Former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Idris Hasan Latif, who spurned the offer to join Pakistan Air Force after partition and rose to be the service chief, breathed his last at the ripe old age of 94, on 30th of April 2018 in Hyderabad. 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 Maharashta.
The official website of IAF states that when partition brought about the division of the Indian armed forces, Latif as a Muslim officer was faced with the choice of joining both India or Pakistan. “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. Air Marshal Asghar Khan later rose to become the Chief of Air Staff of Pakistan Air Force.
Idris Hasan Latif was born in Hyderabad on 9th June 1923 to a well-known Suleimani Bohra family. He attended the prestigious Nizam College and applied to join the Indian Air Force as soon as he turned 17.5 years old–the earliest age permitted. Selected in 1941, he went through initial flying training at Begumpet and was commissioned in Royal Indian Air Force on 26th January 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.
In June 1946, Latif was part of an Indian contingent, which participated in a huge Victory Parade in London. 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. In 1951, the decorated Air Force Chief married Bilkees, the daughter of Nawab Ali Yavar Jung. She stood by his side for 66 years till she passed away in 2017.
India fought a war in 1965 against Pakistan. Latif, who had by then been promoted to Air Commodore, was the first Air Defence Commander for the Eastern Theatre. His combat experience saw him appointed to the new post of Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Plans), during the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, during which he carried out the onerous tasks of making first line assessment of frontline combat squadrons and the modernisation plans of the air force. His role as Air Chief Marshal PC Lal’s emissary during the IAF’s operations in the Eastern Theater, saw him decorated with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 1974.
The IAF website also mentions that 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. Only in 1988, did the former Air Chief Marshal retire, and returned to Hyderabad with his wife, where they worked for social causes. The legendary Idris Hasan Latif is remembered by all as a great strategic genius, a planning maverick and an IAF hero.