An icon, hero, legend and friend – Air Commodore MM Alam

Published: March 19, 2013
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He will be missed greatly by me, and the others who acquired close bonds with him, as a friend. PHOTO: FILE

He was nearly 12 years my senior in service and I did not meet him in person till 1968 when I was posted to Sargodha. He was commanding the elite Mirage squadron, the only one in the Pakistan Air Force; an envy of all his peers while I was flying the Chinese F-6 (Mig-19).

For a youngster like me, at that time, he was the ultimate in terms of professional excellence having acquired international fame in aerial combat. I would see him in close quarters during the joint morning briefing and hear his professional input. He had an aura around, not of arrogance but confidence of a thorough professional.

On personnel level, I would see him at the Officer’s Mess, a common meeting point, where all seniority differences would diminish and one would get to know each other as person.

He was slim, short structured, an ardent smoker, a book worm, soft spoken with firm conviction and beliefs sometimes revolutionarily uncompromising. This interaction didn’t last too long as he was posted out of Sargodha having developed differences with his superiors.

During the 1971 war, when I was flying the Mirages, he was attached back to Sargodha but not allowed to fly; being too valuable an asset of the previous war to be exposed to enemy action.

Every evening during the war, he would review the films, of the claims of all aerial engagements and ground attacks, and give his opinion about the possible outcome; this brought us crossing swords on a number of occasions.

For considerable time we lost contact until we met again in 1999.

In the intervening period, he had retired and was accommodated at the TW (Transport Wing) PAF Officers Mess in Chaklala by the Air Force; he subsequently moved to the PAF Officers Mess Faisal where he spent his last few days. He had transformed into a deeply religious person and spent extensive time studying Islam.

From this time till his passing away, we met as good friends frequently visiting each other at the residences. He would never come empty handed, generally with a book or bouquet of flowers, in spite of his dire financial condition.

In my meetings with him, he reminisced about his time spent in Afghanistan, particularly with Ahmad Shah Massoud who he held in esteem. At one time he developed an infatuation with the thought that he will be marrying an Afghan girl that he had met or encountered and expected her to come to Pakistan.

It is in early 2000 that he started developing serious medical problems mostly because of heavy smoking. The last time we met was at the PNS Shifa Hospital when he was still conscious and in good spirits. We had a long discussion about national and international politics, Muslims being the main concern.

He will be remembered in times to come as an icon, a war hero and a legend, and will be missed dearly as a colleague, a mentor and an inspiration by many. He will, however, be missed greatly by me, and the others who acquired close bonds with him, as a good friend first.

His death is a loss to the country and its armed forces but his memories shall remain for time immemorial as a source of inspiration for the youth.

May God rest his soul in peace and give him room in the heavenly abode.

Air Marshal Riaz uddin Shaikh

Air Marshal Riazuddin Shaikh

A retired Air Force officer.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Queen

    Sir, you have very rightly said that “MM Alam was hailed with verbosity after his death but when he was on his deathbed, no one cared”

    The entire nation is indebted to MM Alam. He was our hero and will remain in our hearts forever. Recommend

  • Maria

    I remember my parents telling me of MM Alam’s exploits as a child – just like many overseas Pakistani children. I think you are mistaken when you say he was not recognized and honoured by the nation. He was always held in the highest regard by Pakistanis the world over. It’s true that everyone gets his “15 minutes of fame” but his name was firmly etched in Pakistani history books and in the memories of generations of citizens.Recommend

  • Rehan Ali

    “MM ALAM” was the pilot who shot through the enemy into record books, was one of the many stories my parents would tell me. The aura was not limited to people he interacted or worked with but to commoners like myself.

    He was not visited by people outside military cadre simply because the “UNIFORMED” Gentlemen have always been too valuable and elated to interact with commoners.

    To the author he was a friend, to me a childhood hero.

    May his soul rest in peace.

    AmeenRecommend

  • Capt.Salman Nusrat

    I had the honour of shaking hands with the national hero a couple of times at the Faisal Base in Karachi. I would always cherish this memory for the rest of my life. As a youngster, just a glimpse of Alam Sahib would bring a strange feeling over me and my gang of friends. We envied him as our true hero. He was an officer and a gentleman in the true sense. As school kids during the 1971 war , we used to hear with great sorrow that our ace pilot was not allowed to fly because probably he had a Bengali background. Years later as an Air Commodore during the Zia era , we heard that he developed differences with the then Air Chief , Mr. Anwar Shamim . Alam Sahib was different and hence not very welcome or perhaps misfit amongst the otherwise elite senior officers. Can you think of an Air Commodore , facing financial problems . Almost impossible, as they all retire as millionaires with another lucrative job offer just after retirement. I wish our officer corps could follow the footsteps of great opeople like M.M.Alam . Alam Sahib , we salute you for your dignity , honesty , true Pakistani spirit and the professional competence . You were a great Pakistani in every possible way and can never be forgotten . May Allah grant you the highest place in Jannah . You will live in our hearts forever. Recommend

