|About the time my family arrived in Comilla, 3 Commando Battalion was
afflicted with dhobis itch, this was something that had been taught to us
cadets in hygiene, I had forgotten about it. I notice that some officers while talking to
me would suddenly ask to be excused and run, I had seen some men scratching their private
parts vigorously, somehow our Regimental Medical Officer Captain Rehman did not take any
notice of the situation, eventually I also got it and had to go to the hospital and had to
have a purple lotion applied. Major Hussain, an officer who had been our medical officer
at Attock Fort, explained how and why it was being spread. The next day I inspected the
dhobi ghat where the battalion dhobi washed clothes. The ghat consisted of about ten
concrete troughs in which clothes were supposed to be washed, the dhobi was using only one
of them, he had filled it with water and every day washed clothes in dirty water which had
green moss. A man was detailed to ensure that the trough was changed every day and filled
with clean water. It took about two weeks for every one to recover.
I soon had every thing under control, normal training and exercises were carried out, the only problem was that if any thing went wrong in the cantonment, 3 Commando had to prove that they were not to blame. Major General A. O. Mitha, the Quartermaster General, while on a visit to East Pakistan visited the battalion and spoke to the officers. I explained to the general that the major hardship of service in East Pakistan was that officers and the men could not afford to go to West Pakistan when they had trouble at home, I told him that in 1965 I had gone on a course to the United States and there all armed services personnel were allowed to travel by air, on a fill up basis, that is, all seats left over were given to armed services personnel at half the cost, I suggested that if this could be done between East and West Pakistan, for service personnel, it would be a big help. Some months later inter wing movement of troops was changed from ships to chartered air flights, warrants for travel by air were introduced, and personnel traveling on leave could travel at half price.
After I had been in command for about two months the SSG Group Commander Brigadier Sherullah Beg informed me that he would be coming on an inspection visit. On the appointed date he with his GSO 2, Major Iqbal Nazir Waraich, later brigadier, arrived, he stayed three days, I fully briefed him on all that had happened since I had taken over the command, he witnessed an exercise, went around the battalion, at that time I was limping with a problem in one of my ankles. He went back to Cherat and about ten days later I received a letter informing me that the Group Commander was not satisfied with the state of the battalion and my physical condition and warning me that he would place me on an adverse report if things did not improve. The letter came as surprise and shock to me and after thinking it over I telephoned Eastern Command and asked for a interview with Lieutenant General Yaqub which was granted.
I went to Dacca and was waiting in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Nusratullah, the AA&QMG, when my adjutant telephoned from Comilla to inform me that the Frogman Platoon in Rangamati had beaten up a police officer. A little later I was called by the Commander Eastern Command, Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, I informed him that I had received a letter giving me a warning for an adverse report, the general asked for the letter, read it, told me forget it and told me to carry on. I then told him what had happened in Rangamati, he asked me what I was going to do, I told him that I would go to Rangamati, hold a summary court martial and withdraw the Frogmen from Rangamati.
I went to Rangamati and held an inquiry, in the inquiry it was found that a jeep belonging to the Frogman Platoon while returning from Chittagong was stopped by a police Assistant Sub-inspector who told the driver not to go around a bend as a bus was blocking the road, an argument followed and the driver beat up the police officer. I held the summary court martial in the compound of the rest house where the Frogman Platoon was staying, a crowd collected to witness the court martial, I gave the accused three months rigorous imprisonment in military custody, the crowd was very impressed with the procedure, the policeman was surprised with the speed with which the matter had been dealt with and was satisfied with the sentence.
The terrain in East Pakistan in the plains was water courses, parallel to these water courses were clusters of trees which indicated houses built on slightly raised ground, this raised ground was usually narrow in width but seemed to run endlessly, parallel to a line would be another line and in between a lush green paddy field. The highest ground was the embankment on which roads and the railway ran, houses were raised off the ground, made of bamboo or wood, with thatched roofs, a very few had galvanized iron sheet roofs, these were the government buildings. Every government building, bridge etc had the date on which it was completed, the dates were 1958 and after. In West Pakistan, even on the hottest day, farmers could be seen out in their fields doing something, in East Pakistan people were seldom seen working in fields, there was a population of fifty million, very few were visible. Another peculiarity was that the people, probably due to climatic conditions, went to sleep very late and were not seen before ten or eleven in the morning. Another difference was that the villages did not have shops, in every area there was a periodic or weekly bazaar called a haat. At sunset if one walked in the streets of a villages, from almost every house came the sound of the recitation of the Koran. While walking through a village or in a haat the feeling was that you were in a foreign country, you could understand nobody and nobody understood you.
