Londoni

Bangladesh - now written in history

Days leading upto Victory Day

The Mitro Bahini continued advancing inside Bangladesh and the defeat and surrender of the Pakistan army became a matter of time.

An intense gloom befall Dhaka the days preceding the Victory Day. The streets were nearly empty of people, with Razakars and Pakistani loyalist civilians roaming the street. There was curfew during the nights and nobody dared step outside their homes. Although the sirens had abated since the end of the air war, the sounds of machine guns and other weapons still rattled the night sky.

13 December - General Nagra's forces close in on Dhaka, aided by brave Muktijuddhas & General Manekshaw's offer of surrender to Pakistani Major General Farman Ali

By 13 December 1971 it was the small force under Indian Major General Gandharv S. Nagra in the northern sector that was closest to reaching Dhaka. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) led his force, 101 Communication Zone, who were the weakest of the Indian force in terms of manpower, artillery and armour, to thrust from the north and push ahead as fast as possible for Dhaka.

A day earlier, General Nagra had sent his leading brigade down the road to Joydebpur, north of Dhaka, who were followed few hours later by a second brigade. The Para Battalion was ordered to remain temporarily in Tangail, north-east of Dhaka, where the Pakistani occupation forces were chased out of the district by the muktijuddhas of Kaderia Bahini led by 'Banga Bir' Abdul Kader Siddiqui.

  • Gandharv S. Nagra ()

With it's close proximity to the capital, Joydebpur became an intermediate place for resting and regrouping by retreating Pakistani forces before falling back to Dhaka. After several attempts to fight their way through, the 101 Communication Zone force defeated the Pakistanis who gave up, some surrendering, others disappearing into the countryside.

It is known in East Pakistan, that the West Pakistani troops have been retreating leaving behind their dead and wounded. It was left to the Indian Army to do take care of the wounded and the dead.

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General Nagra decided to exploit the situation and pushed his forces rapidly southwards. Delayed for a time at Joydebpur on 13 December 1971, the Indian troops and the freedom fighters of No 11 Sector (Mymensingh-Tangail) reached Tongi, an industrial suburb north of the Dhaka, on 14 December 1971 and were received by Pakistani tank fire. Presuming that the Tongi-Dhaka road was well defended, the Indians side-stepped to a neglected route towards Manikganj. Just east of Kaliakair, a newly built highway unmarked on the map takes off southwards. Informed by the locals that this road linked up with the Khulna-Dhaka highway and led into Dhaka, via Manikganj, from the west, General Nagra decided to place his bet on this axis and pushed the completely regrouped para battalion down this road, thus bypassing Pakistani north Dhaka offensive. In Manikganj, Pakistani Colonel Fazle Hamid had retreated in haste as he had from Khulna on 6 December 1971. The absence of Fazle Hamid's troops allowed the Indians free access to Dhaka city from the north-west. They arrived at Savar (north-west of Dhaka) in the morning of 16 December.

Meanwhile, Bengali freedom fighters were aiding the Mitro Bahini thrust to capture Dhaka by keeping the Pakistani forces occupied in small, intense battles throughout the country. One such battle took place in Chapai-Nawabganj area, in Rajshahi Division, where 'Bir Srestho' Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir sacrificied his life on 14 December 1971 when he charged singlehandedly towards Pakistani light machine gun bunker with a grenade whilst no artillery cover was provided. He died instantly from shots in the forehead and chest from another Pakistani bunker. The following day, Chapai-Nawabganj was liberated.

Our forces would be tired and we would lose most of our resources in covering the long road fighting against Pakistani forces, if Mukti Bahini did not help us to pass along the road without any barrier.

General Nagra appreciated the Mukti Bahini ,

As one part of Bangladesh was becoming free, another was still fighting for victory.

Intense battle was taking place in Chaydanaa, a place near Board Bazar on the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway about 3km south from Joydebpur-Chowrasta and few miles north of the capital. Here on 15 December 1971, the Muktijuddhas attacked the Pakistani forces from either side of the highway and were successful in killing some of the forces and destroying their vehicles.

