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« "War on Christmas - Season 49, or thereabouts" (Sujatha) | Main | Strauss in China..(Omar) »

December 18, 2010


Omar, thanks for bringing to our attention your father's candid commentary. It is a pity that Pakistan has never had to acknowledge the genocide in Bangladesh as Germany was made to do after WWII. If there was one military incursion into a foreign country in the absence of a direct conflict during my life time that I approve of, it was Indira Gandhi's decision to intervene in E.Pakistan in 1971. I was a young adult at the time and saw first hand what took place there. No, not from what I read in Indian newspapers or heard on Indian TV and radio, but from the plight of the refugees who had filled up the streets of even Delhi, a thousand miles away from the Bengal border. Somehow, I am also not surprised that Bangladesh soon forgot the horror of 1971 and is now aligned with Pakistan and hostile to India. That seems par for the course in the convoluted religious politics of the Indian subcontinent.
What did surprise me is your dad's characterization of one of his army buddies as a communist / Naxalite sympathizer. Communist, I can understand. But did the Naxalite movement which was raging at the time in India have its ideological adherents in Pakistan?

There were (and are) Naxalites in Bangladesh/East Pakistan. As far as I know, there was no Naxalite movement in any part of West Pakistan.
Btw, I would not agree with your characterization of BD as being aligned with Pakistan and hostile to India. There is an Islamist faction in Bangladesh who are exactly that, and there is a wider penumbra of right wing nationalists who are like that to some extent, but there is also a large and very influential secular segment and they may or may not be hostile to India (depending on issues like river waters and boundary disputes as well as more intangible issues of national pride and independence) but they are NOT pro-Pakistan.

Okay, thanks for the clarification re: the secular segment of Bangladesh. May its number multiply, pro-India or not, for the sake of their own nation.

i don't know much about the war personally. the main thing i always was conscious of was that my mom had been shot by mistake in the hip. she obviously survived. i think part of the issue is the class/religious bias of the genocide. very few of my family members seem to have been directly impacted to the extent that you read in these accounts. the exceptions were creative intellectuals, who presumably were killed because of their possible propaganda ability.

bangladesh looks like it is leaning toward a more secular direction. the nominal establishment of islam as the state religion which was enacted in the late 1980s to curry favor with the saudis and their foreign aid was revoked by the awami league. that being said, it will be a secular muslim nation. many hindus who officially live in bangladesh live in india. they simply maintain that they live in bangladesh so their property won't get confiscated.

Razib, the killings in Bangladesh were not totally random (though incidents like the bombing of a village market-day did happen). In the first phase, there were a number of students and teachers killed in Dacca University and many Bengali soldiers and paramilitary troops were killed as their units were disarmed. A number of Awami league workers were killed, but many more escaped to India. After that, the indiscriminate killing was basically a genocide of Hindu Bengalis. Eastern command under General Niazi,not so much under Tikka Khan, who got labelled as the butcher of Bengal a bit unfairly...he was a gentleman compared to that sorry ass lowlife, Niazi.. made no bones about the fact that all Hindus were fair game (My father personally heard Pakistani army commander in chief General Hamid inspecting troops and asking them "Jawan, kitna Hindu mara", (Young man, how many Hindus did you kill?). Some Muslims obviously died as "collateral damage", but in a country of millions, that was like hitting the lottery in terms of odds...and they were mostly poor people, who are always easier to Burroughs pointed out, he was a bum in New York but even then the police could tell that he did not belong to the "torturable classes"...soldiers are less likely to randomly shoot a middle class person because middle class and above are counted, usually unconsciously, as more human than half-naked poor people and are usually not swatted like flies. Finally, there was a massacre of intellectuals just before the surrender. So if you were a middle class somewhat apolitical Muslim Bengali, your chances of survival were always pretty good. And more people died of disease in refugee camps than were killed by any military projectile. That's probably par for the course in all wars (until recent American wars became high tech enough and rates of disease dropped in most countries outside of Africa and India and hellholes like Myanmar).
About Bangladeshi secularism, its a good thing the country has changed course and I think its a fortuitous combination of pre-existing left-liberal secular cadres with the needs of the newly rich capitalists that is driving this change. Bengalis (in United Pakistan) had a reputation for being more religious than Punjabis (who have only recently been told what "real Islam" requires of them) but the Saudi-financed takeover of modern Sunni Islamism by Wahabi jihadists led the hardline Islamists into such insane violence and bigotry that it became incompatible with modern globalized capitalism. The Saudi regime itself has had to pull back from that ideology and movers and shakers in BD seem to have got the message. .Still, as you say, it will be a secular MUSLIM country, and I think it will also see jihadist violence and some wider resistance from "moderate Islamists" sheltering in the BNP.

this is Zack; I friended your father on facebook as PIPA.

this is a great and brave piece; as I mentioned in Sepia Mutiny Pakistanis have a collective amnesia vis a vis 1971.

remember re Islamism; oil in Saudis = Islam on steroids.

