|Major General Khadim Hussain Raja asked me what I was going to do to help
the raiding force. Although I had a company of 2 Commando which had arrived the previous
day. I told him that I was not going to do anything as I would be wasting troops to
extricate the raiding party, and commandos were trained to extricate themselves. For about
an hour the general paced up and down, then he called me again and said that he had
decided to send a company of 20 Baluch and a troop of tanks to extricate the raiding
party. He ordered Lieutenant Colonel Fatmi to send the force, he did so and the force, in
the remaining day, was able to advance one mile on the Chittagong - Kaptai road and then
The East Bengal Regiment defending the transmitter surrounded the building in which the raiding party had taken refuge, but made no determined effort to assault it, only rifles and rocket launchers were fired at the building. The commandos witnessed the air strike and were satisfied that the target had been destroyed. Major Zia ur Rehman, with his Rayban glasses and two flags flying on his jeep, drove up to the gate, a rifle shot and rocket was fired at him, he was standing in his jeep and was seen to drop down, then the vehicle disappeared from view. He was not identified in the Chittagong area after this.
Later in the day the East Bengal Regiment brought a six pounder anti-tank gun and fired solid shot which went right through the building making small holes in the walls, the whole day was spent like this. After dark the raiding party broke out of the building firing their weapons, leaving their dead and the wounded and started making their way back in twos and threes. Two days later the first men arrived, about ten days later the last man arrived, thirteen men died. Major Mannan was admitted in the Combined Military Hospital in Chittagong because of his bullet wound, every West Pakistani officer who met him either placed him under arrest or wanted to, I received several reports that he was being harassed. I requested General Mitha to have him posted to West Pakistan and he was sent to Cherat.
The next day I was again called by Major General Khadim Raja and told that 53 Brigade was being hampered in its advance to Chittagong by fire from the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters, and to ask the Navy to shell it with their destroyer at sea. The Navy provided an officer with a wireless set who climbed on the roof of the Naval Base building and established communications with the destroyer PNS Jehangir, commanded by Commander Tariq Kamal Khan, later admiral and Chief of Naval Staff. The East Pakistan Rifles headquarters, a large complex just off the Chittagong - Commilla road, was indicated as the target. The destroyer fired a round and 53 Brigade gave a correction which was received by the general and given to me. I then went on the roof of the building and gave it to the naval officer and another round was fired. I went down and when I reached the general I could hear 53 Brigade screaming, the shell instead of correcting towards the East Pakistan Rifles headquarters had corrected towards the 53 Brigade headquarters. The general told me to tell the ship to ceasefire, I went to the roof and told the naval officer who was communicating with the ship what had happened and between the two of us we decided to give a correction and to fire again. The destroyer fired and there was a more frantic call from 53 Brigade. The general asked me why the firing had taken place and I told him that I had given one more correction, he got very annoyed with me and told me to tell the Navy to ceasefire. Later the destroyer came into the port and all Bengali crew members were taken off the ship.
During this period I was staying at the Naval Base, almost every night there used to be firing around the perimeter of the Base. We from the Commandos suspected that the Navy patrol that went around the perimeter at night fired indiscriminately because there were no killed or wounded found in the morning. One night my signal havaldar was shot dead when he was putting up his antenna to communicate with Dacca, he had gone out of the building in civilian clothes. The Navy claimed that he was killed by fire from outside the Naval perimeter but we suspected the naval patrol.
On 31 March, 53 Brigade finally entered Chittagong and established itself in the Circuit House. Major General Khadim Raja left Chittagong, a day or so later 53 Brigade with Brigadier Iqbal Shafi and his brigade staff were replaced by 205 Brigade with Brigadier Asghar Hussain and his brigade staff, and the area came under the control of the newly arrived 9 Division.
The East Bengal Regiment of the Pakistan Army was the only regiment without class composition, it had Bengalis only although Biharis, Chakmas etc could have constituted part of the manpower. Major General A. O. Mitha, when he commanded 53 Brigade in Commilla 1963-1966, reported that promotion in all the East Bengal Regiments was being controlled by Colonel M. A. G. Osmani. This should have been a warning but the only action taken was that Osmani was retired and he continued to control the promotions. Major Sadiq Nawaz, 4 East Bengal Regiment, told me that when the battalion revolted it was noticed that certain NCOs who had been promoted out of turn, became the leaders.
