OPINION

THE WAY IT WAS

za-khan

DJ continues publishing extracts from

Brig (Retd) ZA KHAN’s very readable

forthcoming book

On the 23rd of March at about mid-day I was informed that a C-130 had landed at the Commilla airport with food supplies for the garrison. With a change of uniform and the necessities for an overnight stay at Dacca I was leaving my house when my wife asked me to get her jewelry from the office safe as she would wear it at the party that was to be held in the officers’ club that evening. I had kept my wife’s jewelry in my office safe because we did not have any safe place at my house and there were no lockers in the banks at Commilla, I brought the jewelry and gave it to her. It was very lucky as the events turned out later.

Driving to the airport a small naked boy standing by roadside, saw my jeep and very ferociously shouted ‘joy bangla’. My two and half year old younger daughter also used to run around the house shouting ‘joy bangla’, chased by her older sister who tried to prevent her.

The Commilla airport had been secured with a platoon from Hamza Company of my battalion when the ‘General Strike’ started. The C-130 had brought rations for the Commilla garrison and as soon as it finished unloading tinned milk, sugar etc it took off. The pilot of the aircraft was Squadron Leader Abdul Munim Khan who was my younger brother Squadron Leader Shuaib Alam’s brother-in-law and was well known to me, we flew to Dacca talking about the situation in East Pakistan.

Since it was the 23rd of March, Pakistan Day, buildings were supposed to fly the Pakistan flag, as we flew over Dacca we saw the whole city flying the Bangladesh flag. When I arrived at the 14 Division officers’ mess someone told me that there was only one Pakistan flag flying and that was in Mohammadpur, the Bihari colony in Dacca. I, with some other officers went to a vantage point to see the lone Pakistan flag.

Major Bilal had been informed that I would be coming by the C-130 and he was at the airport to receive me. On the way from the airport to the officers’ mess he told me that he had instructions to take me to Colonel S. D. Ahmad of the Martial Law Headquarters. Since it was late in the afternoon we went to the colonel’s room in the officers mess, there the colonel told me that Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, the Awami League leader was to be arrested the next day or the day after and I was to make the necessary plan. He further told me that two cars had been placed at my disposal by the United Bank zonal manager and these were to be used for reconnaissance.

That evening Major Bilal, Captain Humayun and I drove around Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s house in Dhanmondi. In front of the house ran a lane which turned off from the road from Mohammadpur, on one side of the lane there was a lake. There was a large crowd near the house and a guard of the East Pakistan Police. As we drove past a group of Hindus came out of the house. No one challenged us because we had entered Dhanmondi and were driving out .

The next morning we looked at the routes from the cantonment to Dhanmondi, there were two, the main road from the cantonment to a road junction called ‘Farm Gate’, from there a road went to Dhanmondi. The second went from the MNA Hostel, to the National Assembly building and joined the Mohammadpur - Dhanmondi road. At the Dacca airport all the entrances and exits were on the cantonment side but on the far side there was a gate which allowed exit to the MNA Hostel, and National Assembly road. This gate had been built to allow an Air Observer Unit, commanded by my younger brother Squadron Leader Shuaib Alam, entrance and exit to the airfield.

way1.jpg (9053 bytes)

I was instructed to report to Major General Rao Farman at eleven o’clock on 24th March for formal orders to arrest Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. I went to the general’s office and he told me that Mujibur Rehman was to be arrested the following night. I heard him, saluted and started to leave when he stopped me and asked me aren’t you going to hear how it is to be done?. I told him that it was not customary to state how orders were to be carried out, but since he had something in mind he could tell me. He then said that I was to take one officer with me in a civilian car and arrest Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. I said in view of the crowd around the house it could not be done with less than a company. He said that he was giving an order and it should be done the way he had ordered it. I told him I was not taking the order and he could find someone else to do the job, and before he could say anything else I saluted and left his office.

