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Friday, December 16, 2011

The Courageous Pakistan Army Stand on the Eastern Front: An Untold Story of 1971 Indo-Pak War

THERE is much for Pakistan to come to terms with what happened in 1971. But the answers don’t lie in unthinking vilification of the fighting men who performed so well in the war against such heavy odds in defence of the national policy. Rather, in failing to honour them, the nation dishonours itself.

My introduction to international politics was 1971, as a schoolgirl in Calcutta. Many images from that year are still etched in my mind, but the culminating one was the photo on Ramna racecourse of two men sitting at a table — the smart, turbaned Sikh, ‘our’ war-hero, Jagjit Singh Aurora, and the large man in a beret, A A K Niazi, commander of the other side, signing the instrument of surrender. Nearly a generation later, a chance interview for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) with Lt Gen. Aurora took me back to 1971. The interview was not about 1971, but about injustices suffered by Sikhs at the hands of the state General Aurora had served. I thought he was a bigger hero for what he had to say then. That view was reinforced as I read — with incredulity — the disparaging remarks by other Indian officers about him, and each other, in their books. If this is what happened to the winning commander, I wondered what had happened to the other man in the photo.

The result was a revelation.

It turns out that General Niazi has been my ‘enemy’ since the Second World War. As Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and his Indian National Army fought on the Burma front in 1943-45 in their quest for India’s freedom, Niazi was fighting on the other side, for the British Indian Army, under the overall command of General (later Field Marshal) William Joseph Slim. Slim and his 14th Army halted the advance of the INA and the Japanese at the Imphal campaign and turned the course of the war.

In the process of inflicting military defeat upon my ancestor, Niazi’s performance was so exceptional that the British awarded him an on-the-spot Military Cross for action on the Assam-Burma front in June 1944. On another occasion they wanted to award a DSO, but he was too junior, so a Mention in Despatches was recorded. In the original record of his MC signed by his commanding officers all the way up to Slim, which I obtained from theBritish Ministry of Defence, the British commanders describe Niazi’s gallantry in detail: “He organized the attack with such skill that his leading platoon succeeded in achieving complete surprise over the enemy.” They speak of how he personally led his men, the ‘great skill and coolness’ under fire with which he changed tactics with changing circumstances, created diversionary attacks, extricated his wounded, defeated the enemy and withdrew his men by section, remaining personally at the rear in every case.

The British honoured Niazi for “personal leadership, bravery and complete disregard for his own personal safety.” On 15 December 1944 the Viceroy Lord Wavell flew to Imphal and in the presence of Lord Mountbatten knighted Slim and his corps commanders Stopford, Scoones and Christison. Only two ‘Indian’ officers were chosen to be decorated by the Viceroy at that ceremony — ‘Tiger’ Niazi was one of them.

In 1971 Niazi was a highly decorated Pakistani general, twice receiving the Hilal-e-Jurat. He was sent to East Pakistan in April 1971 — part of a sorry tradition in South Asia of political rulers attempting to find military solutions to political problems. By then Tikka Khan had already launched the crackdown of 25 March for which he has been known to Bengalis as the ‘butcher of Bengal’ ever since. The population of East Bengal was completely hostile and Pakistan condemned around the world.

Authoritative scholarly analyses of 1971 are rare. The best work is Richard Sisson and Leo Rose’s War and Secession.

Robert Jackson, fellow of All Soul’s College, Oxford, wrote an account shortly after the events. Most of the principal participants did not write about it, a notable exception being Gen. Niazi’s recent memoirs (1998).Some Indian officers have written books of uneven quality — they make for an embarrassing read for what the Indians have to say about one another.

However, a consistent picture emerges from the more objective accounts of the war. Sisson and Rose describe how India started assisting Bengali rebels since April, but “the Muktib Bahini had not been able to prevent the Pakistani army from regaining control over all the major urban centers on the East Pakistani-Indian border and even establishing a tenuous authority in most of the rural areas.” From July to October there was direct involvement of Indian military personnel. “...mid-October to 20 November... Indian artillery was used much more extensively in support ...and Indian military forces, including tanks and air power on a few occasions, were also used...Indian units were withdrawn to Indian territory once their objectives had been brought under the control of the Mukti Bahini — though at times this was only for short periods, as, to the irritation of the Indians, the Mukti Bahini forces rarely held their ground when the Pakistani army launched a counterattack.”

