1971 War: What happened before Pakistan's public surrender to India

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 15, 2017 17:01 hrs


Lt Gen Niazi signing the Instrument of Surrender as Lt Gen Aurora looks on. Standing immediately behind from L to R: Vice Admiral Krishnan, Air Marshal Dewan, Lt Gen Sagat Singh, Maj Gen JFR Jacob (with Flt Lt Krishnamurthy peering over his shoulder). Veteran newscaster, Surojit Sen of All India Radio, is seen holding a microphone on the right. Image courtesy: Indian Navy

Late night 14 th December 1971, Peshawar, West Pakistan.

General Yahya Khan, then President of Pakistan was giving a party in his newly constructed house. There were a few selected guests and a Bengali woman, Mrs. Shammim (also known as Black Pearl), was one of those chosen ones. She was Gen Yahya’s latest `close` friend, who was awarded Ambassadorship of Austria for her services. The party was full of fun, drinks and lust. Soon, people started getting high on alcohol and low in clothes. When almost everyone, except the Military Secretary of the President – Major General Ishaque, was drunk and half naked, `Black Pearl` came to say Good Night to the President. President Gen Yahya Khan insisted that he himself would drive her home. Maj Gen Ishaque had to forcefully convince the President to at least put on his pants. Ishaque could not save East Pakistan but saved his Army from another great deal of embarrassment.

And all this was happening when 3 Indian Brigades (73, 301 and 311 Brigade - approximately 10000 troops) has crossed the mighty Meghna river in East Pakistan and were all set to attack Dacca. And to knock Dacca’s door, a 75/24 Howitzer gun was carried across Balu River with 168 shells. Every half an hour, that gun fired at different targets on Dacca Cantonment.

This was not the first time when Gen Yahya behaved so casually during the war. On hearing the formal declaration of war on 3 December, a retired Pakistani Brigadier Gul Mawaz, who was an old friend of Yahya Khan, went to see Yahya. The Brigadier found Gen Yahya and his Chief of Staff, Gen Hamid completely drunk. Yahya casually told Brig Mawaz that he has done his job by launching the army and his generals would take care of the rest. Just then a call came from Japan. The famous Pakistani singer Noor Jahan was on the call. Yahya excitedly informed Brig Mawaz whom the call was from and requested the singer to sing a song for him!

There was a reason behind this casual approach. Pakistani Military Junta virtually gave up on East Pakistan when they adopted the strategy – `Defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan`. As early as 22 February 1971, the Pakistani President General Yahya Khan said in a meeting, “Kill three million of them (Bengalis), and the rest will eat out of our hands.” 

Since the military crackdown in March 1971, the Pakistani leadership did not take any step to either resolve the East Pakistani crises politically (by handling over the power to Awami league party) or by preparing East Pakistani front to fight the inevitable war. Between March and December 1971, Pak army killed millions of Bengalis and raped hundreds of thousands of women. Some officers had their personal harems and there were several rape camps, where women were raped repeatedly. Approximately 25000 women got pregnant as a result. To avoid social turmoil international organizations like Red Cross had to set up Abortion camps.

Incompetent and Corrupt Leadership
This brutality did not start on its own as Army anywhere is a very disciplined organization and rarely engage in such acts so openly, unless they have been given clearance from the higher command. This is exactly what happened in East Pakistan.

Major-General (retd) Khadim Hussain Raja who commanded 14 Pak Division during the war, wrote a book `A Stranger in my own country`. In his book, he blamed Lt Gen Niazi for encouraging the rape culture. On page 98, he wrote “……Niazi became abusive and started raving. Breaking into Urdu, he said: Main iss haramzadi qaum ki nasal badal doon ga. Yeh mujhe kiya samajhtey hain. He threatened that he would let his soldiers loose on their womenfolk. There was pin drop silence at these remarks. The next morning, we were given the sad news. A Bengali Officer Major Mushtaq went into a bathroom at the Command Headquarters and shot himself in the head”.

On another occasion, Niazi asked Gen Raja for phone numbers of his Bengali girlfriends: “Abhi tau mujhey Bengali girlfriends kay phone number day do” (at least now, give me the phone number of your Bengali girlfriends).

When the world started taking notice of the large scale atrocities, in their defence Gen Niazi reportedly said, "One cannot fight a war here in East Pakistan and go all the way to West Pakistan to have an ejaculation" and Gen Yahya Khan reportedly said, "issi bahane bachche sundar honge East Pakistan main (take it as a blessing in disguise, at least kids will be beautiful there in East Pakistan)".