It was foreseen that if military action became necessary the East Bengal Regiment battalions in all the brigades would have to be disarmed and this could not be done so long as the battalions functioned as units. Before the commencement of the military action on 25 March, Major General A. O. Mitha had gone around all the cantonments briefing the brigade commanders to disperse their East Bengal Regiment battalions in companies and platoons so that they would not be a cohesive force. 4 East Bengal Regiment who shared lines with 3 Commando Battalion instead of being split into platoons and companies, was split into two groups of two companies each; one group was ordered to go to Sylhet and the other to Brahmanbaria. Since the road ran Commilla - Brahmanbaria - Sylhet the battalion remained intact. It moved with its first and second line ammunition as if moving to a war location. As soon as the military action started, Major Khalid Musharraf who had joined the battalion as the second in command, arrested his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Khizar Hayat, Major Sadiq Nawaz and other West Pakistanis and took up battle positions against the Pakistan Army. The battalion was first encountered at Bhairab Bazaar in April and later at Bramanbaria.
Lieutenant Colonel Yakub Malik, the commanding officer of 53 Field Regiment Artillery, the senior officer in Commilla, had the task of disarming the East Pakistanis using the West Pakistani elements of his own and other units of 53 Brigade and Jangju Company of 3 Commando Battalion which was moved from Dacca to Commilla. He had collected the West Pakistani officers families in the Bhamani area of officers houses for safety and placed a guard over the area, the Bengali officers families were left where they were.
The disarming of the smaller mixed units like the engineer company did not pose a problem, they surrendered their arms, the rear party of 4 East Bengal posed a problem. Captain Saeed and three men of Jangju Company were killed by a light machine gun firing from the kotes of the 4 East Bengal Regiment when they went to ask for the surrender of weapons. Fighting broke out and the commando company had to fight house to house in the 4 East Bengal family lines where each house was prepared for defence with firing ports in the walls.
From the Commilla garrison Major Bahar, the 53 Brigade Signal Company commander, was the first officer to desert, he just drove away in his official jeep with his driver and wireless operator, on or about the 23rd of March.
When Jangju Company returned from Dacca, Major Bilal the company commander, had the Bengali element of the battalion locked up in the quarter guard. Weapons were issued to everyone except Lieutenant Haider, a platoon commander in the company. He asked to be given one like other officers, when Major Bilal refused he deserted by just walking out from the officers mess. A few days later he attacked the Commilla airfield with some men but was driven away by the Hamza Company platoon.
After the 4 East Bengal Regiment rear party was disarmed, all the East Pakistanis were collected in the 4 East Bengal Regiment barracks, there was no barbed wire etc to prevent the Bengalis from breaking out of the barracks, apparently they made an attempt, Bengali soldiers who were prisoners, officers and Bengali servants of West Pakistani officers were taken and shot. The Bengali element of the 3 Commando Battalion who had been locked up in the quarter guard, were also taken out and shot, some of them had been with the SSG from the time of its creation.
Captain Rehman, the Bengali Regimental Medical Officer of 3 Commando Battalion, was one of the few Bengali officers who survived. Captain Humayun, a Jangju Company platoon commander handcuffed the doctor to himself and wherever he went he took him also. I arranged to fly him out to Chittagong and he remained with the battalion during my command. Most of the doctors of the Commilla CMH were Bengalis and did not survive, the officer commanding the CMH was from West Pakistan, he became a mental case because of the massacre of his officers.
In Commilla cantonment there was a scare that 4 East Bengal Regiment assisted by the Indians were about to attack the cantonment. Major Bilal, probably under the orders of Lieutenant Colonel Yakub Malik, destroyed the secret and top secret documents of 3 Commando Battalion by burning the safe in my office from which I had taken out my wifes valuables before going to Dacca on 23 March.
Amongst the cantonments of East Pakistan the largest number of East Pakistani troops were located in Chittagong. Apparently Brigadier Mazumdar as the senior Bengali officer in East Pakistan was to command the Bengali forces in East Pakistan but when he was called away to Dacca Major Zia ur Rehman, later President of Bangladesh, assumed the command of the Bengali troops. On the night 25/26 March, he woke up his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Janjua, took him to the offices of 8 East Bengal in his night clothes, made him sit in the commanding officers chair and made the colonels batman shoot him dead. From this moment there was no turning back for Major Zia ur Rehman.
When 53 Brigade, actually 24 FF, arrived in Chittagong only the port, airport, East Pakistan Rifles headquarters and a portion of the cantonment was clear of the rebels. Eventually 20 Baluch fought their way out of the cantonment, and linked up with 24 FF at the Circuit House and the most important parts of the city were cleared but the rebels continued fighting in the city, street by street, and then withdrawing towards the Kaptai Dam. With the city gradually coming under control, the extent of the atrocities committed started surfacing; corpses, rapes and looting were common. the bizarre was human blood collected in drums.