The freedom fighters appreciated that the Pakistani occupation forces have only one route to fall back to Dhaka and that is by the highway from the Chowrasta south towards Tongi and then to Uttara and then to Dhaka. The freedom fighters decided to ambush the Pakistani forces during their withdrawal.

On 15 December 1971 a big convoy of Pakistani troops started movement towards Dhaka along the national highway. The freedom fighters ambushed them at Chaydanaa and an intense battle ensued. The morale of the Pakistani troops, obviously, was very low in the context of continuous withdrawal over the last seven days or so; whereas the morale of the freedom fighters was sky high.

During the battle at Chaydanaa on 15th December, quite a number of troop-carrying vehicles were destroyed and more than hundred Pakistani soldiers were injured or killed. Badruzzaman, Jashim, Sharafat, Majed, Nizam, Salam, Ghalib, Khorshed, Gomez and Labeeb are a few names among many who became martyrs during this battle of Chaydanaa.

Guerrilla warfare was the backbone of the war of liberation. The guerrillas are like fish in water. Common people in villages provide the guerrillas shelter, food and information. The people of Joydebpur and surrounding area were no exception.

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General Manekshaw repeatedly went on the radio to warn the West Pakistani troops that they were surrounded. He addressed his message to Major General Rao Farman Ali, Military advisor to the Pakistani Governor in Dhaka, presumably because it was Major Farman Ali who was believed to have been behind the "Ceasefire - Transfer of Power" proposal raised a couple of days back which was later scuttled by Rawalpindi. All India Radio broadcast General Manekshaw's message three times, with considerable effect on the defenders’ morale. In the third and final message, General Manekshaw told Major General Farman Ali that his garrison was within artillery range of Indian troops and further resistance was senseless. Having not received a response from his two earlier messages, General Manekshaw's third message was intended to allay the fears of unnecessary human carnage and to establish the good faith of Indian action. He reiterated complete protection under the Geneva Convention to surrendering Pakistani Troops.

I have sent you two messages already. But there has been no response from you so far. I wish to repeat that further resistance is senseless and will mean the death of many poor soldiers under your command quite unnecessarily. I reiterate my guarantee of complete protection and just treatment under the Geneva Convention to all military and quasi-military personnel who surrender to my forces.

Neither need you have any apprehensions with regard to the forces of Bangladesh as these are all under the joint operational command and the Government of Bangladesh have issued instructions for the compliance of the Geneva Convention.

My Forces are now closing in around Dacca and your garrisons there are within range of my artillery. I have issued instructions to all my troops to afford complete protection to foreign nationals and all ethnic minorities.

It should be the duty of all commanders to prevent the useless shedding of innocent blood and I am therefore, appealing to you once again to cooperate with me in ensuring that this human responsibility is fully discharge by all concerned.

Should you , however decide to continue to offer resistance, I strongly urge that all civilians and foreign nationals are removed to a safe distance from the area of conflict. For the sake of your own men, I hope you will not compel me to reduce your garrison through use of force.

General Manekshaw's message of surrender to Major Farman Ali

If this 16 hours time given to Pakistani forces showed a sincerity of offer, it also gave Indian troops much needed rest. They had been fighting for the last 10 days without proper rest and sleep. The silent interval would give them the required sleep which will refresh them to launch a fresh offensive with 'renewed vigour', if necessary, the next day.

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In addition to the radio messages, on 13 December 1971 the Indian army also dropped leaflets for the first time from the jets passing over Dhaka asking the Pakistan army to surrender unconditionally. It also gave assurances that the Pakistani troops would be treated under the Geneva Convention and other provisions of international law. General Manekshaw had more leaflets airdropped the next two days.

We actually got copies of the leaflets that were floating like confetti in the sky. We were desperately hoping that the Pakistan army would have finally the good sense and spare us the macabre prospect of street fights and countless civilian deaths. We went to our sleepless night that evening not knowing where we were headed.

Ziauddin M. Choudhury

At night time, General Niazi rang General Hamid asking him to check that President Yahya 'take some action soon' on the proposals that he had sent him. The following day the President ordered the Governor and General Niazi to take all necessary measures to stop the fighting and preserve lives.

