Written By: Brig. (Retd) Liaqat Bokhari (Sitara-e-Jurat)

During his visit to Bangladesh in June 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has openly admitted that India played an important role in breakup of East Pakistan in 1971 – in a way he was admitting that India was involved in the massacre of West Pakistanis in 1971. Posted as Commanding Officer of 4 Army Aviation Squadron in Dhaka, where I remained from January 1971 to the fall of Dhaka on 16 December 1971, I am witness to India’s role in this war. In the past 44 years, a lot has been written about 1971 War but the majority of the analyses have been conducted by those who weren’t in East Pakistan during the riots and fighting, and, were unaware of the actual conditions. Instead of an accurate assessment of the armed forces performance, these people have constructed a narrative contrary to the reality and ignored the soldiers who withstood horrifying conditions and fought bravely with the Indians and the Mukti Bahini. During 1971 war, on the one hand military was facing paucity of weapons, tanks and airplanes, and on the other hand, the leadership could not compete with the constant meddling and political manipulation by India. It did not take any timely steps to counter Indian propaganda, too.

The Awami League won 160 seats and the PPP won 81 seats in the general elections in December 1970. Upon winning the elections with a heavy mandate, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman demanded that Awami League be invited to form the central government. When President Yahya Khan, the supreme leader of the country at that time, hesitated, a wave of resentment spread across entire East Pakistan. These sentiments were fully exploited by fifth columnists and Indian agents. The political struggle by a political party was deliberately shaped to become violent and anti-Pakistan. Indian intelligence agencies especially focused on students. Indians spewed their hateful propaganda against Pakistan, brainwashed the young minds and then started supplying them with weapons and ammunition to carryout sabotage activities. India took maximum advantage of the situation and provided the Bengalis with economic aid and used poisonous propaganda against Pakistan. Indian propaganda slowly convinced the Bengalis that they had more cultural similarities with India, which was their friend whereas West Pakistan was withholding their rights. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had the complete support of the very powerful Student League. Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, which was the centre of political activity, was under the complete control of the Awami League and Bengali students. These institutions became hub of violent activities.

In reality, the civil militia of Mukti Bahini was being trained by the Indian Army. With the help of the Indian Army, they managed to destroy all the bridges of East Pakistan. Railway lines, roads and river transport were also rendered ineffective. Only the orders of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who was under complete Indian control, were obeyed and all the recommendations of the Pakistani administration were completely ignored. Many Bengali officers from Eastern Command were continuously sending important documents to the Indian Army. In these conditions, on 25 March, the Army experienced a grave setback. The entire East Bengal Regiment (EBR) and East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), who numbered 120,000, rebelled. 80,000 Mukti Bahini, in which Indian soldiers were also implanted, began to massacre West Pakistanis. For this purpose, elaborate slaughter houses and riverside torture centres were made. Apart from those loyal to Pakistan in few big cities, the remaining East Pakistan was under the control of rebels supported by Indian soldiers. In Dhaka University’s Iqbal and Jagannath hostels, West Pakistani students were kidnapped, molested, and later brutally killed.

To re-establish control over the perilous situation and run the civil administration of East Pakistan, a division of Pakistan Army armed with weak and old vintage weapons was forced to contend with internal and external threats. Attacks on the Pakistan-India border by Indian forces had become a routine occurrence and internally, the army had to fight the rebel Bengali units and the Mukti Bahini which had the latest weaponry provided by India. Pakistan Air Force was as good as nonexistent in East Pakistan. In Dhaka, there was only one squadron of 14 old F-86 planes. In 4 Army Aviation Squadron, I had a force of only three cargo and two small helicopters to provide weaponry to 14 Division’s positions spread all over the thousands of miles long India-East Pakistan border, evacuate the wounded to hospitals, conduct operations with the commandos, and transport West Pakistani women and children to camps in Dhaka.

In comparison to the combined force of Indian soldiers and Bengali rebels, Pakistan Army had a much smaller number. In response to Indian Army heavy concentration in selected battle zones, Pakistani forces were spread thin and stretched over hundreds of miles long border. Even then, Pakistani soldiers fought spiritedly for a long time, fully prepared to die while fighting. But unfortunately, instead of help and support, we received hate and resentment from the local population that had been influenced by poisonous Indian propaganda. To fight against the enemy was easy but to fight one’s own countrymen was very difficult.

On 23rd March (Pakistan Day), Sheikh Mujibur Rehman announced a day of protest in East Pakistan. On TV, Firdous Begum repeatedly sang Bangladesh’s song of independence, “Sonar Bangla”. Pictures of Quaid-i-Azam were burnt. Pakistani flags were also removed, burnt and replaced with flags of Bangladesh. Bengali shopkeepers refused to sell West Pakistanis daily supplies. Shops belonging to West Pakistanis were looted, set on fire and their owners were killed. This all happened as followers of Chankia had sown the seeds of hatred in the minds of Bengali masses. Indian poisonous propaganda done over the years had been able to change brothers into opponents.

On 27 March, 1971, Major Ziaur Rahman, who did staff course with me from Staff College Quetta (he later became the President of Bangladesh and was killed by his own soldiers) called his Commanding Officer in the office and shot him dead. After that, he declared the independence of Bangladesh and himself as the Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Armed Forces. There, he murdered all the West Pakistanis including their families with extreme brutality.

In light of my personal experience being in East Pakistan during 1971 war, I believe that Indians are coward on the battlefield, but apt at conspiracies, spreading unrest in other countries and stabbing them in the back. How India created differences and split between political parties and spread hatred among common masses of East Pakistan is no secret and how All India Radio and press communicated misleading assertions about the legitimate government which resulted in a mass rebellion in East Pakistan.

The initially weak insurgency with active Indian involvement to help anti state elements became stronger with the growing propaganda. The Indian agencies had established a separatist movement through their cells in East Pakistan and trained Mukti Bahini in camps within Indian territory adjoining East Pakistan. But then conspiracies and persecution of disadvantaged Muslims has always been a cornerstone of Indian policy! The past cannot be forgotten!

Brigadier Liaqat Bokhari (Sitara-i-Jurat) was posted to Dhaka in January 1971 and remained there till the Fall of Dhaka. He was awarded Sitara-i-Jurat for his bravery and valour during the 1971 War.
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