Former IAF Chief Idris Hasan Latif who turned down Pakistan’s offer to join Air Force dies at 94

Hyderabad: Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif, who turned down the offer to join Pakistan Air Force after partition and rose to be the service chief, passed away on Monday in Hyderabad after a brief illness. He was 94.

Air Chief Marshal Latif was appointed as the Chief of Air Staff on 31 August 1978 and he remained in saddle till 1981 when he retired. He subsequently served as the Indian Ambassador to France and the Governor of Maharashtra.

Latif was born into a distinguished Suleimani Bohra family in June 1923 at Hyderabad. His father Hasan – a graduate of Oxford and Heidelberg was the chief engineer in the Nizam’s erstwhile Hyderabad state. Latif studied at Nizam College in Hyderabad and graduated from the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and the National Defence College, New Delhi.

Latif was commissioned in Royal Indian Air Force in 1942. On completion of his training at Ambala, he was posted to the No.2 Coastal Defence Flight in Karachi, where he flew vintage biplane aircrafts like the Wapiti, Audaxes and Harts, on Anti-Submarine flights over the Arabian Sea.

During 1943-44, he was one of the few Indian pilots to be seconded to the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom. There he underwent training on more contemporary aircraft like the Hurricane and Spitfire, with the Operational squadrons of the RAF. He returned to India in 1944 and took part in the Burma campaign, flying the Hawker Hurricane for No.3 Squadron. This involved flying interdiction sorties against ground targets.

After the campaign, Latif was posted to Madras, but soon he joined No.9 Squadron in Burma, again flying the Hawker Hurricane. Under the command of Sqn. Ldr. Asghar Khan, he was good friends with both his CO and another flamboyant pilot, Flt. Lt. Noor Khan. Both the pilots went on to become Chiefs of Air Staff of the Pakistan Air Force.

After the war, Latif on, promotion to the Squadron Leader, became the Commanding Officer of No.4 Oorials, flying the Hawker Tempest. He led the first fly past over New Delhi, after India turned a republic in 1950.

Latif as a Muslim officer had a choice of joining either India or Pakistan after the partition brought the division of the Indian armed forces, states the official website of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“Even though both Asghar as well as Noor Khan called him up to persuade Latif to join them in the fledgling Pakistan Air Force, Latif made it clear that for him, religion and country were not interlinked. It was no surprise that Latif made his way to become the first Muslim Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force,” the IAF website states.

During the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, Latif was the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Plans) in the rank of Air Vice Marshal, and carried out the onerous tasks of making first line assessment of frontline combat squadrons and the modernisation plans of the air force.

As the Chief of Air Staff, Latif was involved fully in the re-equipment and modernisation plans of the air force. He was instrumental in seeking government approval for the procurement of the Jaguar strike aircraft, a proposal which was lying dormant for over 8 years.

He also held negotiations with the Russians and saw the induction of the MiG-23 and later, the MiG-25 aircraft into the IAF. One of the last acts before retirement was to fly in the trisonic MiG-25, which was then just assembled from a semi-knocked down condition by the Air Force personnel.

Latif was also the only Air Force officer associated with three different air forces and participated in several battles including the World War II. He was associated with the Royal Indian Air Force, Royal Air Force and Indian Air Force. Latif is the first and only Muslim to have served as the head of any of the three wings of the Indian armed forces.