In Chittagong, as in other cantonments, the military supply system had collapsed completely, there were no signs of the Army Service Corps. We depended on the Navy for rations, dry rations, that is atta, sugar, tinned milk, tea etc, was available from them, fresh rations, vegetables, meat was not available, after living on dal, roti and tea for some days and with no fresh rations being supplied, stray cows were slaughtered for meat. The cook houses of both 2 and 3 Commando Battalions were left in Dacca and Commilla so the men had to cook themselves. The other major problems were cigarettes and petrol for the civilian vehicles that we were using, cigarette vendors shops and petrol pumps were broken into and cigarettes and petrol was taken, however cigarettes remained in short supply.
With the city partly under the control of the army the activation of the functioning of the city became necessary. 2 and 3 Commando Battalions moved to the Chittagong Port Trust Building from the Naval Base and I moved to the Port Trust rest house. Major General Mitha still sent instructions to me from Dacca, the first message regarding the re-activation of the city was to reactivate the airport. Up to then the Pakistan Air Force C-130s were flying troops, it was now decided that the PIA was to start flying to Chittagong. The East Pakistan Rifles personnel were removed from the airport, some airport employees living in the vicinity of the airport were located and through them more employees were found and brought to the airport and ordered to start working, some technical personnel refused. I ordered them to be lined up against a building, a firing squad was marched and prepared to shoot. As arranged the airport manager, a non-Bengali, then dramatically intervened, spoke to the men lined up against the wall and they agreed to do their jobs, there was no further trouble from them. The PIA Fokkers started coming to Chittagong. Captain Pervezs platoon at the airport became quite efficient in checking the passengers and their baggage before boarding. One day an aircraft piloted by Mr. Jan, the Director Flight Operations, PIA, developed a defect, nothing could be done till something was brought from Dacca. That night Captain Pervezs platoon sat all night around the aircraft to protect it, Captain Jan, the other officers and I sat in the control tower till daybreak.
Every evening I used to attend a conference at the Naval Base which was presided over by Commodore R. A. Mumtaz, the senior naval officer in East Pakistan. One evening an officer informed the commodore that a notice had been received from the foreign ships which were anchored in the outer harbour, awaiting berths, that they had been at the outer harbour for about a month, that their fresh water had run out and if it was not supplied they would sail. The commodore ignored the notice and did not give any orders. I realised that if the ships sailed it would mean very bad publicity abroad. I asked the commodore what was required, he said that water supplying craft had to be sent. I asked him why he was not doing it, he said it was a Port Trust function. I asked him whether the Navy could do it, he said that if the water supplying craft could be found it could be done. I told him that action should be taken to supply the water, he gave the instructions and the water was supplied.
The next instruction I got was to get the Chittagong port operating. On inquiry I was told that the labour to operate the port was not available. I asked if it was technical, skilled or unskilled, I was told it was unskilled. I ordered a commando company to surround an area near the port, line up all the able bodied men and march them to the port to work as labour. The next morning about three hundred men were marched to the port. In the front file was a man who protested all the way, he gave his name and said he was a singer known throughout the province and could not work as port labourer. When the forced labourers arrived at the port they were found to be completely useless and were allowed to go home. Some days later when the area in which Brigadier Hesky Baig was living was cleared I told him about the problem, he solved the problem by the simple expedient of sending a few motor cycle rickshaws around the cleared areas with a man announcing in Bengali that the port workers should return to work and the port started functioning again.
After the hijacking of the Indian Airline Fokker and when Pakistan started air lifting troops to East Pakistan in February, the Indians banned our over flying India, the PIA and the PAF started flying to East Pakistan via Colombo where the aircraft refuelled. A few days after the military action started Ceylon banned the landing of our aircraft. For sometime the PAF C-130s brought fuel from Bangkok then somebody remembered that aircraft fuel was stocked at the Chittagong airport. I received a message to find out how much JP 4 was stocked, I had never heard of JP 4, I enquired from the airport officials, the figures were obtained and sent. Next a message came to send a sample to check whether the fuel was usable or not, the sample was approved, then a message came to send as much JP 4 as possible. The Chittagong Port authorities and the Navy were contacted to find out how the fuel was to be transported and it was found that small river tankers were used but they had all disappeared. The Navy then carried out a search of the Karnaphuli river area and located about six such crafts, some with crews, they were brought, loaded and a convoy escorted by a Naval river patrol boat left for Dacca and the supply of petroleum products to the interior of East Pakistan re-started.
