How a Paksitani military
official saw the events leading to the surrender
Salik, who was a PRO of Eastern
Command, Pakistan Army witnessed the communications
between the military in East Pakistan and
the West Pakistan in th early days of December
1971 and wrote the accounts in a book called
'Witness to Surrender'. We publish excerpts
from the last chapter called of his book.
Major-General Rahim, who
sustained minor injuries while fleeing from
Chandpur, was convalescing at General Farman's
residence after initial medical treatment.
He lay in a secluded part of the house.
Farman was with him. It was 12 December,
the ninth day of all-out war. Their minds
naturally turned to the most crucial subject
of the day. Is Dacca defensible? They had
a frank exchange of opinion. Rahim was convinced
that cease-fire alone was the answer. Farman
was surprised to hear this suggestion from
Rahim, who had always advocated a prolonged
and decisive war against India. He said
with a tinge of irony, 'Bus daney moock
gaey -- itni jaldi'. (Have you lost your
nerve -- so soon!) Rahim insisted that it
was already too late.
During the discussion, Lieutenant-General
Niazi and Major-General Jamshed entered
the room to see the 'wounded General'. Rahim
repeated the suggestion to Niazi, who showed
no reaction. Till then the expectation of
foreign help had not finally been extinguished.
Avoiding the subject, Farman slipped into
the adjoining room.
After spending some time
with Rahim, General Niazi walked into Farman's
room and said, 'Then send the signal to
Rawalpindi.' It appeared that he had accepted
General Rahim's advice, as he had always
done in peace-time. General Niazi wanted
Governor House to send the cease-fire proposal
to the President. Farman politely said that
the requisite signal should go from Head-quarters,
Eastern Command but General Niazi insisted,
'No, it makes little difference whether
the signal goes from here or from there.
I have, in fact, some important work elsewhere,
you send it from here.' Before Farman could
say 'no' again, Chief Secretary Muzaffar
Husain entered the room and, overhearing
the conversation, said to Niazi, 'You are
right. The signal can be sent from here'.
That resolved the conflict.
What General Farman opposed
was not the cease-fire proposal itself,
but the authority to sponsor it. His earlier
signal on the same subject had been rejected
by Rawalpindi -- once bitten, twice shy.
General Niazi disappeared to attend to his
'urgent work' while Muzaffar Husain drafted
the historic note. It was seen by Farman
and submitted to the Governor who approved
the idea and sent it to the President the
same evening (12 December). The note urged
Yahya Khan 'to do everything possible to
save the innocent lives.'
Next day the Governor and
his principal aides waited for order from
Rawalpindi, but the President seemed too
busy to take a decision. The following day
(14 December), for which a high level meeting
was fixed, three Indian MIGs attacked Governor
House at 11.15 a.m. and ripped the massive
roof of the main hall. The Governor rushed
to the air-raid shelter and scribbled out
his resignation. Almost all the inmates
of this seat of power survived the raid,
except for some fishes in a decorative glass
case. They restlessly tossed on the hot
rubble and breathed their last.
The Governor, his cabinet
and West Pakistani civil servants moved,
on 14 December, to the Hotel Intercontinental,
which had been converted into a 'Neutral
Zone' by the International Red Cross. The
West Pakistani VIPs included the Chief Secretary,
the Inspector-General of Police, the Commissioner,
Dacca Division, Provincial Secretaries and
a few others. They 'dissociated' themselves
in writing from the Government of Pakistan
in order to gain admittance to the neutral
zone, because anybody belonging to a belligerent
state was not entitled to Red Cross protection.
14 December was the last
day of the East Pakistan Government. The
debris of the Government and Governor House
were scattered. The enemy had only to neutralize
General Niazi and his disorganized forces
to complete the Caesarian birth of Bangladesh.
By now General Niazi, too, had lost all
hope of foreign help. He slumped back into
his earlier mood of despondency and hardly
came out of his fortified cabin. He rode
the chariot of time without controlling
its speed or direction.
He therefore conveyed the
factual position to the President (who was
also Commander-in-Chief) and keenly waited
for instructions. In my presence he rang
up General Hamid at night (13/14 December)
and said, "Sir, I have sent certain
proposals to the President. Could you kindly
see that some action is taken on them soon.'