Clearly, the Pakistani army regained East Pakistan for their masters in Islamabad by April-May, creating an opportunity for a political settlement, and held off both Bengali guerrillas and their Indian supporters till November, buying more time — time and opportunity that Pakistan’s rulers and politicians failed to utilise.

Contrary to Indian reports, full-scale war between India and Pakistan started in East Bengal on 21 November, making it a four-week war rather than a ‘lightning campaign’. Sisson and Rose state bluntly: “After the night of 21 November...Indian forces did not withdraw. From 21 to 25 November several Indian army divisions...launched simultaneous military actions on all of the key border regions of East Pakistan, and from all directions, with both armored and air support.” Indian officers like Sukhwant Singh and Lachhman Singh write quite openly in their books about India invading East Pakistani territory in November, which they knew was ‘an act of war’.

None of the outside scholars expected the Eastern garrison to withstand a full Indian invasion. On the contrary, Pakistan’s longstanding strategy was “the defense of the east is in the west”. Jackson writes, “Pakistani forces had largely withdrawn from scattered border-protection duties into cleverly fortified defensive positions at the major centres inside the frontiers, where they held all the major ‘place names’ against Mukti Bahini attacks, and blocked the routes of entry from India...”

Sisson and Rose point out the incongruity of Islamabad tolerating India’s invasion of East Pakistani territory in November. On 30 November Niazi received a message from General Hamid stating, “The whole nation is proud of you and you have their full support.” The same day Islamabad decided to launch an attack in the West on 2 December, later postponed to 3 December, after a two-week wait, but did not inform the Eastern command about it. According to Jackson, the Western offensive was frustrated by 10 December.

Though futile, the Western offensive allowed India to openly invade the East, with overwhelming advantages. “ ...despite all these advantages, the war did not go as smoothly and easily for the Indian army...”, but Sisson and Rose come to the balanced judgment that “The Pakistanis fought hard and well; the Indian army won an impressive victory.” Even Indian officers concede the personal bravery of Niazi and the spirited fight put up by the Pakistanis in the East. That the troops fought so well against such overwhelming odds is a credit both to them, and to their commanders, for an army does not fight well in the absence of good leadership.

However, as Jackson put it, “...India’s success was inevitable from the moment the general war broke out — unless diplomatic intervention could frustrate it.” As is well known, Pakistan failed to secure military or diplomatic intervention. Sisson and Rose also say, “The outcome of the conflict on the eastern front after 6 December was not in doubt, as the Indian military had all the advantages.” On 14 December Niazi received the following message from Yahya Khan: “You have fought a heroic battle against overwhelming odds. The nation is proud of you ...You have now reached a stage where further resistance is no longer humanly possible nor will it serve any useful purpose... You should now take all necessary measures to stop the fighting and preserve the lives of armed forces personnel, all those from West Pakistan and all loyal elements...” Sisson and Rose naturally describe this message as “implying that the armed forces in East Pakistan should surrender”.

No matter how traumatic the outcome of 1971 for Pakistan, the Eastern command did not create the conflict, nor were they responsible for the failure of the political and diplomatic process. Sent to do the dirty work of the political manoeuvrers, the fighting men seem to have performed remarkably well against overwhelming odds. It is shocking therefore to discover that they were not received with honour by their nation on their return. Their commander, Niazi, appears to have been singled out, along with one aide, to be punished arbitrarily with dismissal and denial of pension, without being given the basic right to defend himself through a court-martial, which he asked for.