The three days preceding the Victory Day - 13th-15th December were probably the most traumatic and fearful days of our lives in Dhaka. The streets were nearly empty of people with Razakars, and Pakistani loyalist civilians roaming the street. The nights we had curfew, no one dared step outside their homes. Although the sirens had abated since the end of the Air War, we would still hear sounds of machine guns and other weapons rattling the night sky.

Ziauddin M. Choudhury, author of "Fight for Bangladesh: Remembrances of 1971" (2011)

14 December - Government House bombed & first step to ceasefire

On 14 December 1971, the Indian Army intercepted that there was a meeting at the Government House (Rashtopoti Bhaban) in Dhaka, where Governor of East Pakistan Dr. Abdul Motaleb Malik was attending a high level officials meeting at 11.30am. The Indians decided to attack the Governor's official residence hoping that any disruption of the meeting would 'spur the governor' to accept the surrender calls. However the problem for the Indian was that there were two government houses in Dhaka which the Pakistani establishment used frequently in those days - one a circuit house and the other the Governor’s house. It was assumed that the meeting was taking place in the Circuit House and this information was passed from Deputy Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Idris Latif to the Air Headquarters, New Delhi.

Finally it was passed on to Wing Commander Bhupinder Kumar (B. K.) Bishnoi, the Commanding Officer of No.28 "First Supersonics" Squadron based in Borjhar, located to the west of Guwahati, in the Indian state of Meghalaya (north of Sylhet). Borjhar was one of the Indian operational air bases along with Tezpur, Hasimara, Bagdogra, Agartala, Kalaikunda and Dumdum.

The No. 28 squadron was served by several illustrious fighter pilots of whom a few went on to become the Chief of the Air Staff. From these skilled personnel, three pilots were selected for the airborne operation - Flight Lieutenant Vinod Bhatia, Flight Lieutenant Raghavachari and Flight Lieutenant Malhi. Commander Bishnoi had only taken charge of this squadron one year earlier.

  • Idris Latif ()
  • Bhupinder Kumar (B. K.) Bishnoi ()
  • Vinod Bhatia ()
  • Raghavachari ()
  • Malhi ()

The Wing Commander had only just returned from a combat mission and was not given any target information. All the pilots were shown the Circuit House on a Dhaka tourist map and they had nothing more than this to navigate to their intended target. They had to quickly memorise the map as their fighter aircraft could only contain one pilot and both their hands would be employed at controlling the throttle and firing control of the plane. As such they could not handle any third element.

It was around 10.50 am when Commander Bishnoi had received the order - giving him only 40 minutes to carry out the attack. This 40 minutes also included the 21 minutes it it would take to fly from Guwahati to Dhaka. There was no time to rest or receive any further briefing.

Within five minutes, he and his 3-men team got ready for the raid. They loaded the four bi-sonic, classical delta winged MiG-21 FLs aircraft - acquired from the Soviet Union in 1963 - with 32 high explosive rockets each, a grand total of 128 rockets.

However, as Commander Bishnoi was strapped in the cockpit of his aircraft and started the engine, a Flight Commander came running towards him waving a paper. The paper notified the commander that the target venue was now changed - it was no longer Circuit House but Government House. Commander Bishnoi then raised his thumb to indicate to the Flight Commander that he had noted the change. At this stage he decided not to inform the other three pilots of the change in target as they had already boarded their aircraft and any radio transmission could've been intercepted by the Pakistanis. With map reading being made redundant, the aircrafts pierced the fog screen and took off from the Air Force Station and headed south towards the Bangladesh capital, guided only by their planned time and course.

They remained low height throughout the full journey, not more than 100 feet at any time so as not to be detected by Pakistani radars and thus the element of surprise attack wouldn't be lost.

Maintaining complete radio silence, they flew across the hilly foliage in Meghalaya and entered the flat land of enemy territory which was covered with thick sheet of winter fog whilst the morning sun shun in all its glory in the clear blue sky above it. Skimming over the white sheet of fog, Bishnoi and his men were over Dhaka just minutes before the fixed time. With barely a minute to go, Commander Bishnoi informed his pilots of their new target. He described the rough location of the target and asked them to look for it. The last minute instruction to target only the Governor’s House meant that it first must be located and then only attacked.