I knew that I was in trouble. For the rest of the day I did not go to any place where I could be contacted. I had been told that Major General A. O. Mitha was coming by a PIA flight which was scheduled to arrive at five in the evening, when the flight arrived I was waiting on the airfield, met the general and told him about the orders I had received and that in view of the crowd around the house it was not possible to drive up to the house and arrest Sheikh Mujib. The general told me to meet him at nine o’clock at the Eastern Command Headquarters.

way2.jpg (20300 bytes)

The next morning just before nine I went to the office of the Colonel GS of Eastern Command, Colonel Akbar, later brigadier. When I entered the office I found Major General Rao Farman sitting there and he asked me why I had come to Colonel Akbar’s office, I told him that I had come to see Major General Mitha. Major General Farman then ordered Colonel Akbar to arrange for a helicopter and fly me out of Dacca in fifteen minutes. Colonel Akbar looked at me and at the general, and telephoned the Army Aviation Base, after finishing his conversation he said that it would take an hour for the helicopter to be ready. After this I asked Colonel Akbar whether Major General Mitha had come or was expected to come and he told me he was with Lieutenant General Tikka. I then positioned myself so that I could see the door opening into Lieutenant General Tikka’s office. After an uncomfortable fifteen minutes the door opened and Major General Mitha came out. In one bound I was out of Colonel Akbar’s office, intercepted the general and explained what had happened. The general’s staff car was standing there, he asked me to get in the car and we drove to where General Abdul Hamid Khan was staying.

At General Hamid’s residence I waited in a waiting room, after about an hour I was called in and Major General Mitha told me to tell General Hamid what I had told him. General Hamid heard me out and then telephoned Major General Rao Farman and told him that he was sending me to him and that he should meet all my requirements. General Hamid then told me that I was to arrest Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and that he was to be taken alive. When I was leaving and had got to the door, General Hamid called my name and when I turned around he again called out remember he is to be taken alive and I will hold you personally responsible if he is killed.

way3.jpg (15676 bytes)

I then drove to Major General Rao Farman’s office, he asked me what my requirement was and I told him that I required three troop carrying vehicles and the layout of the house. He had the plan of the house with him and gave it to me and told me that the vehicles would be available. I then told him that the Japanese Consul’s residence was behind Sheikh Mujib’s house and if Sheikh Mujib crossed into the diplomat’s house what were my instructions, the general told me to use my discretion.

A model of the route and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s house was made, ammunition was issued and after the evening meal I briefed the company. The company was divided into three groups; one group of twenty five men, commanded by Captain Saeed, was to surround Sheikh Mujib’s house by blocking the lane at the turning from the Mohammadpur - Dhanmondi road, a second block was to be at the first turning to the right, a third at the second turning to the right and one back on the Mohammadpur - Dhanmondi road, cutting off the block of houses including the Japanese diplomat’s house. The second group of twenty five, commanded by Captain Humayun, was to follow the first group to the lane in front of Sheikh Mujib’s house, enter the compound of the house adjacent to the Sheikh’s house, jump over the wall, enter Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s house compound and form a perimeter around the house, taking special care to prevent anybody crossing into the Japanese diplomat’s house. The third group of twelve men was commanded by Major Bilal, these were equipped with electric torches, they were to search the house, the ground floor first then the upper floor. The assembly point was the gate on the airfield perimeter opening towards the MNA Hostel, the route was the airfield, National Assembly building, Mohammadpur, Dhanmondi; my jeep with full headlights was to lead. Captain Saeed, Captain Humayun and Major Bilal were to follow with their groups in trucks without any lights, the idea was that anyone looking into the headlights could not gauge how many vehicles were following. I was told that the operation was to begin at mid-night and was given a password that was applicable throughout East Pakistan. Everyone taking part was briefed thoroughly and understood his part, the company moved and assembled on the airfield near the gate from which they were to exit. Captain Humayun, with two men, was sent to circle and observe the Sheikh’s house in a civilian car and in civil dress.

After dark, vehicles loaded with stores that the troops take with them when they move out of their barracks, started moving about in the cantonment and to anyone familiar with the army it would have been obvious that something was happening. Later it was said that Bengali officers had informed Sheikh Mujib that the army was going to act that night.

At about nine o’clock I drove to the airfield and when my jeep entered the airport area I was challenged by a soldier who demanded the password. I gave him the password and he told me that it was not the password, an argument followed, I told him that I was the commanding officer of the Commando Battalion, he said that without the password I could not enter the airfield. I then asked him what his unit was and he told me that he belonged to the Anti-aircraft Regiment, I then told him to take me to his commanding officer and we marched right across the airfield to the Anti-aircraft regiment headquarters with him pointing his rifle at me. The regiment commander apologised but was quite amused by the incident. He said that he had not been given the password that had been given to me and since his unit was guarding the airfield, he had issued his own password.