After the war, Hamoodur Rahman commission was set up in Pakistan to investigate the debacle. Commission severally criticized both Gen Yahya and Gen Niazi for their immoral acts. As per the report: "There is little doubt that Gen. Niazi, unfortunately, came to acquire a bad reputation in sex matters, and this reputation has been consistent during his postings in Sialkot, Lahore and East Pakistan."

One of the witnesses, Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmad Khan testified that "The troops used to say that when the Commander (Lt. Gen. Niazi) was himself a rapist, how could they be stopped".

Hence murder, loot and rape became the order of the day.

Due to the Pakistani Army’s crackdown, millions of Bengalis took refuge in neighbouring Indian states. A guerrilla force named Multi Bahini emerged from these refugees who started attacking isolated columns of Pakistani Army in rural areas. This harassment continued till the war finally broke out in December 1971 and seriously damaged the Pakistani Army’s will to fight. The Army’s involvement in large scale atrocities had already taken a toll on their professional abilities. The last nail in their coffin was the incompetent military leadership.

Flawed "Fortress" Strategy


Indian jawans atop a captured T-59 tank of the Pakistan Army. The T-59 was a copy of the Russian T-55. This photo was probably taken in the Chamb sector. Image Courtesy Bharat Rakshak.

By the second half of 1971, it was clear that sooner or later India and Pakistan would go to war. To stop the Indian Army’s advance towards Dacca, Lt. Gen. Niazi had adopted Fortress Strategy. Following his plan, he turned a number of major towns of East Pakistan into Fortresses, where Pakistani forces were instructed to fight the advancing Indian Army to a certain point and then fall back into Dacca bawl to make Dacca an impregnable fortress. His plan was to fight a long war of attrition till International community could force Indian side to a ceasefire.

Major Siddique Salik (later Brigadier) was posted as Public Relations Officer in East Pakistan in 1970. In his book Witness to Surrender, Siddique mentioned that during the planning phase, he brought Niazi’s attention to the limited number of troops and resources at his (Niazi’s) disposal. Niazi responded by saying "In war, it is not the number but general ship that counts".

Niazi failed to live up to those words but his counterparts in the Indian Army did not.

Lt. Gen. Sagat Singh (Commander 4 Corps) and Maj. Gen. Gandharva Nagra (Commander 101 Communication Zone) bypassed and blocked Niazi’s fortresses so effectively that nothing substantial could fall back to Dacca. By 15 December Morning, India had enough troops around Dacca to bring Niazi to his knees.

Between Dacca and Rawalpindi


Indian jawans climb on top of a knocked out Pak Army M-47 Patton tank at Shabazpur, in the Shakargarh Bulge. Notice the tracks on the left, which have been stripped. Image Courtesy Bharat Rakshak.

Since 3 December 1971, there had been a number of messages between Niazi and Pak GHQ (in Rawalpindi) and between Governor Dr. Malik and President Gen Yahya Khan. Through these signals, Niazi and Dr. Malik kept updating West Pakistan about the fast deteriorating situation. On 10 December, Niazi informed Pak GHQ that India had heli-dropped a brigade size force south of Narsingdi at 1630 hrs and para-dropped a brigade in Tangail (In fact, it was just 2 Para Battalion in Tangail and not a brigade). Niazi desperately asked that the promised foreign help should reach East Pakistan by first light 12 December. instead of any help, he just received a false hope from the CGS Gen Gul Hassan: “White friends (Americans) will come from the south and Yellow friends (Chinese) will come from the north.”

But no help came forward.

Finally, early on 14 December, Gen Yahya sent a signal (no. G-0013) to Niazi and the Governor Dr.Mlik. Yahya praised them for fighting a heroic battle against overwhelming odds and asked Niazi to take all necessary measures to stop the fighting and save lives of Armed Forces personal from west Pakistan and of loyal elements.

Surprisingly this message was not sent as a classified message and was prone to be intercepted by enemy forces. Considering it as an Indian trick, Niazi asked his staff to call GHQ to validate its authenticity. Brig Janjua from the GHQ confirmed on the phone that message was real and meant to be an unclassified message. Perhaps Pak Army top brass had decided to wash their hands off East Pakistan and deliberately sent that signal as an unclassified for Indian Army to intercept. Such a message in Indian hands would speed up Indian efforts to end the game in East Pakistan.

At around 11 AM on 14 December, IAF learnt through an intercepted message that the Governor of East Pakistan (Dr. AM Malik) had called a meeting at Governor’s House at 12 noon. Within 45 minutes, IAF’s Mig-21 not only located Governor’s House in the congested landscape of Dacca but fired their rockets in the Conference Room with pin point accuracy. While the bombing was going on, Dr. Malik wrote his resignation while hiding under a table. Dr. Malik and his cabinet then took refuge at Hotel Intercontinental, which was declared as `Neutral Zone` under UN protection.

