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Pak officer sacked for long beard

Squadron Leader Mohsin Ranjha has been sacked for violating air force rules limiting pilot beard lengths.

india Updated: Apr 11, 2006 13:36 IST

A senior Pakistani air force officer has been sacked for violating rules against wearing a long beard, an air force spokesman said on Tuesday.

But an Islamic lawmaker said the officer was victimised on religious grounds.

Squadron Leader Mohsin Hayat Ranjha was "prematurely retired" from the air force about six months ago for violating "decades-old" air force rules limiting pilot beard lengths, said Air Commodore Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan.

Long beards prevent a pilot's oxygen mask from fitting properly, Khan explained.

"Anyone not following regulations has to face the legal course," Khan said. "It is not religious based."

The air force is considering whether to retire four other officers on similar grounds.

But Liaqat Baluch, a lawmaker from a coalition of radical Islamic groups, said Ranjha was sacked as part of Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf's policy of secularism in this predominantly Muslim country.

"He (Ranjha) was a brilliant career officer and had gone to the United States for training and faced no technical problems there," Baluch said.

"Anyone talking about Islam is targeted and victimised under Gen Musharraf's policy of secularism."

The six-party alliance opposes Musharraf's close cooperation with the US-led war on terror and accuses the president of following a secular agenda.

Islamic militants have been blamed for trying to kill Musharraf, who has survived several assassination attempts.

Some low-ranking military personnel, including air force, have been arrested and some convicted for the attacks against Musharraf.

Several low-ranking air force officers have also been jailed or fired for links with outlawed militant groups in recent years.