ISLAMABAD — The new head of the Pakistani Air Force assumed command March 19 at Air Headquarters, as Air Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt was promoted to air chief marshal, replacing the retiring incumbent, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman.
The new service head is highly regarded by analysts and former comrades.
“I know him as an honest man with a sense of integrity and righteousness, so on these counts the PAF is in safe hands,” said retired Air Commodore Kaiser Tufail, who was a senior officer to Butt when they served as instructors at the air force’s academy at Risalpur in the early 1980s.
Analyst Sultan M Hali, who retired as a group captain, said Butt is “an excellent choice to lead [the] PAF.”
“He has been selected on merit and seniority,” Hali said. “He is a capable, upright and honest officer who will lead by personal example.”
Tufail said being appointed to the top spot through seniority will help Butt in his new position.
“When supersession takes place and a junior is stepped up, it results in a lot of speculation and rumor-mongering, which affects the morale and discipline,” he said.
Butt assumes command of the air force at a time when major equipment programs put in place by some of his predecessors will be coming to fruition, revitalizing the service. The F-16A/B upgrade, the JF-17 Thunder, FC-20 (a Pakistani specific variant of the Chinese Chengdu J-10B), Erieye AEW&C, Karakorum Eagle AEW&C, and aerial refueling tanker programs are all set to be either be completed or continue.
Tufail said Butt is well-suited to the challenge of managing all these programs.
“He has worked as an assistant chief in flight safety. Additionally, his forte is human resource management, as he has worked in several capacities including the deputy chief in personnel department,” Tufail said. “He brings a background experience which will be put to good use, I am sure.”
These are not the air chief’s only concerns, however.
Hali said other challenges include motivating PAF personnel, purging the service of extremists and ensuring that the force continues its support of the fight against terrorism.
Hali added that Butt will need to work to restore balance with other services, saying some army officers saw the previous air chief’s role as secondary and subservient to the army.