An ‘East Pakistan’ War Veteran Who Never Capitulated

Dr. Abdul Jalil 

The tragedy that befell Pakistani nation on December 1971 in the shape of fall of Dacca is a nightmare which will haunt minds of succeeding Pakistani generations for a long time. This was the most tragic event in the history of Muslim ‘Umamah, second only to the fall of Baghdad to the Mongol invaders of Central Asia.

The massacre perpetrated on innocent Muslim men and women on ethnic basis in erstwhile East Pakistan is a stark reminder and oft repeated lesson that to become militarily weak is to invite the scourge of enemy who plunders honour and wealth of the subjugated and carry relentless massacre with impunity.  Pakistan appeared on the map of world on August 14th, 1947 after spillage of blood of millions of Muslims, by Hindu and Sikh mobs who left no stone unturned to annihilate the Muslim minority in the subcontinent.

Quid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his companion who founded Pakistan as an independent sovereign Muslim state in the south east Asia were extremely honest, sincere and dedicated who visioned Pakistan to be a safe sanctuary for the Muslims of south east Asia where they would be economically independent and could practice their religion without fear, threat and intimidation of the majority.

The subsequent leadership who held the reins of the country were less sincere, idle, bitten by greed favoritism and parochialism were unable to manage the affairs of the country in a befitting and balanced manner. Among the ranks of lazy and incompetent leadership intruded intriguers and anti Pakistan elements who under the garb of loyalty to the higher echelons in power corridors sowed the seeds of dissension skillfully between the two wings of the country ultimately leading to truncation of Pakistan__   East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh.

I, being a former medical student of ‘Sylhet Medical College’, was nominated to this medical institution by the ministry of Kashmir and Northern Areas (GB) in the year 1966.

On a foggy rainy day in June 1966 I landed on ‘Saltitikoor Airport Sylhet in a PIA airplane. Lush green tea gardens with an exhilarating landscape in the back ground were the first thing to be sighted.

Sylhet, a hilly station lying in the north of Bangladesh, is famous for its scenic beauty which is undoubtedly captivating. Majority of the people are lighter in color and not tanned unlike their brothers in the rest of country.  Overwhelming no people are strict adherents of religion and are more affluent and educated.

Medical college was run in a dilapidated building, hospital building was partially better but some portions were shabby, students were accommodated in an abandoned World War II army barrack. Later when I was in my fifth year MBBS class, a state of the art building consisting of a 500 bed hospital with modern administrative and other blocks were constructed by late president general Ayub Khan.

One year after my admission in the medical college I and my other colleagues distinctly felt that native people were alienated from the people in the Western wing; they were despised and looked at as intruders and usurpers of their rights.

An atmosphere laden with gloom, anger ethnic and linguistic vicissitude hovered over the horizon of East Pakistan. Political uncertainty peaked as fiery anti Pakistan rhetoric’s by leaders of Awami League worsened the existing tranquil atmosphere to a war like situation. Indian incursion had already begun which coordinated with the development of chaos in the cities.

The year 1971 saw intense fighting between Pakistani and Indian forces along the whole length of East Pakistan border with India.

Pakistani forces comprising a total number of thirty two thousands were spreads along the whole length of East Pakistan they were armed with light Chinese weapons (small arms) and pitched against a heavily armed Indians force of two hundred thousand. Ninety eight thousands of prisoners of war which were later taken to India consisted of sixty six thousand civilians and 32 thousandth regular troops.

Innumerable attempts to breach Pakistani defenses by Indian forces beginning from January 1971 to November, 1971 were foiled and repulsed.

Large scale war erupted from December 1st, 1971 to December 18th 1971. Pak army made a newly constructed public school as its command head quarters, slowly Indian forces, by passed Pak Army bunkers, inched towards cities, helped by local Bengalis. It is worth mentioning that not a single Pak army bunker was overrun by Indian forces.

The role of valiant Pak Air Forces pilots in combat with Indian air force is a saga replete with heroism. With their vintage Saber Jets, 6-8 in number, challenged the latest Mig-21 Russian Jets piloted by Indians. Not a single Pak air force Jet was downed during the 17 days war. They were like falcons that reached everywhere and never succumbed to Indian might. Air war came to grinding halt when Dacca airbase, the only base for civilian and Pakistan air force was heavily bombed by Indian air force, damaged and rendered it inoperable for flights.

The halt in air war heralded the onset of Pak army retreat from their trenches towards the cities. Slowly the public school housing command offices was besieged by Indian forces, the retreating troops who had gathered here were also surrounded and we were under virtual arrest.  On 16th December, 1971 Decca fell to Indian forces but the troops at sylhet were adamant to fight and not willing to capitulate, however, they followed Orders from Dacca and laid their arms on December 17th 1971.

On December 16th 1971, in the camp I came across a familiar face. He was Captain Sarwar of 52 Punjab Regiment whose younger brother was my class fellow at intermediate level and he himself was a B.A student at Gordon College, Rawalpindi; we all resided in Morton Hall hostel of Gordon college. After an initial exchange of greetings he with some of his die hard soldiers went to his Brigadier in the camp, saluted him and narrated his intention not to surrender to Indian forces.

The Brigadier replied, it would be a futile attempt as we are surround by enemy from all sides, you cannot hide yourself in an estranged land as Bengalis would recognize you from your distinct Punjabi look. The captain politely regretted to oblige his advice by saying, ‘Sir, we both are prisoners of wars, your orders are no more binding on me. Leave it to me how I and my colleagues escape from the siege of enemy. Even if we die in an encounter with the enemy that death would be more honourable than a death in the enemy prison. He returned from the Brigadier with resolve to escape, his close friends bid him farewell.

In the mid of night on December 16th , 1971 that valiant soldier who was determined not to capitulate to enemy forces sneaked through enemy defense lines and disappeared in the forests of Sylhet. A tale of bravery left behind to be remembered by his friends in arms.

The contributor is a the former Secretary of Health & Population Welfare, Gilgit-Baltistan. Email: doctorabduljalil@gmail.com

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