General Sam Manekshaw asked Pakistan army to surrender or face annihilation in 1971 war, says new book
Indian Army Chief General SHFJ Manekshaw had asked Pakistan army to surrender or face annihilation in the 1971 war, says a new book which notes that pre-emptive attacks on Indian Air Force bases on December 3 night were immediately repulsed and it was clear by December 14 that Pakistan was in no position to continue fighting.
The book ‘Reporting India: My Seventy-Year Journey as a Journalist’ by veteran journalist Prem Prakash, notes that “Americans under President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were hostile to India” and the United States threatened to intervene on Pakistan’s behalf and moved the Seventh Fleet towards the Bay of Bengal “bringing with them the threat of nuclear attack”.
It says that while Pakistan’s pre-emptive attacks were repulsed, Indian Army simultaneously moved into the then East Pakistan, outflanking the Pakistan Army there.
The recently-released book gives an account of the refusal of Pakistani authorities to allow Mujibur Rehman to become prime minister of the country despite his Awami League emerging as the majority party with 167 of 313 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly in the 1970 elections.
It narrates the difficulties and challenges experienced by the author as he covered the events in the then East Pakistan, which had forced a million refugees in India’s care.
India observes `Vijay Diwas’ on December 16 every year to mark its decisive victory in the war that led to surrender of nearly 93,000 Pakistani soldiers and creation of Bangladesh.
The chapter ‘Bangladesh on the Horizon’ in the book gives a gripping account of the historical events and says then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi undertook a tour of world capitals in November 1971 to apprise the world of what Pakistan was doing to its own people.
The author says that East Pakistan had always been a volatile part of Pakistan – ethnically, culturally – and in fact was totally different from West Pakistan.
“The two had never moved together, especially after Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, during his visit to East Pakistan shortly before his death in 1948, proclaimed in Dhaka that Urdu would be the national language of the new state of Pakistan. The people of East Pakistan objected strongly. They were proud of their own Bengali language and culture. Language riots broke out and were curbed but Bengali remained the language of East Pakistan. To placate the people of East Pakistan, an offer was made that Bengali be made the official language of Pakistan along with Urdu,” says the author, who is Chairman of ANI.
The book says that elections for Pakistan’s National Assembly, held in December 1970, saw Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, which was largely based in East Pakistan, emerge as the majority party. “This came as a shock to West Pakistan and its military rulers. The Awami League also won 288 out of 300 seats in East Bengal Legislative Assembly. Now, the Awami League, in the true democratic sense, was the real representative of the people of Pakistan.”
It says the then Pakistan President General Yahya Khan, who was joined by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to allow Mujibur Rahman to become prime minister. Bhutto even refused to accept any solution suggested by Mujibur Rahman to solve the impasse.
Talks between the two sides chugged along all the way to March 1971 with Mujibur Rahman still being denied his right to be prime minister.
“That was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, backed by President Yahya Khan, proposed an unheard-of solution: having two prime ministers of Pakistan, namely himself and Mujibur Rehman. Bhutto was not in favour of autonomy to East Pakistan, wishing instead that it continue as a colony of West Pakistan. The two leaders, along with Yahya Khan, met in Dhaka in March 1971. But the talks failed. Mujibur Rahman issued a call for a nationwide strike across both East and West Pakistan to enforce the result of the December elections. Yahya Khan ordered General Tikka Khan to fly to Dhaka and take charge of East Pakistan as governor. More troops were flown into East Pakistan. Pakistan’s all-powerful army had clearly negated the elections of 1970,” says the book
It says that Mujibur Rahman addressed a huge rally in Dhaka on March 7, 1971, asking for the lifting of martial law, for the army to be confined to barracks and transfer of power to the elected leader of assembly before March 25.
“At the same time, Bengali judges refused to swear in Tikka Khan as governor, although this certainly did not deter the military rulers either in Rawalpindi or in Dhaka. Allowing Mujibur Rahman’s deadline of March 25 to pass, Tikka Khan launched his genocidal crackdown on East Pakistan. Mujibur Rahman was arrested during the night of March 25 and immediately flown to West Pakistan, where he was put on trial and sentenced to death for sedition.”
The book says that Awami League had announced on March 25 that “Bangladesh was now a sovereign and independent country” and confirmed it in Chittagong on March 26 – now celebrated as Independence Day of Bangladesh.
The book says General Tikka Khan’s next act was to expel all foreign journalists from Dhaka and he then cracked down on East Pakistan with full military might.
“His first targets were the political leaders – many of whom managed to escape just in time. He then attacked the University of Dhaka in the most brutal manner. Student agitators in general and Hindu students, in particular, were his targets. They were lined up and shot dead. I was to later see a video of these killings, taken by a professor who had a house opposite the ground where the students were murdered by Pakistan Army. Such an act of against unarmed citizens was nothing short of a war crime,” says the author
He says East Pakistan’s army was now at full strength but Mukti Bahini – the Bangladeshi ‘liberation army’ – was making life difficult for them and its guerrilla attacks were restricting its movement to main roads and cities.
“At the same time, it was clear that India could not afford to keep over a million refugees in its care. East Pakistan did not want them back. In fact, more and more were pushed into India. The refugees wanted to go back but only after Pakistan army had left. Events were moving quickly. It seemed that an all-out war and the defeat of Pakistan was the only way India could send the million-plus refugees back to their homes. However, the war was not an immediate option because of monsoon rains. There are a great many rivers in East Pakistan and they rise rapidly during the monsoon. Sending in the army was not an option at that time.
“Meanwhile, Mukti Bahini was increasing in numbers. Its attacks on Pakistan Army were causing serious damage to the morale of Pak troops. Furthermore, India was now supporting Mukti Bahini in its fight,” says the book.
