Javaid Trali

Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather has proven: Reaching for the sky, literally and figuratively

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Believe it or not, every second person in Kashmir has the potential to become a fighter pilot, a world-class scientist, an excellent academician, a brilliant doctor, a creative engineer, an outstanding sportsperson, a skilled worker et al., All government needs to do is to create conditions for this potential to thrive, writes Javaid Trali.

Cesar Pelli once said, “The desire to reach for the sky runs very deep in the human psyche.” That was a motivational saying meant to inspire people for setting and achieving high goals, but Pelli took it literally and built some of the tallest buildings in the world as an architect.

In recent years, some Kashmiris have also literally reached for the sky by giving wings to their goals and have become commercial pilots. They include Sami Ara Surury, Kaneez Fatima, Iram Habib, Captain Tanvi Raina, and Ayesha Aziz.

But Hilal Ahmad Rather, who hails from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, had manifested the desire to reach the sky way back in ’88 when he was commissioned in Indian Air Force (IAF) as a fighter pilot. He became flight lieutenant in 1993, wing commander in 2004, group captain in 2016 and Air Commodore in 2019. Rather, a recipient of Vayu Sena Medal and Vishisht Seva Medal, has a record of 3,000 accident-free flying hours on mirage-2000, MIG-21 and Kiran aircraft.

He is presently India’s Air Attaché to France and became the country’s first pilot to see off the batch of Rafale jets from France to India on July 27. Rather, he played a crucial role in the early delivery of the Rafales. He was previously associated with the weaponization of the Rafale jets according to the Indian requirements.

Rather is certainly the man of the moment but there are many others like him in Kashmir whose achievements and success stories have not been discovered to this day. The achievements of Rather would have been overlooked too, but the war-like situation with China along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh and the controversy surrounding the Rafale deal created the conditions for his notability as he became an “incidental beneficiary” of the widespread admiration.

Taking cue from the success story of Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather

The success story of Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather offers a great opportunity to set a precedent to identify and highlight the success stories in Kashmir so that all those successful Kashmiris, whose achievements are inspiring but unheard of, are introduced to their fellow citizens.  Unfortunately, the turbulent situation in Kashmir continues to remain an ideal excuse for the national media to highlight and even synthetically magnify the notoriety of a handful of Kashmiris and this leads to the ‘othering’ and ‘demonization’ of the entire community. In Kashmir, a certain political class waxes lyrics to further their political goals and that of their handlers.

In such a situation, the people who deserve public attention are never able to grab it. It is to be noted that the information that goes into the public domain is regulated meticulously for creating a desired impact, and both New Delhi and Islamabad, have been playing this game to their advantage. So while singing praises for the militants suits Pakistan – for it ensures a constant stream of radicalized Kashmiri youth ready to lay down their lives at its (Pakistan’s) prodding and for its cause – demonizing the same people in mainland India makes for a handy tool to paint the entire Kashmiri population in “political green” to facilitate and justify their ‘othering’.

While hours of prime time discussions are dedicated to talk about the likes of Burhan Wani, Zakir Musa, Reyaz Naikoo or for that matter their patrons in the political circles – the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani – absolutely no, or even at the very best, only a drizzle of information reaches the general public about the Kashmiri achievers, residing in India and foreign lands. It is to be further noted that there are a good number of Kashmiris who have risen to dizzying heights of success by the sheer grit of their hard-work and determination.

In mainland India, some Kashmiris have done exceptionally well in the corporate world, in central services like the IAS, IPS, IFS, IBS, in media, in IT, and so many other diverse fields. In Europe, in the Americas, in China and Japan, and Singapore, in Malaysia, in Australia and across the globe, many Kashmiris have exceptional achievements under their belts, but their stories remain untold – perhaps because they do not translate into media rating points and do not make for a political statement for the varied actors in Kashmir’s political amphitheater.

What the mainstream media, and even the governments must realize is that political narratives (and beliefs) are not (and cannot be) changed by conducting propaganda campaigns but by showcasing the achievements of those who have rejected the path of violence that they understood as leading to only victimhood, and embraced the path of success as a conscious choice.

What if the next captain of Indian cricket is from Kashmir? What if someone from Kashmir makes it to the European premier league football? One can go on and on, counting such possibilities and their positive impact on the psyche of Kashmiris but for making them a reality, the government has to create an enabling atmosphere in Kashmir, and do some handholding of the Valley’s talent pool to channelize it in a constructive manner to usher a positive change.

A beginning has already been made by the Initiative for Competition Promotion in Jammu and Kashmir (ICPJK), a Trust, which is engaged in preparing students for Civil Services exams.  Set up under the patronage of A G Mir (IPS, currently J&K’s ADGP law and order), ICPJK since its inception in 2008, has thus far trained hundreds of students for civil services; with over 200 of its trainees already having made it to the IAS and KAS, including of course Dr. Shah Faesal, who topped the IAS selection in 2010.


While Rafale has introduced Air Commodore Hilal Ahmad Rather into the popular imagination of the Kashmir’s young population, this opportunity is waiting for a build-up and cannot be wasted. Let the government try and invest some careful thought into channelizing the energy and potential of Kashmiri youth.

Now is the time to welcome them and hone their skills. Believe it or not, every second person in Kashmir has the potential to become a fighter pilot, a world-class scientist, an excellent academician, a brilliant doctor, a creative engineer, an outstanding sportsperson, a skilled worker et al., All government needs to do is to create favorable conditions for this potential to thrive.


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