South Asia

Pakistan pilot's 'remorse' for 1965 shooting down

Pakistani F86
Image caption Mr Hussain intercepted the Indian aircraft flying solo in an F86

A Pakistani fighter pilot who shot down an Indian civilian aircraft more than four decades ago has written to the family of the dead Indian pilot.

In his email, Qais Hussain said he was sorry for the loss of precious lives during the incident and was acting under orders from his superiors.

Mr Hussain was a young flying officer during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.

The eight-seater plane had apparently drifted off course along the border.

The Pakistanis suspected it of being on a reconnaissance mission to open a new war front.

Mr Hussain was ordered to shoot it down, despite pleas for mercy by the plane's pilot.

The former fighter pilot said that when he landed back at an air base at Karachi, he felt highly elated for having completed the mission.

But the mood changed later that evening when All India Radio announced that the plane had been a civilian Indian aircraft with eight people on board.

'Seeking mercy'

Mr Hussain said that everyone connected with the incident felt sorry and dejected.

Image caption India says it won the 1965 war after five months of fighting

Forty-six years on, by writing to the daughter of the Indian pilot, he says he wants to set the record straight and offer condolences.

"It's not a apology, it's a condolence. I did not do anything wrong. I did what I was ordered to do in the line of duty. But I feel sad about the civilians who were on board that plane. It should not have happened," he said.

Mr Hussain said he decided to write to the family after all these years when an opportunity arose through his contacts in India, who put him in touch with the pilot's daughter.

"The incident is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday," his letter to Farida Singh said.

"When I caught sight of [your father's aircraft] at 3,000 feet, I made a pass so close that I could read his markings and the number of the aircraft.

"Your father spotted my presence immediately and started climbing and waggling his wings seeking mercy. Instead of firing at him at first sight, I relayed to my controller that I had intercepted an eight-seat transport aircraft."

The email goes on to state that he hoped he would be called back without firing a shot. But after a lapse of "three to four long minutes" he was ordered to shoot it down.

"I feel sorry for you, your family and the other seven families who lost their dearest ones," the letter states.

So far Ms Singh's family has not responded to his email, but he hopes that one day he will be able to offer his condolences to them in person.

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