Volume 22 Issue 1, January 2018



Flying north to the mainland a strange sight greeted us in the first village we encountered. Walking to the village from the landing site I came across a four foot wide stream (khal) with about a hundred Pakistan Army soldiers sitting along the stream on one side and a much larger number of villagers on the opposite side facing each other. The captain in-charge explained that as per orders he reported to the District Commissioner (DC) who wanted the troops to wait for him here. An elderly person on the opposite bank said the DC has asked them to wait here till he returned from his home district with a work force of about a thousand for relief work in the village. I could only report this farce to NOIC on return but the impression created in the rest of the province was devastating that the Army was slow in providing relief assistance.

On the return trip to Chittagong, in the next village we sighted a Landing Craft flying the British Royal Navy Ensign. On landing and enquiry it turned out that the LCT was carrying aid supplies from a Royal Navy Force of seven ships that had arrived from Singapore a day before and was anchored outside Pakistan’s territorial waters. Though this force had been mentioned in Pakistani news media and on Radio Pakistan, the Force Commander had not contacted the NOIC. When contacted, the British Commander, a Commodore, said his force was directed to contact the Governor directly and was anchored outside Pakistan’s territorial waters. As such, it was not obliged to follow naval courtesies. However, after a talk with me he reversed his policy and called on the NOIC. Further, he accepted to have a liaison officer with each aid party from his force coming ashore.

After a few days in Chittagong and the relief operations as planned by provincial authorities, I took a naval jeep to visit Kaptai Lake for a possible site for the Naval Academy, a project close to the PN C-in-C’s heart. En-route, we passed two Europeans hiking with backpacks and a wireless aerial sticking out of one of the packs. Passing them, one face looked familiar on the rear view mirror and I stopped to meet them. He was the French Defence Attaché accompanied by a French Special Forces officer specialized in Bengali. Without informing any Pakistani organization, they had raveled on foot from Dhaka and passed through villages where they had received warm. I informed the NOIC about it.

When the cyclone Bhola struck, I was about to start my briefings before assumption of duties as Army and Naval Attaché in Paris and when the naval cyclone relief team was well-established, I visited Dhaka to call on the Governor and the Corps Commander with a view to save a briefing trip later. The Governor was in a conference with some foreign delegation at the appointed time and despite a wait of one and a half hours, the conference continued and I had to leave to catch the return flight to Chittagong. In the meantime, Mr Ahmed Dawood, the industrialist, also dropped in for a chance meeting with the Governor but left after a wait of about forty minutes. He informed me and the Military Secretary that he had come to offer immediate investment up to rupees fifty crores for economic projects in the province.

Earlier I met the Corps Commander where the conversation soon turned to the political situation in East Pakistan and he felt the only solution left was military action. I mentioned the sage’s statement about leaves turning into wind and his prediction of over eighty percent of East Pakistani seats in the National Assembly going to Mujib’s Party and a simple majority in the house even without nationalists support from Balochistan and the Frontier Province (now KPK). However, he was sure the multiple intelligence agencies working for him were right about 45% seats for Mujib. I referred to fourteen United States intelligence agencies making similar reports from Saigon during the Vietnam War because unknown to each other, their major sources of information were three Vietcong plants in the city. Our conversation ended at that as he had to go for an important conference.

About a week before the elections, the Deputy Commissioner Mr. Obaidullah, son of former Speaker of the National Assembly, Jabbar Khan, who had successfully piloted the 1956 Constitution Bill, was having tea with me in the Chittagong Club when former Speaker and many times Acting President Fazlul Quader Chowdhry and the Muslim League candidate hesitatingly walked up to us. I stood up to greet him but the DC remained seated and both talked to each other in Urdu. Mr Chowdhry, after excusing himself for disturbing us, said that not having received a reply for permission requested a week earlier to hold an election meeting in the city “the day after tomorrow,” he had searched for him as the time was short; “Do I have your permission?” The reply from Mr. Obaidullah, the deputy commissioner, was classic: “You go ahead and you will be arrested as soon as you utter the first word.” On the Election Day I happened to visit the City MLA’s Office when a telephone call came from Mr Chowdhry complaining about Awami League workers with sticks, stopping his supporters from reaching the polling booths while the police merely watched. While telling me about it, the MLA added, “He wants his chestnuts to be pulled out of fire for him” and left it at that.

The general election results must have hit the establishment with the force of a tsunami. Not only had Mujib won all but two of the East Pakistan seats but now, with West Pakistani nationalists’ support and resulting in over two thirds majority, constitution-making had passed into their hands. And they all wanted a confederation with maximum of three subjects under the Central Government. The stage was now set for what followed.

