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Revisiting history

  • Published at 11:39 am December 19th, 2017
Revisiting history
We are aware of what had happened on December 14, 1971 – Pakistani forces with the help of their Bangladeshi collaborators killed the intellectuals of the then East Pakistan. On December 16, the bulk of the occupying Pakistani force surrendered at Ramna Racecourse which is dubbed by the experts concerned as the “first and perhaps only public surrender in modern military history.” While most of us know what occurred in those two dates, not many are aware of what had happened on December 15. Interestingly, that particular day is very significant in our victory and independence, as historical documents state December 15 was a decisive day for the Pakistani forces to opt for the surrender to the joint forces comprised of Indian army and Bangladesh’s liberation force.

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report

In late December 1971, within a week of replacing General Yahya as the President, Bhutto formed a commission headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Hamood-ur-Rahman. The Commission’s responsibility was to identify the reasons behind Pakistan’s defeat in 1971. As per the Hammodur Rahman Commission report, the Pakistani military high command, as well as President Yahya Khan, were confused about “what to do” on December 15. By December 15, the fate of the war was pretty much decided and it was evident that the Pakistani forces had no option but to surrender. The Commission Report said that there was no actual order to surrender. In view of the desperate picture painted by the commander of the Eastern Command, General AK Niazi, higher authorities gave him permission to surrender if he, in his judgment, thought it necessary. On December 15, the Chief of Army of Pakistan General AH Khan sent a message to General AK Niazi, where he wrote: “I have seen your message sent to the President and I have also heard what you said to General Manekshaw (General Sam Manekshaw, Chief of Army of India) which was broadcasted in All India Radio. You are free to take a decision of your own but my advice would be to accept the terms and conditions given by the Indian force.” The Commission report said General Niazi could have opted not to surrender if he thought that he had the capability of defending Dhaka. On his own estimate, he had 26,400 men to hold out for another two weeks. The enemy would have taken a week to build up its forces and another week to reduce the Pakistani army defences in Dhaka. But evidence showed that he had already lost the will to fight after December 7, 1971, when his major defences at Jessore and Brahmanbari had fallen. Detailed accounts of witnesses given to the Commission indicate that Lt-General Niazi had suffered a complete moral collapse during the closing phases of the war and was waiting for a clear guidance from the President and the army Chief on December 15, which he failed to get.

The day as per the Indian Defence Journal

The Indian Defence Journal said as per Niazi’s original plan, Dhaka was to have a double line of defenses: an outer line and an inner line. These defenses were to be manned by formations falling back from various sectors. When none of them managed to do so, all available men in uniform were mustered for the task. Only about 1,500 regular soldiers, including services personnel, could be assembled. In addition, about 3,500 police and paramilitary personnel were available on December 15. Surplus staff officers and others pulled out from offices and depots were sent to command the groups and detachments into which these men were divided. To support this last-ditch stand were a few mortars and recoilless guns, a squadron of tanks, two six-pounder anti-tank guns and some light machine guns. However patriotic and brave they might be, this motley collection of men and arms could not have kept the Indian divisions out of Dhaka for long, said the Indian Defense Journal report. These men were not given much of a chance either. Niazi’s senior staff officers and the Governor’s chief advisers had lost the will to fight by December 15. Earlier on December 12, an urgent message had gone to the President of Pakistan from Gen Niazi to save ‘innocent’ lives. There was no reply from him till December 14. That day, a high-level meeting was scheduled at the Government House in Dhaka, at which the last East Pakistan Governor Dr Abdul Motaleb Malik was to preside. A radio intercept alerted the Indian authorities and while the meeting was on, the Government House was raided by Indian aircrafts. The roof of its main hall collapsed and Dr Malik rushed to the air-raid shelter and wrote out his resignation. Soon after, the Governor, his cabinet and senior civil servants, including West Pakistanis, moved to the neutral zone, which had been created by the International Red Cross at the Hotel Intercontinental. Gen Manekshaw was himself keen to end the hostilities. He had been making repeated calls in broadcasts to Pakistani forces in East Pakistan to surrender. Leaflets in Urdu, Pushtu and Bengali were also dropped. His reply to Niazi was, however, quite firm. It stated that a cease-fire would be acceptable provided the Pakistani Armed Forces in Bangladesh surrendered to the advancing Indian troops by 0900 hours on December 16. He also gave the radio frequencies on which the Pakistani command could contact General Aurora’s (Jagjit Singh Aurora) Headquarters to co-ordinate the surrender. As a token of good faith, he made it known that all action over Dhaka would cease from 1700 hours on December 15. At Niazi’s request, the deadline for the surrender was later extended to 1500 hours on December 16. His Headquarters sent out a signal around midnight (15/16 December) to lower formations to contact their Indian counterparts and arrange the cease-fire on December 15.

Important events on December 15:

• On December 15, 1971, Poland sponsored a draft resolution in the UN that had Soviet support. It provided for the release of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and transfer of power to the elected representatives under his leadership in East Pakistan, cessation of military actions in all the areas, initial and then permanent ceasefire, withdrawal of the Pakistan armed forces to the preset locations in the eastern theatre, evacuation of Pakistani nationals and armed forces from there and the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces from the eastern theatre in consultation with the newly established authority. • Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir escaped from Pakistan and joined the Liberation War at sector 7. He took a bullet in his head while crossing the Mahananda River in Chapainawabganj during an operation. He was posthumously awarded the title ‘Birsrestha’ after independence by the Bangladesh government. • The allied forces advanced towards Dhaka from Savar on the night of December 15. Kaderia Bahini led by Bangabir Kader Siddiqui joined them on the way. They confronted the Pakistani troops at the Mirpur Bridge. The allied forces conducted a commando style attack in the first phase. Pakistan troops kept firing from the other side of the bridge. Another group of the allied force attacked them from the west bank. The short battle ended on the Morning of December 16 with a decisive victory for the joint force
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