Pakistan's own Hamoodur Rahman Commission found “sufficient evidence” to try the top army generals, including Yahya Khan, for committing atrocities in Bangladesh but Bhutto kept the report under wraps to save the face of the powerful army and satisfy his own hunger for power.
Pakistan had a chance to try the 195 army officers who committed crimes against humanity in 1971 and come out clean as a moral, conscientious country befitting the modern world.
But Pakistan did not take this path because of the power hungry role that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto played before and after the war and the pressure from its own military establishment which thought trying the officers would undermine the image of army which controlled that country's politics and power almost from its birth in 1947.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission, that was set up in 1971 after the war in the face of insistent public demand to try those responsible for the defeat of the Pakistan army, in the war report had specifically recommended trial of the senior army commanders who brought “disgrace and defeat to Pakistan.” The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report was kept under wraps and finally declassified by the Government of Pakistan in the year 2000.
It also recognized the atrocities that the Pakistan army had committed, something Pakistan now denies.
The report's explosive observations
“The government of Pakistan should set a high-powered Court of Inquiry to investigate these allegations and to hold trials of those who indulged in these atrocities, brought a bad name to the Pakistan Army and alienated the sympathies of the local population by their acts of wanton cruelty and immorality against our own people,” the Commission candidly commented in its report.
It said such a court of inquiry should be publicly announced so as to satisfy national conscience and international opinion.
The Commission observed: “The commission feels that sufficient evidences is now available in Pakistan for a fruitful inquiry to be undertaken in this regard (atrocities). As the Government of Bangladesh has been recognised by Pakistan it may be feasible to request the Dacca authorities to forward to this Court of Inquiry whatever evidence may be available with them.”
About the Pakistan army's atrocities in 1971, the commission observed: “No amount of provocation by the militants of the Awami League or other miscreants could justify retaliation by a disciplined army against its own people. The Pakistan army was called upon to operate in Pakistan territory, and could not, therefore, be permitted to behave as if it was dealing with external aggression or operating on enemy soil. Irrespective, therefore, of the magnitude of the atrocities, we are of the considered opinion that it's necessary for the Government of Pakistan to take effective action to punish those who were responsible for the commission of these alleged excesses and atrocities.”
Commission mentions persons to be tried
The Commission said the following army officers “ought to be tried” by court martial for their role in the 1971 war:
Lt Gen AAK Niazi, commander Eastern Command; Maj Gen Mohammad Jamshed, ex-GOC (ad hoc) 36 Division Dacca; Maj Gen Rahim Khan, ex GOC 39 ( ad hoc) Division Dacca; Brig Gen Baqir Siddiqui, former COS, Eastern Command; Brig Mohammad Hayat, former commander; 107 brigade and Brig Mohammad Aslam Niazi, former COD, 53 brigade.
It wanted further inquiry into the “allegations of personal immorality, drunkenness and indulgence in corrupt practices” against Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Abdul Hamid Khan and Maj Gen Khuda Dad Khan.
The Commission report gave a quick but telling glimpse of the activities of the army when it observed that inquiry should be launched on “allegation of indulging in large scale looting of property in East Pakistan including theft of Rs 1.35 crore from the National Bank Treasury at Sirajganj persistently made against Brig Jahanzeb Arbab, former commander 57 brigade, Lt Col Muzaffar Ali Zahid, former C0 31 Field Regiment, Lt Col Basharat Ahmed, former Commander 18 Punjab, Lt Col Mohammad Taj, former CO 32 Punjab, Lt Col Mohammad Tufail, former CO 5 Field Regiment and Major Madad Hussain Sha of 18 Punjab.”
The report also showed the lascivious moral character of Pak officers by stating “Inquiry is also necessary into the allegation made against Brig Hayatullah that he entertained some women in his bunker in the Maqbulpur sector West Pakistan on the night of the 11th and 12th December, when Indian shells were failing on his troops.”
The commission felt that firm and proper action would not only satisfy the nation's demand for punishment where it is deserved, but would also ensure any future recurrence of the kind of “shameful conduct displayed during the 1971 war”.