Since the PAF had no transport aircraft in East Pakistan, troops could not be para-dropped, some MI 8 helicopters of the Army Aviation were based in Dacca, I started using these for transporting commando platoons and dropping them from hovering aircraft. In one exercise I went in a helicopter and selected the drop site, the area was flooded and I judged the depth of the water as about two feet from the tops of rice paddies showing above the water level. When the platoon being exercised was dropped the water level was found to be up to the neck and the shorter men had to be helped. Although the battalion had been in East Pakistan for about six years no one knew that a variety of rice paddy grew with the water level keeping its head out of the water.
The Frogman Platoon training was altered to dropping them by helicopters in rivers from where they approached their target and attacked it both by day and at night. For long range communications the battalion was equipped with man pack GRC9 sets, these weighed about ninety pounds, the load had to be divided between three men. A one time pad had to be used for coding messages, for short range communications, infantry PRC 31 sets were issued which had line of sight communication. I introduced a system of locating the signaler on tall trees and we got ranges upto ten miles.
The nights in East Pakistan were much darker than in West Pakistan, this made night shooting with rifles difficult even at very short ranges. In night training, because of the darkness, it was not possible to judge what mistake the soldier was making. To overcome this I conceived the idea of night training during the day, it seemed impossible at first but eventually the problem was resolved with a very simple device, welding glasses with a tight strap and blue filters changed the daylight into darkness and the darkness could be varied from bright moonlight to starlight and to pitch darkness by varying the number of filters.
With the monsoons came the floods and the 1970 floods were unprecedented. As the Martial Law administrator of Comilla I had to visit the flood affected areas, I went on the roads that were not submerged or by boat, the whole area was one mass of water, from one bank of a river you could not see the other bank. The President, General A. M. Yahya Khan toured the flooded areas in a large boat belonging to the Inland Water Transport Authority, he came to Daudkandi, the site of the first ferry on the road from Comilla to Dacca. Brigadier Iqbal Shafi and I stood a line and were introduced to him, he held a press conference and left.
Since the flood affected the normal distribution of food, the government arranged to supply food, wheat from West Pakistan was brought, distributed free of cost and given in accordance with the number of members in a family. One place that I visited, wheat was being issued as per government instructions, every thing was all right, I noticed that after collecting the wheat all the people would walk along the road towards the other end of the village, having nothing to do, I walked along the road, at the other end of the village I found that a Hindu bania had set up a stall and was buying the wheat.
After the floods had subsided the government decided to close the borders with India to prevent smuggling, immediately food prices fell and truck loads of fish and other commodities were found abandoned by the smugglers. Smuggling from East Pakistan to India was a major business. Warehouses of rice and other commodities were located at the border from where they could easily move stuff across the border, also the major importers of medicines and other expensive foreign items were located near the border or at the border, at one point the railway line between Comilla and Dacca was just inside the Pakistan border and things could be dumped across the border from a train. Lieutenant Colonel Sikander, who had been with me in 13 Lancers, serving with East Pakistan Rifles as the Sylhet Wing Commander, told me that the Indians followed a policy of un-officially permitting the smuggling into India of items imported into Pakistan by paying with our scarce foreign exchange and jute, and the smuggling out of India of certain cheap consumer items.
After the announcement that elections would be held, Bengali soldiers from the Battalion returning from leave started reporting that the Awami League strong arm was well organised, it was mobile on motor cycles and was intimidating all other political parties. Some time before the elections I had gone to Dacca and met Lieutenant Colonel Riaz Sheikh, 6 Lancers, who was transferred to the Intelligence Bureau, he told me that their estimate was that Sheikh Mujib would win thirty seven per cent of the seats, Bhashani would win about an equal number and twenty five per cent would be divided amongst the smaller parties.
