Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, the youngest recipient of the Nishan-i-Haider medal, died in action on August 20, 1970. The exact circumstances remain a mystery but it can be said reliably that Rashid was taxiing for his third solo flight in T-33 aircraft when his flight instructor Matiurrahman got into the rear cockpit. Mati was from East Pakistan and had been grounded as a precaution in those tension-ridden days. Soon after the takeoff, Rashid sent message to the control tower, “1-6-6 hijacked.” Apparently, the instructor was diverting the plane towards India. Rashid was able to repeat the same line a few more times before fading out from the radar.
His aircraft was later found crashed 32 miles from the Indian border. His family was informed and he was buried with honor in the PAF cemetery in Karachi (off Sharea-e-Faisal).
It was determined through the examination of the wreckage that in order to prevent the hijack, “Rashid Minhas tried to regain control of his aircraft, but finding this to be impossible in the face of the superior skill and experience of his instructor, forced the aircraft to crash.” Nine days after the incident, he was awarded the highest military honor.
The nation heard about him only after he was gone. There was no footage of him from life, nor any voice recording (except that “1-6-6 hijacked”). Yet, his charisma outshines celebrities. I also fell captive to it in 1985.
I was a teenager then. I got intrigued by a story in the English weekly MAG, where it was mentioned that Rashid was fond of playing gramophone records of Western music at loud volume whenever he came home on vacation.
That was not the profile of a suicidal martyr. I found and read everything which I could find about him but I wasn’t satiated: the intrigue was increased. The face of the sophisticated Rashid, his mild looks and gentle gaze kept haunting me. Excerpts from his diary, also printed in the magazine, incensed my curiosity even further: quotations from warriors of WWII, a rather decent attempt at writing a poem by himself and – well, I discovered that Rashid and I had a favorite author in common: Allama Iqbal. He had copied an excerpt from The Rose Garden of Mystery, the English translation of Iqbal’s ‘Gulshan-i-Raz Jadeed,’ which I had not read by that time (I was still struggling with the original Persian of Asrar-o-Rumooz).
Now I am amazed to see that Rashid had chosen precisely the lines which suited the end of his story – the end which he could not have foreseen. The gist was that we are like a short-lived spark but it is not our lot to end up in smoke. We can pierce the heart of this universe and become immortal.
Destiny? Yes, destiny was the most oft-repeated theme in the few quotes printed in the magazine. “Destiny too plays a part,” Rashid had quoted from a Japanese pilot and, well, it did play a part. I’m not referring to his life, for we already know about that. I am talking about mine. Soon afterwards, I found myself visiting the house where Rashid had lived. I gained unrestrained access to all his private papers, his letters, diaries, and the entire collection of his books. I found the answers. I now realize that in all these twenty-three years I have hardly shared them with anyone. I will now. See next issue.