Islamabad: Air Marshal Asghar Khan, the first native commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Air Force and a veteran politician, died of cardiac arrest in Rawalpindi on Friday. Khan became the youngest head of the PAF at the age of 35.
The 96-year-old was born in Jammu and Kashmir. He was undergoing treatment for a chest infection at the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi. His funeral prayers will be offered in Abbottabad on Saturday, Dawn News reported.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed condolences over his death. Pakistan Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa paid tribute to the late fighter pilot in a message posted on Twitter by military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor.
Bajwa described Khan as an “iconic” soldier who will be remembered for his historic contributions to laying the foundations of a strong PAF. PAF chief Sohail Khan said Asghar Khan headed the force diligently and with courage. With his leadership capabilities, he played a vital role in transforming the PAF into a modern air force.
Khan, a former politician and a World War 2 veteran, originally served as an officer in the British Indian Army. In 1940, he graduated from the Royal Indian Military College, Dehradun.
Khan was made group captain in 1949, and in the same capacity, he took charge of PAF air operations. Before him, British officers held top military posts in newly independent Pakistan. In the era of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, the former head of the PAF spearheaded a movement to get Zulfikar Ali Bhutto released from jail.
He also served as the president of state-run Pakistan International Airlines. In 1970, Khan founded Tehreek-i-Istaqlal, a secular political party but could not dent the vote bank of other major parties of the time, such as the Pakistan People’s Party. In 2012, the party was merged with the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI) led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.