When Indian officers rescued Pak general from a lynch mob
Around 1100 hrs on December 16, 1971, the telephone on my desk in the makeshift office in Calcutta tinkled. Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora was on the line. In a voice through which peeped his barely concealed glee, he asked me if I was ready to travel. On my positive response he said, “Then put on a new suit and meet me at Dum Dum at 2pm.”
“You mean it is pucca?”
“Yes, it is. It will be at 1600 hrs.”
“What about clearance from Delhi about me?”
“Chief will be speaking with your Secretary.”
“OK then, I’ll see you at 1400 hrs.”
Like a good civil servant I rang up Secretary SK Banerji in the MEA. He said, “Go ahead”. A few words of instructions to my officers and I was prepared to leave wearing my old Sears Roebuck suit. I had asked (IFS colleague) Arundhati Ghose to ring up my wife in Delhi and tell her that I was off to Dhaka. Wisely she pointed out that it would be better to spare her the worry.
From Dum Dum we took off promptly in an IAF HS-748 with AVM HC Dewan personally in command. The flight was uneventful although there was no certainty that a trigger-happy Pakistani ack-ack gunner would not fire a couple of shells. The sight of the enormous expanse of the Padma south of Narayanganj drew gasps of surprise from those who had not seen it before. As we flew over the course of the Meghna we could still see wisps of smoke hanging in the air. In about an hour we landed at Agartala, and flew thence in an Alouette to Dhanmandi airport at Dhaka where the runway still showed the craters made by Mig-21s in ground attack role.
The first to greet us was Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) JFR Jacob, Chief of Staff Eastern Command, who had flown in much earlier. I was glad to see Maj Gen Gandharv Nagra, my coursemate at NDC (National Defence College). Then came Lt Gen A A K Niazi, commander of the Pakistani forces, in a crisply pressed uniform and reeking of perfume. We got into his car and drove to the Ramna Maidan where a simple table and a few chairs were placed. Aurora carried the bound document of the Instrument of Surrender.
There was a problem over who would represent the Bangladesh government. The three battalion commanders, Lt Cols Shafiullah, Khaled Musharraf and Zia-ur-Rahman were at locations from where they could not be air-lifted in time. So the choice fell on the only armed forces officer available at Mujibnagar, Gp Capt AK Khondkar, the chief of the newly formed BAF. His uniform was not ready. So he flew with us in mufti.
At the Maidan there were just about 300 of our troops (Pakistani forces at Dhaka numbered approx 3,000), and there were perhaps a couple of thousand spectators not quite sure about what they were going to see.
Niazi signed the Instrument, put down his side-arm, took off his Sambrown and belt, and broke into tears. This was the man about whom an American female journalist had written from Karachi, “When Tiger Niazi’s tanks roll, the Indians will run for their lives.” Suddenly, someone in the crowd shouted, “That’s ‘sala’ Niazi,” and all hell broke loose.
Nagra, I and a dozen others formed a human chain around Niazi. Nagra bunged him into a jeep and drove like the blazes towards the Cantonment. We had to protect Niazi; he was a POW now. If we had not done what we did, Niazi would have been lynched by the crowd.
I broke off to pay a courtesy call on Begum Mujib. Sheikh Hasina was also there. So stupendous was the impact of the event that it was difficult to talk about anything. It was a moment to be savoured. As we sat there we could still hear occasional bursts of rifle fire, the dying gasps of a war that had just ended.
Back at the airport, I found that the helicopter allotments had gone haywire in the mad rush of media persons to get back to Agartala. Gp Capt Khondkar also was almost in danger of being left behind. Finally, we managed to squeeze into an Alouette and in the swiftly gathering winter dusk flew towards Agartala.
There was to be a celebration at the Officers’ Club at Fort William. It seemed too far away. We broke an IAF regulation and started the celebration on the IAF HS-748 to Calcutta.
Then I was back again in my bedroom at the rear of the makeshift office on Ballygunge Park Road, Calcutta, waiting for my dinner.
As far as I was concerned, the war was over. The end of a war is always somewhat an anti-climax, a sandwich made of two slices – victory and defeat – and in between a spread of exultation and grief, fulfillment and heartbreak, hope and fear – and in the end every good soldier knows what a terrible waste war is.
The night was not for sleep, but for a slow and somewhat sentimental journey into the past, memory touching every event, every incident with infinite gentleness and affection. One can recall history, but not live its passions again. They die with those who lived with them and in them.