At about ten o’clock Captain Humayun came back from reconnoitering the area around Sheikh Mujib’s house and reported that road blocks were being constructed on the Mohammadpur - Dhanmondi road. I ordered all the company’s rocket launchers brought and two rounds per launcher, the men with rocket launchers were told to accompany Captain Saeed’s group. This group was instructed that on encountering the road block it was to form a single line with the rocket launchers in the centre, the rocket launchers would fire first, then all the rifles. I explained that the crowd around the road block had never heard the double crack and burst of rocket launchers and would disperse, the other groups were to observe the sides of the road. I also advanced the beginning of the operation from mid-night to eleven o’clock, on my own initiative, to reduce the time for strengthening the road block.

way11.jpg (15737 bytes)

At eleven on the night 25/26 March we drove out from the airfield on the road going from the MNA Hostel to Mohammadpur. Street lights were off and buildings were dark, my jeep led with full headlights and the troop carrying vehicles, which belonged to the Signal Corps, followed without lights. Driving at about twenty miles an hour the column turned left on the Mohammadpur - Dhanmondi road and about a quarter mile from Dhanmondi, the road was blocked with trucks and other vehicles turned on their sides, as instructed, Captain Saeed’s group formed up, fired the rockets and opened fire with their rifles, the groups on the sides of the road also opened fire. After about two or three minutes I ordered a ceasefire but found that the order was ignored and I had to walk from man to man and make him cease firing. Some of the vehicles in the road block, hit by the rockets were burning, a white Volkswagon Combi was blazing, the road block was still there but whoever was defending the block had disappeared. I was wondering how to create a gap in the road block, I had not bothered to examine the troop transports but now when I looked at one I noticed that it was a five-ton vehicle with a winch fitted on it, with two vehicles we soon winched some of the vehicles to make a gap in the road block, mounted the vehicles and moved forward.

We went about two hundred yards and there was another road block, this time a number of pipes about two feet in diameter, the length of which completely blocked the road between two high walls. I tied the winch cable around middle of the pipes and had them winched, the block moved as a whole still blocking the road, then I had the winch cable tied around one end of the pipes and made Captain Saeed’s group sit on the other end, when the cable was winched the pipes pivoted and a gap large enough for the vehicles to pass was created, we again mounted our vehicles and continued.

We went another two hundred yards and there was another road block, this time of bricks stacked about three feet high and about four feet in depth. We tried ramming the block with the troop carriers but could not clear a passage for vehicles. I then ordered Captain Saeed’s group to manually clear a gap wide enough for the vehicles to pass and ordered the rest of the troops to dismount and proceed on foot.

We walked down the Mohammadpur-Dhanmondi road to the street on which Sheikh Mujib’s house was located and turned right on the lane between the house and the lake. Captain Humayun’s group entered the house adjacent to Sheikh Mujib’s house, ran across the compound and jumped over the wall into Sheikh Mujib’s house. Fire was opened, some people in the compound ran out of the gate, one man was killed. The East Pakistan Police guard outside the house got into their 180 pounder tent, lifted the tent by its poles and ran into the lake. Sheikh Mujib’s compound perimeter was secured, it was pitch dark, Mujib’s house and the adjacent houses had no lights.

The house search party now entered the house, a guard of Sheikh Mujib was escorted out with a soldier walking by his side. After going a little distance from the house the guard pulled out a ‘dah’, a long bladed knife and attacked his escort, he did not know that he was being covered from behind and was shot but not killed. The ground floor was searched and no one was found there, the search party went upstairs, there was nobody there in the rooms that were open, one room door was bolted from the inside. When I went upstairs someone said that there was some sound coming from the closed room, I told Major Bilal to have the door of the closed room broken down and went downstairs to check if Captain Saeed had arrived and if there was any sign of a crowd.

When I came out on the lane in front of the house I found that Captain Saeed had arrived with the vehicles but in turning the long five ton vehicles he got them stuck in the narrow lane in front of the house. On the loudspeaker of the wireless set on my jeep I could hear Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab, later lieutenant general, urging one of his units to use their ‘romeo romeos’.

While I was instructing Captain Saeed on how to sort out the vehicles, there was a shot, then the sound of a grenade exploding followed by a burst from a sub-machine gun, I thought that someone had killed Sheikh Mujib. I ran back to the house and upstairs and there I found a very shaken Sheikh Mujib outside the door of the room that had been closed. I asked Sheikh Mujib to accompany me, he asked me if he could say good bye to his family and I told him to go ahead. He went into the room where the family had enclosed themselves and came out quickly and we walked to where the vehicles were. Captain Saeed had still not managed to turn them around, I sent a radio message to inform the Eastern Command that we had got Sheikh Mujib.

