Written By: Maria Khalid
Pakistan was not monolithic – split into two parts but undivided. East and West Pakistan were geographically remote from each other, divided by thousands of miles of Indian territory. It was the year 1971 when Fareed-ud-Din, having a Bengali origin, got commission in Pakistan Army as a lieutenant and joined 55 Field Regiment located in Kharian as an artillery gunner.
Till date, he proudly presents himself as a product of Faujdarhat Cadet College located on the outskirts of Chittagong, modeled on the public schools in UK. “During Ayub regime lots of economic, administrative and social measures were taken which were aimed at larger national integration, minimizing the disparity between East and West Pakistan. They were given resources and cadet colleges were established. “Studying in this prestigious institution gave me direction and I knew I wanted to join Pakistan Army.”
When I asked him the reason to stay in Pakistan after the 1971 war even though he is a Bengali, he told me about his wife who belonged to Model Town Lahore, a cavern of longing opened up inside of him triggering a minor epiphany at the same time. “Also I took oath on Holy Quran in Kakul and promised loyalty to Pakistan until the very end.” His loyalty was put to a great test from March till December but he remained loyal and came over to Pakistan after the creation of Bangladesh. Many Bengali officers revolted and joined the rebel forces clandestinely or openly and there were many instances where they remained loyal till the end of the war in 1971.
“I received a lot of love and affection in Pakistan Army. They recognized my sacrifice and supported me wherever I served. Army Welfare Trust gave me benefits much more than others.”
His son, Major Ali Raza was serving as an instructor in Pakistan Army Aviation. While he was testing a refurbished aircraft, the engine ceased at a very short altitude on April 8, 2014. “That was a huge loss for me. But he died for a very good cause. The pangs in my heart are a constant reminder of the loss but it gives me solace that he died boots on and I always pray to Allah to give him the best place in heavens.” A month before his martyrdom, a post on his Facebook wall said, “Keep your head high. Allah selects the best soldiers for Allah’s toughest battle.” With this he gave me a polite little smile that reached his eyes. He is proud of all his sons, the one who sacrificed himself for Pakistan, the one who serves in Pakistan Army Engineering Corps and the one who is studying abroad.
“This friendship, this comradeship doesn’t know any bounds. I remember when we were told to swim across Bambawali-Ravi-Bedian Canal in the month of December; I did it without any hesitation. The then COAS and President Gen Zia ul Haq, asked the General Officer Commanding (GOC), “how did he do it?” I told him I was born in water, i.e., in East Pakistan. That was when he directed his Staff Officer to note down my name and he took special interest in my welfare later on. President Zia asked me, “Which place would you like to get settled after the retirement?” I replied, “all parts of Pakistan are dear to me, sir.”
He believes the separation of Bangladesh was a political blunder. “During the 24 years of a united Pakistan, economic disparity and other inequalities posed a serious challenge to the unity which was fully exploited by the enemy. A tropical cyclone that struck East Pakistan on November 12, 1970 killed 50,000 people with winds reaching up to 144km/h. Transferring of military helicopters was made difficult by the Indian government as they didn’t grant them the clearance required to cross the Indian territory lying between the two wings of Pakistan. The elections were scheduled a month ahead of the cyclone. General Yahya was criticized for delayed handling of relief operations. Sympathy votes were cast for Mujib-ur-Rehman and that changed the whole scenario.
Separated for thousand miles by a hostile nation, the Bengalis had developed trust deficit and by then no leader could visualize that it would take such an ugly turn. “They never contemplated this possibility. People voted for Mujib-ur-Rehman but for a united Pakistan. General Yahya Khan wanted to bring Mujib-ur-Rehman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto together to run the government but civil war broke out. As a matter of fact more than 60% Bengalis supported United Pakistan.”
When Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman announced a parallel government on March 7, 1971, Army was incarcerated inside the cantonment. They were confined to the barracks by the Awami League during their hate campaign against West Pakistan. Now under influence of negative propaganda, Bengali shopkeepers refused to sell them food, fuel and other everyday commodities. “We were prisoners inside the camps; Awami League demanded the troops be sent back to the barracks.”
Misunderstandings grew, atmosphere became tense, and lawlessness was everywhere. India cashed in the refugee crisis and restrained them from returning home when they had grown tired of their expatriate life, otherwise their cause to attack East Pakistan due to the growing refugee influx would be lost.
In the late 70s, Col Fareed-ud-Din’s unit moved to East Pakistan. He remembers how Army as an organized force under strict command from its officers only wanted to kill the insurgents under unfavorable operational situation but they saw everything taking a wrong turn due to the Indian intervention. Pakistan Army found itself in a difficult situation. People asked why our soldiers didn’t start a guerilla warfare. He asks with utter disbelief at the ignorance, “Where would the equipment come from, suppose a soldier fired the only round he had, what would come next when all our ammunition was exhausted? Our meager forces of approximately 33,000 soldiers were facing a rebel force of 100,000 and approximately 500,000 Indian soldiers.”
“An air of dogmatism was dominant in newspapers. The untrammeled partisan media of the separatist ideology gained high ground in the international forum because of Pakistan’s poor press coverage.”
He added, “J. N. Dixit in his book, Liberation and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh Relations mentioned how Indira Gandhi called a meeting in April and ordered Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw to wage war in East Pakistan. The General bargained for time as he needed time for preparation and he knew East Pakistan was submerged in water during the monsoon season.” The density of rain between April and September went up to 1,854 millimeters. A major military operation would not be feasible until winters arrived.
When the war broke out, India took calculated moves as our locations were known to them. “We couldn’t fight a classical war because of paucity of troops and heavy equipment. We were confined to limited resources. The local people were hostile; movement from one sector to another was difficult. A dense network of rivers with numerous large and small tributaries made cross-country movement difficult as narrow roads frequently ended on river banks and from there boats remained the only possible mode of transportation. No aircraft would come for our rescue and we were dependent on an obsolete tank regiment. Indians waged war with a tactical scheme which involved knowing our troops’ location and attacking through the gaps. They knew where our troops were concentrated and the fall back positions. Our communication lines were also compromised.”
“The officers who defected our forces and joined the rebels across the border took along the operational plans of the war. 100,000 Mukti Bahini operating behind our lines were providing real time intelligence to the enemy.”
East Pakistan was surrounded by India on all sides except a very small border with Burma. Due to this peculiar cartography, geography was against us. The distances involved in two wings were too large and duly exploited by India. Besides dismemberment of Pakistan was a huge strategic gain and in India’s national interest therefore Pakistan’s internal situation was badly exploited to achieve the said objective.
When I asked Col Fareed-ud-Din if he had any regrets that he stayed in Pakistan, he replied, “History still weighs on us but I am proud to have come to West Pakistan. I miss my relatives and family but I vowed to live and die in Pakistan. My beloved wife is buried here, with whom I have a deep emotional attachment. I found genuine pleasure in her companionship. We lived a very happy and fulfilling life.” At that thought a wave of absolute calm engulfed him.
“East and West Pakistan were one but the situation so developed that we had to separate. A day will come when we will reunite.” In his mind he pictures it as two leaves blown apart by a merciless gust of wind but genuinely bound together by the entwined roots of the tree they fell from.