Here are some chilling events that took place from March to May 1971.

Shiekh Mujib was arrested and moved to a safe house. The Bengali Intelligence Station Chief had defected, the responsibility fell on the shoulders of Col Maqsood. The officer has a word to word account of those fateful days. Mujib was awed by the violent tide of Bengali Nationalism. He insisted he was for decentralization. His appeal to calm events was declined. Col Maqsud communicated the briefs and recordings but could not get beyond the general staff at GHQ. On 23 March 1971, he gave a briefing to the PPP team headed by Bhutto only to fall on deaf ears. With top tier of leadership arrested, the surge of Bengali Nationalism fell into the hands of situational leaders many of whom were retired or revolting officers of the armed forces. The slogan of ‘Idhar Hum Udhar Tum’ provided the impetus to the separatist surge. There were reports of ethnic killings in Chittagong, Santahar and Sylhet. Bengali servicemen of East Bengal Regimental Centre, East Bengal Regiments and East Pakistan Rifles were leading the charge. They selectively killed non Bengali servicemen, families and children.

Lt General Rao Farman who was handling civil affairs could not convince GHQ and General Yaya’s Martial Law coterie. Bhutto had now become an integral advisor. Lt Gen Tikka who was to later become Bhutto’s Chief was moved to East Pakistan and so began Operation Searchlight. Landing at West Pakistan, Bhutto said, “Pakistan is saved”. It meant, ‘West Pakistan is rid of East Pakistan.’

Based on a premise that defence of East lies in the West, the army was very thinly deployed. Further, most Bengali servicemen had revolted and joined the mutineers. Military and establishment structure was proliferated with informers. The nature of terrain impeded rapid movements. The field army completely disconnected from the ruling coterie had no idea of the challenges it had to face in the war it had to fight.

The ruling coterie had concentric circles.

They were led by Yaya’s Martial Law advisors and civil opportunist. With Lt General Rahim’s liaison, Bhutto became an integral part of this group advocating a bulwark approach. Senior officers in East Pakistan bypassed General Staff at GHQ and started taking direct orders from the martial law camp. Some officers resigned or were ousted. Amongst them were Lt. General Yaqub Ali Khan, Major General Shaukat Reza and Major General Khadim Hussain Raja. Lt. Gen Farman who initially favoured a civilian settlement trimmed his sails. An extension of this coterie led by Lt General Niazi also existed in East Pakistan. Two things were common amongst this delusional lot; women and whisky. They made merry and were not available at critical times. Some even confided to their ‘women of the nights’ that East Pakistan had to go and India would give a safe passage to West Pakistani army. In light of Hamood ur Rehman Commission Report, this lot needs to be court martialed even if posthumously.

It was assumed that because Pakistan had suppressed leftist movements in East Pakistan to appease USA in the past, this one would be acceptable. This decision proved fatal because of multiple factors. International opinion quickly went against Pakistan. USA failed to call the bluff of Soviet nuclear submarines and retracted. Lastly, Tibetan insurgents trained by CIA were drafted as the hardcore of Mukti Bahini into the civil war by India in the interim. They formed the first wave of violence and genocide in Chittagong. Later India openly drafted and trained Mukti Bahini, a fact admitted by Prime Minister Modi in Bangladesh.

The second circle was led by Chief of General Staff at GHQ. They were intermittently in and out of the loop. There was no war planning, application of military contingencies and variants. Offence in West Pakistan was ill conceived and failed. By 7 December, Pakistan army in the west had lost initiative and Indian forces were reacting. The entire military high command was paralyzed when the surrender took place. Facing a military rebellion, General Yahya was forced to hand over power to Bhutto.

The third circle was the field army and its commanders intentionally kept ill informed. The two infantry divisions in East Pakistan were short of strength particularly in armour, artillery and air cover. The total fighting strength did not exceed thirty thousand, too little to seal borders against India and also carry out genocide. But it is a different story as far as Eastern Command is concerned. Under Lt. Gen Farman’s command, they quickly established Razakars and armed civilian organisations to fight back rebels and Bengali nationalists. This action sunk Pakistan deeper in the second wave of reactive violence. In the outnumbered field army, atrocities were forbidden and men were punished whenever they did so.

The speed of events surprised both Pakistan and India. While Pakistan rejected any notion of a political agreement, it failed to draft a viable military plan. The Indians seized the moment. The lying in wait, Special Frontier Force (SFF), or Establishment-22 of Tibet trained by CIA were launched by RAW. Here is an eye witness account of officers who arrived at Chittagong in April 1971.

“As the ship approached Chittagong, there were bodies floating. Near the port, the bodies increased with the muddy and partially bloody water of the Brahmaputra. “The ship had to wade through a sea of bodies to enter the harbour. All the roads were littered with dead bodies of Beharis and West Pakistanis; it was impossible to remove then except by Bulldozers. In the Chittagong stadium, a mass blood collection drive was going on from captured pro Pakistanis. After the blood was drained the living corpse were dumped into the Brahmaputra, which floated them to the open sea. Near Natore was a small Bihari town called Santahar. A mass massacre was taking place. Out Battalion was ordered to go reach by train. The approach was difficult because of the terrible stench of putrid bodies and blood. Corps of Engineers/EME had to get civilian Bulldozers to remove bodies from the train platforms and dig mass graves where, 17,000 men women and children corpses of Biharis were buried by my Battalion alone.”

Later these graves were depicted as Bengalis massacred by Pakistan army. The government of West Pakistan failed to move public opinion on this subject. It goes to the credit of Sarmila Bose in her book ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’ that provides a peep into what happened to pro Pakistanis in East Pakistan in those fateful days of April-May 1971. I wish the Bangladesh Government had the courage to order DNA sampling of these mass graves.