The Governor's House was located in a densely populated area of Dhaka and from the air hundreds of road crossings were visible, so how were they supposed to find it? So the team made one "chakkar" (circle) in braod front battle formation and Flight Lieutenant Bhatia spotted it first.

It was a magnificent old styled palatial building with a large, high dome, surrounded by a lush green compound and a big garden. There were quite a few official vehicles parked inside the entrance gate. It seemed the meeting information passed on by Air Vice Marshal Idris Latif appeared correct.

The pilots took an educated guess and assumed this was the Governor's House as there were similar such building in Delhi too. Fortunately for them, their assumption turned out to be a correct one. Commander Bishnoi made the first pass and fired all his rockets at the dome structure. The rest of the formation followed and in a matter of minutes all 128 rockets were fired - ripping open the massive roof of the building and filling the air with smoke and dust. Almost all the inmates of this seat of power survived the raid, except for some fishes in a decorative glass case.

On December 14th evening we were told that the Pakistani Army from their headquarters in Dhaka Cantonment had shifted to the buildings of Dhaka University, inside the town. They had to be flushed out in an operation dubbed "Street Fighting".

On the morning of 15th, I led two missions of four MiG-21s each. In addition, No.28 Squadron mounted another eight missions. Dhaka University was in the middle of the town and had very high buildings around it. We had to fly in between and below their tops.

It was a great experience flying at 1000km/h through these narrow corridors and having people actually looking below from the windows above. An unusual sight to say the least. We made two passes each and struck hard delivering 256 rockets without compliments to the Pakistani Army housed there. A total of 128 57mm rockets were fired into Dhaka University buildings by the 'First Supersonics' on that day.

Wing Commander Bhupinder Kumar (B. K.) Bishnoi

The Governor and his men were engaged in a serious meeting when the first of Bishnoi’s rockets struck the prominent dome. The MiG-21FLs targeted the room just below the dome where the meeting was going on. The fighters made two runs and emptied all of what they had carried that day and returned.

Dust and fire engulfed the structure and it reflected the state of the Pakistani establishment which was about to collapse.

Gen Niazi’s bravado evaporated soon as the barrage of rockets and bombs continued to rain over Dhaka.

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While the raid was still in progress Malik, a devout Muslim, took off his shoes and socks, carefully washed his feet, spread a white handkerchief over his head, and knelt down in the bunker and said his prayers. That was the end of the last government of East Pakistan.

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Shaken by the attacks on his official residence, and having determined that he could no longer serve a useful purpose, Governor Dr. Malik resigned and renounced all ties with the West Pakistani administration.

According to Eye-Witnesses, Governor Malik said a small prayer, then produced a small paper on which he wrote down his resignation with trembling hands. It seems the rocket attack has proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel's back.He had already been under pressure for the past few days with demands for Surrender from India and lack of support from West Pakistan.

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All morning, (Governor) Dr. Malik and his regional cabinet had been unable to decide to resign or hang on. The Indian air raids finally resolved the issue.

Reuters report from Dhaka on 14 December 1971

Dr. Malik moved from the Governor’s House, where he was sharing his dilemma with his French wife and daughter, to the sanctuary established by the Red Cross at Hotel Intercontinental in Dhaka. He was accompanied in this 'Neutral Zone' by his cabinet and prominent West Pakistani civil servants including the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General of Police, the Commissioner (Dhaka Division), Provincial Secretaries and a few others. They 'dissociated' themselves in writing from the Government of Pakistan in order to gain admittance to the neutral zone, because anybody belonging to a belligerent state was not entitled to Red Cross protection.

With Dr. Malik's resignation, the sole decision making authority now remained in the hands of military commander Lt Gen A A K Niazi.

14 December was the last day of the East Pakistan Government. The debris of the Government and Governor House were scattered. The enemy had only to neutralize General Niazi and his disorganized forces to complete the birth of Bangladesh.

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On the same day, at 3.30pm, Dr. Malik and General Niazi received President Yahya's telegram which was sent from Rawalpindi at 1.30pm. In it he finally gave the authorisation that they had sought four days earlier.