Two platoons of Hamza Company of 3 Commando Battalion, of which I was the commanding officer and three companies of 2 Commando Battalion had moved to Chittagong under orders of Major General A. O. Mitha. I had assumed the command of both the battalions and was getting my orders directly from Dacca. After Brigadier Asghar Hussains 205 Brigade headquarters replaced the 53 Brigade headquarters, I attended his O Group and heard his orders, the next morning when I went to brigade headquarters I found the commanding officers of 20 Baluch and 24 FF there and was informed by the brigade major, Major Anees, Corps of Engineers, that the brigade commander had locked himself in his room in the Circuit House and was not coming out. I knocked on the door, identified myself and asked him to open the door. I went in and asked him if he was unwell, when he said he was all right, I asked him why he was not coming out, he said that if he gave any orders and something went wrong he would be sacked. I assured him that if he did not exercise his command he would surely be sacked. I as the senior officer assumed command of the brigade and gave both battalion commanders their tasks for the day, they did not raise any objection to my not belonging to their brigade.
The next morning when I went to the Circuit House where the brigade headquarters was located, both the commanding officers came and reported the extent that they had cleared. The area that 20 Baluch indicated as cleared included the area where my wifes uncle by marriage, Mr. Zakir Hussain, and Brigadier Hesky Baig lived.
I had a blue coloured police jeep with a SSG driver and one other man, in commando uniform, we drove to Mr. Zakir Hussains house and found him safe and sound. Then we drove to Brigadier Baigs house, on the way I saw 20 Baluch deployed well short of the area their commanding officer had shown as cleared and of the area in which Brigadier Baig lived. I did not stop and ask the Baluchis what they were doing and it did not strike me that where they were deployed was the limit up to which they had cleared the previous day. I drove to Brigadier Baigs house, found him and his family safe and drove back. A few days later when I met Brigadier Baig he said that after I left there was several hours of fighting with tanks supporting 20 Baluch and then the area was cleared. Lieutenant Colonel Fatmi had incorrectly reported the area cleared and it was the police jeep which stopped the Bengalis from firing at me.
With the command of the brigade I also assumed the Martial Law responsibilities in which reviving the functioning of the city was the major problem. After the city came under the partial control of the army, all the senior civil services officers, the commissioner, deputy inspector general of police, deputy commissioner etc used to come to the circuit house where chairs used to be placed for them in the veranda and they would sit there waiting for orders. If they were called they would come running but they were ineffective because their organisations were not functioning.
I decided that to get the city functioning again, shops and businesses had to be opened, some shop-keepers and businessmen were rounded up and ordered to open their shops etc, they told me that they could not function without the banks being opened. The next day the bank managers, including the managers of foreign banks were collected but they contended that there was no point in opening banks unless the State Bank opened. We applied our old method, the chowkidars at the State Bank were interrogated, addresses of employees were collected, they were rounded up and the State Bank opened and gradually the shops and businesses also opened.
Word spread that the army was operating from the Circuit House and foreigners and civilians started coming to have their problems resolved. One Englishman turned up and said that his wife was going to have a baby and wanted to know what to do as there were no hospitals functioning, I told him I could not help him. An argument developed. I finally told him that we were doing our best, that I had not had the chance to change my clothes since the 25th of March and he could smell them if he had any doubts, he went away. A Russian diplomat came asking about some of his countrymen, someone from the American Consulate came and wanted to drive to Kaptai Dam where some Americans were working and wanted safe passage. I told him to fly a large American flag on his car and he would be safe from our side but I could not vouch for the other side. Two Canadian consultants to the East Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority at the Kaptai hydro-electric power generating station asked that they be provided with security guards. I asked them what they would do for me in return. They surprised me by saying that they would restore the electricity in Chittagong. I accepted this and sent a guard of two men, one guarded their adjacent houses and one went with them. These two consultants to EPWAPDA, using a vehicle to carry ladders, climbed electric poles and repaired the wiring and other things and the electricity was gradually restored.
The Pakistan National Shipping Corporation ship Safina-e-Arab brought hajis from Jeddah. On my way to the Circuit House from the Port Trust rest house I stopped to see the ship, one could smell it from a distance. The captain was nice and gave us a crate of maltas. When I arrived at the Circuit House there was an unusually large crowd, after dealing with the battalion commanders I had the waiting civilians lined up and inquired what they wanted. I was amazed when they said that they wanted my permission to leave Chittagong, I told them that there was no restriction on leaving Chittagong, that there was ship in the harbour, they could buy a ticket and go. As soon as I finished saying this there was a mad rush. I heard later that the purser of the Safina-e-Arab made a fortune that day.