Sheikh Mujib then told me that he had forgotten his pipe, I walked back with him and he collected his pipe. By this time Sheikh Mujib was confident that we would not harm him and he told me that we had only to call him and he would have come on his own, I told him that we wanted to show him that he could be arrested. When we got back, Captain Saeed had the vehicles lined up, Sheikh Mujib was put in the middle troop carrying vehicle and we started back to the cantonment.

way4.jpg (18963 bytes)

I later learnt that after telling Major Bilal to break down the closed door upstairs when I went to check on the vehicles, someone had fired a pistol shot into the room where Major Bilal’s men were collected, luckily no one was hit. Before anyone could stop him a soldier threw a grenade into the veranda from where the pistol shot had come and followed it with a burst from his sub-machine gun. The grenade burst and the sub-machine gun fire made Sheikh Mujib call out from behind the closed room that if an assurance was given that he would not be killed he would come out. He was given an assurance and he came out of the room. When he came out Havaldar Major Khan Wazir, later subedar, gave him a resounding slap on his face.

My instructions were to arrest Sheikh Mujib, I was not told where I was to take him and to whom he was to be handed over. As we drove back I thought over this and decided to take him to the National Assembly building and hold him there while I went to get instructions. I stopped at the National Assembly building, had a jeep seat removed, took Mujib up the stairs of the National Assembly building and made him sit on the landing. While we were doing this, from the direction of ‘Farm Gate’ came the sound of thousands of people running. We thought that these people were running in our direction and prepared to defend ourselves, after a while the sound faded away. Later we learnt that this was the force that the Awami League had collected to storm the cantonment with and it was running away.

From the National Assembly building I went to the Martial Law Headquarters where Lieutenant General Tikka Khan had set up his headquarters. I met Brigadier Ghulam Jilani Khan, who had taken over as Chief of Staff of Eastern Command, and told him that I had arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and left him at the National Assembly building. He took me to the entrance of Lieutenant General Tikka Khan’s office and told me to go in and report to the general. General Tikka must have been already told that Sheikh Mujib had been arrested, he was sitting very composed expecting me to formally inform him that Sheikh Mujib had been arrested. Just for fun I told him that I had arrested a man that looked like Mujib and I thought it was Mujib but was not sure. On hearing this General Tikka shot out of his chair like a jack in the box, he called for Brigadier Jilani who had heard me as he was standing just inside the office entrance. He assured the Corps Commander that he would have the matter seen to immediately, Colonel S. D. Ahmad was sent for and told to go immediately to the National Assembly to see whether I had got the genuine Sheikh Mujib or a fake.

Waiting for Colonel S. D. Ahmad to return, I stepped outside the building to smoke. While I was standing and smoking, a light machine gun, sited at the headquarters perimeter wire, either accidentally or the gunner saw something, fired a short burst. For a while after the burst was fired it was quiet, then every weapon in the cantonment and in the city opened fire. Not to be outdone the anti-craft regiment on the airfield also fired, green and yellow tracer arcs criss-crossed the whole of Dacca, after a few minutes the firing ceased as suddenly as it had started.

After about twenty minutes Colonel S. D. Ahmad returned and confirmed that I had arrested the genuine Sheikh Mujib. When I asked where I was supposed to take him to, there was huddle as no one had given it a thought. Eventually it was decided that he was to be put in the same room where he was kept when he was under arrest for the Agartala Conspiracy case. We took him to the 14 Division officers mess, he was put up in an independent single bedroom annexe and a guard was placed on him. The next day Major General Mitha asked me where Sheikh Mujib was confined, when I told him, he got annoyed and said that there was a complete lack of understanding of the situation and an attempt could be made to rescue him. He later had Sheikh Mujib moved to the third floor of a school building.

Everyone who served in East Pakistan in March 1971 was of the opinion that East Pakistan was lost due to the lack of action immediately following the announcement of the postponement of the meeting of the National Assembly. It was believed that Admiral Ahsan had resigned because he had disagreed with the military action and it was said that Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqub Khan had planned the military action but when he was called upon to execute the action he refused and resigned. This refusal of Lieutenant General Yaqub, the delay by General Yahya in finding a replacement and Lieutenant General Tikka Khan not taking any action for eighteen days, allowed the Awami League to demonstrate to the public that it had paralysed the army and the Martial Law authorities and allowed it to prepare for resistance against subsequent action by the Pakistan government.