It says precautionary orders were given to the Indian Army to prepare for action to ensure that the mass of refugees left India and went back to their homes.
“In West Pakistan, Mrs Gandhi’s tour was clearly seen as a bid to prepare the rest of the world for military action by India. It was assumed an attack would be launched in December. On analysing India’s intentions, President Yahya Khan initiated pre-emptive attacks on Indian Air Force bases.”
“On the night of December 3, Pakistani aircraft attacked a number of such bases and started the war on India’s western border. The targets of Pakistan Air Force were bases at Amritsar, Ambala, Agra, Awantipur, Bikaner, Halwara, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Pathankot, Bhuj, Srinagar and Uttarlai. It was immediately repulsed by Indian Army which simultaneously moved into East Pakistan, outflanking the Pakistan Army there.”
The book says Mukti Bahini severely dented the morale of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary.
“India recognized the government of the new state of Bangladesh on December 6, 1971, while contingents of Indian Army moved towards East Pakistan. Since Mukti Bahini had already dampened the spirits of Pakistani troops, when the Indian offensive began, our forces moved quickly. The Pakistan Army was soon in full retreat, being attacked by the local population as well as by the powerful Indian military.”
The book says President Nixon and Henry Kissinger hated Indira Gandhi and her power as she was seen to be close to the Soviet Union and was the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. At the same time, the Soviet Union was backing India’s action in East Pakistan.
The author recalls the message given by General Manekshaw, who was later promoted to the rank of Field Marshal, to Pakistan during the war.
“By December 14 it was clear that the Pakistan Army was in no position to continue fighting. General Sam Manekshaw, chief of Indian Army, called upon the Pakistan Army to surrender or face annihilation. General JFR Jacob of the Indian Army flew into Dhaka to finalize the terms of surrender, which was to be unconditional with India guaranteeing Pakistani troops protection against almost certain annihilation by Mukti Bahini.
“As the Army advanced, I flew into Calcutta from where I travelled with General Jagjit Singh Aurora and General Jacob to cover the surrender ceremony, held at Race Course Road in Dhaka. Pakistan surrendered to Indian Army and Mukti Bahini. General Aurora signed for India and General Niazi, commander of Pakistani forces signed on behalf of Pakistan. It was a heady feeling for us journalists covering those last few days of the ‘Fall of Dhaka’. I will never forget the face and expressions of common people who saw an end to their misery,” he says.
The book says India moved the Pakistan Army into cantonments, where some 93,000 soldiers laid down their weapons – the biggest surrender since World War II.
“Again these were historic events I covered, but at that time uppermost in my mind was the thought that I had to quickly shoot and send pictures to London,” says the author.
He says that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was still in a Pakistani prison with a death sentence hanging over his head. “It is said that the Pakistanis had dug a grave near his prison cell. Mrs Gandhi acted firmly and ensured his release in January 1972. Mujibur Rahman flew to London and from there to Delhi on his way back to Dhaka.”
The author notes that Mujibur Rahman’s arrival in Dhaka after his release was big world news at the time and beating the competitors on such a story was not going to be easy. “Thus I advised told John Tulloh, the Asia-Pacific Editor of Visnews, who was waiting for my material in Bangkok that I was going to edit the story myself as I filmed and restricted the footage to 400 feet, i.e. ten minutes, which was the time we had booked for the satellite feed in Bangkok. No news channel ran a news item for more than three to four minutes”.
The author recalls that he got a congratulatory cable from Tulloh the next morning stating that while other journalists’ material was still being processed, “ours was already on satellite and reaching everyone”.
The author also recounts the risks in coverage of the situation during the crackdown launched by Tikka Khan.
He recalls that as they made their way to Jessore, a shock awaited them on the outskirts of the town.
“Dead bodies of civilians lay on the road and by the roadside. We were told they had been killed by Pakistan Army….The film we had shot was to be the first look the world would have of the scene in East Pakistan. The pictures told the story of the genocide that was being inflicted all over East Pakistan.”
The book talks about Razakar force created by Tikka Khan to spread terror among the population in general and among Hindu villagers in particular. It says women were special targets of essentially Punjabi-dominated Pakistan Army.
The author recalls how he and his colleague landed in serious trouble at the House of a local member of National Assembly, the only Muslim League candidate to be elected from East Pakistan. “Once on Indian soil, we heaved a sigh of relief. That had been a close shave,” he says.
He locked himself in the room after sending his story. “I just wanted to thank the Lord for having brought us home safely…To this day I feel lucky to have survived that foray into East Pakistan,” he says.
The author recalls that the then Principal Information Officer of the government had asked him about Bangladeshi leaders and recalls that Badshah, press secretary to Mujibur Rahman, whom the Sheikh treated as his son, was instrumental in presenting the provisional government of Bangladesh to international media.
“We were all escorted by Badshah to the border and then crossed over to what was still East Pakistan. We reached a village where a huge stage had been raised. The leaders of Awami League appeared and a provisional government of Bangladesh was announced. They declared their determination to continue the struggle till Pakistan withdrew from their country. The Bangladesh flag was raised and the meeting ended with the chanting of Tagore’s ‘Amar Sonar Bangla’ which was later adopted as the national anthem of Bangladesh,” the author says.
“Our mission was to tell the world the truth – and we succeeded. The stories and pictures from East Pakistan greatly influenced world opinion in favour of Bangladesh’s fight for freedom. The world came to know of the atrocities and genocide being committed by the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan,” he adds.
Prem Prakash is a pioneer in Indian journalism and in his long career has covered some of the most important stories of post-Independence India including the 1962 war with China, 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan, the assassination of Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri’s fateful Tashkent journey. The book provides a detailed account of his professional life and stories he covered from Nehru’s demise to rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 225-page book is available on Amazon and Flipkart. (ANI)