Apart from reviving the city life I decided that it was necessary to get the co-operation of the Bengali residents of Chittagong. From various people hanging around the Circuit House I got a list of twelve prominent Bengali citizens, which included Fazlul Quader Choudhry, the Speaker of the National Assembly and Zakir Hussain, former governor of East Pakistan and interior minister in President Ayubs government, and sent them a notice that they had to come to the Circuit House to attend a meeting to help in the restoration of law and order. Fazlul Quader Choudhry made an excuse and sent a relative instead, all others attended the meeting. They were asked to pass a resolution requesting the people to return to work, open businesses and not to do anything which would create a law and order situation. The announcement was drafted and signed and I sent it to Dacca thinking that it would receive wide publicity, but I heard nothing about it, not even a reprimand for exceeding my authority.
I met Fazlul Quader Choudhry about three weeks later, we had a long talk. He talked about his days as the Speaker of the National Assembly, and said General Yahya had crippled him by freezing the funds of the Muslim League, otherwise he would have been able to oppose both Sheikh Mujibs Awami League and Bhuttos Pakistan Peoples Party and they would not have got the majorities that they did.
When the city came partly to life and with the airport secure visitors started coming from West Pakistan. Lieutenant Colonel Rathore, Signal Corps, 5th PMA Course, came to see what damage had been caused to the tele-communication system, Mr. Azhar of Pakistan Television came and made television recordings and a director of WAPDA came to assess the electricity distribution system. I do not know where the WAPDA director went and what he saw but he came to the Circuit House and started telling me his difficulties, I very rudely told him that I did not want to hear what his difficulties were, that I only wanted to hear how long it would take to get entire system working, that if he could not do so there was no use his coming all the way from West Pakistan and he could take the first flight out. He went back to Dacca and lodged a report against me for being rude and unhelpful.
The last order that I received from Major General Mitha was to get the Radio Pakistan transmitter at Chittagong working again because it was found that there was no way of communicating with the Bengali public without the radio station. I considered this a tall order and thought that the PAF must have caused serious damage to the transmitting station. I knew nothing about large radio transmitters and asked the Navy for help and they sent a lieutenant. We drove to the transmitting station, the building was pitted with bullet marks, the rockets had missed the building, we went inside and found no damage. The transmitter was switched on and it started working. For a while we were mystified why the transmitter had gone off the air as everything seemed all right. We went outside to examine the antennas and found that one wire had been cut by a bullet, we joined it up, turned the transmitter on and it started transmitting. After the transmitter started working we found that we had nothing to broadcast, we looked around and found a recording of the national anthem. I then had the national anthem played and when it finished, it was announced Radio Pakistan Chittagong and the national anthem was played again, this continued for the whole day, the next day the Radio Pakistan staff began operating the station.
As 20 Baluch and 24 FF cleared the city, following them went a wave of looters, mostly West Pakistani unemployed labour. The East Pakistanis had looted the houses occupied by non-Bengalis, these looters did not discriminate and took whatever they could find in a house, the houses on the main roads and streets suffered the most.
When new units arrived from West Pakistan there was indiscriminate firing at night for a few days and looting. 39 Baluch when it arrived in Commilla looted the lines of the 4 East Bengal Regiment and the 3 Commando Battalion was not spared. The Baluchis went through the boxes of our men left in the barracks when the battalion left Commilla to go to Dacca and Chittagong. A suitcase that I had taken to Dacca and left there when I went to Chittagong, was brought back by Jangju Company when it returned to Commilla and left it in the barracks, only the empty suitcase was found. I was contemplating reporting the looting of our lines by 39 Baluch and asking them to compensate the loses of our men but before I could do this I was sacked.
After we left Chittagong and were operating from Rangamati, I came to Chittagong one day and was informed that commandos were looting in a certain area. I drove there and found an Army Service Corps second lieutenant with two men dressed as commandos were busy systematically looting all the shops on a street. I arrested them and handed them over to 53 Brigade. Later when the commandos started flying air guards on the PIA aircraft I found that while searching the passengers some of the guards were relieving the passengers of money and other valuables. To overcome this air guards were changed every two or three days.