On the morning of 26 March, at about eight, I received a telephone call from Major General Mitha to report immediately at the helipad, there the general told me that the previous night 53 Brigade Headquarters and 24 FF had been ordered to move to Chittagong, contact with Chittagong had been lost and there was no contact with 53 Brigade. Major General Mitha said that we would take two MI 8 helicopters, go to Commilla, pick up two platoons from my battalion and go to Chittagong. At Commilla when the helicopters landed on the ground adjacent to the 53 Brigade Headquarters, there was no reaction from the brigade headquarters. The first officer to come to the helicopters was a East Pakistani major who was in charge of the Inter-Services Intelligence. In his vehicle we went to the brigade headquarters where the brigade major, Major Sultan, later lieutenant colonel, was sitting in his office, the general gave a bit of his mind for not checking why the helicopters had come. I telephoned my battalion headquarters and told my adjutant to bring sixty men with weapons and ammunition to the brigade headquarters and that they would be going to Chittagong and that Major Mannan, the Bengali company commander was to be included.

I next telephoned my house and spoke to my wife, she told me that everything was fine, she said she had been asked to move to an area where the majority of the West Pakistani officers were living, I told her that was not necessary. While I was telephoning my wife, Lieutenant Colonel Yaqub Malik, commanding officer 53 Field Regiment Artillery came to the brigade headquarters, with Brigadier Iqbal Shafi away, he was the senior officer in Commilla, he had a dazed look on his face. Without any preliminaries he announced that he would use his guns if there was any opposition, he could not clearly explain the situation in Commilla and what he planned to do. Two platoons of Hamza Company with Captain Sajjad Akbar and Major Abdul Mannan arrived and got in the helicopters. One platoon was deployed on the Commilla airfield, this left Lieutenant Haider, the Subedar Major and the few battalion headquarters personnel in Commilla.

53 Brigade and 24 FF had been ordered to make a night move to Chittagong and had lost contact with Commilla and Dacca, our helicopters flew along the road Commilla - Chittagong, there was no sign of the brigade on the main road to Chittagong. On arrival at Chittagong the helicopters circled the Nautonpara cantonment, machine gun fire could be heard and on the hillocks at the edge of the cantonment weapons could be seen firing small arms, as the helicopters came from the hillocks and troops in the barracks away from the hillocks waved at the helicopters. We landed in an open ground between two barracks, the troops dismounted. Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Fatmi, the commanding officer of 20 Baluch, came and reported to Major General Mitha, he said that he had been ordered to take his battalion to the port where the Pakistan National Shipping Corporation ship M.V. Swat had berthed and had brought 105 mm gun ammunition which had to be unloaded by troops because the dock workers were on strike; a company of a Punjab battalion which had just arrived from West Pakistan and was on its way to Sylhet, was already employed on the task, at about three o’clock in the morning 20 Baluch started moving. To go out of the cantonment, the Baluch battalion had to pass through the East Bengal Centre lines and as it approached the hillocks, it came under fire from prepared positions on the hillocks. Lieutenant Colonel Fatmi was in complete control of the situation though he was not in communication with any other army unit or the Navy and did not ask for any help. Colonel Shigri, 1st PMA Course, officiating commandant of the East Bengal Centre, was there, in his night clothes, he had managed to get out of his house and come to the Baluch lines.

After ensuring that everything was under control, Major General Mitha told Lieutenant Colonel Fatmi that he would arrange communications with the Navy and we all got in the helicopters and flew to the Naval Base. We circled the Naval Base but there was no reaction, no one came out of any building. The helicopters landed on a parade ground and after a while a vehicle came and took us to the office of Commodore R. A. Mumtaz, the commander of the Pakistan Navy in East Pakistan. Commodore Mumtaz said that a naval contingent had secured the Chittagong airfield, there was no problem at the Naval Base but he was not aware of what was going on in the port. Major General Mitha ordered one of my platoons to relieve the Naval contingent at the airport.

The Chittagong Airport had been seized by the rebels, a platoon of East Pakistan Rifles, withdrawn from a border post was hurriedly sent on 25 March to seize it. The platoon was not given clear instructions and was apparently not aware of the prevailing situation in Chittagong. In the hurry of the deployment the West Pakistani JCOs and NCOs were not screened out and a West Pakistani took charge of the machine gun covering the road to the terminal building. On the same day about a platoon strength of Navy personnel were sent under Lieutenant Commander Akhtar, later captain, to secure the airport, the West Pakistani did not allow the machine gun to fire. Lieutenant Commander Akhtar drove up to the terminal building, told the East Pakistan Rifles men that he had come to relieve them, to stack their weapons and rest. When the weapons were stacked they were seized and all the men were locked in the basement of the terminal building. Captain Sajjad with a platoon relieved the Navy personnel and took over the airport. The second platoon under Major Mannan remained at the Naval Base. A wireless set was obtained from the Navy and Major General Mitha and I went back to 20 Baluch, gave them the wireless set and established communications with the Naval Base.