Thereafter with a spell in Chittagong as President of a Court Martial, I returned to Karachi to start my briefings. Thus the last week of February found me in Islamabad sharing accommodation in a house with KM Kaiser, the Pakistan Ambassador in China and a close relative of my wife. China was perhaps the only non-Muslim country supporting Pakistan at that time.
He appeared very busy but getting more fretful by the day. Finally, after about a week he confided that for the last ten days he and the Foreign Office had been trying to get an appointment for him to convey a personal verbal message for the President from Mr Chou En Li, the Chinese Prime Minister but without success. On learning from me that General Yahya was going to Karachi on March 3 and that two seats were kept open till the last for any urgent government requirement, he got a seat on the flight the next day.

Thereafter we met again in June/July 1971 when he stayed with me in Paris for four days on the way to an Ambassadors Conference in Geneva to be briefed by the National Security Advisor. He told me that the message from Chou En Li was for both the President and Mr Mujib. KM Kaiser had come via Dhaka and, together with the Governor, secretly met Mujib who in deference to the Chinese Prime Minister, agreed to work for a compromise to avoid giving India a chance to interfere. As for the aircraft, the entry was from the rear and Yahya recognized Kaiser while passing by and told him to come forward after take-off. But as soon as Kaiser mentioned the verbal message, the President told Kaiser, “even walls have ears” and to come to his office at 9 a.m. the next day. However, at 7 a.m., according to the Ambassador, Lieutenant General Peerzada, the Principal Staff Officer or Major General Umar, the National Security Adviser, telephoned to convey that the President was too busy to see him and Kaiser returned to Beijing without being able to convey the message to General Yahya.

Much later, in 1978 while I was Commander Karachi, the French Consul General told me that in March 1971 he was a Consul in Dhaka, on 6th or 7th Mujib dropped in at his office and asked him to pass a message to the French Foreign Office directly and not through his Ambassador in Islamabad whom Mujib suspected was too close to the establishment. The Consul passed the message as asked but did not know about any further developments in this regard.

On 8th March I made my final call on C-in-C PN, Admiral Muzaffar Hasan who, after briefing me, said that a General passing through Karachi a couple of days earlier mentioned that the Army would be ready for military action in East Pakistan by 19th March. Nothing had been conveyed to him officially.

This alerted me to take the earliest available flight to Paris on the 10th and take over my duties. The first official correspondence I received in my new duties was a wireless signal informing me that military action in East Pakistan had commenced at midnight Dhaka time. The immediate reaction in France was that the government was sympathetic towards Pakistan and was awaiting further developments while the public, led by human rights groups, was vociferous against the military action. The immediate effect on the Pakistan Navy was that on 31st March, ten of the eleven East Pakistani sailors aboard the newly built submarine Mangro and due to sail for Pakistan in the first week of April, deserted to reappear the next day in Switzerland which immediately granted them political asylum.

The eleventh sailor belonged to the Chakma Tribe whose leader Raja Tridev Roy held a ministerial post. This situation of tension between the French government and the human rights group persisted throughout the crisis. The situation was the same in Italy and Belgium where I was also concurrently the Army and Navy Attaché.

In May 1971 I found that India had decided to attack East Pakistan after the monsoons and that the Soviet Union was shipping and airlifting vast amounts of arms and equipment from the Soviet Union and from a Soviet storage arsenal in Egypt. When approached, the Egyptian Embassy not only confirmed but complained that the Egyptian government had not even been informed about it, leave alone seek permission. Soon some French contacts also confirmed the Indo-Soviet goings on, with one General even suggesting a pre-emptive strike by Pakistan. All this was conveyed to my authorities in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, I had developed a close relationship with the Chinese defence attaché Brigadier General Feng Wen the last of the Long March Generals, with almost regular meetings every fortnight or less. Towards the end of May he started giving me political messages like Pakistan should solve the East Pakistan situation politically. Frankly, I was alarmed because military attaches only talk about such things when ordered which, in this case, implied a failure at the diplomatic level. This feeling was confirmed as stated earlier when Ambassador KM Kaiser passed through Paris in June/July and told me that despite a fortnight’s effort by the foreign office, he was literally denied a meeting with President Yahya Khan.

Between May and the start of the Indian military aggression on November 21, 1971 - the 1st of Ramadan - a joint land and air attack was launched on the Jessore front. There were three important shades of messages which were duly conveyed to my authorities between May and July: solve the problem politically; from July to September, China would be unable to provide more than diplomatic and material assistance (in case of attack by India and unlike 1965 when China had actually started moving an Army Corps to Tibet); from September onwards – let East Pakistan become a millstone around India’s neck. The implications to my mind were warnings of consequences that would follow Pakistan’s actions then in progress and went unheeded. About a week after the Indian attack on 21st November, I ran into the “India -Pakistan” Desk Officer whom I had met a few times while accompanying the Ambassador to the French Foreign Office and he questioned why Pakistan had not immediately gone to the Security Council and then added himself, perhaps Pakistan was about to launch a riposte. But sadly, regrettably and finally, the forgotten Quranic guidance asserted itself and which is aptly described in the English idiom - you shall reap just as you sow and this is what happened because it had to happen


The writer is a retired vice admiral of the Pakistan Navy.


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