Dacca Fall: A wound that still hurts!

Editor’s Note: Dacca Fell. So did the hearts of all Pakistanis. Each year , December 16th haunts the nation. Those who witnessed it,live today,to recount the tale. Read on also  the 1971 Chronicle: http://changinguppakistan.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/visiting-dhakas-1971-liberation-war-museum/

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By: Col. Riaz Jafri(R)

December 16 comes every year to haunt the nation, particularly those few remaining who were witness to the debacle. I had the misfortune to be one. On this day the Quaid’s Pakistan, which was considered an epitome of ‘Divided we Stand’, was actually divided by breaking loose all bonds of unity between the two wings. That day the largest Muslim army suffered  the  ignominious humiliation of the greatest defeat. This was the darkest day of our national history that stunned everyone. How did it happen?  Equipped with the hindsight knowledge, I will try to reconstruct some of the sad saga.

In early July 1971 I was posted to East Pakistan as the Principal Staff Officer (GSO-1) to late Major General Rao Farman Ali Khan – in charge Martial Law (Civil Affairs). In my such capacity I was more or less responsible for the Civil Administration of the Province and had the opportunity of seeing the events unfolding themselves from the vantage viewpoint of the Governor House, Dacca – the then epicentre of the entire activity in East Pakistan. I had also access to the events of the past buried in the files which kept popping up randomly during my daily official work there. This all presented me with a fairly clear picture of all that was happening there and why.

If I am asked who to blame for the debacle I would say that we were all – from the common man in the street to the highest person in the office, equally responsible for it. The common man for committing the sin of keeping himself ignorant of the under currents simmering there ever since that fateful 19th day of March 1948 when Quaid raising his admonishing finger to the Bengali students at the Dacca University convocation had warned them that Urdu will be the only official state language of Pakistan, and not trying to assess the anguish caused to the Bengalis and take measures to bring any rapprochement. The highest in authority were guilty of being too greedy, power hungry and selfish. Unfortunately we all treated East Pakistan as a colony and never granted them their justly deserved status of being the major human organ of Pakistan’s body – 54 percent of the population. As power barons of the Federal government mostly hailed from West Pakistan they never shared the power willingly or happily with their Bengali brethren. Imagine, the Bengalis though in majority going jubilant in 1956 when Suhrawardy got them ‘parity’ (equal treatment) with the West Pakistanis! Ever heard of a majority people thanking obligingly the minority people for treating them equal?! We did it again in 1971. The minority pronouncing the majority unpatriotic, traitor and secessionist! Minority forcing the majority to leave the country whose foundations they had laid in 1906!  Not only, that the Bengalis were treated as unequals, but it is also a fact  that they were the major revenue earner for Pakistan, mainly through the export of their Golden Fibre to Manchester and Dundee jute mills in the UK. They bore the major financial burden of Pakistan and happily too for more than 15 years and until 1962 the cash flow was from East Pakistan to West Pakistan. Thereafter, after an equilibrium of about two years the process revers ed but not that heavily. Bengalis had, therefore, every reason to be chary of and chagrin with the sala Punzabis. (every West Pakistani was a Punjabi to them). Though the Bengalis proved themselves to be equally, if not more, patriotic than the West Pakistanis during the 65 war with India, yet the state of mutual confidence between the two left more to be desired. By 1971 the relations deteriorated further and irreversibly.

The last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was Bhutto’s rejection of 1970 election results which had given Shaikh Mujib ur Rehman’s Awami League a clear cut majority to form the government at the centre.  ZAB’s one after the other statements like “we will break the legs of anyone going to Dacca to attend the NA session there”, “Udhar tum idhar hum” and “I would rather be a top dog of half of Pakistan than be an underdog of full Pakistan” left little doubt in the minds of Mujib and company who opted for the Civil Disobedience in the province. Their provincial autonomy stance kept becoming harder by the day and all negotiations between them and the West Pakistani leaders and the Federal government led by Gen.Yahya himself failed. The civil disobedience had transformed itself into an outright mutiny and to quell it the army struck on the night of 25th March 1971, starting an internecine guerrilla war between the military and Mukti Bahini lasting for 8 long months. On 21st November 1971 – Eid Day – the Indians launched a fully fledged armed attack on East Pakistan which lasted for 26 days of intense fighting by the  Pakistan army under extremely adverse conditions of (1) being badly out-numbered in men and material – 3 Indian Corps’ against one and that too lame, under-strength and ill equipped, no tanks, very little artillery – only the infantry and a battalion of Engineers, (2) hostility of the local populace – no army can fight without the support of the civilians, but here what to talk of the support the civil populace was totally hostile, supporting the Indians by providing them with  the crucial  intelligence needed by them, (3) poor communications and logistics – no reinforcements or arms and equipment could be supplied from West Pakistan. India had stopped the over flights since February 70 after the clever and clandestine planting of Ganga episode, (4) lack of air cover – the only squadron of the F-86s that we had could not operate as the runway of the only military airport Kurmi Tola had been rendered out of operation by the Indians bombing it incessantly. If anything, under such impossible conditions, it goes to the credit of the army that it could fight for over nine months in East Pakistan.