The President of Pakistan and Chief Martial
Law Adm-inistrator found time from his multifarious
engagements and ordered the Governor and
General Niazi on the following day 'to take
all necessary measures to stop the fighting
and preserve lives.' His unclassified signal
to General Niazi said :
'Governor's flash message
to me refers. You have fought a heroic battle
against overwhelming odds. The nation is
proud of you and the world full of admiration.
I have done all that is humanly possible
to find an acceptable solution to the problem.
You have now reached a stage where further
resistance is no longer humanly possible
nor will it serve any useful purpose. It
will only lead to further loss of lives
and destruction. You should now take all
necessary measures to stop the fighting
and preserve the lives to armed forces personnel,
all those from West Pakistan and all loyal
elements. Meanwhile I have moved UN to urge
India to stop hostilities in East Pakistan
forthwith and to guarantee the safety of
armed forces and all other people who may
be the likely target of miscreants.'
This important telegram
originated from Rawalpindi at 1330 hours
on 14 December and arrived in Dacca at 1530
hours (East Pakistan Standard Time).
General Niazi, the same
evening, decided to initiate the necessary
steps to obtain a cease-fire. As an intermediary,
he first thought of Soviet and Chinese diplomats
but finally chose Mr. Spivack, the US Consul-General
in Dacca. General Niazi asked Major-General
Farman Ali to accompany him to Mr. Spivack
because, he, as Adviser to the Governor,
had been dealing with foreign diplomats.
When they reached Mr. Spivack's office Farman
waited in the ante-room while Niazi went
in. Farman could overhear General Niazi's
loud unsubtle overtures to win Spivack's
sympathies. When he thought that the 'friendship'
had been established, he asked the American
Consul to negotiate cease-fire terms with
the Indians for him. Mr. Spivack, spurning
all sentimentality, said in a matter of
fact fashion, 'I cannot negotiate a cease-fire
on your behalf. I can only send a message
if you like.'
General Farman was called
in to draft the message to the Indian Chief
of Staff (Army), General Sam Manekshaw.
He dictated a full-page note calling for
an immediate case-fire, provided the following
were guaranteed: the safety of Pakistan
Armed Forces and of paramilitary forces;
the protection of the loyal civilian population
against reprisals by Mukti Bahini; and the
safety and medical care of the sick and
As soon as the draft was
finalized, Mr. Spivack said, 'It will be
transmitted in twenty minutes'. General
Niazi and Farman returned to Eastern Command
leaving Captain Niazi, the aide-de-camp
to wait for the reply. He sat there till
10 pm but nothing happened. He was asked
to check later, 'before going to bed' No
reply was received during the night.
In fact, Mr. Spivack did
not transmit the message to General (later
Field-Marshal) Manekshaw. He sent it to
Washington, where the US Government tried
to consult Yahya Khan before taking any
action. But Yahya Khan was not available.
He was drowning his sorrows somewhere. I
learnt later that he had lost interest in
the war as early as 3 December and never
came to his office.
Manekshaw replied to the
note on 15 December saying that the cease
fire would be acceptable and the safety
of the personnel mentioned in the note would
be guaranteed provided the Pakistan Army
'surrenders to my advancing troops'. He
also gave the radio frequency on which Calcutta,
the seat of Indian Eastern Command, could
be contacted for co-ordination of details.
Manekshaw's message was
sent to Rawalpindi. The Chief of Staff of
the Pakistan Army replied by the evening
of 15 December saying, inter alia, 'Suggest
you accept the cease-fire on these terms
as they meet your requirements..... However,
it will be a local arrangement between two
commanders. If it conflicts with the solution
being sought at the United Nations, it will
be held null and void.'
The temporary cease-fire
was agreed from 5 pm on 15 December till
9 am the following day. It was later extended
to 3 pm, 16 December, to allow more time
to finalize cease-fire arrangements. While
General Hamid 'suggested' to Niazi that
he accept the cease-fire terms, the latter
took it as 'approval' and asked his Chief
of Staff, Brigadier Baqar, to issue the
necessary orders to the formations. A full-page
signal commended the 'heroic fight' by the
troops and asked the local commanders to
contact their Indian counterparts to arrange
the cease-fire. It did not say 'surrender'
except in the following sentence, 'Unfortunately,
it also involves the laying down of arms'.
