DURING the two years of our internment, I heard many versions about the catastrophic fall of East Pakistan from my colleagues (general officers) who blamed each other, whilst each one of them projected himself as the hero who fought well and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing Indians.
On the quiet, all of them put the blame for surrender squarely on the shoulders of the Corps Commanders, who occasionally whispered that their actions resulted from the poor performance of some of their subordinates. However, this situation took a sudden turn on or about April 5, 1974, in view of the expected release of all POWs when the Brigadiers in the adjacent Camp No. 77A, were permitted to meet the generals in the POW Camp 100. For the first couple of days everyone said his bit very frankly and admitted overall poor performance.
The brigadiers mentioned handicaps like non-availability of air support, lack of direction from higher authorities and some even considered this whole affair as an act of cowardice on the part of their commanders.
Sensing the danger that all may be exposed, even if only some of the truth was brought out, reconciliation moves were initiated by Commander Lt Gen Niazi. Baits of gallantry awards, better reports and at times even covert threats were held out.
Those who had been replaced or removed during the war for their poor performance, and therefore, remained a potential danger for bringing out the truth, were asked to lie low and were promised full rehabilitation. The theme ‘United we stand’ was exhorted in all conferences.
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The initial military success in regaining the law and order situation in East Pakistan in March of 1971 was misunderstood as a complete success. In actuality, the law and order situation deteriorated with time, particularly after September of the same year when the population turned increasingly against the army as well as the government. The rapid increase in the number of troops though bloated the overall strength, however, [it] did not add to our fighting strength to the extent that was required. A sizeable proportion of the new additions were too old, inexperienced or unwilling.
The commanders either failed to appreciate the gravity of the situation prevalent prior to the commencement of war, or they did not report it accurately. They painted only a picture which perhaps suited the wishes of their immediate superior.
The disposition of the troops remained flawed, even after clear signs of war were seen. Without air support, no ground or naval operations could be conducted with any reasonable success, particularly in the face of incessant air threat.
The discouraging news about the lack of success in the western wing had a demoralising effect at all levels. ‘The defence of East Pakistan lies in the West’ was belied. Command and control was not effective because of bad communication. Verbal reports from the returnee POWs indicated that India had made a systematic attempt to indoctrinate the personnel against the viability of Pakistan. With its extremely limited resources, the navy performed its task diligently by providing support to the army till the end.
Excerpted with permission from Admiral’s Diary: Battling through stormy sea life for decades (MEMOIR) By Admiral Muhammad Shariff The Army Press, Islamabad 415pp. Price not listed