Monday, December 12, 2011

Vijay Diwas 1971 Bangladesh Operations

Dedicated to the Martyrs
Some Interesting Anecdotes
By Col TN Raman (Retd)

At 1631 Hours (IST), on 16 December 1971, Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, Chief Martial Law Administrator and Commander Eastern Command (Pakistan), signed the Instrument of Surrender, presented by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Eastern Command, India. After the written Instrument was signed, General Aurora executed the Physical form of the Ceremony by demanding and accepting the Pistol and the Epaulette of Niazi. The venue was Paltan Maidan, Dacca . The event was watched by thousands of Bengalis and Mukti Bahini cadres, who were out to take revenge on the Pakistani soldiers. Timely intervention and a bold decision by the Indian Army Commander to allow the Pakistan Soldiers to retain their personal weapons, for their own protection, till the Indian Army could build up sufficient strength in numbers to ensure their protection, had prevented a possible catastrophe.
‘Pakistan was not defeated; it was humiliated’. This was the phrase used by the General Staff of Pakistan, which went into the debacle of East Pakistan, in March 1972. They could hardly believe that a Riverine Terrain like East Pakistan, which the Military Experts would vouch as the Defenders Paradise & the Attackers Nightmare, could be conquered in two weeks time. General Niazi, adopted the tactics of defending every inch of the East Pakistan , with the result he was strong nowhere. Had he planned to hold on to the few vital areas & attempted to stall the Indian advance based on the formidable Rivers as obstacles, the campaign would have prolonged sufficiently long. This would have given time for the Pakistan to negotiate an honourable Cease Fire, instead of the Surrender.