In one helicopter, personnel who had to be evacuated from the Nautonpara cantonment, including Mrs Mazumdar, were sent off to Dacca. In the second helicopter Major General Mitha and I flew along the Chittagong - Commilla road looking for Brigadier Shafi and 53 Brigade, instead of following the main road we followed a minor road which made a loop near Feni and found the brigade. We landed and Brigadier Iqbal Shafi told us that after he had gone a few miles from Commilla he found that the wooden bridges on streams burnt and he had difficulty in crossing the numerous streams, which had delayed him the previous night and since the morning 24 FF was in contact with a East Bengal Regiment unit which was resisting his movement to Chittagong and told us that Lieutenant Colonel Shahpur Khan, Commanding Officer 24 FF, had been shot and killed by a sniper. From there we flew back to Dacca arriving just when it was getting dark.

Brigadier Mazumdar, 2nd PMA Course, had been transferred from the Punjab Regiment to the East Bengal Regiment to command the East Bengal Regimental Centre, his wife was in the 20 Baluch lines and was evacuated to Dacca with others. Some days before the military action started a non-Bengali lieutenant colonel went to see Brigadier Mazumdar in his office, the brigadier was not in his office, the officer entered the office, saw a signal message lying on the brigadier’s table and read it. It was a message from Lieutenant Colonel Massoudul Hussain Khan, 4th PMA Course, commanding 2 East Bengal Regiment at Jodeybpur north of Dacca, asking Brigadier Mazumdar for orders in the event of military action. The officer pocketed the signal and sent it to the authorities in Dacca. The story went that Major General Khadim Hussain Raja flew to the East Pakistan Regimental Centre for a visit and there involved Brigadier Mazumdar in a discussion about the state of 2 East Bengal Regiment and ordered Brigadier Mazumdar to accompany him to Dacca to inspect the battalion and make a report. Brigadier Mazumdar accompanied him but disappeared in Dacca. When the helicopter carrying Mrs. Mazumdar landed at Dacca, she went straight to where the brigadier was staying, she was being followed and both were taken into custody. Lieutenant Colonel Massoudul Hussain was also taken into custody.

Brigadier Mazumdar and his wife were flown to West Pakistan and Colonel Agha Javed Iqbal, Colonel Staff 6 Armoured Division, was informed that Brigadier Mazumdar and his wife were being sent to 6 Armoured Division and they were to be kept in custody in Banni Bungalow, a rest house on the Grand Trunk Road, between Kharian and Sarai Alamgir. Being thorough in everything he did, he had the brigadier and his wife searched, Mrs. Mazumdar was carrying a pistol in her handbag. She had the pistol all the time she had been in custody and while flying to West Pakistan, why she or her husband did not hijack the aircraft bringing them to West Pakistan is anybody’s guess.

26 Cavalry, deployed in the Saeedpur, Bogra area had two troops of tanks in Chittagong because the tank ranges were located at the base of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and it was difficult to move tanks to Chittagong and back so gunners were sent to Chittagong to fire. The two troops were under command of Captain Kayani and were housed in the 20 Baluch lines. Brigadier Mazumdar, in his capacity of Station Commander, ordered tanks to be moved to the East Pakistan regimental Centre but Captain Kayani managed to evade the order.

After the East Pakistan Regimental Centre was cleared by 20 Baluch, I went to Brigadier Mazumdar’s house. In one room he had made an ‘operations room’, on one wall there was a quarter inch map of the whole of East Pakistan with the deployment of the East Bengal Battalions, East Pakistan Rifle Wings, police and ad hoc units marked with chinagraph pencils, an obvious command headquarters of all the Bengali troops in East Pakistan and Brigadier Mazumdar was to control them.

When I returned in the evening to Dacca and went to the place where I was staying, I found Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Suleiman, commanding officer 2 Commando Battalion there, he and about a company of 2 Commando Battalion had been air lifted from West Pakistan and later another flight of PIA brought another company.

While having our evening meal we turned on the radio and heard an Indian radio station, probably All India Radio, Calcutta, announce that Sheikh Mujib had safely crossed over to India. We also heard Major Zia ur Rehman, the second in command of 8 East Bengal Regiment, broadcast declaring the independence of Bangladesh and proclaiming himself the commander-in-chief of the Bangladesh army.

