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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 April 2006, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Long beard clips pilot's career
Pakistan Air Force crews push Chinese-made F-6 aircraft at Smungli Air Base near Quetta
Pakistan's air force says standards must be maintained
Islamist MPs in Pakistan are up in arms after an air force officer was forced out - for refusing to trim his beard.

Squadron Leader Mohsin Hayat Ranjha was made to retire early for breaching a dress code which bans long beards.

Many strict Muslims grow long beards for religious reasons, but Pakistan's authorities say too much facial hair could make oxygen masks malfunction.

One Islamist MP complained that Squadron Leader Ranjha had been the victim of a "policy of secularism".

The air force says it is considering retiring four other officers, including another squadron leader, on similar grounds.

There has to be a limit on the length of a beard
Tanveer Hussain Syed,
Parliamentary defence secretary

"Anyone not following regulations has to face the legal course," Air Commodore Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan told the Associated Press news agency.

"It is not religious based."


Defending air force policy before MPs, parliamentary secretary for defence Tanveer Hussain Syed said: "There is no ban on any Pakistan Air Force [PAF] personnel of any rank keeping a beard, but there has to be a limit on the length of a beard."

Beards are seen as a sign of devoutness

He said oxygen masks worn at high altitudes could malfunction if the airman had too much facial hair as it was difficult to fit the mask tightly onto the face.

Squadron Leader Ranjha had turned down requests that he trim his whiskers, Mr Syed said.

"He [Ranjha] not only refused to do it, in violation of the dress code of a PAF officer, but he also incited others to grow similar beards."

But Liaqat Baluch, of the six party MMA religious alliance. said Squadron Leader Ranjha was "a brilliant career officer".

"He had gone to the United States for training and faced no technical problems there," Mr Baluch said.

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

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