I am trying to get in touch with 1971 veterans in Britain to hear their stories and commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Liberation war as part of Pakistan week.

did not know that Bengalis were more religious than Punjabis historically. always thought it was other way around.

an interesting website:

you can read the pak army version of events at

interesting website.

The author and his father need to carry out more research. Mere hearsay may not be stated.
I know from my research that Col Nadir although in Dhaka, but may not be actively involved in operations in March 1971.

There are a lot of inaccuracies and intentional falsehood in the statement. Is he interested in getting Bangali nationhood.
He also does not have any idea about state functioning and national economic management.
Wrongly quoting Z A Alam from his book, The Way It Was, is a case in point.

I wish to know if Col Nadir Ali was related to Maj Ayaaz Ahmed Sipra- Maj Sipra is in the USA now but It is very important. Mohan Lal Bhaskar detained in Kot Lakhpat Jail wrote Main Pakistani Jasoos Tha after he was repatriated to India in 1974. He writes that while he was in jail, he happened to meet Pakistani Major Ayaz Ahmed Sipra of Baloch and Col Asif SHafi of Punjab who told him about 40-odd Indian PoWs in Fort Attock. Bhaskar later gave a sworn affidavit to this effect to the Government of India. Sipra was in the same prison till 1978 for the Bhutto Conspiracy case.
Iam the daughter of one of the Missing men and we want to know the truth of what happened to the Missing men. Pleas email me if you know these men.

I spoke to Major Sipra and he says (and I believe him) that he never saw or heard of ANY Indian POWs in Attock. Mr Bhaskar is either making up the story or heard it from someone else.

Omar, my posts on 3QD do not always appear. No doubt because of my blunt (but polite) comments. Scratch a liberal and they are just as tolerant as the Stalinists. No matter. I had written that I had come across the name Col. Nadir Ali during my belated reading of the 1971 war and you are honored to have him as your father. During the worst excesses that humans do, there remain some fundamentally decent people who place the golden rule above religious divisions.

Unfortunately, since I am one of the few who does not have a facebook account, I am unable to read Col. Ali's memoir. I had picked up a copy of Lt. Gen. M A Rahman's book Back To The Pavilions hoping for a honest and forthright account of his time in the upper echelons of the Pak Mil during this period, but was disappointed by the superficiality of his account. I hope that Col. Ali's recollections of this turbulent period get published. There has to be an honest accounting of what happened, for the sake of the victims at least.