It was already midnight
(15/16 December) when the signal was sent
out. About the same time, Lieutenant-Colonel
Liaquat Bokhari, Officer Commanding, 4 Aviation
Squadron, was summoned for his last briefing.
He was told to fly out eight West Pakistani
nurses and twenty-eight families, the same
night, to Akyab (Burma) across the Chittagong
Hill Tracts. Lieutenant-Colonel Liaquat
received the orders with his usual calm,
so often seen during the war. His helicopters,
throughout the twelve days of all-out war,
were the only means available to Eastern
Command for the transport of men, ammunition
and weapons to the worst hit areas. Their
odyssey of valour is so inspiring that it
cannot be summed up here.
Two helicopters left in
the small hours of 16 December while the
third flew in broad daylight. They carried
Major-General Rahim Khan and a few others,
but the nurses were left behind because
they 'could not be collected in time' from
their hostel. All the helicopters landed
safely in Burma and the passengers eventually
Back in Dacca, the fateful
hour drew closer. When the enemy advancing
from the Tangail side came near Tongi, he
was received by our tank fire. Presuming
that the Tongi-Dacca road was well defended,
the Indians side-stepped to a neglected
route towards Manikganj from where Colonel
Fazle Hamid had retreated in haste as he
had from Khulna on 6 December. The absence
of Fazle Hamid's troops allowed the enemy
free access to Dacca city from the north-west.
Brigadier Bashir, who was
responsible for the defence of the Provincial
Capital (excluding the cantonment), learnt
on the evening of 15 December that the Manekganj-Dacca
road was totally unprotected. He spent the
first half of the night in gathering scattered
elements of EPCAF, about a company strength,
and pushed them under Major Salamat to Mirpur
bridge, just outside the city. The commando
troops of the Indian Army, who were told
by the Mukti Bahini that the bridge was
unguarded, drove to the city in the small
hours of 16 December. By then Major Salamat's
boys were in position and they blindly fired
towards the approaching column. They claimed
to have killed a few enemy troops and captured
two Indian jeeps.
Major-General Nagra of 101
Communication Zone, who was following the
advance commando troops, held back on the
far side of the bridge and wrote a chit
for Lieutenant-General Amir Abdullah Khan
Niazi. It said : 'Dear Abdullah, I am at
Mirpur Bridge. Send your representative.'
Major-General Jamshed, Major-General
Farman and Rear-Admiral Shariff were with
General Niazi when he received the note
at about 9 am Farman, who still stuck to
the message for 'cease-fire negotiations',
said 'Is he (Nagra) the negotiating team?'
General Niazi did not comment. The obvious
question was whether he was to be received
or resisted. He was already on the threshold
Major-General Farman asked
General Niazi, 'Have you any reserves?'
Niazi again said nothing. Rear-Admiral Shariff,
translating it in Punjabi, said : 'Kuj palley
hai'? (Have you anything in the kitty?)
Niazi looked to Jamshed, the defender of
Dacca, who shook his head sideways to signify
'nothing'. 'If that is the case, then go
and do what he (Nagra) asks,' Farman and
Shariff said almost simultaneously.
General Niazi sent Major-General
Jamshed to receive Nagra. He asked our troops
at Mirpur Bridge to respect the cease-fire
and allow Nagra a peaceful passage. The
Indian General entered Dacca with a handful
of soldiers and a lot of pride. That was
the virtual fall of Dacca. It fell quietly
like a heart patient. Neither were its limbs
chopped nor its body hacked. It just ceased
to exist as an independent city. Stories
about the fall of Singapore, Paris or Berlin
were not repeated here.
16th December is our victory
day. In 1971 this day marked the victory
of the Bengali nationalism, victory of the
people of Bangladesh and also the victory
of our friends around the world who actively
helped and supported us in times of our
needs. Apart from the geo-political war-game
and real-time ground situations, it was
the victory of liberty and freedom in true
sense of the term.
Unlike many countries of
the world, the day the defeated enemy surrendered
was not the day of our independence; it
was the day of our victory. Because our
independence was declared on 26th March
1971 long before 16 Dec 1971. As such, with
the signing of the instrument of surrender
between Gen Niazi of Pakistan and Gen Arora
of India, not that we became independent,
rather this occasion resulted into our victory.
