Dacca Fall: A wound that still hurts!


The image shows AP-AWH at an airfield in East Pakistan. Six brand-new Twin Otters were delivered to PIA between November 1970 and March 1971. At the start of 1971 Pak-India war, on December 4, 1971, AP-AWH was one of two PIA Twin Otters at Dacca Airport/Tejgaon Air Base in East Pakistan [now Bangladesh]. The two Twin Otters were hidden under trees due to absence of pen not large enough to properly secure these two aircraft. On December 4 afternoon, AP-AWH was destroyed on ground by an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21FL flown by Wing Commander Bhupinder Kumar Bishnoi during air raid. The second Twin Otter was lucky to survive the air raid. On December 8, the surviving Twin Otter of PIA took-off from Dacca airfield taxiway on flight to Burma (presently known as Myanmar) and then to Pakistan.
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FALL OF DACCA :: EMERGENCE OF BANGLADESH: AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT

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by Col. Riaz Jafri (R)

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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

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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 reversed 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 emanating 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 witness 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 loss 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.

Writer is a retired Pak Army Colonel based in Rawalpindi.

Source, Title image
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Its an unforgetable tragedy of our history and wounds we suffered in Dacca are still fresh and we are licking the same with sorrow and grief. Let’s join hands and make the existing pakistan strong by forging unity among ourself.

    Jaffar Bokhari

    • 16th December reminds us of the follies we made. And these follies, as the writer Col [R] Jaffery very rightly says, were committed by all of us, our military, our politicians, as well as we the people of West Pakistan. I say people [also] because it were we who tolerated and almost concurred the army’s excesses to those fellows, who were once our very own. Unfortunately same mistakes are being done once again.
      Apart from insurgents, who partly are foreign inspired yet partly are of our own making, its our chauvinistic policies] that are turning Pakistani nationals [as in FATA and Balochistan] first into estranged Pakistanis and then into insurgents. There is a common adage and it says, “Wise men learn from mistakes but idiots never do learn [from theirs]”.
      Fall of Dacca is a big lesson for us. If we learn this, we can definitely avoid further “such falls”.

  2. You have to forget the 1971 war as we have forgotten the war of 1962. Better would be for the people and army of Pakistan to forget Kashmir too. Beating the past wiill never give you a new beginning, but beating the product of the past i.e. Terrorism will certainly help you a lot.