This is from the Daily Star:
and his talk at BRAC:
and his earlier statement (all of these obviously overlap):
I served as a young captain and major in Dhaka and Chittagong and then as second in command and later as commander of 3 Commando Battalion , in the fateful 1971 .I was there from early April to early Oct . We were at the heart of events ; a team from my unit had picked up Sh Mujib Ur Rehman from his residence on25th March ,71.We were directly under command Eastern Command and as SSG battalion commander I received direct orders from Gen Niazi, Gen Rahim and later Gen Qazi Majid of 14 Div Dhaka .Of the resistance fighters Gen Zia Ur Rehman was a fellow instructor at Pakistan Military Academy , Gen Khalid Musharaf , who overthrew Zia in a counter coup was my course mate / room mate at PMA and fellow officer in SSG. Brig Abu Tahir , who brought Gen Zia back into power in a counter -counter coup ,was also a friend and fellow officer in SSG . He was a leftist and was jailed and later hanged by Gen Zia .Another leftist friend was Maj Zia Ud Din , who as a freedom fighter and as Naxalite remained under ground from 1971 to1989 , when a general amnesty was declared .
I came back to West Pakistan for getting my promotion to Lt Col, in my parent corp Ordnance , in Oct 71.I was a mental patient and suffered complete loss of memory from Dec71 till my retirement on medical grounds in 1973 . I remained in the nut house for six months in 1973. As a Punjabi writer I regained my memory and rebuilt my life.I remember every moment in !971.For operations and visiting my sub units , I traveled all over East Pakistan . I never killed anybody nor ever ordered any killing . I was fortunately not even witness to any massacre . But I knew what was going on in every sector . Thousands were killed and millions rendered homeless . Over nine million went as refugees to India .An order was was given to kill the Hindus ; I received the same order many times and was reminded of it . The West Pakistani soldiery considered that , Kosher ,. Hamood Ur Rehman Commission Report mentions it too . Of the ninety three lakh refugees in India , ninety lakh were Hindus .That gave us ,world wide , a bad press and morally destroyed us . Military defeat was easy due to feckless military leader ship.Only couple of Battalions in the North offered some resistance e.g, the unit of Maj Akram , Nishan -e Haider .
East Pakistan a part of the country more than a thousand miles away was ," a geographical and political absurdity " as John Gunther said in " Inside Asia Today " . With the capital in Islamabad and domination of the West Wing , ruled by West Pakistani civil servants and what they called a Punjabi Army , East Pakistanis felt like a colony .They never liked it since 1947. In early sixties my fellow Bengali officers called each other general, a rank they would have in an independent East Pakistan .We all took it in good humour . But 1971 was not a joke and every single Bengalli felt oppressed , with right of life and death in the hands of what they called ," Shala Punjabies ".
I gave a long interview recounting what I saw and felt in 1971 to BBC Urdu Service in Dec 2007 . They asked for a copy of that interview in Bangladesh Liberation Museum ; it was too lengthy for me to translate and type .What drove me mad ? Well I felt the collective guilt of the Army action , which at worst should have stopped late April 71 . Moreover ,when I returned to West Pakistan , here nobody was pushed about what had happened or was happening in East Pakistan , where thousands of innocent fellow citizens were killed , women raped and millions were ejected from their homes . It went on and on .The world outside did not know what went on and depended on reporters who were not there . . Gen Tikka was branded , "Butcher Of Bengal " . He hardly commanded for two weeks , even then the real command was in the hands of Gen Mitha , his second in command , who knew every inch of Bengal and personally took charge of every operation , till Gen Niazi took over and and Gen Mitha returned to GHQ .Gen Tikka as governor ,was a good administrator and made sure that all services ran ;trains , ferries , postal services ,telephones were functioning and offices were open. There was no shortage of food , anywhere by May 71; all in all a better administrative situation , than Pakistan of today ! But like Pakistan of today , nobody gave a damn about what happens to the poor and the minorities .My worry today is whether my grand daughter goes to Wisconsin University or Harvard . That nobody gets any education in my very large village or in the Urdu Medium Schools of Lahore , where I have lived as so called concerned citizen for forty years , does not worry me or anyone else.We are bound to repeat history and not all the NGOs or waters of the seven seas can wash our guilt away or prevent the inevitable denouement .Who loses any sleep over what happens in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Afghanistan ; or Karachi for that matter ? The rich and the powerful of this land do not worry .They live off the fat of this land and there is plenty of fat whether the beast lives or dies .
In Dhaka ,where I stayed most of the time , there was a ghostly feeling until about mid April .But gradually life returned to normal in the little circuit where I moved ; Cantonment , Dacca Club ,Intercontinantel Hotel , the Chinese restaurant near New Market . Like most human beings , I was not looking beyond my nose . I moved around a lot in the city . My brother -in law Riaz Ahmed Sipra was SSP Dhaka and we met almost daily .But the rendezvous were mess , club or a friends house in Dhan Mandi . Even when I could move everywhere I did not see inside the heart of the Bengalis , who were silent but oppressed with the feeling that the man in uniform was master of his life and property. I frequently met Mr Fazlul Qadir Chaudhry , Maulana Farid Ahmed and many other Muslim League and Jamaat leaders , in one Govt office or the other . Prof Ghulam Azam and Ch Rehmat Elahi also used to meet me to provide me volunteers to carry out sabotage accross the Indian Border .One derailment opposite Kishan Ganj border ,in Sylhet caused 56 dead and was in the news over BBC.That and my action against a dug in regular battalion , where a an army action by a brigade had failed a day earlier , I became famous and was on my way to the nut house .
Dr Yasmin Sakia an Indian scholar teaching in America told me an ironic tale . When she asked , why , in the nineties ,she could not find any cooperation in tracing victims of rape in 1971 , she was told by a victim," Those who offered us to the Army are rulers now . " The ruling class rarely changes !They lead , they mislead , they resist and if need be they collaborate with the oppressors .I lived in a fools paradise and angels were all on our side . Paradise is occupied by the people in the upper income brackets . Essentially , at leadership levels , it was the West Pakistani feudal fighting against the the East Pakistani bourgeoisie . The revolution always evades these grabbers . As a fight for freedom , it only set free the emerging Bengali middle class . The mess that we made still keeps Bangla Desh in a political mire . A young Bangladesh Army officer told me in the late nineties that they were all for Pakistan now . I could only say , " Son , I wish you were born before 1971 ! " An old friend ' Muzi ' from Bangls was visiting here sa personal guest of then President Prevaiz Musharraf and Governor Frontier Gen Iftikhar . I cribbed about frequent take overs by the Army . He said , " Sir I dont want to hear anything against Pakistan Army ! I said ," ....... you ! Why were you fighting against Pakistan Army in !971 and wrote a long letter to me about Army atrocities and cursed me for being there ? I loved Bengal more than any other part of the world , but , alas , my love was misplaced in 1971 .I have traveled to Indonesia and Singapore to relive in the Bengal landscape , but no birds sing the Bengali songs there . I will sum up like the Mynah bird that I brought from an abandoned English tea planters house in Sylhet in 1971 ; every morning in clipped English accent it would say , " Get up you bloody bastard , it is twelve o, clock now ! "
" Paddar dhew ray ammar shunno rhidoy paddo niay ja ! "