What was the back ground to such a brilliant campaign? Let us hear from Sam Manekshaw, the then Chief of Army Staff of India ( As per his interview published in the Quarter Deck, in 1996).
The gist is given below.
In April 1970, Sam was summoned to a Cabinet Meeting. Smt Indra Gandhi, the then Prime Minister urged him to immediately intervene to plug the flow of refugees to the Eastern States of West Bengal, Assam & Tripura. The General told her that meant war. She said ‘yes’. Now, over to Sam,
“My job is to fight to win. Are you ready? I certainly am not ready. Have you internally got everything ready? Internationally have you got everything ready? I don’t think so. I know what you want, but I must do it in my own time & guarantee 100 per cent success. I want to make it clear. There must be one Commander. I don’t mind working with BSF or CRPF. But, I will not have a Soviet telling me what to do. I must have one Political Master, who will give me instructions”.
After that, Indra Gandhi saw the light & agreed with the assessment. Sam was equally emphatic in eliciting further assurance from the Iron Lady. The lady agreed & the campaign was a historical success. Is it not strange, that the Arm Chair strategists & bureaucrats still keep humming the same tune of “war is too serious a business to be entrusted to the Generals”.
Later, Sam was to state that there was a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal & being dismissed. No wonder Sam is called Bahadur!!!
Pakistan was beaten in war by superior generalship, exhibited from the Chief down to all Formation Commanders. The resistance continued in several garrisons even after the Surrender Ceremony in Dacca . But one by one, the outlying Garrisons realised the futility of carrying on a war, in which their Commanders, both at Dacca and Islamabad , had abandoned them. By 18 December, all guns fell silent in the East. One example will illustrate the tenacity of the Pakistani Army’s junior commanders.
Brigadier HS Kler, leading 95 Mountain Brigade, cleared Kamalpur, at the border on December 04, and proceeded to advance on to Jamlpur Garrison. The garrison was encircled by December 07. Despite several threats of annihilation, the garrison held on. Kler sent a message to the Garrison Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Sultan Mahmood, ordering him to surrender. In reply, the Officer wrote back the following message, which is preserved as a document, in the War Archives.
Dear Brig,
Hope this finds you in high spirits. Thanks for the letter.
We here in Jamalpur are waiting for the fight to commence. It has not started yet. So let us not talk and start it. Forty sorties, I may point out are not adequate. Please ask for many more. Your remark about your messenger being given proper treatment was superfluous. Shows how you under estimate my boys. I hope he liked his tea.
Give my love to the Muktis. Hoping to find you with a sten in your hand next time, instead of the pen you seem to have so much mastery over.
I am, your most sincerely,
Col Sultan,
Commander Jamalpur Fortress.
The Vijay Diwas Ceremony in New Delhi starts with Wreath Laying by various dignitaries, at the Amar Jawan War Memorial, at India Gate. The Rifle and Helmet, which forms the Centre-Piece, belonged to a soldier, unknown to history, who died on the battle field, in the out skirts of Jessore. There is no inscription on the Memorial. After all, a Jawan is always Amar when he lays down his life for his country.
Couple of officers who took part in the Operation were to become Chiefs of Army, later in their career. TN Raina & Krishna Rao were amongst them. But unfortunately, a bold commander later became a terrorist and killed by the same force he once commanded, with distinction. On Dec 17, when I was with the Mukthi Bahini, as a Captain, at the out skirts of Dacca , an Indian Army Jeep stopped at the Check Post manned by my contingent of Mukthi Bahini. The orders for me were to ensure that none of the Mukthi Bahinis entered Dacca . Since the Surrender had already taken place the previous day, it was a Herculean task to keep the irregular force under control. An Indian Army Officer, without any badges of rank or insignia, with well maintained beard and no pagri, which is customary for the Sikh Officers, but covering his head with a balaclava cap, peeped out from the co-driver’s seat. He asked me for the directions to the Paltan Maidan. I detailed a local guide to escort him. He thanked me and introduced himself as Brigadier Shabeg Singh. He later became Major General, dismissed by a Court Martial for embezzlement. In March 1984, when I was a Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding an Artillery Regiment in Punjab , I saw a local News Paper with one of my Sikh jawans. It had a photograph of a Sikh gentleman on the front page. The face looked somewhat familiar. I asked the jawan to read out the contents, since they were in Punjabi language. He read out that the man in the photo was Shahbeg Singh, Commander of the Sikh Forces under Jarnail Singh Bhindranwala, preparing defences in the Golden Temple at Amrisar. Later the same year in June, he along with his mentor was killed by the Indian Army, during Operation Blue Star. What are the ways of fate!
To my memory, the first train to leave Dacca with the first batch of Prisoners of War (PW) was on 19 December. Since I had already received my posting order, I managed to get a berth in the train as one of the Duty Officers, so that I could reach Allahabad in the fastest time. The Officer Commanding the train was documenting the Pakistani PW Officers and checking their possessions. A Brigadier from the Pakistan Medical Corps was still carrying his personal pistol. The OC Train asked him to hand over the weapon, assuring him that it will be kept in safe custody and returned to him on his release. The Brigadier said, “Son, I trust you. At least you Indians kept your promise of dismembering my Country. But, our bosses let us down by not allowing us to fight till the end.” Then he removed his pistol with its holster from his belt and handed over. On seeing me with a couple of Mukthi Bahini cadres who had come to see me off, he said to the OC Train, “We have got rid of the Dholak (a percussion instrument) from our neck and transferred it to your neck. Never trust them”. The events happening today in our Eastern Borders prove how prophetic his words were.
The All India Radio had broadcast a live commentary of the Surrender Ceremony of the Pakistan Troops, on the 17 Dec 1971. Lt Gen Saghat Singh was commanding the Parade. The Pakistani troops of Dacca Garrison, led by Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, were lined up. None of them were carrying their personal weapons. Gen Sagat Called Rao Farman Ali and told firmly that the Surrender would take place only with their arms. He gave them one hour to get ready with their personal weapons and report again. The order was then executed as per the Surrender Manual, with Rao Farman Ali taking out his pistol from his belt and dropping it on the ground, followed by the entire Pakistani Contingent, dropping their weapons to the ground.