    • In your earlier comment you wrote “The war on terror would not end until and unless the problems like Palestine and Kashmir are not solved”. Today you ask us Pakistanis to forget Kashmir.
      Dr. AKT! You forgot 1962 war because it was a war over a disputed territory. But Kashmir is not only a disputed territory, its also a part of the unfinished agenda of the 1947 partition of India. Above all it is the prima facie case of the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir.
      The issue of Kashmir, no doubt is a tricky issue. India thinks that:-
      (1) Allowing the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir will induce other states in India also, to seek secession from the Union – which in other words means breakup of India.
      (2) That India being a secular, democratic entity cannot afford to loose Kashmir.
      (3) That Kashmiris have all rights which other Indians are enjoying in India, then why a right for self-determination of Kashmiris, which otherwise would mean a secession.
      In contrast Pakistan’s version is:-
      (1) Kashmir is still the unfinished agenda of the 1947 partition of India.
      (2) The case for the right of self-determination by the people of Kashmir, through a public referendum or plebiscite, was taken to the UNO by none else than India herself.
      (3) The issue of Kashmir is as much a dispute between India and Pakistan as it is a matter of the right of the Kashmiris to decide their future themselves. Its as much a “living” case as the case of the North Western Frontier province. In 1947 the province being a Muslim majority area, was a foregone conclusion that the province would join the newly formed state of Pakistan, but the then Congress supported red shirt party’s government led by Dr. Khan Sahib, the younger brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan said that they didn’t want to join Pakistan and instead would like to join either India or wish to become independent. So it was jointly agreed by the All India Muslim League, All India Congress and the Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten that a referendum be held whether the people of the province wanted to join India or Pakistan. Through a plebiscite the people of the NWFP [now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] overwhelmingly decided to join Pakistan and thus the province became an integral part of the newly created state of Pakistan.
      I personally believe that Kashmir problem has been aggravated by continuous mishandling, by both governments of India and Pakistan. The problem has now reached such proportions that it can’t be written off, even if we wished to do so.
      Our stand on Kashmir is very simple, i.e.
      If Kashmiris want to continue living in India, then who are we to deny them this right! but if they do want to join Pakistan, then who is India to deny them [this right]. In the third case if they want to seek an independent Kashmir, then who are India and Pakistan to deny them this option either.
      Past in certain cases cannot be forgotten, whether by India or by Pakistan. The only thing is that past history should not be a burden on peace but a beacon for hope and understanding. Both India and Pakistan have a history of checkered relations, but then both have beautiful commonalities too. Let these commonalities be a basis for our mutual interests. We can together solve our differences. If arch enemies like France and Germany can sit together as friends in the European community why can’t India and Pakistan?
      There was a time when US pampered Pakistan to remain inflexible on Kashmir and ushered us into the great Umma concept, now the same US is inducing India to stand as a bulwark against Russia and China. Uncle Sam was neither sincere then in pampering Pakistan, nor is it now in pampering India. So instead of Pakistan jumping into the arms of China and India into those of the United States, both India and Pakistan need to sit together and mutually solve their differences. The subcontinent is too beautiful a region to be submerged into the ugly wars of chauvinism [on both sides].

  3. It is easy to say something in hindsight but Pakistanis as a nation will be doing a grave error, if they did not learn from their own history. In the uploaded post author does not throw any light on how the Chinese Dragon was silenced by Indo/Soviet treaty, imposition of Urdu and treating non Punjabis as scum which were the root cause. Interestingly one observes the same thing happening in today’s Pakistan i.e. in treatment of MQM and the BLA. Why the Biharis who are Pakistani citizens and who collaborated with Pakistan army as Albadr and razakkars, but are not allowed into Pakistan while Pathans from Afghanistan are welcomed. Why is it that the same psyche as Arabs who treat the sub-continental Muslims as Mehram???
    I’m giving link to my Blogspot based on the version of Col [R] Nadir Ali.
    http://captainjohann.blogspot.com/2011/12/indopakistan-war-of-1971-view-by.html