The problem which remained after the army cleared Chittagong were the road blocks that had been set up while the city was in the control of the rebels. On one road block, on the road to Nautonpara cantonment, a rail car was across the road at a level crossing. I tried all the controls of the rail car but could not operate any of them, then I collected about two hundred men and made them push, it did not budge and we had to leave it there till the railway staff returned to work and moved it. After the Radio Station started working I had it announced that residents of every street or road on which a road block was located had 24 hours to clear these blocks after which the army would take action against the residents. The road blocks disappeared within the stipulated time.
53 Brigade with Brigadier Iqbal Shafi and his brigade staff returned to Chittagong with the move of 9 Division to Jessore and relieved Brigadier Asghar Hussain and his staff and 3 Commando was not placed under command of 53 Brigade. I was called to the Eastern Command headquarters for orders, when I landed at the Dacca airport it was just starting to get dark, I noticed a crowd of women and children sitting on the tarmac. Jangju Company was back in Dacca, someone from the company met me and told me that my wife and children were on the airfield and were to leave for West Pakistan that night. I looked for them and found my wife sitting on a suitcase holding our younger daughter while the older one was running around in the crowd. My wife was very annoyed with the army. She said that they were ordered to leave Commilla the previous afternoon and were taken to the airfield, each family was allowed to take one suitcase only. When a C-130 came in to land it was fired upon by Lieutenant Haider who had deserted from Jangju Company, and it could not land. It came again the next day to supply food to the Commilla garrison, and they were evacuated in it. My wife complained that they had been sitting on the airfield since the morning without food and there were no bathrooms. She had managed to get Major General Mithas telephone number from some officer and told him about the conditions. The general apparently knew that I was coming and informed my company who told me when I landed. I got SSG vehicles and moved my family and some other families which had formed a group to the ISI officers mess where Lieutenant Commander Shamoon Alam Khan, PN, my younger brother, posted to the Inter-Services Intelligence was staying. All the wives and children ate dal and roti and had tea and biscuits. After they had been fed and rested they were taken to the airport and left Dacca at about midnight.
Sowar Abdul Aziz, 26 Cavalry, who was with me as my batman, remained with my family till they were evacuated from Commilla. A few days after the military action started he brought tins of powdered milk for my two-year old younger daughter who had been crying for milk and no milk was available. When my wife asked him where he got the milk from, he told her that soldiers were looting the subedars shop and he had taken the milk from there. The Bengali subedar from the Army Clerical Corps had been the personal assistant to the Commilla brigade commanders and after retirement had opened a general store in the Commilla cantonment market from where most officers used to buy items of daily use, his shop was amongst the first to be looted by the troops in Commilla. After my wife left my batman collected my baggage and handed it over to the rear party of 3 Commando Battalion and joined me in Rangamati. He did not have a weapon so I gave him a shot gun and with it he used to sometimes accompany the commando patrols.
The morning after my family left for West Pakistan I went to the Eastern Command headquarters and met Brigadier Jilani. Lieutenant General Tikka came into the room and ordered me to make a water-borne landing at Rangamati and secure it. He further added that I would have to arrange for the required boats myself. I went back to Chittagong and ordered Subedar Ramzan to take a reconnaissance party to the Kaptai Dam and find out if sufficient boats were available. He came back and told me that boats were not available but bathing floats and out-board engines were available and he would be able to lift the entire force.
While we were preparing to move to Rangamati, the GSO 3 of 53 Brigade, Captain Zahid, FF, later brigadier, sent me a message to come to the 53 Brigade headquarters. When I got there he told me two men had come to the brigade headquarters, they had Burmese features and had very long hair, one was claiming to be the foreign minister of Mizoram, a part of Assam which had declared independence, that no one at the brigade headquarters was taking them seriously. Captain Zahid told me that between the two of them they had a small attache case. I told him to take them to a room to await my arrival. When they left to meet me I had the lock of the suitcase picked, there were some clothes and a .45 calibre pistol. Captain Zahid introduced me to the Mizos as Lieutenant Colonel Shamsher, one of them identified himself as Paulian, the foreign minister of Mizoram and stated that the Mizoram army of about two thousand men and about three thousand civilians were living in the Pakistani territory, just across the border from Assam, that they were being supplied food by the government of Pakistan and that there had not been any supply for over a month, that they were starving and would have to move to Rangamati. I told the Mizos I would let them know what I could do to help them.
