethics of war demand respect for lives, both civilian and military. “No human would like to kill. No religion, whether Islam or Hinduism, preaches killing of the innocent. Human suffering is also the same everywhere. I hold the paw of my four-month old puppy and caress it when she hurts herself. How could I not feel the pain for the loss of human lives that resulted from my action?” Hussain said.