HISTORY IS A SILENT WITNESS, FORGIVES NONE
On December 16, 1971, the official Pakistani media in West Pakistan continued to look normal and unconcerned to Pakistan’s political and military debacle in East Pakistan. For days, people in West Pakistan did not believe the foreign media reports of Pakistani troops surrendering to Joint Eastern Command of Indian and Bangladeshi Armed Forces led by Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Arora. In fact, Lt. Gen. Amir Abdullah Niazi, Martial Law Administrator Zone-B and Commander Eastern Command signed the instrument of abject surrender before Gen. Arora in the presence of a seemingly large hostile Dhaka crowd, chanting slogans against Pakistan. It was only a few days before, Gen. Niazi had spoken of defending Dhaka until last soldier standing and over his dead body. However, he seemed to have lost faith after an Indian MIG war plane dropped bombs on Governor House, Dhaka.
Subsequently, he started impressing upon the GHQ, the need for an early cease-fire or surrender to avoid bloodshed. He was also encouraged in his pursuit by the then Governor East Pakistan by conveying similar themes to President Gen. Yahya Khan at Rawalpindi. Gen. Niazi who had lost all hopes; spoke to Gen. Hameed, then Chief of General Staff in GHQ on the night falling on 13/14 December asking him for impressing upon Gen. Yahya to move swiftly regarding his so called proposal for a cease-fire. Brig. Siddique Salik, then Chief of ISPR in Dhaka, through his eye-witness-account, as quoted in his book, described the details of the lost wisdom of Lt. Gen. Niazi, when this great tragedy of abject surrender occurred. Brig. Salik was visibly surprised over certain very ill-conceived moves of Gen. Niazi, which led to abject surrender and killing of a large number of innocent West-Pakistanis, Beharis and other loyal citizens at the hands of Indian saboteurs and Mukti Bahini insurgents.
In fact, President Gen. Yahya did not endorse the cease-fire/surrender plan put forward by Gen. Niazi to GHQ. However, as testified by Brig. Salik, a telegram dated December 14, 1971, received in Dhaka at 1730 hours, Gen. Yahya reportedly supported the idea for local ceasefire and finding a solution for the safety of Armed Forces personnel, the people of West Pakistan serving in East Pakistan, Beharis and other loyal citizen. But due to the inept handling of the crisis situation, Gen. Niazi ignored the instructions for ensuring the safety of all concerned, resulting in large scale killings of West Pakistanis, Beharis and the loyal citizen by the Mukti Bahini insurgents. Gen. Niazi also failed to issue any notice to West Pakistanis and loyal citizens to move to Cantonment areas, before proposing a so-called cease-fire to Gen. Manak Shah. So much so that many of these loyal citizens came to know about the abject surrender through All India Radio, and when they tried to move towards Cantonment areas, many of them were brutally killed by the Mukti Bahini terrorists.
The events in Dhaka verify that Gen. Niazi made hasty moves after receiving the said telegraphic instructions from Rawalpindi. He ignored adequate planning, to accopmlish the given task by GHQ in a befitting manner. Immediately after receiving consent to his local ceasfire proposal, he rushed to U.S Consulate General in Dhaka and sought help from the American Consul General for facilitating contact with Gen. Manak Shah, ostensibly for immediate cease-fire, thus opening the gate for abject surrender. According to some reliable reports, the much baffled US Consul General, promised to help Gen. Niazi and informed Washington about the amazing development, before communicating the same to Gen. Manak Shah. The Indian General sensing moral collaspe of Gen. Niazi, responded swiftly through his communication dated December 15, 1971 demanding immediate ceasefire and surrender of Pakistani Forces before the so called Joint Indian / Bangladesh Eastern Command. Gen. Niazi endorsed Manak Shah’s message to GHQ wherefrom Gen. Hameed advised Gen. Niazi to deal with the cease-fire as a local arrangement, if it fulfills his requirement, as the matter is before the United Nations and as such the local arrangements of ceasefire will not be binding on the Govt. of Pakistan.
The News about this ill-conceived request reached Washington at a time, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was confronting a tough Polish Resolution in the Security Council forcing on Pakistan, a cease-fire demanding withdrawal of Pakistani troops and handing over power to Bangladesh Leaders. Media reports at that time suggested that United States Government was busy in consultation with UN Security Council Members to elicit support for British / Italian Resolutions for a cease-fire, but the onus was immediately shifted to a cease-fire on West Pakistan borders when United States came to know about Gen. Niazi’s intention for surrender. Mr. Bhutto was much baffled to know about the pitiable move and it was in the backdrop of this move that Bhutto tore his papers and walked out of the Security Council meeting refusing to become a party to the abject surrender in former East Pakistan.
It appeared that the US Government was not happy, the way Gen. Yahya’s government handled the crisis situation in East Pakistan. Earlier, the then US Secretary of State William Rogers announced on December 05, 1971 that the deteriorating situation in the South Asia posed a threat to international peace and security. Hence the United States joined other members of the Security Council in requesting an emergency session of the Security Council to discuss India-Pakistan fighting. The Security Council considered a resolution duly supported by the United States asking for cease-fire and with-drawl of troops. But the Soviet Union, holding a permanent right of veto, negated the majority view. The matter was transferred to General Assembly, where the sentiments of the member countries went in favour of the resolution being 104 in favour and 11 opposed, with ten abstentions. But the General Assembly resolution was not binding, so India took advantage of the situation.
A lot more has been said about the movement of 6th US Fleet during East Pakistan crisis. Pakistani public opinion in those burning days had great expectations from the United States and most of the populace in West Pakistan criticized United States for not supporting Pakistan at the hour of need. But the fact of the matter is that the then military leadership, being demoralized had failed to put up a bold face against Indian hegemonic designs. Whereas Gen. Niazi, proved an utter failure. He could neither plan a proper war strategy to defend East Pakistan, nor could save the innocent lives of loyal citizens. Gen. Yahya’s top brass also failed to put up a good show on West Pakistan front as well. Hence, no plausible reason can be offered for territorial losses on West Pakistan and Kashmir fronts. It seems that our war strategy was primarily based on US and Chinese help and intervention in the conflict and was not based on our determination to defend our country against heavy odds.
Pakistan should have learnt lessons that no country can fight for you a war when you don’t have the will to defend yourself. As for as US fleet is concerned, the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Enterprise with a task force of several amphibious ships and destroyers, did reach the Straits of Malacca Bay but by that time Gen. Niazi had already surrendered. One purpose of the movement of 6th Fleet towards East Pakistan could have been to counter the Russian Naval presence in the area, while giving moral support to Pakistani defenders, another to evacuate American citizens in case of emergency. However, Gen. Niazi’s cowardly move to hastily surrender when no major town was conquered by the Indian troops by then, and at a time when Enterprise was closing in to Bay of Bengal and Bhutto trying for an honourable cease-fire in the Security Council, has dashed all hopes to nothingness. Pakistani troops surrendered and the US Naval Fleet, after staying in the Bay of Bengal for about a month left for Philippines, on January 11, 1972. Thus the East Pakistan chapter was closed once forever leaving behind a chapter of sordid history.