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Highlighting the travails of war

July 19, 2012


ISLAMABAD, July 18: Politics and foreign policy of Pakistan dominated the book launch as speakers discussed at length issues ranging from the appointment of the new chief election commissioner to external relations of the country.   

Speaking at the launch of ‘Escape from Oblivion, The Story of a Pakistani Prisoner of War in India’ by Ikram Sehgal here on Wednesday, the author said Pakistan and Bangladesh could come closer if they abolish their visa and tariff regimes.

He even said that there are problems with the election regime — how can one expect fair elections when there are four million bogus votes?

The book goes into detail describing the experiences of the author, who was a prisoner of war (POW) in April 1971 while serving in former East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

Mr Sehgal became the first Pakistani POW to escape from an Indian POW camp. After being caught he was sent to Panagarh POW camp in India.

The speakers even discussed the role of the army in the political affairs of the country and its fall out, but the launching ceremony also witnessed emotional accounts of tough times faced by the ‘old war horses’ present on the occasion.

Mr Sehgal praised all his senior army officers present, and lauded Brig Taj, whom he termed as a man who ‘instilled a spirit of extreme bravery in them’.

“This was when Indians were just two hours away from Hyderabad, Sindh,” he added.

The author’s experiences in 44 Punjab regiment in November 1971 is also highlighted in the book, where he saw action as Company Commander in the Thar Desert where his performance won him ‘battlefield promotion’.

Speaking on the occasion Air Marshal (retired) Asghar Khan praised Ikram Sehgal as a courageous man for success in escaping from a POW camp.

“Ikram was disappointed when he was interrogated — instead of being debriefed — for 84 days by Pakistani intelligence agency on his arrival in Pakistan,” Air Marshal (retired) Asghar Khan said, adding, “this interrogation was ‘stupidity of highups in the army’ and I dismiss the military leadership’s decisions of the time.”

Since 1975, every election has been rigged, Asghar Khan maintained, advising intelligence agencies and armed forces to stop their interference in civilian matters.

He said democracy was the need of the hour and 65 years was not enough to become a democratic country.

“The appointment of a neutral chief election commissioner of Pakistan — Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim — was a step in the right direction, but one man alone cannot ensure free and fair elections,” he said, adding, “the entire system needs to change as it is rotten to the core”.

Former finance minister Sartaj Aziz said that the book had been carefully written and consisted of multi-dimensional stories. Quoting a chapter from the book, he said Ikram Sehgal was captured by East Bengal Regiment, his parent regiment, where other Pakistani military officers were killed. Later this proud commando was handed over to the Indian army.

There he was kept in prison for two-and-a-half months but they did not break him. Finally, he made his escape and returned to his homeland.

Sartaj Aziz revealed that Sehgal was celebrating his 66th birthday and announced that soon a movie based on his book would be aired, which might be more interesting than the book.

Maj-Gen (retired) Ali Quli Khan and Brig Taj Muhammad narrated about their association with Sehgal in the army and praised his intelligence and bravery.

Brig Taj Muhammad narrated that when the Indian army was just two hours drive away from Hyderabad, he handed the operation over to Sehgal — then an aviation pilot — and he managed it so efficiently that the Pakistan Army made an advance and captured the Sonora Ridge.

He said: “We saved Mirpurkhas and Hyderabad from enemy occupation because of Sehgal’s courage”.

It happens rarely when a military officer gets promotion in the battlefield and Sehgal was promoted as army major from the rank of captain during the war, he said.

Lt-Gen (retired) Ali Quli Khan said Sehgal was known to him as an army officer, industrialist and a writer. His father was Pakistani and his mother was Bengali.

Sehgal was proud to be called Pakistani. His father was a military officer who commanded a regiment in Bengal.

This was also the parent regiment of Sehgal, therefore he rushed to rescue his colleagues where he was captured and made a POW.