The commission set up allegedly to examine what had happened in 1971 was too flawed in its terms of reference and report to have any international credibility. However, even its recommendations of holding public trials and courtmartials were ignored. There is much for Pakistan to come to terms with what happened in 1971. But the answers don’t lie in unthinking vilification of the fighting men who performed so well in the war against such heavy odds in defence of the national policy. Rather, in failing to honour them, the nation dishonours itself.
Sarmila Bose is the niece of Subhas Chandra Bose or Netaji of Indian National Army fame who fought against the British supporting the Japanese. He is considered as a great hero in Bengal and India. Sarmila Bose is Assistant Editor, Ananda Bazar Patrika, India & Visiting Scholar, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

DIFFERENT VIEWS OF NATION
1.
MAHFOOZ A. JAFRY says:
November 27, 2010 at 11:40 am

Mr. Sheikh Mujib was a traitor of Pakistan and friend of Hindu and India. Please see his speeches before and after liberation of Bangladesh. He was an arrogant nationalist and secular leader who destroyed the Muslim unity. Muslims of undevided India made Pakistan possible and among Muslims he will be considered as traitor for inviting Hindu and Indian Army to help him and destroy Pakistan. No one talks about thousands of Pakistani and Beharis killed by Bengalis and Mukhti Bahini and still thousands are stranded there and willing to come to Pakistan and Pakistan is denying to take them. They were uproated from their houses and many were killed. the Pakistani leadership is also not free from carried atrocities. As a final conclusion, we left Islam and its teachings behind and we suffered and we are suffering and blaming each other.
Mahfooz A. jAFRY
2.
G Khan says:
November 28, 2010 at 3:46 pm

I want to mention that Gen Niazi's surrender was need of the hour and were orders from Yahya Khan. Which I quote, “Niazi in order to save West you have to give up East”. Governor Malik before resigning told Niazi , it is time you shouldthink about saving West Pakistan. The Indian commander gave Niazi an ultimatum that if he did not agree to surrender on the 16th Dec at 9 am sharp there will be open bombardment on all the major cities and the seaports of East Bengal. Earlier they had bombarded the governor house, an orphanage killing young, innocent orphan children. Seeing his war record, a general who was thirteenth on the list of seniority was chosen for this job. He is a recipient of 24 medals. During second World War, his name was mentioned in Dispatches. He was given a commendation card, the title of Tiger, known as a man of crisis. From Second World War he was always given tough and challenging job and was chosen to combat with the Japanese. In 1965 war he was given the command of 14 Para Brigade, which was called in emergency at all the Fronts where there was crisis. Poems were written on him by prominent poets. He sacrificed his honorable career and his reputation of a winning soldier. He had planned the defense line of Lahore and his name was always in the headlines of the newspapers appreciating his dedication as a soldier.

His lifelong commitment to Armed forces and his reputation as a fighting soldier was at stake. With a sinking heart he obeyed the orders from G.H.Q. He agreed for a cease fire which the Indian commander forced in to surrender. He laid down arms to save the lives of his Bengali brothers and sisters, their possessions, their cities and factories, their seaports and air bases. He could not see them destroyed.

On the Western border Pakistan lost more than 5500 square miles in 10 days and Bhutto Saab tore the papers of Polish Resolution
which would have helped in ceasefire on the Western border and a political solution in East Pakistan, where Mr Mujib was a winning Politician , in fact paving way for a Democrative Government.

Under these conditions Niazi was forced to lay down arms otherwise there would have been no chance of ceasefire on the western borders. He told the Indian commander that under no condition will he leave even a single West Pakistani behind in East Pakistan.

He tried to send as many children, women, sick and wounded in two or three helicopters through Burma. In 1974 when prisoners of war were coming back Niazi was the last one to cross the Indian border. He had a reputation of a soldiers’ general and he proved it. The officers who had come to see him off told him ; “Tiger your goose has been cooked…according to our intelligence agencies..your Govt has decided to lay all the blame on you...” Niazi said “i do not believe you, they can never do this to me. So he came back with the view that he will get some credit for saving the lives of Bengali brothers and paving the way for ceasefire and saving West Pakistan. But he was in a shock. Hamud ur rehman commission report was already written without the testimony of prisoners of war and only the last chapters were added on their return. The officers were briefed by Gen Aftab who had formed a commission, known as Aftab Commission to give pre-planned answers to the questions without taking oath on the Quran. In order to save their lives and jobs the witnesses gave them the answers they were briefed. On the other hand Gen Niazi was not given access to the records of his conversations; telegrams fax’s messages with the General Head Quarters.
3.
asif haroon raja says:
November 29, 2010 at 10:28 am