No one can say that our independence was
a gift from anybody or, for that matter,
any country. We were already an independent
nation with distinct borders and national
esteem, but under the forceful occupation
of the enemy. Of course we recognise with
earnest gratefulness that others did help
us in attaining victory much earlier than
it was expected to fight-out alone. In fact,
nine months seem to be a considerably short
period to defeat Pakistani occupation forces,
which enjoyed the support of number of major
powers of the world, to name China and America.
May be, without an extensive and close support
from our big neighbour our struggle to be
free from the occupation forces could have
taken longer. The moment we achieved victory
an extra responsibility befell us: to stand
up as an independent nation, with dignity,
honour and respect. This responsibility
lies even today on every individual citizen
of this country, Bangladesh. To render our
humble service to that end we must first
stand united. On the question of national
interest we should leave our minor political
differences under the carpet and display
a united force internally. In present-day
world, technological and economic advantage
has taken over the past position of egocentric
ignorance, and hence the backwardness. For
us the national motto should be 'unity'.
In 1969-70 we stood against the repressive
regime of President Ayub Khan united. We
stood united to repair the damages of devastating
cyclone of 12th November 1970 in the southern
part of our country. Once again we need
to display the force of unity to develop
the quality of life in today's Bangladesh.
Externally we shouldn't
fail to identify our friends and well-wishers
in the world arena, in view of the geo-political
environment and individual state-interest.
However, our own national security and national
interest must be at the top of the agenda.
Towards that goal two of the best sons of
our country proved their prudence, on the
points and policies the country faced at
their time. Of course, today a few may question
those actions, whereas at large they proved
to be correct. Let me cite very sketchy
It's on record that our
first president Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman wasted no time in declaring general
amnesty towards those who opposed our independence
and liberation struggle, almost all the
Islamic and most of the leftist parties.
He wanted joint-hands and undivided human
resources to indulge in the reconstruction
of the newborn nation. Then, on the external
front he joined the OIC conference at Lahore
in 1973 at the invitation of the eminent
leaders of the Islamic world. But what many
don't know is that, long before the conference,
he took the initiative to dispatch his personal
envoys to the leading Muslim countries to
create a pressure on Pakistan to recognise
Bangladesh, making it possible for Bangabandhu
to visit Pakistan to attend the OIC conference.
In an almost similar way we found President
Ziaur Rahman accommodating people in his
cabinet and party, who had clear controversial
role during the War of Liberation, he being
a valiant freedom fighter and a war-leader
himself. He wanted to forgive and forget
the past for the sake of organising an efficient
team to work aiming at the nation's prosperity.
On the other front, with an effective and
useful foreign policy he established a much
closer relationship with the OIC countries
(particularly the middle-east states) and
big powers (China and USA) that mostly sided
with our enemy during the liberation struggle.
Indeed, these policies of the two great
leaders proved to be enormously beneficial
for our nation, in the long run. It was
indeed the question of setting the priorities:
present national interest and future prospect
over the internal politics and difference
of the past. We can still follow such examples
and forget minor differences of internal
politics for the sake of greater national
It is true that we have
a large population with a comparatively
small landmass, having no natural resources
like oil, gold, diamond or minerals. We
have a backdated agro-based economy and
enough potential for recurrent natural disasters.
We are helpless prey to artificially created
floods and droughts directly contributed
by our big neighbour. We have other problems
too. We are burdened with poverty complemented
with social hazards of multidirectional
and deep-rooted corruption. In addition
there are spills and spoils of regional
illegal trades (of drugs, small-arms etc)
and cross-border corruption. We are in the
transit route of the notorious 'golden-triangle',
it is said. We can't get rid of them in
a single swift move. We need to contain,
reduce and finally eradicate them to allow
our nation to prosper.
We have problems of illiteracy,
insufficient health-care, inefficient governing
machinery and immoral leaders in the society.
Our united efforts should now be directed
against these factors. It's not the blame-game
that will rescue us from the ditch that
we are pitted in. It's the co-operation
and understanding and relentless effort
towards tending democracy to give it sustenance.
The only viable way to get relief from all
the negative situations is to expand and
strengthen our educational and technological
base and thrive for a stronger economy.
The vast manpower that we have needs to
be turned into 'useful people', through
useful education, IT training and quality
development, instead of 'hungry millions'.
We should be able to export people useful
for the rest of the world and in turn increase
the country's size virtually, when the real
one is so over-crowded and small for one
hundred and forty million.