It then made this explosive recommendation: “That General Yahya Khan, General Abdul Hamid Khan, Lt Gen SGMM Pirzada, Lt Gen Gul Hasan, Maj Gen Umar and Maj Gen Mitha should be publicly tried for being party to a criminal conspiracy to illegally usurp power from FM Mohammad Ayub Khan in power if necessary by the use of force.”
It is, however, clear that the final and overall responsibility must rest on General Yahya Khan, Lt Gen Pirzada, Major Gen Umar, Maj Gen Mitha. It has been brought out in evidence that Major Gen Mitha was particularly active in East Pakistan in the days preceding the military action of the 25th of March, 1971, and even the other Generals just mentioned were present in Dacca along with Yahya Khan, and secretly departed there on the evening of that fateful day after fixing the deadline for the military action. Maj Gen Mitha is said to have remained behind. There is also evidence that Lt. Gen Tikka Khan, Major Gen Farman Ali and Major Gen Khadim Hussain were associated with the planning of the military action.
The immediate responsibility for executing the plan of this action fell on Lt Gen Tikka Khan who succeeded Lt Gen Mohammad Yakub on the 7th March 1971 as Zonal Administrator Martial Law as well as Commander Eastern Command. This last responsibility was passed on to him from Lt Gen Niazi on the 7th of April 1971.
WHY THE COMMISSION WAS FORMED
The defeat in the war caused a huge uproar in Pakistan because its people believed it had a very competent military to crush any nation leave aside the Mukti Bahini. And so when Pakistan meekly put down its arms to the Joint Forces of Mukti Fouz and Indian Army, the delusional Pakistanis were shaken by this event.
AAK Niazi, who surrendered to the Joint Forces in 1971 and who was a chief patron of the atrocity and whose trial the Commission sought, wrote in his book, The betrayal of East Pakistan: “The Nation, ill-prepared for the shock, was stupefied. Its expectations were fragmented and its pride scarred. Tempers ran high and sentiment reached fever-pitch. The message was restless. Their anger had to be cooled.”
The demand of the Pakistanis was to hang the “traitors.” The people came out on the streets on December 20, 1971, just four days after the defeat of their army on December 16 in Dhaka.
In a press conference Bhutto was asked, “Will Yahiya be tried?”
Bhutto replied, “Those who were asking for the trial of the traitors had already been defeated in the 1970 elections.”
When told that the nation wanted it, he said, “I will not be a party to it.”
Niazi further wrote: “The demand of the public was too overwhelming to be ignored. Procrastination would have placed Bhutto in a vulnerable position. He had to ease out of this dilemma to establish his credentials.”
So on December 24, 1971, he ordered the formation of the commission headed by Pakistan chief justice Hamoodur Rahman.
“The formation of the commission was hailed by all and sundry” General Niazi wrote.
FATE OF THE COMMISSION REPORT
When the Commission submitted its report in July 1972, Bhutto found it too hot to handle because all the army top brass were held responsible for the atrocities. Army was too entrenched in Pakistan politics to be angered by holding trial of its senior generals.
Extracts of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report have been released some thirty-three years later and still raise question about the "strategic delusions" and "character" of Pakistan's generals.
Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador and also adviser to Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, in his book Pakistan: Between mosque and military wrote: “To avoid embarrassing the army, Bhutto kept secret the report of an inquiry commission examining the loss of East Pakistan. The release of the report soon after Pakistan's split would have been devastating for Pakistan's army. By withholding the report, Bhutto did the military a favor.”
At the same time Bangladesh was intent on the trial of the 195 POWs and that had put new pressure on Pakistan politics and mounted a challenge to Bhutto.
“The more suspicious minds in the military worried that Bhutto would give a wink and nod to such trials as means of discrediting the generals who had plotted to keep him out of power, but Bhutto apparently had no such intention,” Haqqani wrote.
The generals did not have to worry because Bhutto swept the report under the carpet and Pakistan's own commitment to try its generals for atrocities remained a false public statement forever.