Victory Day Today: Freedom dawns
It was like a radiant dawn shining after a long and dreadful night. The cool wind of freedom was blowing in mid-December 1971.
The fear and anxiety that had gripped the nation over the previous nine months were fading away as the hope of victory and freedom steadily took hold.
The guerrillas of Mukti Bahini entered Dhaka city and took position in various spots. At the same time the Indian forces reached the outskirts of the city with their armour, all but bringing the occupying Pakistan army to their knees.
Since the joint forces started a fast and decisive attack in early December 1971, fighter planes kept circling overhead for bombardment and there were mandatory blackouts at night.
Leaflets with calls to "lay down arms before the time runs out" were dropped from planes of the joint forces and such calls were also reiterated through radios, while Pakistani forces were losing all hope of foreign help and their morale dropped to zero.
Around 1:00pm on December 16, Lieutenant General JFR Jacob, chief of staff of India's Eastern Army, reached the headquarters of Pakistani forces to discuss the issue of surrender.
Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, the military commander of Pakistan's Eastern Command, received Jacob.
"Col [MH] Khara read out the terms of surrender. There was dead silence in the room, as tears streamed down Niazi's cheeks. The others in the room became fidgety," Jacob wrote in his book titled "Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation".
Pakistani forces expected that the document would be on conditions of cease fire and evacuation under arrangements of the UN.
Major General Rao Farman Ali objected to surrendering to the Indian and Bangladeshi forces. Niazi said what Jacob was asking him to sign was unconditional surrender.
Jacob assured that they would be treated as soldiers with due dignity and the Geneva Convention would be honoured strictly, and that there would be respect for all ethnic minorities.
"These guarantees and clauses in the instrument of surrender are unique and are not found in any other surrender documents," Jacob wrote.
Niazi passed the document to the others to study. They wanted some changes. Jacob reiterated that the terms were already very generous and walked out of the room, leaving the Pakistanis to deliberate.
"I asked him [Niazi] if the document was acceptable. He handed it back to me without comment. I took this as acceptance," Jacob said.
Then the two parties discussed the modalities of the surrender. Niazi said he would like it to take place in his office.
Jacob told him that the surrender ceremony would take place at the Ramna Race Course, now Suhrawardy Udyan.
He felt it would be appropriate to have a public surrender in full view of the people of Dhaka who had suffered so terribly.
Niazi argued that this was not appropriate.
Jacob said Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, commander of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, also chief of the joint Bangladesh and India forces, would be given a guard of honour by detachments of the Indian and Pakistani armies.
After that Aurora and Niazi would sign the documents. Niazi would then surrender his sword, proposed Jacob.
When Niazi said he did not have a sword, Jacob said that Nazi would surrender his pistol.
Niazi seemed unhappy but kept silent.
"I again took this as acceptance," Jacob said.
In his book "The Betrayal of East Pakistan", Niazi wrote that among the generals, Farman's demeanor underwent a dramatic change.
The guilt and weakness he had displayed during the hours of crisis seemed to disperse. Farman's participation in the drastic military action on March 25 had aroused animosity and seething anger among Bangalees, who wanted to punish him for his crimes against them. He was also blamed for a massacre and fearing reprisals, he wanted to escape.
"I felt indignant and agitated, for the Indian proposal was inadequate, failing to highlight the measures for the safe custody of the [Pakistani] civilians [in Bangladesh]," Niazi wrote.
Niazi put forward two conditions: that the Pakistan troops would retain their personal arms for their own protection and that of the Pakistani civilians until adequate Indian troops were available to arrange their security in Dhaka; and that all Pakistani civilians will not be left at the mercy of the Bangalees.
Jacob readily agreed to the first demand, but argued that the civilians would have to stay in Bangladesh until swapped with the Bangalees stranded in camps in erstwhile West Pakistan.
After the discussion, Niazi went to Dhaka airport to receive Jagjit Singh Aurora.
Siddik Salik, the then public relations officer of the Pakistan army, in his book "Witness to Surrender" said that in the early afternoon, Niazi gave Jagjit a military salute and shook hands.
"It was a touching sight. The victor and the vanquished stood in full view of the Bengalees, who made no secret of their extreme sentiments of love and hatred for Aurora and Niazi respectively."
In the group of people with Auora, there was Group Captain AK Khandaker, deputy chief of staff, Bangladesh forces, who represented the Mukti Bahini in the surrender ceremony.
Khandaker travelled with Aurora in his jeep to the Ramna Race Course ground.
They passed a sea of jubilant people as they went to the race course, the very ground from where nine months ago, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had announced the war of independence by uttering the words, "…The struggle this time is a struggle for emancipation. The struggle this time, is a struggle for independence. Joy Bangla!"
The scene was set for the watershed event -- the surrender of the Pakistani forces that carried out genocide, killed 30 lakh people, raped more than three lakh women and abducted and killed thousands of intellectuals.
After initial resistance, the Mukti Bahini operations stepped up from September and became better organised and more effective. They began to have a demoralising effect on the Pakistani government in Dhaka and also the Pakistan army.
While other surrender ceremonies had taken place after due preparations, on December 16, the preparations were hurried, with scant resources.
"The ceremony was simple and it ended within a few minutes," Khandaker recalls in his book titled "1971: Bhitore Baire".
There were only two chairs and a table. Niazi sat on one chair and Aurora on the other. No sooner had the clock struck 5:01pm, Niazi first signed the surrender instrument and then Aurora did the same.
Aurora handed a pen to Niazi to sign the document, but no ink flowed from it at first. Aurora took the pen, jerked it in the air, then handed it over to Niazi.
"This time the pen works and Niazi signed the instrument. Later, I learned that Aurora had bought the pen from Calcutta just to sign the surrender document that day," Khandaker recalled.
Niazi also handed over his revolver to Aurora as per the custom of surrender.
With this, around 93,000 Pakistani troops, among the largest assembled anywhere in the world, surrendered as the sun was setting, as if a metaphor for the end of the 24-year Pakistani repression on Bangalees.
Niazi himself said he signed the document with trembling hands as sorrow rose from his heart to his eyes, brimming them with tears of despair and frustration.
Before the ceremony, a French reporter came to Niazi and asked, "How are you feeling, Tiger?
"Depressed." Niazi replied.
After the ceremony was over, the city was in the grips of euphoria. People were shouting "Joy Bangla" from the streets to rooftops. Many were hugging each other, celebrating freedom.
"'Ah! From today we will be able to sleep in peace, without fear," Khandaker wrote.