OPINION

THE WAY IT WAS

za-khan

DJ continues publishing extracts from

Brig (Retd) ZA KHAN’s very readable

forthcoming book

My posting to 3 Commando Battalion in East Pakistan came granting me one months leave before proceeding to East Pakistan. Major Akhtar Mahmud Khawaja, 5 Horse, on promotion to lieutenant colonel was to relieve me which he did promptly. The usual farewell parties were held, when I finally went to the regiment to say good bye to all ranks, the regiment was out in a training camp, I shook hands with all ranks present, the last man being the risaldar major who had always maintained a little distance after I had given him a warning, he shook hands with me and said I was the only officer he had known who had not taken anything from the regiment, this was the strangest compliment that was ever paid to me.

While on leave I got in touch with the Commander SSG Brigadier Sherullah Beg who asked me to come to Cherat before leaving for East Pakistan, I went to Cherat and was given a briefing about 3 Commando Battalion, generally it was said that an unfortunate incident had occurred and no one was to be blamed. In Rawalpindi I learnt that the report about the incident in Chittagong had reached the Commander-in-Chief and President General A. M. Yahya Khan when all the generals had collected for the annual formation commander’s conference, he was very annoyed and had ordered 3 Commando Battalion to be disbanded, Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, Commander Eastern Command, and Major General A. O. Mitha talked him out of it. On my way to East Pakistan I stopped a night at Major General Mitha’s house in Rawalpindi and he told me that in commanding 3 Commando Battalion I should not do anything that would break the spirit of the battalion, it was very good, correct and timely advice.

On arrival at Dacca I was met by Lieutenant Colonel Nusratullah who was AA&QMG at the Eastern Command Headquarters and whom I had informed of my arrival, he took me to his house, put me up and informed me that I had to see Commander Eastern Command before leaving for Comilla where 3 Commando Battalion was located. The next day I saw Lieutenant General Yaqub and he said that he was giving me six months to straighten out 3 Commando Battalion.

3 Commando Battalion was stationed in Chittagong cantonment, in April 1970, Brigadier Sherullah Beg carried out the annual inspection of the unit and gave a holiday for the good performance of the unit in the inspection. After the inspection Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq with Brigadier Sherullah Beg left for Dacca from where the brigadier was to fly to West Pakistan, most of the officers went on leave on the holiday. On the holiday some men went to the city, two of them made sexual advances to some boys in the Chandni Chowk Market, the boys were from a school near the market, they spoke to other boys and men, a crowd collected and surrounded about eight men of the battalion who were in the market and a fight started, one man who saw what was going on, telephoned the battalion duty officer and told him that some men had been surrounded by a crowd and a fight was going on, Major Abdul Mannan, the senior officer present, detailed Captain Sajjad Akbar and ten men with weapons and ammunition to go to the Chandni Chowk market and extricate the men. Captain Sajjad arrived at the market and surrounded the crowd, a little later a police detachment arrived and surrounded the commandos. The district commissioner and the press arrived at the scene, the situation was defused, the district commissioner talked to the press, including some foreign reporters, and the news that there had been a fight between the army and civilians was published in the local and international newspapers. The immediate action taken by the army was to shift 3 Commando Battalion to Comilla where it was placed under the administrative command of the 53 Brigade Commander Brigadier Iqbal Shafi, and under command 14 Division.

3 Commando Battalion was a commando battalion of two commando companies, (1 and 2 Commando Battalions in West Pakistan had three companies each ) a headquarter platoon, a signal platoon and frogman platoon. Personnel posted to East Pakistan had to serve there for two years in 3 Commando Battalion, this was done by rotating a company and half of the other personnel every two years which meant that half the battalion was rotated every year, when I joined the battalion it consisted of Ebrahim Company commanded by Major Salman Ahmad, later colonel, which was due to return to West Pakistan at the end of the year, Hamza Company commanded by Major Abdul Mannan, later a minister in Bangladesh, the frogman platoon was commanded by Subedar Ramzam, later subedar major, Captain Sajjad Akbar, later major, and Captain Khokhar later brigadier, were the adjutant and quartermaster, respectively, there was no second in command, each platoon was commanded by a captain. The commanding officer of 3 Commando Battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq Choudhry, SJ, from my course, on whose appointment as the commanding officer of 3 Commando Battalion I had asked to be reverted to the Armoured Corps from 2 Commando Battalion.

I arrived in Comilla and found that Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq had gone to Rangamati and Chittagong on his farewell round and left word for me to join him in Chittagong at the address where he was staying and I was to stay also. I was informed that there was farewell party in the Chittagong Club and I was invited. That night the party went on till late at night, I was introduced to a lot of people, business men, officers from tea estates, some army officers. The next day I went to Rangamati, saw the detachment of frogmen training under Subedar Ramzan and returned to Comilla.