  • Majid

    “During the 1971 war, when I was flying the Mirages, he was attached back to Sargodha but not allowed to fly; being too valuable an asset of the previous war to be exposed to enemy action.”
    How can a fighter pilot be stopped from flying just after 6 years of making a world record in aerial combatting just by saying that he was too much precious to be lost? I suspect he was prohibited from flying due to his Bengali factor since after Matee Urrehman case (Rashid Minhas Shaheed), Pakistan airforce was very concious. Recommend

  • Stranger

    What to say about this person. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist. since I am from the other side of the border , I cant anything much about him . But then dont want to say negative things too.Recommend

  • The Khan

    this guy is a legend in Pakistan’s air force and a role model for other personnel to follow.Recommend

  • Zafar

    One of the few Pakistanis who made me proud to be a Pakistani. My childhood hero. I wish we frequently remember the courage and commitment of Mehmood
    Alam, Sarfraz Rafique, Alauddin Ahmed. May all rest in peace and may Allah bestow mercy on them, ameen.Recommend

  • VIVA LA REVOLUTION

    Salute to the fallen warrior … but a haphazardly written obituary.Recommend

  • Faraz Inam

    Sir, my sources who were with him in No. 5 Sqaudron at the time of 71 War, say that he was cleared for flying. He flew ADAs. He would also be strapped for hours in the Mirages on the ORP, waiting for the enemy fighters to intrude but to his frustration, when he would be ready, there would be no attack. Coincidence or just bad luck, he did not experience air combat in ’71 War. But to say that he was not allowed to fly is not correct. Moreover, being close to him you would know that he was a Patriot Pakistani of Bihari origin and they unlike the Bengalis were not grounded. If he was a Bengali, as you say, then why did he stay back in PAF, Pakistan and not opt for Bangladesh?Recommend

  • Zog

    Salam Pakistani. We are immensely proud of you MM Alam.Recommend

  • Mughees

    After Quid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan produced many national hero’s but M M Alam, a person who was just not our nations hero but also for the entire World of Fighter Pilots. Hats of to you sir, you will always be remembered as a true warrior. God bless him and our nation with more such hero’s to come. Recommend

  • DevilHunterX

    STEVTA lost a great man as well.Recommend

  • Babar

    How unfortunate we are that we dont hail our heros while they are breathing. I only come to know about M.M Alam when i visited Lahore last year and visited the street named after him. How pathetic is our history syllabus that doesn’t cover such heros and stories.Recommend

  • http://mezaajedeen.blogspot.com Tribune Reader

    People, he was not Bihari, he was from a Bengali Family originally from Calcutta in West Bengal, even the Bangladeshi’s claim him as a prized example of how ‘they the bengali’s fought and shed blood for the Pakistan establishment pre-71. As a Bengali who opted to stay with the vision of Pakistan, a vision of his forefathers, he has done many proud. A True Pakistani.Recommend

  • Dr. Muhammad Iqbal Bhanger

    I was moved to read a short history of late M.M. Alam who died last week in Karachi, written by Air Marshal Riazudin Sheikh. I was his fan from my child hood when I saw the 1965 war and then 1971. No doubt he was a Great Hero, May Allah rest him in peace in heavens. His name will remain in the history though our media has not paid due attention to his death which is very disappointing. Further to this disappointment there is no such regular series of a program or a day fixed in a year for such national heros so that our younger generation should be aware of. It is so pathetic to learn that was having financial constraints too, Oh how indifferent we are to care for about such rare people. May Allah guide us. Recommend

  • ab

    ”he was the ultimate in terms of professional excellence”. would try to learn this from this great man. Recommend

  • Ammar

    Good piece. It is quite sad to read that he was not allowed to fly in 1971 war. M.M.Alam was our ace pilot and he should have been in the forefront in the battle against India in 1971. In case, he was not allowed to fly during 1971 due to his Bengali origins or any other reason- this is quite shameful. We needed him in that battle and there was no point in preserving him by not allowing him to fly. Recommend

  • Asad27

    This interaction didn’t last too long as he was posted out of Sargodha having developed differences with his superiors.
    Even in military same culture pressist of not bearing an incorruptible person.Anyways salute to brave Commodore..Legends never die..R.I.PRecommend

