Asghar Khan

Asghar Khan
Asghar Khan
Air Marshal Asghar Khan, with then Wing Commander Władysław Józef Marian Turowicz (Second from right) reviews of a unit of the Pakistan Air Force, 1960.
Nickname Night Flyer
Born January 17, 1921 (1921-01-17) (age 90)
Jammu, Kashmir, British Indian Empire
Allegiance Pakistan Pakistan
Service/branch  Pakistan Air Force
Years of service 1940–1965
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Air Marshal (Lieutenant-General)
Unit No. 9 Squadron Griffins
Commands held Air Force Commander-in-Chief
Pakistan Air Force Academy
Chief of Administration
No. 1 Stryker Group, Peshawar Air Force Base
Directorate-General of Air Operations (DGAO)
Battles/wars World War II
Burma Campaign 1944-1945
Relations Omar Asghar Khan (son)
Other work MD of Pakistan International Airlines
Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Istaqlaal

Air Marshal Asghar Khan (Urdu: ائیر مارشل اصغر خان; born 17 January, 1921) is a Pakistani 3-star rank general and politician who was the first native Air Force Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Air Force. A politician and world war II veteran fighter pilot, at the age of 36, he served as the youngest and first Pakistani head of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). Later on he was appointed as the head of the National flag carrier PIA (Pakistan International Airlines).

He is considered an honest politician who did not achieve all his political goals due to the principled stands that he took. His long career in the Air Force, running PIA and in politics spanned many of the key moments in Pakistan's history. He is also the author of a dozen books. During his long political career which included imprisonment, he was adopted as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International and was awarded the Gold Medal by the Pakistan Society of Human Rights. He has also been awarded the Jinnah Award by the Jinnah Society for outstanding services to the cause of democracy and for upholding the values and principles of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.


Early life

Air Marshal M. Asghar Khan is the son of Brigadier Thakur Rahmatullah Khan Bahadur (an Afridi Pathan from Tirah Valley) who served in the Kashmir Army. He was born in Jammu, Kashmir on 17 January 1921. Asghar Khan was educated at the Prince of Wales's Royal Indian Military College, Dehradun from 1933 to 1939. He joined the Indian Military Academy in 1939, was commissioned in the Royal Deccan Horse in December 1941 and seconded to the Royal Indian Air Force in January 1942. He commanded a Flight of No. 9 Squadron Royal Indian Air Force in Burma in 1944 and 45 and took part in Air Operations against the Japanese.

Much of Asghar Khan's family which had left Tirah Valley in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) to settle in Kashmir, again migrated at the time of partition to Abbottabad in the North-West Frontier Province and settled there. This included his parents and his ten siblings. He and all his brothers, except one, then joined the armed forces of Pakistan.

Career in the Air Force

Asghar Khan was originally commissioned in the Indian Army. At the outbreak of the war, when the Indian Air Force embarked on its expansion, a number of Army Officers transferred to the IAF. Asghar Khan was one of them and he was seconded to the Indian Air Force on 30 November 1940. He was one of the senior most officers in the IAF.

His early career in the IAF is not known but he was one of the first Indian Officers to be given command of a Squadron. He took over command of No. 9 Squadron, Indian Air Force, in 1945.

He was the first Indian Air Force officer to fly a jet fighter aircraft—a Gloster Meteor—whilst doing a fighter leader's course in UK in 1946. He is a graduate of the RAF Staff College UK, the Joint Services Staff College UK and the Imperial Defense College, London.

Career after partition

After the partition of British India in 1947 he became the first Pakistani commandant of the Royal Pakistan Air Force College at Risalpur. In 1950s, he was also made the first DGen of the Directorate-General for Air Operations (DGAO) of Pakistan Air Force. In the RPAF his prominent assignments before becoming the Commander-in-Chief at the age of 36, included the first command of what is now the PAF Academy, a tenure as Group Commander at Peshawar and tours at Air Headquarters as Director of Admin and of Assistant Chief of Air Staff.

Prominent among the major units he established during his tenure were the Fighter Leaders School, the PAF Staff College and the College of Aeronautical Engineering. He also instituted the Inspectorate and initiated the tradition of regular air staff presentations. Two of his brothers, Squadran Leader Khalid Khan and Pilot Officer Asif Khan were killed during service with the Pakistan Air Force.

After independence Asghar Khan became the first Pakistan's Air Chief at the age of 36. He held the position of Air Chief for 8 years (1957–65) during which the PAF underwent all its expansion, re-equipping, and training programs. Asghar Khan, retired on 23 July 1965 i.e. six weeks before the 1965 Indo-Pak War. He was neither informed nor consulted before the launch of Operation Gibraltar.

Asghar Khan blamed President Ayub Khan and his Foreign Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for the 1965 war and General Yahya Khan for the 1971 war which resulted in the breakup of Pakistan when Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's Awami League, which had won the election, was not allowed to form a government.

After retiring from the PAF in 1965, Asghar Khan served as the President of Pakistan International Airlines and Head of Tourism and Civil Aviation from August 1965 to November 1968.