Siddique wrote that East Pakistan Government ceased to exist on 14 December. `Tiger` Niazi lost all hopes of foreign help and slumped into his mood of despondency. Niazi hardly came out of his fortified bunker on or after 14 December.

Though the signal (G-0013) did not ask Niazi to surrender (it just asked Niazi to `take all necessary measures to stop the fighting’), a depressed Niazi wasted no time and contacted Mr. Spivac of American Counsel General to arrange a ceasefire with the Indian government. Spivac sent Niazi’s proposal to Washington. On 15 December, Washington instructed its Ambassador in Islamabad to get the proposal approved by President Yahya Khan. But Yahya was busy with his House Warming party and `Black Pearl`.

Foreign Secretary Sultan Ahmad approved Niazi’s proposal on behalf of Gen Yahya Khan.

From ceasefire to Surrender


Pakistan Army Officers lay down their side-arms as a formal act of surrender to the Indian Army in East Pakistan. Image Courtesy Bharat Rakshak.

Niazi just wanted a ceasefire and did not want to surrender. It was Lt. Gen. Jacob of Indian Army who got Niazi agreed to surrender unconditionally in full public view.

On 16 December morning, Indian Army Chief Gen Manekshaw called Gen Jacob and asked him to go to Dacca to take the surrender of Pak forces. The Chief had already sent a draft of surrender document to Gen Jacob.

Meanwhile, Gen Gandharva Nagra of Indian Army was outside Dacca with his forces on 16 th December early morning. He sent his ADC and two officers of 2 Para Battalion with a message for Niazi “My dear Abdullah, I am here. The game is up. I suggest you give yourself up to me, and I will look after you.” At around 9 AM, messengers drove in a white flagged jeep and returned with Maj Gen Jamshed of Pak Army. Niazi had agreed.

Nagra and his officers went to Niazi’s HQ. On seeing Nagra enter his office, Niazi broke down and said: “Pindi main bethe hue haramzadon ne marwa diya” (Those bastards at higher headquarters at Pindi have let me down).

In the afternoon Gen Jacob landed in Dacca and was received by a Pakistani Brigadier and two representatives from the UN – Mr. Kelly and Mr. Mark Henry. One of them told Gen Jacob, "General, we are coming with you to take over the Government.” 

Jake said,” Thank you, but no thank you.” 

Gen Jacob met Gen Niazi in his HQ where Pak Navy admiral and the Military Advisor to East Pakistan Governor – Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali were also present. When Jacob read out the surrender document, both Niazi and Ali refused to surrender. Jacob first tried to convince them for some time. Finally, he took Niazi aside and said "I have offered you terms that you will be treated with respect and as per Geneva convention, only if you surrender. If you refuse to surrender, I will wash my hands off anything that happens. I give you 30 minutes to consider the proposal. If you refuse after 30 minutes, I will order the resumption of hostilities and bombing of Dacca". Jake walked out of the room without waiting for a response.

Those were the longest 30 minutes of Jacob’s life. After half an hour, he went to Niazi and asked, "General, do you accept the surrender?".  Niazi did not respond. Jake asked the same question again and then for the third time, still no response from Niazi. Jake picked up the surrender document and said "I take it as accepted. You will surrender on the Race Course in front of the people of Dacca."

Niazi tried to refuse in a choked voice. Jake looked him in the eye and said, "You will. There is no question about it that you will surrender in public. You will also provide a guard of honour to Lt. Gen. Aurora."

Niazi gave the excuse that he had no one to command it. Jake pointed towards Niazi’s ADC and said, "Your ADC is there. He will bloody well command it." Gen Jacob insisted on guard of honour because after World War 2, when Japanese surrender, Jake went to Sumatra to accept the surrender. He was given a guard of honour by Japanese.

And it happened exactly the same way. It is the only public surrender in known history.

Bibliography: -
1. Witness To Surrender by Siddique Salik
2. A Stranger in my own country by Major-General (retd) Khadim Hussain Raja
3. Hamoodur Rahman commission report
4. Pakistan's drift into extremism by Hassan Abbas
5. Liberation: Bangladesh - 1971 by Maj Gen Dhruv C Katoch
6. A Talent for War: The Military Biography of Lt Gen Sagat Singh by Randhir Sinh
7. Leap Across Meghna: Blitzkrieg of IV Corps 1971 by Onkar Singh Goraya
8. India's War since Independence by Maj Gen Sukhwant Singh



Sumit Walia is an IT Specialist, based in Germany . He is also a military history buff who continues to explore & research various facets of the Indian Military history in his spare time.

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