  • Ex PAF

    It is a personal account by one of his juniors promoted to AVM (Too much emphasis on “I”) The author does not tell the young readers about the great accomplishments of M M Alam sahib. Also why he was not promoted to AVM or a higher rank? M M Alam sahib was an honest man. He tried to expose the corrupt practices in the acquisition of equipment and as a result he was penalized by then Air chief Anwar Shamim and was forced to undergo emotional and financial hardships for a number of years. In contrast, PAF’s former chief, Air Marshall Nur Khan, always praised M. M. Alam’s great accomplishments and considered him to be a person of impeccable character. History will remember him as one of the greatest war heroes; he was pure talent; pure genius; top gun. He was better than dozens of AVMs who got promoted due to their buttering skills.Recommend

  • Sane

    M.M. Alam stayed as a pillar and re-enforecr to this country. A selfless person who bestowed his life for Pakistan and Islam. If this country is still surviving (despite looters and chaeaters eating this contry) is bacause of people like him. Inadequatyely acknowledged and unsug hero…….. May ALLAH bless his soul in eternal peace. A geat Man indeed.Recommend

  • NF

    My childhood memories of Alam sahab does not starts with him being a National hero, but, him as a Teacher to my father, when he was young. My father always told us that Alam sb. use to be there senior at school and that he use to help him out in subjects.

    The generation I belong, fortunately had high respect and values for teachers and someone being a teacher to their father had even higher values & respect. Then came his heroic stories & his famous dodge combats and VDOs…though I was not there in either of the wars, but his confident act was discussed and praised within our family.

    I did not had the opportunity to meet him in person, but, he was & will always be a True ICON for me & the nation. May Allah S.W.T rest his soul in peace.

    I was deeply disturbed, media and nation did not regarded him the way he should have been treated in his later days. But, then again, we all have gone so materialistic, that we do not feel the pain of others. These national hero(s) should not only be recalled on the 6th of September, but throughout the years. As it’s bcoz of them & may more, though still unacknowledged, that we have this land to ourselves.Recommend

  • http://www.risingkarachi.blogspot.com Nouman Ahmed

    The man didn’t die. He just faded away. Long live the legend!!!Recommend

  • Five in Sixty Seconds

    Men like Nur Khan and M M Alam are born once in a century.

    Today national institutions are littered with Zaradri DNA.

    Army Generals should learn to acknowledge the heroes of air force and navy too. They should stop the plotting business; the plotmania has transformed the entire country into DHA and Bahria towns.

    Shame on the media of Pakistan; clueless mediocre media failed to educate young generation about the heroics of M M Alam.

    Alam sahib was a man of impeccable character. He exposed corruption. And they did not promote him to a higher rank.

    In people eye he will ever remain a rank above than the “Marshall of the Air Force.”
    PAF higher up can rectify mistakes of the past by making a documentary on M M Alam sahib to educate the young generation, and giving M M Sahib an honorary rank of “Air Marshall.”

    People’s Air Marshall M M Alam lives forever.Recommend

  • kamran ali khan

    @Babar:
    @ Babar:
    I totally agree that Nations who do not honor their heroes do not deserve a future.Alam shaib
    was a man of great conviction.It is we that we did not acknowledge the great hero of our like
    many others.We need to know a lot about him He will be remembered forever as a great
    HERO.Wake up Pakistan and honor those who have laid down their lives for their homeland. Recommend

  • Alina Hassan

    If I were the owner of any E-media channel or owner of any newspaper, I ever never Broadcast or publish any special feature on MM Alam.
    I think that Army mens are not our hero, because they made so much harm to our country from start of the day like Ayob, Yahya and then Zia and Musharaf. They did not bother while breaking constitution of Pakistan and they have no respect for civilains I have personally experience that thing.
    And it is wrong that India is our enemy, our enemy is our Army infact how they are using us for their benifits for budghet and as a stake holders.
    They Just made our Nation Fool So I Have no respect for them Honestly the day is not far then No one will have no Respect for the Shits.Recommend

  • Dr J NY

    @Alina Hassan:

    Do not equate M M Alam with dictators. M M Alam was a man of principles. He never compromised on principles. A little knowledge is very dangerous to have. Read history; educate yourself before you express your views. Do not look at everyone through the same lens. Learn facts; and when expressing your views, use clean language.Recommend

  • Samir

    @Tribune Reader:
    I just came to know the Air Commodore MM Alam has died. In 1965 I was a student of Shaheen School Dhaka .I am a Bangladeshi citizen , I want to clear a misconception about late

    MM Alams ethnicity ? Like many erstwhile east Pakistani in 1965 he was a hero to me,May His Soul Rest In Peace .. But to portray him as patriotic Bengali Pakistani is absolutely wrong!!!! MM Alam was a urdu speaking Bihari, to make it more clear ,he was a domiciled East Pakistani .How do I know it ? domiciled east Pakistanis were Biharis who settled in the then east pakistan took all the benefits but had nothing in common with Bengali people except religion. I remember MM Alams sister studied at Shaheen School Dhaka -she was junior to me.she spoke in urdu not Bangla .Many many Bangladeshi still believe that MM Alam was Bengali .Recommend