On the first day of my command of 3 Commando Battalion when I asked for my jeep to go some where, the driver brought the vehicle, parked it out side my office, when I entered the vehicle, though he was standing on side from which I got in the vehicle he did not salute, when I questioned him he did not have an answer, I gave him twenty eight days rigorous imprisonment on the spot, after doing his punishment he asked to be reverted to his parent unit and I reverted him.

The change in command of 3 Commando Battalion and the change of the subedar major of the battalion had coincided. Subedar Gul Zamir, 1 Commando Battalion, originally from the Ordnance Corps, had come from West Pakistan and relieved the Subedar Major Mannan who left before I was officially in command.

While going around with Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq I saw a civilian locked up in the quarter guard and asked why he was locked up and was told that he had been found loitering around and had been locked up. One of the first things I did after Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq left was to tell the adjutant to hand over the man in the quarter guard to the Field Intelligence Unit (FIU). Later in the day, on my first day in command, Subedar Major Gul Zamir came to my office at about mid-day and reported that along with the man locked up in the quarter guard, there had been another man who had also been taken into custody by the detachment in Rangamati, he had died while being interrogated and the body had been disposed off in the Kaptai Lake.

The procedure for dealing with suspected enemy agents was to hand them over to the Field Intelligence Unit or the police, they were not supposed to be interrogated or kept locked up in the unit guard room. In the next few days, almost daily, I was informed that various intelligence units were buzzing around the unit looking for some information, then the officer commanding the FIU telephoned and asked me that in Rangamati two men had been apprehended by the SSG detachment and asked what had happened to the second man, I put him off and telephoned 14 Division Headquarters for permission to come to Dacca to report something which could not be discussed on the telephone. The next day I went to Dacca, met the General Officer Commanding 14 Division, Major General Khadim Raja, and told him what had happened. Later I learnt that Captain Khokhar was in Rangamati with the frogman detachment, the detachment was in a government rest house whose grounds were overlooked by a road, they were doing some training and these two men stood and watched, the frogmen noticed them and apprehended them as spies. Instead of handing them over to the police Captain Khokhar and the frogmen decided to interrogate them, the men were taken into the rest house, one of them was hung by his feet with his head down and chilies were burnt near his face, the man died, the frogmen took the body wrapped in a fishing net around it weighed it down and dropped it in the middle of Kaptai Lake. The chowkidar of the rest house had witnessed the whole proceeding, he reported the affair to the District Commissioner Rangamati who sent a report to the government authorities. Apparently Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq learnt about it and had gone to Rangamati but decided to keep quiet about the affair.

After taking over the command I met Brigadier Iqbal Shafi, the Station Commander, he was not happy with the Commando battalion stationed in Comilla and not under his command. He told me to take over the duties of Martial Law in Comilla District, I objected to being given Martial Law duties and said that I had a command which would require my full attention, I also told him that SSG officers were exempt from Martial Law duties but he insisted that I had to take over till I produced the authority exempting me.

Talking to the officers I found out that Lieutenant Colonel Shams-ul-Haq had been on Martial Law duties and had used the battalion quarter guard to lock up labour leaders etc and the personnel of the battalion to interrogate and intimidate civilians. The men of the battalion had developed a false sense of superiority, two incidents took place in the Combined Military Hospital within a week of my taking over the command, in one a soldier went to the hospital when he was given his medicine he said that he wanted another medicine when it was refused he threw the medicine he had been given at the medical officer and walked out. In the second incident, two men went to the hospital in a jeep, the hospital was located on the outer perimeter of Comilla cantonment with the Comilla-Dacca road in between, there were two gates to the hospital, for some reason the nearer gate had been locked by the hospital authorities and the distant gate was used for entering and exiting, the two men lifted the near gate threw it on the side of the road and drove in. Both incidents were reported to me and I had to take disciplinary action.

In a few days I had made an assessment of the state of the battalion, they had walked tall and proud in Chittagong, they had the backing of Martial Law and there was nobody to stop them from doing anything, suddenly they were in disgrace, they were hurriedly moved from Chittagong where the battalion was stationed since it had come to East Pakistan, they were restricted to Comilla cantonment and were only allowed to visit Comilla city on duty or in organised bodies on holidays. I talked to the battalion and told them wearing a red beret, a commando insignia on the shirt, swaggering and being indisiplined did not make commandos, to be called commandos they had to be better soldiers than the rest of the army, this required superior professional knowledge and skill, it required a very high standard of discipline, it was for the army and the country to point them out as the best soldiers, as the elite of the army, as commandos, not for them to claim being superior.

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