In the second half of the year 1971 those in power – both civil and military – seemed to be suffering from a stupor and behaving like silent spectators waiting helplessly for the catastrophe to fall. I distinctly remember Major General A Rahim Khan – later Secretary General Defence, while addressing a batch of newly posted two dozen Lt Cols and Majors to East Pakistan saying on or around 11 July 1971 “Gentlemen, the entire administration of the province had collapsed. I have made it stand but only on its knees.  Now it will be for you to make it stand and stand it erect.”  Having said that the General went on to add, “I have given my word to the Chief (Gen. Yahya) to give me three months for the task, and if I cannot do it, he can — (I murmured under my lip, hang me!) he can – replace me”. I was shocked that the general had equated the stakes simply to his being replaced! There would be nothing in three months to replace him for !! On another occasion Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi – alias Tiger Niazi – the GOC Eastern Command as late as in October 71, before the start of a special briefing to the visiting high powered army team from the GHQ on the latest military situation in East Pakistan, advised his senior staff officers not to depress the visiting generals from the GHQ by giving them the dismal military picture of East Pakistan or ask them for more troops. He quipped, “gentlemen, if they send us more troops – more the merrier, but if they don’t – lesser the better”. With the result that the operational military map on the board showed more of ‘Green’ pins  all over the area than the ‘Red’ pins depicting the area under Mukti Bahini control. Whereas the map should have been clustered with the Red pins. The GHQ team returned satisfied about all being hunky-dory in East Pakistan. Similar ‘Sab Achha’ reports kept ema nating from various sectors and parts of East Pakistan to West Pakistan, till the water passed over the head. But by then it was too late for any political solution that the likes of  Gen. Farman were advocating from the beginning but being too junior in the army hierarchy were not given due importance. To a few others it was a case of misplaced egoistic valour – not to be dubbed as having been  ‘chickened out’ in the army parlance. The true information was not only denied to the common man in West Pakistan but even to those at the helm also.

Handling of the East Pakistan issue at the International level, too, was a fiasco on our part. Not that we did not mobilise any world opinion in our favour, we on the contrary rather alienated them mostly. On the other hand Indira undertook a whirlwind tour of 19 countries in October 1971 propagating the imaginary atrocities against the Bengalis and particularly the Hindus of East Pakistan and yet assuring each one of them that India had no intentions of aggression. Ironically, while she was convincing and canvassing the world powers, her army’s Eastern Command was giving the final touches to the Attack Plan in Fort William at the eastern bank of river Hoogli, Calcutta.  Whereas in our case despite Nixon’s more or less ordering  Kissinger to ‘do some thing’ their 7th Fleet just passed by the Bay of Bengal without even radioing the customary courtesy good will message or tooting its horns thrice the Navy style. I am personally witn ess to the Chinese repeated enquiries as to what could they do for us, after we had established am emergency radio link with them? But all that we could get from the stupor struck President’s Secretariat at Rawalpindi was, “Just wait, please”. Hopes from the sincere Chinese friends were so high that when the Indian para troopers chuted down over Narain Ganj every one waived them jubilantly taking them to be Chinese coming to our aid! Our Eastern Command  had a morbid fear of the Indians capturing a piece of land and  passing  it on to the Muktis to plant a flag there and declare it to be the Bangla Desh. The Indians would recognise it instantly thus giving birth to Bangla Desh. Consequently the troops were spread in a thin line all along the border that weakened the defence all over. There was no depth, no reserves, no second lines. There was enemy (Indians) in the front and enemy at the back (Muktis).They never realised that it was not the l oss of any territory but the fall of the capital of a country that mattered.  It had to be the Warsaw, the Paris, the Moscow, the Berlin and in our case Dacca that until captured the country would not fall. If they had only concentrated all the troops in Dacca, made a fortress out of it and held it for months, which they could do, the East Pakistan story would have been different today. Agreed, the Bangla Desh would have still come into being but  instead of taking birth in battle field it would have come into being on a negotiating table. Negotiations by the world powers and probably the UNO itself and Pakistan would not have had to suffer the ignominy of the defeat.