You have fought a heroic battle against overwhelming odds. The nation is proud of you and the world full of admiration. I have done all that is humanly possible to find an acceptable solution to the problem. You have now reached a stage where further resistance is no longer humanly possible nor will it serve any useful purpose. It will only lead to further loss of lives and destruction. You should now take all necessary measures to stop the fighting and preserve the lives to armed forces personnel, all those from West Pakistan and all loyal elements.

Meanwhile I have moved UN to urge India to stop hostilities in East Pakistan forthwith and to guarantee the safety of armed forces and all other people who may be the likely target of miscreants.

President Yahya gives permission to surrender

That same afternoon, General Niazi decided to initiate the necessary steps to obtain a ceasefire. As an intermediary, he first thought of Soviet and Chinese diplomats but finally chose Herbert D. Spivack, the US Consul-General in Dhaka. General Niazi asked Major-General Farman Ali to accompany him to Spivack because, he, as Adviser to the Governor, had been dealing with foreign diplomats.

Around 4pm both men went to see Spivack to seek his help in contacting General Manekshaw.

General Niazi and Major General Farman Ali presented the American consulate the following proposals:

  • Ceasefire under the United Nations (UN)
  • Withdrawal under UN
  • Handover of the government to the UN, and
  • No war crimes trials and other stipulations

However, Spivack told Niazi that he couldn't negotiate a ceasefire on their behalf and could only send a message.

When they reached Mr. Spivack's office Farman waited in the ante-room while Niazi went in. Farman could overhear General Niazi's loud unsubtle overtures to win Spivack's sympathies. When he thought that the 'friendship' had been established, he asked the American Consul to negotiate cease-fire terms with the Indians for him. Mr. Spivack, spurning all sentimentality, said in a matter of fact fashion, 'I cannot negotiate a cease-fire on your behalf. I can only send a message if you like.'

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Thus, General Farman was called in to draft the message to the Indian Chief of Staff (Army), General Sam Manekshaw. He dictated a full-page note calling for an immediate ceasefire, provided the following were guaranteed:

  • - the safety of Pakistan Armed Forces and of paramilitary forces
  • - the protection of the loyal civilian population against reprisals by Mukti Bahini
  • - and the safety and medical care of the sick and wounded.

As soon as the draft was finalized, Mr. Spivack said, 'It will be transmitted in twenty minutes'. General Niazi and Farman returned to Eastern Command leaving Captain Niazi, the aide-de-camp to wait for the reply. He sat there till 10 pm but nothing happened. He was asked to check later, 'before going to bed' No reply was received during the night.

In fact, Mr. Spivack did not transmit the message to General (later Field-Marshal) Manekshaw. He sent it to Washington, where the US Government tried to consult Yahya Khan before taking any action. But Yahya Khan was not available. He was drowning his sorrows somewhere. I learnt later that he had lost interest in the war as early as 3 December and never came to his office.

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That same day, the American embassy in Islamabad sent it to New York, and it was given on 15 December to (then Pakistan's foreign minister) Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He refused to accept it. The Americans then sent it to the Indians, and thus on 15 December 1971 the ceasefire was ordered.

Why did the Pakistani command choose to communicate through the American embassy and not the Swiss embassy which was looking after the interests of both the countries or the Red Cross which was easily available? This can be explained by the fact that the units of the American Seventh Fleet were at this time racing towards Bangladesh and there was a possibility that the beleaguered Pakistani forces or a part of them could be repatriated. This was as such a part of deceptive tactics employed by the occupation forces, a kind of delaying tactics to gain time. They shifted their army headquarters to the university building, air headquarters to a TB hospital and an artillery observation post on the top of the Hotel Intercontinental which was declared neutral.

In fact, Niazi accepted the terms of surrender just 10 minutes before the deadline fixed by the Indian Army Chief General Manekshaw.

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The battle for Dacca [as it was spelt then] is not yet over, but the Pakistani Army in Dacca is doomed.

The Daily Telegraph (UK) headline on 14 December 1971

[The] Shame of Yahya's army - it's the atrocities, not the defeat.

The Daily Mail (UK) headline on 14 December 1971