The next day, 27 March, I again accompanied Major General Mitha to the Naval Base, Ghazi and Shaheen Companies of 2 Commando Battalion, with Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman and his adjutant Captain Sikandar, flew in C-130s to Chittagong. In the late afternoon Major General A. O. Mitha ordered Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman to take his two companies and link up with 53 Brigade which was still held up on the Commilla - Chittagong road.

Since 2 Commando Battalion had come from West Pakistan, they were not familiar with Chittagong and required a guide to lead them. A Bihari officer, Captain Siddiqui whose parents were living on the outskirts of Chittagong and there was no news of them, had come to Chittagong from Azad Kashmir by getting lifts in the aircraft moving troops from West Pakistan. He had managed a lift in the C-130 bringing the commando battalion and he offered to guide 2 Commando Battalion to the outskirts of the city. Vehicles of the Pakistan Navy were borrowed and 2 Commando Battalion was ready to move at about five in the evening. Captain Sajjad came and told me that Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman had given orders to drive through the city in a convoy. I talked to Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman and told him that the situation was not a ‘aid to civil power’ situation and asked him to take precautions. He laughed and told me that all of us who were serving in East Pakistan had lost our nerves and ordered the convoy to move.

Major General Mitha also ordered reconnaissance of the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters with a view to clearing it and releasing some West Pakistanis that were known to be held prisoners. After giving these orders and telling me to stay back the general flew back to Dacca.

Major Salman Ahmad, Ebrahim Company commander, who with his company had gone to West Pakistan in December after completing two years with 3 Commando Battalion in East Pakistan, had accompanied 2 Commando Battalion because he was the only officer in the battalion who had been in East Pakistan. Major Salman was given charge of the reconnaissance of the East Pakistan Rifles Headquarters because he was familiar with the East Pakistan Rifles Headquarters, Captain Zaidi, later brigadier, from 2 Commando Battalion and Subedar Ramzan of 3 Commando Battalion and some men of Hamza Company made up the party and moved off at about the same time as 2 Commando Battalion.

At the Naval Base, at about seven thirty in the evening, I was called to the telephone and told that there was a call for me from Tiger Pass, a Naval establishment in the city. On the line there was a lance naik from Ghazi Company, he told me that 2 Commando Battalion had been ambushed, everyone had been killed and he was the sole survivor. I told him that it was impossible for the whole battalion to be killed, that he had deserted and asked the authorities at Tiger Pass to place him under arrest.

At about eleven o’clock Major Mohammad Iqbal, later brigadier, Ghazi company commander came and reported to me that 2 Commando Battalion had been ambushed about half a mile from where the Commilla road started, that Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman, Captain Sikandar and Captain Siddiqui had been killed and he had brought the casualties. The Naval Base had a small Medical Inspection Room and a medical officer who was a lieutenant commander. The wounded were first taken out and laid out on the floor of the MI Room, then the dead. The medical officer, when he came and saw the dead and the wounded lying on the floor, fainted and had to be carried away. Then someone from the Navy said that there were some medical college students in the Naval Base, they were called and they with the nursing orderlies gave whatever aid that could be given. There were twenty three dead, Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman, Captain Sikandar and Captain Siddiqui, Subedar Allah Din and nineteen other ranks, and twenty wounded. Major Iqbal took the remainder of the company back to the ambush site to clear it but there was nobody there. We later learnt that the ambush was laid by a subedar major of the East Pakistan Rifles to ambush 53 Brigade when they entered Chittagong.

The place where the ambush of 2 Commando Battalion took place was near the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters. When the firing took place at the ambush site the personnel defending the headquarters took up their firing positions and intercepted the reconnaissance party, wounding Captain Zaidi. Major Salman and Subedar Ramzan carried Captain Zaidi for about four hundred yards, then Subedar Ramzan went and brought a vehicle, Captain Zaidi was put in it and the vehicle started moving towards the Naval Base. A sentry left by the reconnaissance party, signalled the vehicle to stop, the vehicle did not stop and as it went past the sentry he fired two shots in the dark, both bullets hit Subedar Ramzan in the thigh. Later Subedar Ramzan commented on the excellence of the man’s night shooting ability.

