Nazir Latif: Pride of Pakistan, Christian air force pilot

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Air Commodore Nazir Latif

Nazir Latif was born in a well educated Christian family in Lahore on 10th July 1927. His comrades fondly called him ‘Bill.’ Latif spent his childhood in Rawalpindi as his father worked as a psychology professor there.

Bill Latif always had a passion to join the Air Force and saw it as the best thing to do. Soon after completing his education, with a passion of becoming a fighter pilot, he joined the Pakistan Air Force after partition in 1947. Because of his exceptional flying talent, the 8th GD pilot’s course he did was upgraded to a 7th GD and he graduated from PAF Academy in 1950. Nazir Latif was then sent to Great Britain where he graduated from Royal Air Force College in Cranwell in 1954.

In 1958, when Air Marshal Asghar Khan was sworn in as Chief of Air Staff, Nazir Latif was promoted to the rank of Wing Commander. In the 1965 war, he led the country’s only bomber wing that could penetrate deep into enemy territory and his pilots relentlessly kept the Indian Air Force bases under attack, making a huge contribution to that war’s objectives. In the 1971 war, he commanded the same base from which his wing had flown seven years before, only this time under much more difficult circumstances and competing demands on his planes.

Bill Latif commanded two squadrons, three wings and two air bases (Peshawar and Karachi’s Masroor), an unmatched command performance that brought hundreds of PAF pilots in close contact with this charismatic leader in air and on ground. He also held the important post of Director of Operations during one of his staff assignments. For exceptional flying skill and valor displayed by him in the bombing operations against the enemy, the officer was awarded Sitara-i-Juraat twice.

Bill formed and led the world’s only formation aerobatic team on a bomber aircraft, stunning international enthusiasts with his own and his pilots’ skills when he led four B-57 bombers into loops and rolls at a public display in 1964.

He left the air force in the 1970s, and moved to Iran and then Jordan, where he was to spend 18 years. Up until 2004, he was the captain of an airline based in Bahrain and then flew a private jet for an Arab businessman. Upon returning to Pakistan he was struck by a stray bullet in the face. Fortunately he survived the attack but lost one eye. Latif suffered from a stroke and prostate cancer in his later years and breathed his last breath on 30th June 2011.

Nazir Latif’s life is no less than a legacy which can never be overlooked. It was unthinkable for this non-controversial warrior to publicly boast to the media about his exemplary career as a consummate professional. That is why few in this nation would have heard about this gallant son of the soil.