You can tell any story to twist the tale. The untold part also matters in history. Two Bengali soldiers whom I released from custody, issued weapons to and put back in uniform, and continued to fight alongside in 1971, were Indian prisoners for three years. I discovered one of them serving as a cook in 1976 in Lahore. I had regained my memory. “Kamal –ud-Din you ?” “Sir you got me into this !” The Pakistani Army had thrown them out. One of them teaches in Dhaka now.
The untold part of the story is that one day I enquired about one soldier of Cammandos, who had been my favourite in 1962. “ Sir, Aziz-ul –Haq was killed”, the Subedar told me rather sheepishly. “How?” was not a relevant question in those days but I did ask. “Sir first they had been put in a cell, and then were later shot in the cell. The worst nightmare of mine, even forty years later is sight of fellow soldiers shooting in a cell. “How many ?” “There were six sir, but two survived. They pretended to be dead but were alive.” “Where are they ?” “In Commilla sir, under custody”. I flew from Dacca to Commilla. I saw two barely recognizable wraiths. If you know what that means to a fellow soldier ! It is worse than suffering or causing a thousand deaths. I got them out, ordered their uniforms and weapons. “Go, take your salary and weapons and come back after ten days.” They came back and fought alongside, were prisoners and then were with difficulty , repatriated in 1976.The stories differ, depending on who reports.
My first action was in mid April 1971. “It is Mujib-ur-Rahman’s home district. It is a hard area. Kill as many bastards as you can and make sure there is no Hindu left alive.” “ Sir, I do not kill unarmed civilians who do not fire at me.” “Kill the Hindus. It is an order for everyone. Don’t show me your commando finesse !”I flew in for my first action. I was dropped behind Farid Pur. I made a fire base and we fired all around. Luckily there was nobody to shoot at. Then suddenly I saw some civilians running towards us. They looked unarmed. I ordered “Stop firing!” and shouted what did they want. “Sir we brought some water for you to drink!” I ordered putting the weapons away and ordered a break for tea. We sat there for hours. Somebody brought and put up a Pakistani flag. “Yesterday I saw all Awami League flags over your village” I said and that was a fact. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Later the main army column caught up to make contact. The officer in the front vehicle stood in the jeep like Rommel in the movie. They were firing with machine guns all around and I saw smoke columns rising in villages behind them. “What’s the score?” the Colonel asked. “There was no resistance so we didn’t kill anyone.” He fired from his machine gun and some of those water supplying villagers fell dead. “That is the way my boy”the Colonel told the poor Major.It is not to boast about my innocence. I was guilty of having volunteered to go to East Pakistan. My brother-in-law Justice Sajjad Sipra was the only one who criticized my choice of posting. “You surely have no shame” he said to my disconcert. My army friends celebrated my march from Kakul to Lahore. We drank and sang ! None os us were in two minds. We were single mindedly murderous !
In the Air Force Mess at Dacca, over Scotch, a friend who later rose to a high rank said “ I saw a gathering of Mukti Bahini in thousands near Fenni , I made a few runs and let them have it. A few hundred bastards must have been killed. “ My heart sank “Dear it is the weekly Haat (Market) day and villagers gather there.” “ Surely they were all Bingo Bastards!” he added.There were friends who boasted about their score. I had gone on a visit to Commilla. I met my old friend, then Lt.Col. Mirza Aslam Beg and my teacher, Gen. Shaukat Raza. Both expressed their distaste for what was happening. Tony Mascarhennas , an APP man in Commilla ran away to London and wrote about atrocities that officers had committed and boasted about. It was published in ‘Times of London’. The reading made me feel guilty as if I had been caught doing it myself ! In the Army, you wear no separate uniform. We all share the guilt. We may not have killed. But we connived and were part of the same force. History does not forgive!

Once again, I was unable to post this on 3QD:

Pertaining to your comment there: "The number killed directly by Pakistani forces is "only" in the thousands."

Omar, following Sarmila Bose's revisionist history, there were detailed rebuttals from Bangladeshi historians and the consensus appeared to be that the Pakistani forces killed in the high hundreds of thousands in East Pakistan. Not the millions in popular accounts, but also certainly not in the "thousands".

Thank you for posting Col. Ali's reminiscences. He was clearly traumatized by what he had witnessed; something central to being a true humanist.

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