    • Am not a military guy to say something professionally apt on the Indo-Soviet Treaty and whether it indeed had an impact on the Chinese moves to militarily help Pakistan in the 1971 war. Though it too would have been a factor, but politically I do believe that the Chinese from the very beginning had been advising the military junta then ruling Pakistan to search for a political solution and that was the sanest advice a friendly nation could give. I myself believe that the best course at that time would have been to seek a rapprochement with Sh. Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Awami League, granted the autonomy to East Pakistan which the Sheikh and his party wanted. But the military top brass in those days including the majority leader from West Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not wish a political settlement as both wanted a military solution.
      Military solutions on unethical grounds hardly bear desired results. If they do, they are always temporary – resulting in more animosities, more conflagration and to highly undesired results, as it happened in East Pakistan [now Bangladesh].
      It applied to East Pakistan; it applies to Kashmir and it also applies to Balochistan.
      Unfortunately most governments, but particularly the military ones do think that military solutions are the only and the best solutions to have their writ in national and international arena. We see it happening in present day Afghanistan too. Taliban, a rag tag army, absolutely of no match to a super power’s highly mechanized force equipped with ultramodern war machine] are giving a very tough fight to the might of the US.
      Although I doubt very much that Taliban themselves will offer good governance to the people of Afghanistan, yet America having no ethical grounds to remain in Afghanistan, is finding it difficult to continue the war there.
      As regards Biharis living in present day Bangladesh, I think they have every right to come to Pakistan and should be allowed to settle in Pakistan as any other Pakistani has a right to come into his own homeland.
      Your observation that why the Pathans of Afghanistan are allowed free entry into Pakistan and are welcomed here. Well Captain Johann this has historical reasons. Pashtuns living on both sides of the Durand Line belong to the same tribes. Since the days of the British raj, they have been coming to the areas which are now part of Pakistan and the phenomena continued even after emergence of the state of Pakistan. The matter took political dimensions always when the Kabul regime [who ever occupied the throne in Kabul] repressed its opponents, the oppressed individuals and tribes crossed over to Pakistan and their fellow tribals in Pakistan welcomed their kins, first on account of tribal fraternity and secondly due to their strict adherence to the Pashtun code [which is an integral and inviolable part of their culture], the Pashtunvali, which ordains every Pathan to welcome their guest, whosoever he may be. This is the reason that Sikhs and Hindus living in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtukhwa [formerly the N.W.F.P] had a relatively safer life in KPK than in other parts of Pakistan. It were the same Pathans who killed the Hindus and Sikhs in the pre-partition days, yet in their home towns they allowed a safe and secure life to the every non Muslim who was residing in the Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas. I know this is something aberrational to outsiders but this is what the Pahtunvali is. This is also one prime reason that the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin laden because he had come under the refuge of the Pashtuns and thought it a matter of extreme shame for a Pathan to go against the Pashtunvali.
      It also happened that whenever there was a tribal feud or intertribal rivalries, the aggrieved tribe / s fled Afghanistan and took refuge in the Pakistani borderlands. Then there have been some tribes [these are mainly the herders and the temporary migrants who due to extremely harsh winters in the mountains of Afghanistan would move to lowlands of NWFP [KPK] and Punjab, do some manual job [whichever they could get], and move back to Afghanistan in summers. [This had been the case with Kashmiris also, who during the pre-partition days always moved to lowlands of present day Azad Kashmir and to the Punjab during winters and on the advent of summer travelled back to the highlands of Kashmir. Big Kashmiris communities of such migrant Kashmiri families still abound in Pakistani cities like Rawalpindi, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Lahore.]
      In 1979 when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, all those who were opposed to “Godless” Soviets crossed over to KPK cities like Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan and in different other areas in Pakistani borderlands [collectively called as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. Later more Afghan nationals were pampered by the United States to fight its war against the Soviets so as to give Russians their Vietnam in Afghanistan. These immigrants were sponsored and armed by America’s CIA and Pakistan’s ISI was the conduit for fighting the war against the Soviets.
      Coming to MQM and the BLA, MQM is very much active in Pakistan’s political mainstream. Most of the time they have been part of the power structure whether it was a civilian government or military setup. Even in the party less government of P. Musharraf MQM had quite a vocal presence and they are again an active part of President Asif Ali Zardari’s current PPPP led coalition government.
      And now about the BLA. All such outfits which are nomenclated as the BLA are partly of domestic origin [due to non political approach of Islamabad rulers] and partly of origins outside of Pakistan. Balochis do have genuine grievances and these grievances have been met by military might, again a wrong approach. You cannot force people to obey you through the barrel of a gun. This is an archaic approach which doesn’t fit in the present day realities of national and international context. I have already said that political issues when handled militarily result in fiascos such as the one we had in East Pakistan. Balochistan issue is also a political issue, as was the issue of East Pakistan. IT must be solved politically and not militarily.

      • Dr Nayyar, A very insightful and truthful reply.

  4. Its too late . Only political solution will not work . Armed action is now seems to be unavoidable . Politics and armed action in rignt direction can yeild the desired result . Next elections in the subcontinent are very crucial .

    • Armed action in the form of NATO / ISAF’s presence in Afghanistan is already on and is in the knowledge of everybody. To know what this armed action has brought to Afghanistan and other parts of the world, plz go through media reports.


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