NOTE:The writer is a a retired Pak Army Colonel based in Rawalpindi.

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  • Shahbaz  On December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    sad but true

    Muhammad Shahbaz Thuthaal

  • khan saheb  On December 13, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Dear Col Jafri

    AoA and greetings from Boston.

    Over the years, like most people, I too have read many articles on the shameful great fall. I compliment you on your article which, coming from the person who has witnessed it all, I found very engaging. Even in my young tarang days, I always been ashamed to call the tragic events of East Pakistan a “war” simply because it was not being fought with another nation or enemy. This was a war within – where we had become our own enemies and virtually engineered the surgical operation, which could have been avoided, if we really wanted to.

    I could not find anything in your article which was factually and historically incorrect, but there appeared to be light-weight reference and at times complete omission of certain key undeniable elements, as we look at the tragedy exactly 40 years later.

    * The role of General Yahya and his instructions to Gen Niazi.
    * Zero reference of the main mastermind – ZA Bhutto.
    * The amazing and galvanized spirit of the Mukti Bahini.
    * Your overly protective and defensive posture to Rao Farman. The majority think differently of the (double) role he played.
    * No reference or mention of Hamoodur Rahman Comission Report
    * The brilliance of General Moeen Ahmed, from PAF Sargodha, specially his last 4 years serving the BD army (2005-2009)
    * How Dhaka (name changed from Dacca in 1982), a city of 15 million, has become a role model for emerging countries, while Pakistan (and its large cities) continue to take one step forward and two back.

    Bangladeshis get an extra holiday than Pakistanis, something truly well deserved. Freedom from Pakistan, Liberation Day (Vijay Diwas) on December 16th is celebrated there with more pomp and spark than August 14th, for the independence from the British. This comparative observation is glaringly obvious.

    Pakistanis spend a lot of time comparing and dabbling things with India – effectively comparing apples with watermelons. If somebody is willing to call a spade a spade, check out what Bangladesh has accomplished in 40 years and the city, whose tragic fall you have written about, has actually emerged much stronger and enhanced and is now ranked the 9th largest in the world. The country itself is a role-model of development for dozens of developing countries.

    Pakistan should not be worrying any more about the spilt milk of December 16th 1971. Let the Bangladeshis celebrate a well-deserved liberation. 40 years on, Pakistan should be worried to death about not loosing what little is left of itself!


  • Faisal Imam  On December 13, 2011 at 2:41 am

    a good account of fall of Dacca from his point of view.

    What did we learn from it?

  • Dr Anwar  On December 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Bismillah hir Rahman nir Raheem

    Assalamo Alaikum

    16th December MUST NOT be forgotten. We must implement Hamoodur Rahman Report in letter and spirit. I thought 16th December was the lowest point in our history; but drone attacks, facilitating kuffar to kill our Muslim brothers and sisters, Raymond Davs, Altaf Hussain, Handing over of Dr. Aafia and her children and Veena Malik and aman ki aasha are even the worse. The living nations do not forget their history. By Allah we must keep the wound of 16th December alive and let not repeat the history and we must take revenge this not only from India but also from all those forces and sources which facilitated all this darkest event.

    Anwar Ul Haque

  • Raja Mujtaba  On December 14, 2011 at 4:22 am

    Hamoodur Rahman commission was not given the full mandate, it was only to look into army operation or failure, whereas the greater failure was the political one that has never been discussed in the light of facts.

