Operation Searchlight was set to be launched at 1pm on March 26, but Awami League President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s proclamation of independence the previous night prompted the Pakistani military junta to start its well-designed massacre 13 hours ahead of the schedule, so that the Bangalis could not put up a strong resistance.
According to a White Paper published on August 5, 1971 by the Pakistan government, the Awami League had a plan to stage an armed revolution early on March 26.
Maj Gen Khadim Hossain Raja, General Officer Commanding of 14th Division and Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali Khan, GOC of 57th Division came to a decision on February 22, 1971 regarding the army expedition named “Operation Searchlight.”
Under orders of the Chief of Staff Gen Abdul Hamid Khan on March 17, Khadim Raja finalised the plan of the operation. Rao Forman Ali prepared the five-page operation plan.
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For its implementation, Hamid, AO Miththi and Col Sadullah visited different cantonments by helicopter on March 24-25. To make the operation a success, two trusted officers of the military dictator Yahya Khan - Miththi and Maj Gen Iftekhar Janjua – were summoned to Dhaka.
Aims of the Operation Searchlight
* The operation shall start simultaneously in the entire East Pakistan;
* Maximum number of politicians and student leaders, teachers and “extremist” activists of cultural organisations will be arrested;
* The operations in Dhaka will have to be a 100% success. To that end Dhaka University shall have to be captured;
* The security of the Dhaka Cantonment must be ensured;
* All sorts of domestic and international communications must be disrupted. Telephone exchange, radio, TV, teleprinter service, transmitter in the foreign consulates must be disrupted;
* The soldiers of the EPR must be disarmed and in their places West Pakistani soldiers shall be deputed to patrol the armoury, and the control of the armoury shall be vested upon them;
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* In the first phase, the operational zones will be Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rangpur, Syedpur and Sylhet.
Steps taken under the operation
* 22-Baluch Regiment stationed in Peelkhana shall disarm the 5,000 Bangali EPR soldiers and capture their radio centre;
* 32-Punjab Regiment shall disarm 1,000 Bangali policemen in Rajarbagh Police Lines which is the main source of armed strength of the Awami League;
* 18-Punjab Regiment will launch attack on the Hindu majority areas of Nawabpur and in other parts of Old Dhaka;
* A group of selected soldiers from 22 Baluch, 18 and 32 Punjab Regiment will attack Iqbal Hall (Zahurul Haq Hall), Jagannath Hall and Liaquat Hall of Buet, which are known as centers of strength of the Awami League rebels;
* One platoon of commando soldiers of special service group will attack the house of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and will arrest him;
* The field Regiment will control the Second capital and the adjoining settlements (Mirpur-Mohammadpur);
* In order to show strength, a small squadron of M 24 tanks will be plying on road and will start shelling, if necessary;
Watch: Operation Searchlight
* The above mentioned soldiers will destroy any kind of barricade or resistance on the road, and will launch operation in the houses of listed politicians.
* The Pakistani soldiers came out of the cantonment at 11:30pm, launched indiscriminate attack on the demonstrating Bangalis in the Farmgate area, and thus initiated the Operation Searchlight;
* They launched simultaneous attacks on Peelkhana and Rajarbagh;
* They arrested Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his residence;
* At dead of night, they launched operation at the teachers’ residential quarters of Dhaka University and killed a huge number of students and nine teachers;
* Under the same planning, serious attacks were carried out in Old Dhaka, Tejgaon, Indira Road, Mirpur, Mohammadpur, Dhaka airport, Ganaktuli, Dhanmondi, Kalabagan and Kanthalbagan.
* In the same night, many people were killed and injured in Chittagong by the firing of the army;
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* Under the same plan, the offices of national newspapers like the Daily Ittefaq, the Daily Sangbad and the Peoples were set on fire for supporting the movement of the Bangalis. A good number of journalists and media personnel were burnt to death;
* On the eve of the genocide on March 25, then president Yahya Khan left Dhaka for Karachi, but Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, then president of the Pakistan People's Party who came to Dhaka for a dialogue with Sheikh Mujib, observed the operation from the Hotel Intercontinental of Dhaka;
* On March 26, Bhutto on the eve of his departure highly appreciated the action of the army and commented: “Thanks to God that Pakistan could have been saved;”
* The White Paper published on August 5 termed the operation “inevitable”
* The accurate figure of casualties in the night of March 25 could not be estimated. But foreign journalists working in Dhaka at that time suggested that the number be between 10,000 and 35,000;
* From the report of journalist Simon Dring published under the caption Dateline Dacca in the Daily Telegraph of March 29, it was revealed that 200 students of Iqbal Hall (now Shaheed Sergeant Zahurul Haq Hall), teachers and their family members numbering 12 in Dhaka University residential area had been killed on that night;
* In Old Dhaka, around 700 people were burnt to death.
* The operation ended with the fall of the last major town in Bengali hands in mid-May.
[Courtesy: Banglapedia and genocidebangladesh.org]