Thursday June 20, 2024

50th anniversary of martyrdom of Rashid Minhas, Nishan-e-Haider

By S.m. Hali
August 23, 2021

The 50th martyrdom anniversary of Pakistan Air Force Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, Nishan-e-Haider, was observed on 20 August 2021. Pakistan Air Force (PAF) released a short documentary to pay homage to the youngest recipient of Nishan-e-Haider, Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas Shaheed, on this memorable occasion. Many decades ago, renowned PTV director Shehzad Khalil had produced an epic drama to pay homage to Rashid Minhas, who embraced martyrdom at the tender age of 20 in 1971.

His life and the heroic deed of valour are well known to be repeated here, so this scribe will confine this opinion piece to some information obtained in my humble efforts as a historian and my personal involvement.

My first interaction with Rashid Minhas was when I was a first term flight cadet in Lower Topa, which was then the initial training wing (ITW) of PAF Academy, Risalpur. As a final term cadet, Rashid Minhas and some of his course mates visited Lower Topa on a long weekend. Many seniors, who had passed through Lower Topa during the initial training phase, would visit Lower Topa during weekends because it was a scenic spot while many of them wanted to rekindle their memories of the year spent at the ITW. Many seniors would come and boss around on the first termers but not Rashid Minhas. He was polite, mature and dreamy eyed with a courteous demeanour.

The next we heard of Rashid Minhas, while we were in the third term at the PAF Academy Risalpur, was from TV bulletins of the supreme sacrifice of his life and the announcement of his being awarded the highest gallantry award, Nishan-e-Haider. It made our hearts swell with pride. Those were turbulent days and the 1971 Pakistan-India War was in the offing; things were not going well in erstwhile East Pakistan. In those bleak moments, the selfless and valiant sacrifice of Rashid Minhas lifted our spirits.

Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, who tried to hijack the T-33 trainer, Rashid Minhas was going to fly, was our senior from PAF Public School Sargodha. He was a bright young officer and flight instructor at the jet conversion school but had been grounded along with other Bengali officers after Bengalis had declared their freedom on 25 March 1971. Mati resided in the PAF officers’ residential area in Masroor Base with his wife and two daughters, Mahin and Tuhin. In the prelude to the 1971 war, Mati planned his hijacking mission meticulously, selecting Rashid Minhas, apparently a benign and polite officer as his target. He plotted the shortest route to Bhuj Indian airbase from Karachi and when Rashid Minhas taxied out for takeoff, he positioned himself at a strategic location, from where the air traffic control tower or mobile post near the runway could not see him. Mati boarded the T-33 and overpowered Rashid Minhas using chloroform and headed the aircraft towards India. Rashid Minhas regained consciousness about 35 miles short of the Indian border. He radioed a distress signal to his home base that he was being hijacked, then tried to wrest control from the hijacker. The more experienced Flight Instructor had the better of Rashid Minhas. There was only one course open to the inexperienced student pilot, he put his whole body weight on the joy stick, forcing the aircraft into a nose dive and crashed the T-33 into the ground. He preferred to make the supreme sacrifice of his life rather than face the ignominy of becoming an Indian Prisoner of War and provide a trophy to the Indians and Mukti Bahini (Bengali guerrilla force). The rest is history.

In his memor, the air base at Kamra was renamed PAF Base Minhas. In Karachi, he was honoured by the naming of a main road, Rashid Minhas Road. A two-rupee postage stamp bearing his image was issued by Pakistan Post in December 2003; 500,000 were printed.

Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman was buried according to Islamic traditions in PAF Base Masroor. Bangladesh posthumously awarded him the Bir Sreshtho, its highest gallantry award for valour.

The Bangladesh Air Force’s Air Base at Jessore is named after him. The air force also gives out a trophy named after him for best performance in flying training.There is a docudrama based on Matiur’s life named Ognibolaka where Bangladeshi film actor Riaz has acted in the role of Matiur and television actress Tarin played the role of his wife Mili. A Bengali film named Ostistte Amar Desh based on Matiur’s life, directed by Khiljir Hayat Khan has also been produced. His wife Mili Rahman was co-writer of this film and also acted in it.

When I was serving as Director Public Relations for PAF, I was informed that Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman’s daughter, who had been a small child in 1971, residing with her parents at PAF Masroor, wanted permission to visit her father’s grave. I urged the-then air chief to permit her as a gesture of goodwill. Matiur Rahman’s grave was renovated and his daughter was permitted to visit and offer Fateha.

Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman’s mortal remains were finally returned to Bangladesh on 24 June 2006 for a ceremonial and highly symbolic reburial in 2006. He was buried at the Martyred Intellectuals Graveyard, in Mirpur, Dhaka, with full military honours. While planning the hijack, Matiur Rahman had made one miscalculation, his choice of Rashid Minhas. He thought he would be able to overpower the lean and thin mild-mannered student but instead he was met with the steely nerves of Rashid Minhas, who refused to accept defeat and preferred to sacrifice himself to preserve the pride and dignity of Pakistan.

I personally was inspired to produce the motivational song Shaheed ki jo maut hai-woh qaum ki Hayat hai, Lahoo jo hai Shaheed ka, woh Qaum ki Zakat hai. Generations of PAF cadets sang this song while marching to motivate them to make the supreme sacrifice of their lives in the defence of the motherland, whenever the opportunity arose. Rashid Minhas will live forever in the hearts of a grateful nation; his name emblazoned in gold in the annals of valiant soldiers.