I flew to Dacca the next morning, met Brigadier Jilani and explained the Mizo situation to him. I said that we did not have the force to prevent the Mizos coming to Rangamati if they decided to do so and we could not supply them where they were, I recommended that we allow them to come to Rangamati, supply them with food and then use them to clear the Hill Tracts. Brigadier Jilani went to Lieutenant General Tikka and informed him. The general came to the Chief of Staffs office and after a discussion with me, hesitantly agreed with my suggestion. I returned to Chittagong and informed Mr. Paulian that the Mizos could start coming to Rangamati four days later, we would supply food for their army and the non-combatants, they would have to place their army under my command. Mr. Paulian was satisfied and left immediately to inform his government.
When Brigadier Iqbal Shafi resumed the command of 53 Brigade he had the commandos placed under his command. When I told him that I had been ordered to make a water-borne landing to secure Rangamati he asked me to leave a platoon in Chittagong. I left a platoon with him and moved the 2 and 3 commando elements to Kaptai Dam headworks. Just short of the dam we passed a place where about fifty bodies were lying beheaded, these were part of the non-Bengali staff of the dam and the generating station. The troops who had been carefree and bantering in their vehicles, became quiet and grim after they saw the ghastly scene.
The mixed force of 2 and 3 Commando Battalions arrived at the Kaptai Marina, we found only one boat, belonging to an oil company and a lot of bathing floats. Under Subedar Ramzans supervision the frogmen started organising the boats and outboard motors. Motors were started, tested and fitted on bathing floats, this took a lot of time. There was a steel boat, belonging to an oil company, moored near the marina. We started the engine, it started, everything was fine on it, it could take about a platoon, we wanted to use it but we could not find the fuel tank filler cap to check the amount of fuel and without checking the fuel and knowing the amount of the fuel we could not take the boat.
We were preparing the floats when my younger brother Lieutenant Commander Shamoon Alam Khan, PN, who was posted to the Inter-Services Intelligence, drove up in a Navy vehicle, and informed me that the Director General ISI, Major General Akbar, had sent him with a message for me. The message said that there would be no opposition to the landing at Rangamati as the opposing elements had withdrawn, this information had come from a very reliable source. Expecting opposition at Rangamati I had planned to start from the Kaptai Dam after dark and make a night landing at Rangamati. On the receipt of this information I changed my plan and decided to move as soon as we could get ready with a view to landing in daylight.
I explained my difficulty of locating the fuel tank of the steel boat to Shamoon, he went on the boat, there was a large flat stone lying on the deck, . he pushed it with his foot and pointed to the filler cap of the fuel tank, we measured the fuel level and found it nearly full.
Shamoon volunteered to accompany us to Rangamati and navigate on the lake, I accepted his offer. We set off with the steel boat leading, the bathing floats followed, each float had a frogman or a sailor loaned by Commander Tariq Kamal, in some floats the men sat with their feet dangling in the water. After a while I noticed that Shamoon would head the boat towards a bank of the lake, when near it turn and head for the other bank, I asked him what he was doing, he showed me the navigation marks on the bank and explained that to avoid submerged obstacles you had to follow a cleared channel from one navigation mark to another. There were a number of submerged trees and we were lucky that we had not tried to navigate the river at night.
The sun had set, in the haze before darkness, we sighted the lights of Rangamati. When we were about half a mile away, Subedar Ramzan, in a power boat led the way, he did not take us to the main landing jetty but to point about a mile from it, to the district commissioners house, behind which there was a cove and we landed there in the dark. The platoon on the steel boat quickly secured the area around the district commissioners house, the floats came in one by one and the men disembarked. There were no signs of anyone for a while, then two boys came running, as they went through our defensive perimeter they were held and searched, they had grenades on them and were placed under arrest although they said that they had come to surrender.
The whole landing seemed to have gone smoothly and without opposition, about half an hour after we had started the landing, there was sound of gunfire, it continued for a while and ended as suddenly as it had started. I could not work out who was firing and at what, all our force had disembarked and was with me. After nearly an hour a float commanded by Captain Pervez arrived in the cove, in the dark they had not seen us landing at the district commissioners house and were taken by the frogman on the float to the fishermens jetty. There they ran into a party of East Pakistan Rifles who opened fire, Captain Pervez returned the fire. The East Pakistan Rifles men got into powered country craft and went up the lake, they were about a company strong, when they saw our flotilla go past Rangamati, they hurriedly withdrew, we were lucky that we did not land at the main landing jetty.
The district commissioners house was also his office, the office and the house was found vacant, I made it my headquarters, a vacant house nearby was occupied by the officers and the men went to a government building, and defences were prepared. The frogmen of 3 Commando battalion knew Rangamati thoroughly and were of great assistance.
