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Admiral Fasih Bokhari: Adieu to a sailor

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By Muhammad Azam Khan

Admiral Fasih Bokhari, the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Pakistan Navysounded “Ring off Main Engines” one last time. The Admiral passed away peacefully in the small hours of November 24. The term, “Ring off Main Engines” was common in earlier nautical jargon. It was an order to the marine engineering staff onboard to “Shut Down the Engines” once the ship returned from the sea and finally secured alongside at the Port. In submarines, this term is worded as “Finish with Main Motor”.In his professional life, the late Admiral must have given such orders on numerous occasions while commanding various warships and submarines. This time however it was to be a final trumpet.

Born and destined to be a sailor and gifted with stunningly handsome appearance, the Admiral exuded looks of no less than an American or British officer. He belonged to a Persian pedigree. Admiral Bokhari’s extraordinary command overreach and English language added to his aura. On many occasions, American and British officers unconsciously took him to be one of them. Admiral Bokhari had traits that qualified him to be a man of high integrity. This strength showed right through his long yet brilliant career including Command of Pakistan Navy as Chief of the Naval Staff.

Admiral Fasih joined Pakistan Navy in January 1959. The young naval cadet was soon sent to Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth,UK for initial training. He earned his commission in Pakistan Navy in May 1962. Later in 1964, the late Admiral joined the elite group of Submarine Service of Pakistan Navy. Little did the youthful naval officer then knew that he is ordained to make history in the North Arabian Sea.

As an exuberantLieutenant, Fasih Bokhari was Operations Officer onboard PN submarine HANGOR when war broke out between India and Pakistan in December 1971. Under the Command of then Commander later Vice Admiral, Ahmad Tasnim, HANGOR was operating in the North Arabian Sea, off the Indian coast of Kathiawar. In the early hours of 9 December 1971, HANGOR picked up two contacts. Both were identified as warships. After tracking the two enemy ships for almost the entire day, HANGOR’Smoment came that night at around 2000 hours.

Pakistan Navy submarine fired the torpedos, a down-the-throat shot at one of the enemy warships. It was three minutes to 2000 hours. As the first torpedo ran, no explosion was heard. Without any wait, however, the control team onboard HANGOR sprang to action. The team that included the young spirited Lt Fasih Bokhari prepared another shot. A second torpedo was fired. Five anxious minutes later in 2019, a loud explosion was heard. The torpedo had found its mark. This was an Indian frigate, INS KHUKRI. The ship received a hit right in that explosive storage compartment. The Indian frigate sank in minutes, taking an entire crew of officers and sailors onboard to the bottom of the sea.

This sinking of an Indian Navy warship restored the balance of power in the North Arabian Sea during the 1971 war. It also thwarted further missile attacks on Karachi planned by the Indian Navy. From 9 December until 13 December 1971, the Indian Navy committed whatever it had in its arsenal to hunt and destroy PN submarine HANGOR. Luck however was with HANGOR. Indian Navy finally aborted the chase asHANGOR safely returned to Karachi. Reportedly, at no moment during the entire ordeal did young Lt Fasih show any signs of anxiety or fright. Like so many of his teammates on board, he too was truly fearless.

Admiral Bokharihad a distinguished career in Pakistan Navy. He held numerous command and staff appointments.  This included command of a Daphne class submarine and a tour of duty as Commander Submarines and Commander of a Destroyer Squadron. The late Admiral assumed charge as Commander Pakistan Fleet in 1995 and was later appointed Chief of the Naval Staff in May 1997.  He was a graduate of French Naval War College. The Admiral distinguished himself through the induction of French Agosta 90-B class submarines in the Pakistan Navy.

Admiral FasihBokhari held a confident belief that future wars in the region will be fought not on land but rather at sea. He posited cogent and persuasive reasons to support his argument. Concurrently, however, the Admiral was a strong advocate of peace and maritime cooperation between India and Pakistan. This fact has been acknowledged even by his adversaries. A former Indian Navy Admiral, J.G Nadkarni wrote that Pakistan had sensible mariners in decision-making positions who were keen to have agreements with the Indian Navy.

In Admiral Fasih, Pakistan Navy, and indeed the country has lost a valuable veteran whose intellect and personality inspired several generations of officers. Rest in peace dear Admiral.

The writer is a former naval officer

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