    Raja Mujtaba

    • Dr Anwar  On December 14, 2011 at 4:23 am

      Bismillah hir Rahman nirr Raheem

      Assalamo Alaikum

      It is not army versus civilian. We must do strict ahtesab of all and take corrective measures. Bhutto did not accept mandate and led to loss of half Pakistan and yet made P.M. and hero! Sind card is always used which amount to outright disloyalty to Islam and Pakistan. Why is this? Lack of adherence to Quran and Sunnah (Path) of the Prophet (PBUH). Whatever, whoever did it must account for it.
      How Yahya Khan, Musharraf, Niazi etc. etc. go to such high positions in Pakistan Army, Air force and Navy. How Qadyani being a product of Zionists and with deep friendship with India and Israel are made Naval Chief? Secretary Foreign and Interior Minister, we must probe in all these and have to bring the answer. We need an army of Khalid bin Walid, Slahuddin Ayyubi, Tariq bin Zyad, Muhammad bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznawi.
      Why Insaaf is not provided free in less than a week which is quite possible. In Malaysia with same British type of system justice is far cheaper and quicker. hardly any case is hanging there. When we were sent by Nawaz Sharif to study this system there developed a crisis in country with active participation of PPP and Syed Sajjad Hussain Shah. The courts should be quick with all proceedings in Urdu with no involvement of lawyers. Islam does not allow detention of people. Jails must be abolished all together. Punishments must be quick ad swift as was done in the time of Khulafa e Rashdeen. Hazrat Ali (a.s.)’s example as Qazi must be adopted. Lets make this commitment this 16th December. With quick justice, crimes will be reduced to very low level insha Allah.
      How sad is that for doctors, engineers and even drivers we need CVs, experience, honesty and references but for much more responsible job of State affairs, nothing is required. Allah’s curse on such so called democracy! Lets have new system where only competent, willing and honest persons with solid past records be elected and selected.
      How can a person have “immunity” against all crimes? Is Pakistani President a god who is not answerable for any crime. How stupid is our courts, lawyers and civil society who accept such things. Is president above all human rights?????? India despite having such clause has never interpreted this in a fashion which PPP is trying to force down the throat of Pakistani people. USA and allied even tried to allow Musharraf to be elected from an expired assembly and our “Honest media” actively supported in this by hiding the objections.
      Lets us stand up! But wait before we stand up we should have strength for standing up; our feet must be firmly placed. For this we require Quran e Majeed’s adoption and grilling and drilling as happened with the companions of the Prophet (PBUH). If we are sincere lets start today with learning Quranic Arabic, making our salah i.e. meeting with Allah alive with bilateral communications.

      Anwar Ul Haque

  • Arif  On December 14, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Dearest YAA Please Tell me why the PPP and PMLN LIE SO much about their own Army especially Qamar Zaman Khaira, I saw him on Ary Lying about surrender of 93,000 SOLDIERS in Dacca started by that Lying Sack of Shit Z A Bhutto, When according to all my research there were 3 Divvisions of not more than 45,000 Soldiers and the Rest were “Civilians under protective Custody” Family members, Nais, Dhobis, Teachers, Malis, Naukar Chakars and their Famililies.. This LIE was Started by Ass Hole Z A Bhutto to humilaite the army, because of Ayub Khan and Zia Ul Haq did not forget this and Hung the Bastard Arif Khan

  • Freda Shah  On December 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    It was a very deep wound that did not heal. My husband was part of the team that was in charge of the defence of Dacca. He died two years ago, bitter and agonized till the end at being made to surrender. He, like many other honourable men, were victims of poor, incompetent, debauched leadership.

  • Tahir M. Raja Munnoo  On December 16, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Do we realize what we actually lost………………Think !!!!!!

  • Unknown  On December 16, 2011 at 8:43 am

    My siincere sypathies for Ms Freda Shah !!!

    Back here we tried to punish those who were responsible , but succeeded only partially. Looking back , our effort turned out to be more of a “Hara-Keri” than any thing more constructive. Later, others (like Gen. Tajammul , and even others) also tried but to no avail. Only more sacrifices of very patriotic, very up-right and very capable individuals.
    I suppose Lady-Destiny wanted us to end up with Zardari and the likes of Babar Awan, Rehman Malik, Hussain Haqani. Who knows !!!

  • Adam King  On December 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    OMG, do you see whats going on in Syria? In spite of a brutal government crackdown, the demonstrations continue

  • Sagheer Ahmed  On December 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    Yes it will continue to hurt only to then generation who faced the situation in 1971, either in the battle field or as a civilian supporting their Armed Forces and had Pakistaniat.I remember that I was Captain and was in the battle field in Norwal Sector and in the evening of Cease Fire , my self and my comrade soldiers were weeping as our near and dear one has died.There was no one to condole us.The morale of the troops was high and wanted to fight back from the western border bu politicians and Generals were not interested except one and that is Brigadier.F.B.Ali and we all young officers of our sector with him.But it could not happened.There is a big WHY.
    Any how coming back to the article written by the Colonel.I will just say that he has very correctly said that we all in West Pakistan are responsible for the separation of the East Pakistan.The truth is that the foundation of Bangladesh was laid by Qaid -e-Azam him self when he declared that Urdu will be the only national language of Pakistan.
    Major(R) Sagheer Ahmed

  • emad  On May 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    The writer is a prisoner of war and war criminal – the writing is full of lies


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