Please read my book titled 'Roots of 1971 tragedy, published by Sang-e-Meel, Lahore. It gives out all the details and answers to almost all the queries on 1971 war including role of Gen Niazi.
4.
G Khan says:
November 30, 2010 at 3:53 pm

This article was written seven years a go and was published in Daily Times...........G Khan
5.
G Khan says:
December 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm

Lt Gen Niazi asked for an open trial so that he could clear his name and all the allegations of which he was falsely accused by Hamood Ur Rehman commission Report.He wrote several letters to the G H Q.....Presidents ,Prime Ministers,of every regime, from the day he came back from India, till the day he died,but his wish was denied.Orders were given by Mister Bhutto that get Niazi whether dead or alive when the General started coming out in the public, he was arrested when he was addressing a group in Hyderabad and was locked up in Sukkur jail for more than a year...It was a chance incident that when Mr Bhutto was arrested he was brought to the same jail,he sent several messages to Gen Niazi to meet him and said he was misled by his staff and people around him,but now he knew about the truth,that he was falsely accused,when we go out we will work out things together,but Gen Niazi refused to meet him , Allah Almighty is great ,there was a time when he refused to meet Niazi and now he was begging to meet him.When Gen Niazi was shifted to his residence in Lahore he was kept under house arrest by Gen Zia for no obvious reasons,not even his own children were allowed to meet him. What was he being punished for ? for saving his Country ?The Indian Armed Forces had planned that after taking over Dhaka which Pak Army at the most could have defended just for a month ,because they were outnumbered by Indian Army ,the ratio was one to eight,...with out proper arms and Ammunition Tanks Guns ,Air force and Navy .India had eight Divisions ,Air force with Vikrant used as a runway for the landing and take off of the Jets ,they had proper Navy ,there were two lack Mukti Bhannis who were helping them and the locals who were also helping them day and night and camouflaging them and giving them all the news about the movement of Pakistan Army ,and Indian Army had proper trained Frog Man by the Russians who were expert in under water swimming thus it was easy for them to cross rivers..Pakistan had 45000 men which included Army,Navy,Air force personnel and police force ,Rangers,Doctors Nurses Orderlies ,clerks Sweepers etc.The Indian Govt had planned to shift all the eight divisions ,Air force and Navy to West Pakistan borders after taking over Dhaka which Pak Army could not have held for more than a month...as no help was coming from West Pakistan ,because Yahya ordered an Offensive attack on the western border on the third of December with out informing Gen Niazi and that gave Indian Army the chance to declare open war thus cutting off all the contacts of East Pakistan with West Pakistan, although Gen Niazi had requested them to wait for the monsoons when the rivers are over flowing and would have created difficulties for the Indians to attack,although they knew that because of the snow on the Chinese borders in Dec the additional Indian division would join in the Eastern Border. Pak Govt was hoping China would come to help Pak Army in the East , but China did not intervene and same was the case with the most promised America's seventh Fleet.What would have happened to West Pakistan if Gen Niazi had not surrendered.?i ask all the Citizens , Pakistan Armed Forces and the Politicians of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,was the Eastern Command {Gen Niazi} ONE MAN ARMY ??? was he so powerful that G H Q could not handle him? .There were six other Generals present in East Pakistan ,if Niazi,s strategies were wrong , why didn't they took over,why was he not arrested ,there could have been a coup also .Gen Tikka was remover just after 15 days ,Gen Niazi was there for eight months..if he was a bad Commander how come in less than one month he had marked back the International Boundaries of East Pakistan , brought back all the Refugees from India and Foreign News Media men who were exiled by Tikka? What was he punished for ?why was he deprived of his hard earned Pension? why was he forced to vacate his residence when he had no place to move to as the residence he was building was being built at slow pace because of financial problems.....There are so many unanswered Questions ????????
6.
G Khan says:
December 1, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Lt Gen Niazi asked for an open trial so that he could clear his name and all the allegations of which he was falsely accused by Hamood Ur Rehman commission Report.He wrote several letters to the G H Q.....Presidents ,Prime Ministers,of every regime, from the day he came back from India, till the day he died,but his wish was denied.Orders were given by Mister Bhutto that get Niazi whether dead or alive when the General started coming out in the public, he was arrested when he was addressing a group in Hyderabad and was locked up in Sukkur jail for more than a year...It was a chance incident that when Mr Bhutto was arrested he was brought to the same jail,he sent several messages to Gen Niazi to meet him and said he was misled by his staff and people around him,but now he knew about the truth,that he was falsely accused,when we go out we will work out things together,but Gen Niazi refused to meet him , Allah Almighty is great ,there was a time when he refused to meet Niazi and now he was begging to meet him.When Gen Niazi was shifted to his residence in Lahore he was kept under house arrest by Gen Zia for no obvious reasons,not even his own children were allowed to meet him. What was he being punished for ? for saving his Country ?The Indian Armed Forces had planned that after taking over Dhaka which Pak Army at the most could have defended just for a month ,because they were outnumbered by Indian Army ,the ratio was one to eight,...with out proper arms and Ammunition Tanks Guns ,Air force and Navy .India had eight Divisions ,Air force with Vikrant used as a runway for the landing and take off of the Jets ,they had proper Navy ,there were two lack Mukti Bhannis who were helping them and the locals who were also helping them day and night and camouflaging them and giving them all the news about the movement of Pakistan Army ,and Indian Army had proper trained Frog Man by the Russians who were expert in under water swimming thus it was easy for them to cross rivers..Pakistan had 45000 men which included Army,Navy,Air force personnel and police force ,Rangers,Doctors Nurses Orderlies ,clerks Sweepers etc.The Indian Govt had planned to shift all the eight divisions ,Air force and Navy to West Pakistan borders after taking over Dhaka which Pak Army could not have held for more than a month...as no help was coming from West Pakistan ,because Yahya ordered an Offensive attack on the western border on the third of December with out informing Gen Niazi and that gave Indian Army the chance to declare open war thus cutting off all the contacts of East Pakistan with West Pakistan, although Gen Niazi had requested them to wait for the monsoons when the rivers are over flowing and would have created difficulties for the Indians to attack,although they knew that because of the snow on the Chinese borders in Dec the additional Indian division would join in the Eastern Border. Pak Govt was hoping China would come to help Pak Army in the East , but China did not intervene and same was the case with the most promised America\'s seventh Fleet.What would have happened to West Pakistan if Gen Niazi had not surrendered.?i ask all the Citizens , Pakistan Armed Forces and the Politicians of Islamic Republic of Pakistan,was the Eastern Command {Gen Niazi} ONE MAN ARMY ??? was he so powerful that G H Q could not handle him? .There were six other Generals present in East Pakistan ,if Niazi,s strategies were wrong , why didn\'t they took over,why was he not arrested ,there could have been a coup also .Gen Tikka was remover just after 15 days ,Gen Niazi was there for eight months..if he was a bad Commander how come in less than one month he had marked back the International Boundaries of East Pakistan , brought back all the Refugees from India and Foreign News Media men who were exiled by Tikka? What was he punished for ?why was he deprived of his hard earned Pension? why was he forced to vacate his residence when he had no place to move to as the residence he was building was being built at slow pace because of financial problems.....There are so many unanswered Questions ????????
7.
G Khan says:
December 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I would request the viewers to read ,,The Betrayal of East Pakistan ,, written in English and the Urdu version ,, Sana i mashraki Pakistan ,tasveer ka doosra Rukh in this copy Gen Niazi,s own view about Hamood ur Rehman commission report is added ,the books were written by Lt Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi...published by Oxford University Press..
8.
Rizwan hmad says:
January 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Bhutto, Mujeebur Rehman and Indra Gandhi were responsible for the break Up of Pakistan and what happened with all of them.

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