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1971 War: 'I will give you 30 minutes'

Source : SIFY
Last Updated: Wed, Dec 16, 2009 06:27 hrs


Thirty-eight years ago today, on a blustery late afternoon in Dhaka, the commander of the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi publicly surrendered to the Indian Army, represented by Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora.

In that now famous picture of the surrender of December 16, 1971 at the Ramna Race Course, there is a man standing on the right, behind Niazi, with his head proudly up, gazing at something over the horizon.


Click here to watch the video of the war

He was the man who had masterminded the public surrender.

I first met General Jacob-Farj-Rafael Jacob (Jake to his friends) in November 2006, at his tiny apartment in Som Vihar, New Delhi. I was trying to put together a series on the 13-day war.

The first thing that stuck me was the vitality of the man. Age (he was on the wrong side of 80 then) had failed to dim the twinkle in his eyes, or dampen his zest for life. His grip was like a vise, and his voice used to command. In an incisive, crisp style, he put the war into perspective for me very quickly.

I soon discovered that we had both studied in Darjeeling (in different schools, in different eras), and that among other things, he was a very keen student of military history. Which perhaps explains why he did what he did in 1971.

The son of a Baghdadi Jew who ran a reasonably prosperous business in Kolkata, young Jake went against his father's wishes to join the British Indian Army when he was just 18.

It was 1941, and World War II was in full swing. His first posting was to Iraq, and then North Africa, where his unit arrived too late for any real action. He was then shifted to Burma to fight against the Japanese, and then to Malaysia. When the war ended, he went on to take an advanced artillery course in the UK, before returning to an Independent India.

His experience came in handy during the India-Pakistan wars. He was promoted to Brigadier in 1963, and fought against the Pakistanis in the deserts of Rajasthan during the 1965 war. By 1967, he was a brigadier, and two years later he was promoted to Major General.

In 1969, another World War II veteran, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, was appointed chief of the Indian army, and one of the first things he did was to name Jacob as Chief of Staff, Eastern Army Command.

War clouds were looming once again, with India struggling to cope with the huge influx of Bengali refugees from East Pakistan fleeing persecution by migrants and the military from the western wing, bent on imposing Muslim law and Urdu as the national language.

India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had not only planned and prepared for this war, it also armed and trained the Mukti Bahini (or Liberation Army) --which wanted freedom from West Pakistan - for quite a while.

War was officially declared on December 3, 1971, after Pakistani aircraft strafed some 11 Indian Air bases in the west in an attempted pre-emptive strike. As India engaged with the Pakistanis in the east and the west, The Soviet Union and the United States took sides. The US , under President Richard Nixon, chose Pakistan.

But before the two nuclear powers and Cold War rivals could get really get actively involved, Pakistan's eastern wing surrendered to the Indian forces. The war was over. Bangladesh was born.

Weeks later, Pakistan's Chief Justice Hamidur Rahman was asked to head a War Inquiry Commission, to examine the reasons for the debacle. On being asked by the commission why he had accepted such a shameful unconditional public surrender ,when he had 26,400 troops in Dacca and the Indians only a few thousand outside, General Niazi replied: " I was compelled to do so , as I was blackmailed by Jacob into surrendering." He repeats this in his book "Betrayal of East Pakistan."

In Crossed Swords, his authoritative book on the Pakistani military, Pakistani American writer Shuja Nawaz notes that "....in the words of a later Pakistan National Defence College study of the war, the Indians planned and executed their offensive against East Pakistan in a text book manner. It was a classic example of thorough planning, minute coordination, and bold execution. The credit clearly goes to General Jacob's meticulous preparations in the Indian eastern command."

It was Jacob who insisted that he could not strike Bangladesh until the rains ended, which also gave him time to make preparations for the war. And when the war did begin, one of things General Jacob did was to blatantly ignore orders to take Khulna and Chittagong and consolidate. Instead, he made a beeline for Dacca.

When he reached the outskirts of the capital, he had 3,000 men. Niazi had nearly 30,000. But Niazi also knew that the Bengali people were against him and his men, sought a ceasefire under UN auspices.

On December 16, armed with nothing but a surrender document drafted by him but yet to be cleared by the Indian high command, Jacob entered Dacca, and headed for Niazi's headquarters. Fighting was going on in the streets of the capital between the Mukti Bahini and the Pakistani army.

Niazi tried to bluster, but Jacob was firm.

"General, I assure you if you surrender in public, accept these terms, we will look after you and your men. The Government of India has given its word and will ensure your safety and that of your civilians. If you do not, then we can take no responsibility," Jacob recalls telling Niazi. "He (Niazi) kept talking until I said, General, I cannot give you any better terms. I will give you 30 minutes. If you don’t comply I would have no option but to order resumption of hostilities."

He walked out, and paced up and down outside Niazi's office.

On his return, Niazi kept quiet. "I walked up to him. The document was on the table and I asked him: General, do you accept this document? I asked him three times but he didn't answer. So I picked it up. I said, I take it as accepted."

Thus was the first and perhaps only public surrender in modern military history won. The rest, as they say, is history.

Sadly, we do not learn from our history. Today, as the nation celebrates 'Vijay Diwas', it is worth pondering that General Jacob is not on any official invitation list.

Is this how we treat our heroes?

Exclusive! General JFR Jacob on  1971 War: Izzat and lessons unlearnt | More by JFR Jacob

Where have all our heroes gone?
| Special Series: We need a hero!


 




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