Living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the Rangamati District, were some thousands of Mizos driven out of the Assam province of India because they had revolted and were in armed conflict. The revolt had occurred just after the end of the 1965 war with India, when it was suppressed, the Mizos took refuge in Pakistan in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, in the Rangamati District of Chittagong, and were provided with food etc. The District Commissioner Rangamati constantly lodged complaints against them for being indisciplined, for destroying wild life and the forest. The Government of East Pakistan asked the army to investigate the complaints and I was ordered to send a party to investigate the complaints. I sent a party under an officer and the finding was that they had caused some damage but they gave the reason that their food supply from the government was being withheld by the District Commissioner Rangamati who wanted them sent back to India.
In November, a cyclone struck Chittagong, Noakhali, Patuakhali area, in Comilla strong winds rattled the windows, electricity and the telephone did not fail, about two days later we learnt about the extent of the calamity. 53 Brigade was called out in the aid of civil power, Brigadier Iqbal Shafi, 53 Brigade Commander asked that 3 Commando Battalion be excluded from the relief duties because of our reputation and we were excluded, we were still in the dog house. Some British troops were flown in from an aircraft to help, this made the Bengali press comment that our troops stayed in the cantonment while foreign troops gave assistance.
From the brigade officers who were employed in the affected area we heard of the complete indifference of the Bengali officials who gave no help in organising the assistance and burying the dead. We also heard about the operating methods of the free world press reporters, they came by helicopter from Dacca, somehow the maimed, the starved looking and the most hideous, men, women and children were gathered in vicinity of the helipad, the reporters would pick and choose from them and for a price they would pose, similarly some sites of people floating in water were kept to be photographed, these photographs would appear in the world press. The aid, blankets and other items, like the wheat distributed during the floods, was sold openly every where. The rank and file of the army gave their best, but the public relations of the work done by the army and the whole affair was badly managed by the government and the army command in East Pakistan.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Abdul Hamid Khan visited the battalion, he had visited 22 Cavalry when I was commanding it. I had been given his arrival and departure time and I prepared a schedule to keep him busy from his arrival to his departure, this included a demonstration of my innovation for night training with welding goggles, a discussion about the equipment for the battalion, my request was for better wireless equipment and a discussion about the plight of the Mizos. The COAS said that new wireless equipment could not be bought from a foreign country and we would have to wait for indigenous production. After the scheduled time was over I was expecting the COAS to make his departure remarks but instead he looked at his watch and said he had fifteen minutes more and would like to see my unit lines. In East Pakistan when we went for physical training in the morning the clothes that we wore were soaked in sweat and when they were taken off and left in the barrack, the barrack stank. I had ordered a clothes line to be rigged in the veranda of the barracks and after physical training all sweat soaked clothes were hung to dry. When the COAS asked to see the unit lines the clothes were hanging in the veranda as I had not included a visit to the unit lines. Colonel Amir Gulistan Janjua, a former commanding officer of 3 Commando Battalion, Personal Secretary to the COAS, when he saw the clothes hanging in the verandas, he was very upset and showed annoyance, when we got out of our vehicles the COAS looked at me and I explained that the clothes were hanging by my order and the reason for it. I had not prepared for a barrack inspection but inside the barrack every thing was well laid out, neat and clean.
A sand model exercise to plan the defence of East Pakistan, called Titu Mir, was held in Comilla to discuss how 53 Brigade, with four battalions would defend the area from Sylhet to Chittagong, I was ordered to attend the exercise as an observer, observers were not allowed to speak. For the area to be defended the four battalions were inadequate, to overcome this shortage a small sand model was made and very large company signs were used to obtain an almost continuous front from Sylhet to Chittagong, not only this but the same troops were to fight in three successive positions, at the end of the exercise comments were asked for and the observers were allowed to speak, I said that the troops were inadequate for the front that was to be defended, there were no troops to prepare the second and third positions and all the defence stores would be expended at the first position, Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan then stood up and said that a lot of more thought had to be given to the problem and wound up the exercise.