Shamoon then told me that he had not eaten since the morning and was very hungry. We had not carried any cooked meals, so we decided to walk down to the Rangamati bazaar, about a mile from the district commissioners house. We went to a restaurant and Shamoon had a hearty meal of fish, I did not eat because I cannot stand eating fish. The next morning a frogman took Shamoon in power boat to Kaptai Dam headwork from where he went back to Dacca.
The Kaptai Dam on the Karnaphuli River formed a lake from Kaptai to Mahalchari, a distance of about fifteen miles, and about a mile wide, submerging the Karnaphuli valley where the Chakma tribe of the Chittagong Hill Tracts had lived. There were three main tribes in the Hill Tracts, the Maugs adjacent to the Tripura border, the Chakmas in the Karnaphuli valley and the Bomaugs between the Karnaphuli valley and the borders with India and Burma. The Chakmas were a happy go lucky people, the Karnaphuli valley was very fertile and produced all their needs. When the Kaptai Dam was planned and they were offered compensation for their land, they readily accepted the sudden windfall and moved to the hills where the land had to be cleared and levelled which required continuous hard work that they were not used to. The money they got as compensation for their land was quickly spent, they carried on in their own irresponsible ways but with a feeling that they had been cheated.
The morning after we landed in Rangamati Captain Sajjad took the steel boat and about fifteen men and went to patrol the lake and a road block was established on the road Chittagong - Rangamati. I ordered government vehicles in Rangamati rounded up and told Major Hydayat Ullah Jan to form a vehicle mounted patrol.
While the above was being done, I called on Raja Tridiv Roy the Chakma Raja. He lived in an old bungalow on an island separated from the mainland by a water channel about fifty yards wide. I explained to the Raja that the army had come to re-establish the control of the Pakistan Government on the Hill Tracts and asked for his co-operation. I told him I needed information about rebel activity and he was in a position to provide the information, he agreed to help.
The East Pakistan Rifles rebels who had withdrawn from Rangamati the previous day when they saw us going up the lake instead of making for the landing at Rangamati, had quickly pulled out of Rangamati and set up a defensive position on islands where Karanaphuli River enters the Kaptai Lake. Captain Sajjad, with only fifteen or twenty men decided to attack the island nearest from the mainland to cut the rest of them from the mainland. He ran the boat to the island and beached it with his men firing from the boat. The East Pakistan Rifle rebels when they saw that the island nearest the mainland may be lost, abandoned all the islands and waded to the mainland leaving their heavy weapons which included two heavy machine guns on tripods, of Czech manufacture. Captain Sajjad brought all the abandoned weapons back with him, the steel boat had a number of bullet holes in the gunwale and in the super structure. My intelligence lance naik from 3 Commando Battalion was shot through the neck, we had no medical facilities and moved him to the Rangamati hospital, there was no doctor there, the man drowned in his own blood, his lungs filled with his blood and he died, we buried him the next day.
To get to the ferry landing for the Raja Tridiv Roys residence one had to go some distance from the road which came from Chittagong along an un-metalled track through an area covered by shrubs. In the shrubs we found a mass grave where all the non-Bengalis of Rangamati had been collected, killed and buried, later we were informed that this slaughter had been under the directions of the local administration. Among those killed had been a World War II veteran belonging to Murree, he had settled in Rangamati after the war ended, married there, lived there, owned property and had amassed some wealth as a contractor, the whole family was killed but somehow his ten-year old daughter survived. When my father died about two months later and I went to Murree, three different groups came to me and stated that they were the closest relatives and should be allowed to adopt the girl and control the property for her.
That day I informed the Eastern Command about our landing and securing of Rangamati, a few hours later I received a message from Lieutenant General Tikka ordering me to instruct the Mizos not to come to Rangamati. I received another message informing me that the Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan Khan was in Chittagong and where he was staying. After receiving the message from the commander Eastern Command I was in a quandary, the Mizos had started moving towards Rangamati. I had no communications with them to tell them to go back and when they arrived they would out-number me about six to one. The message had come just before sunset, I took the power boat and went to the Kaptai Dam, the vehicles in which we had moved to the Dam were still there. I took one, went to the hotel in Chittagong and to the CGSs room, luckily I found him in his room. He was quite surprised to see me and thought I was just calling on him, I explained my dilemma and waited anxiously. He summoned a staff officer and dictated a message to Eastern Command and to the Director General ISI saying that he had allowed the Mizos to concentrate in Rangamati under my control. I went back to Kaptai and from there to Rangamati arriving late at night.