On December 3, 1971 around 4 pm, Gen Yahya Khan left the President’s House to go to the Air Command Centre to launch the pre-emptive air strikes on India. Just then, according to Arshad Sami Khan, Yahya’s ADC, an unusually large vulture appeared from nowhere and landed a few meters ahead of his jeep, blocking the driveway to the exit gate.
The vulture refused to move even when Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan, the Chief of Staff, slowly moved up the jeep; blew the horn; or when Yahya Khan dismounted from the jeep and tried to scare it away with his baton. Instead, it just stared back with greater defiance.
It was only when a nearby gardener shooed the bird with a large sickle that it finally cleared the road with an ominous gait allowing the jeep to pass. This certainly was not a propitious omen for launching a war.
The Pakistani plan of attack pivoted around pre-emptive air strikes against Indian airfields. According to Shuja Nawaz, in all, thirty-two aircraft out of an inventory of 278 fighter planes took part in the initial strike that started between 1709 hrs and 1723 hrs.
The PAF strikes were not successful. Only the Amritsar airfield was blocked and a radar target was destroyed. Pathankot could not be attacked because of poor visibility.
The objective of the air strikes was to target the runways of Indian airbases. However, the platforms used for this purpose – F-86s – were inappropriate. According to Arshad Sami Khan, the F-86 was a multi-role aircraft but the one role it was not very accurate at was bombing, especially high-level bombing.
The release the two 1000-pound bombs required climbing to 10,000 feet, going into a 45 degrees dive and releasing the bombs by about 4,500 feet at speeds of 460 knots.