Asghar Khan relinquished awards of 'Hilal-i-Pakistan' and 'Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azam' as a protest against repressive policies of Field Marshal Ayub Khan in January 1969.

During the Liberation war of Bangladesh he did support the eastern part morally alleging the west Pakistan of depriving east from their political and economical right. He also demanded power to be handed over to the people of East Pakistan.

Political Career (1972–1978)

During Bhutto's rule from 1971 to 1977, Air Marshal Asghar Khan played a major role in opposition to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. During the 1977 elections, Asghar Khan allied his party, the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal with the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against the People's Party. It was during this period he and his party faced frequent attacks by Pakistan Peoples Party supporters and from the brutal paramilitary Federal Security Force. He was imprisoned in Kot Lakhpat and Sahiwal prisons from March to June 1977.

He contested two seats, one from Karachi and the other from Abbotabad, despite alleged rigging by the ppp, Asghar Khan was elected by a huge margin from both seats. The PNA rejected the election results as rigged and launched a Nationwide agitation against the results. Asghar Khan resigned from both National Assembly seats as a mark of protest against massive rigging in the elections.

While imprisoned, Asghar Khan wrote a much criticized letter to officers of the defence forces, asking them to renounce their support for the "illegal (Z A Bhutto's) regime" and asked to "differentiate between a 'lawful' and an 'unlawful' command...and save Pakistan." This letter is considered by some as instrumental in encouraging the advent of the Zia regime. However, Asghar Khan strongly defended his letter as according to him nowhere in the letter had he asked for the military to take over and he had written it in response to a news story that he had read in which a Major had shot a civilian showing him the 'V' sign. After the overthrow of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's government by the Army in the summer of 1978, Asghar Khan was offered a cabinet post by Zia Ul Haq, Asghar Khan refused to join the cabinet and also withdrew from the PNA after a growing split between the various parties.

Political Career (1978–1999)

When General Zia announced to hold the general elections in 1979 Air Marshal's Tehrik-e-Istiqlal became the most favorite party. A large number of big political figures of current politics were members of Tehrik-e-Istiqlal including Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Aitzaz Ahsan, Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, Javed Hashmi, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, Mushahid Hussain Syed, Mehnaz Rafi, Raja Nadir Pervez, Gohar Ayub Khan, Allama Ehsaan Elahi Zaheer, Malik Haider Usman, Nisar Khoro, Nafees Siddiqui, Ashraf Liaqat Ali Khan, Zafar Ali Shah, Allama Aqeel Turabi, Ahmed Raza Kasuri, Sher Afgan Niazi, Manzoor Wattoo, Musheer Pesh Imam, Syeda Abida Hussain, Syed Fakhar Imam and many others. But at the last movement Gen. Zia postponed the elections and Asghar Khan remained in house arrest for more than five years. Asghar Khan joined the newly formed Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983 and was detained by the government. He was kept under house arrest at his Abbotabad residence from 16 October 1979 to 2 October 1984 and was adopted a 'Prisoner of Conscience' by Amnesty International. In 1986, Asghar Khan left the MRD, as a result of which many of the Tehrik's members resigned in protest. The Air Marshal boycotted the 1985 non-party elections but took part in the 1988 elections from the platform of newly formed Pakistan Awami Ittehad (Pakistan People's Alliance) but this Alliance was defeated. Opposing the government of Nawaz Sharif, Asghar Khan led his party to join the People's Democratic Alliance. Contesting in 1990 from Lahore, Asghar Khan once again faced defeat. Briefly retiring from active politics in the late 1990s his party faced another one of its many splits.

Political Career (1999–)

His son Omar Asghar Khan served as Federal minister in Pervaiz Musharraf's government. After his resignation from the cabinet he took over Tehrik-e-Istiqlal from his father. He subsequently merged it with assorted other non governmental groups and formed a new party called Qaumi Jamhoori Party, an event which caused another split in the party. The party suffered a shock when Omar Asghar Khan was killed in suspicious circumstances in Karachi on June 25 prior to the elections. An inquiry into his death was ordered by the Sindh High Court and in spite of repeated requests, it was never started.

Personal life

He has also authored many famous writing i.e. We’ve Learnt Nothing from History, Pakistan and The Crossroads,General In politics, Asghar Khan married Amina Shamsie in 1946.

They have four children, Nasreen, Shereen, Omar (deceased)and Ali.

Currently he is in the honour list by the Govt. Of Bangladesh for his contribution and support in the Bangladesh Liberation war. He has also been seeking for Nationality Of Bangladesh to their Embassy in Pakistan as he considers Bengalis his own people like they were before 1971.


1. The First Round -- Indo-Pakistan War 1965 2. Pakistan at the Cross Roads 3. Generals in Politics 4. The Lighter side of the Power Game 5. We've Learnt Nothing from History 6. My Political Struggle 7. Milestones in a Political Journey 8. Chehray nahi Nizam ko Badlo

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Arthur McDonald
Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Air Force
Succeeded by
Nur Khan

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