The next morning a troop-carrying C-130 came, I had all the dead and the wounded loaded on it and sent to Dacca because the hospital was in Chittagong cantonment in Nautonpara where 20 Baluch and the East Bengal Regimental Centre were still fighting and there were no other hospital facilities. When the C-130 landed in Dacca and about fifty casualties were off loaded it had a stunning effect on the personnel on the airfield and in the cantonment. A few days later I received a message that the wounded would be taken care of locally and the dead will be buried locally as sending them to Dacca had an effect on the morale there.

With Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman killed I assumed command of 2 Commando Battalion also and ordered both the battalions to always wear the commando insignia and the maroon beret to show the people that the commandos had arrived. I placed a platoon from 2 Commando Battalion, commanded by Captain Pervez, later lieutenant colonel, at the airport, the task of the platoon was to protect the terminal building and aircraft while it was on the ground. The East Pakistan Rifles men were still locked up in the basement and were employed for loading and unloading cargo.

On 28 March the situation was grim, 53 Brigade was still on the road between Commilla and Chittagong with 8 East Bengal Regiment, commanded by Major Zia ur Rehman, fighting a rearguard action, 20 Baluch and East Bengal Regimental Centre were still fighting in Nautonpara, 2 Commando Battalion had been ambushed, and the reconnaissance of the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters had failed. Late in the day Major General Khadim Hussain Raja arrived to takeover the control of operations in Chittagong.

From Dacca, Major General Mitha ordered me to mount a raid on Radio Pakistan Chittagong whose transmitter was being used by Major Zia ur Rehman as the Bangladesh Radio. When I inquired from Major Salman, Major Mannan and Captain Sajjad if they knew where in Chittagong the transmitters were located everyone said they had seen the masts but did not remember the location. I tried the Navy, they also did not know. I was wondering what to do when I chanced to see a Chittagong telephone directory, I looked it up and the location of the transmitter was given as Kalurghat. On looking up a map it was found that to get to the transmitter site from the Naval Base you had to pass through the city, get on to the Chittagong - Kaptai road and go about six miles. This was not possible because the city was in the hands of Major Zia ur Rehman who was controlling the 8 East Bengal Regiment, the East Bengal Regimental Centre and East Pakistan Rifle rebels. The map showed that the transmitter was located about a mile from the Karnaphuli River bank downstream from the Kaptai Dam and could be approached by going up river. The Navy was asked to provide a suitable craft to lift about fifty men and they agreed to provide a landing craft tank, two or three of these vessels had been captured from the Indians in the 1965 war. A plan was drawn up on surmises, Major Mannan was given the command because he was the senior officer and could speak Bengali. I reminded him that when he was commissioned he had taken an oath and now was the time to fulfil it. The party was to be landed at high tide but landing craft was late in arriving and the raiding party left at about nine at night.

By the time the landing party reached the disembarkation area, the tide was running out and the party had to wade through mud for a long distance. The signal operator carrying the thirty pound AN/GRC 9 wireless set dropped it in the mud and could not find it as it sank in the loose mud. After the party crossed the high water mark Major Mannan made inquiries about the location of the transmitter from the residents of houses on the river bank and the party moved in the direction indicated. After going for some distance it ran into a rebel patrol, Major Mannan talked to them and then grabbed the sten gun of the man he was talking to, the man fired and the bullet went through Major Mannan’s palm.

When the firing started the raiding party, which had crowded near Major Mannan, went to the ground, one man, who was armed with a rocket launcher, did not have the safety catch on and as he went to ground the rocket launcher fired. The rocket landed in the middle of the raiding force, the Bengali patrol ran away, in the raiding force a number of persons were wounded. The officers conferred and it was decided to find a suitable defensive position which the raiding party would occupy and Major Mannan would return to the cantonment and get help. Major Salman reconnoitered and found that the Chittagong - Kaptai road was a few hundred yards away, the transmitter was about a five or six hundred yards away, and very luckily, just off the metal road he found a concrete building with a long drive from the road. The raiding party moved its wounded to the building and prepared to defend it.

Major Mannan walked and ran along the Kaptai - Chittagong road to the Chittagong cantonment and reported the mishap of the raiding party to Lieutenant Colonel Fatmi who reported it to Major General Khadim Raja on the wireless. I was sent for and spoke to Major Mannan who told me what had happened and told me the exact location of the transmitter.

I told Major General Khadim Raja that now that we had the location of the transmitter I would ask for an air strike and knock it out. I got in touch with Dacca, explained what had happened and asked for an air strike. About two hours later, two F-86 Sabres arrived, carried out a very impressive rocketing and machine gunning of the Radio Pakistan transmitters and the transmitter went off the air.

previouspagebackhomenextpage