Our official toll in the war for the creation of Bangladesh was 68 officers, 60 JCOs and 1293 NCOs and jawans killed. The wounded were more than 4000, including 211 officers and 160 JCOs. In the course of nearly 40 years of Independent Bangladesh , we have realised that the words of the Pakistani Brigadier uttered on 19 December 1971 were true. We all would have read about Demoralisation, in the Command & Leadership Pamphlet. Theoretically, it means the last stage of fear, in which the person loses control over both his physical & mental state & incapable of any resistance. We had the proud privilege of watching this phenomenon in East Pakistan . A total of more than 93,000 prisoners were taken, out of which nearly 70,000 were fighting soldiers. They were allowed to retain their personal weapons, for their own protection, against the marauding hordes of Mukti Bahinis, for three days. Not a single Pakistani soldier tried to use the weapon against any Indian Soldier or even as a group tried to effect a fighting escape from their camps. As has been proved, they had sufficient supplies to last them for one more month of war. Many of their Officers could not digest such a humiliation. Like Brigadier Bhagiar Siddique, told the BBC Interviewer in Narayn Ganj, on 17 December 1971, after the Surrender Ceremony there, “as professional soldiers we take it as a part of the game. We are trained to obey the orders of our Superiors. But this was not necessary. We have enough ammunition to last for another 30 days & could have continued fighting. We do not hold any grudge against the Indian Army. They played their part well”.
It is now evident that the reason for Surrender was not only the action taken by Niazi in the East, but also the acceptance of Cease Fire in the Western Front by Yahya Khan. The entire Pakistan Armed Forces were demoralised when the Orders were issued to ‘Freeze Tikka Khan’ the famous Strike Corps Commander, who was to launch his counter offensive, North of the Shakargarh bulge, on 16 Dec 1971. Gen Tikka Khan, who was the Strike Corps Commander & kept in reserve for the 12 days of war, was never to fight a single battle. The entire Strike Corps was also not kept intact. One of its divisions, 33 Division, by that time was denuded of two Brigades which were dished out to 1 corps in Punjab & 18 Division across Rajasthan. It seems, Pakistan Military’s top echelons had already planned for a Cease Fire in the East on 08 Dec 71 itself. By not launching their Strike Corps, which had been weakened already, they wanted to prove to their allies, especially the USA , the sincerity of their intention of NOT escalating the war any further. But India would not accept anything less than a surrender in East Pakistan . On 14 & 15 Dec 71, Sam Maneksha went on air through All India Radio & demanded that all Pakistani Troops lay down their Arms & Surrender to their Indian Counter Parts, wherever they were operating. He assured them of honourable treatment as envisaged in the Geneva Convention & made a solemn undertaking for their safety, especially against the Mukti Bahinis. The last straw from the Camel’s back was removed with this forth right declaration. Niazi, looked a much relieved man on the 16 Dec Morning, when the Chief of Staff Eastern Command of India, Major General Jacob, presented him with the Surrender Document in Dacca, in which the time of 1631 hours, 16 December 1971, was already printed.
In all the confusion & commotion surrounding the Eastern Command Head Quarters of Pakistan, the No 4 Army Aviation Squadron, under Lieutenant Colonel Liaquat Bokhari, managed to fly during the night 15 December, to Burma. This action saved all the seven Helicopters the Squadron had at that time. To its credit the Squadron was in constant operation from March 1971 onwards. After the war broke out, it still carried out its missions against the absolute Air Superiority the Indian Air Force enjoyed, by operating in the nights, with negligible night navigation aids. Still the unit lost only one Helicopter due to crash.
What does the Pakistan General Staff Report say about the Surrender at Dacca ? The gist is given below:-
“Then followed the most humiliating surrender ceremony with all the fanfare that the Indians could produce at short notice. Pakistan was humiliated in the person of General Niazi on Paltan Maidan, where on many previous occasions people had vowed to safeguard the integrity of Pakistan . The people of East Pakistan again stood there in thousands. An insane frenzy had gripped the crowds & the air was filled with loud maniac laughter, but many quietly wept. The Indians were jubilant at the end of a struggle which had lasted almost quarter of a Century. It was an Indian show & the Mukthi Bahinis were not allowed near the stage. The foreign press stood by & took pictures of the gory record for history to know & learn.”
During the entire campaign, Pakistan , despite Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s histrionics in the UN, could not win the support of many Nations to its cause. Smaller Nations ringing around our sub continent, especially, Nepal, Burma , Srilanka & some Arab countries, were rendering covert support to Pakistan , specifically in the field of logistics. China, despite its assurance to Pakistan of posturing in the North to divert India’s efforts against the East Pakistan, kept quiet after the threat from the Soviet Union . The biggest let down for Pakistan came from its long term ally, the USA. Its Seventh Fleet reached the Indian Ocean after the Surrender. Whether it was intentional or by coincidence, no one can say. The fact is that the USA under estimated the speed of Indian advance in the East Pakistan . That probably avoided the clash between the two great democracies of the world.
The liberation of Bangladesh happened 40 years back. But the Pakistanis, especially their Armed Forces, could not reconcile to the fact that they were humiliated by an Indian Army. Successive Military governments had taken the sheen away from its highly professional Army Officers. There was a rat race to get coveted civil appointments while still in uniform. General Yahya Khan, the known debauchee & drunkard was the President, Chief Martial Law administrator, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces & the only power centre. He promoted the Officers as per his fancy. Once he by mistake happened to address a Colonel as Brigadier & the next day that officer was wearing the Rank badges of a Brigadier. In one instance eleven Brigadiers, all were his cronies, promoted to the rank of Major Generals. A Subedar Major from the Punjab Regiment ( Pakistan ) stated that he had not seen so many sepoys from his battalion being promoted to Lance Naiks on a single day.
Having lost half the Nation, the only safe avenue they thought would be to bleed India with low intensity war fare. They are still up to it. The tragedy is that their long term ally, the USA , could not think beyond their own security concern. Their arms supply to negate the Soviet influence in Afganistan, encouragement given to Taliban & Al Queda to drive out the Russians from there are now taking the toll on Pakistan. The country is now learning to bleed due to violent acts by the terrorists. Still the old school of Soldiers will not abandon the Kashmir issue. Their previous President, Pervesh Musharraf, had categorically declared that if Pakistan has to survive, its people must repose their faith in ISI & the Army. A clear indication of the doom that is awaiting the Pakistanis.
Veteran Raman

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