1971: A military victory and the birth of a nation

There was deep resentment against the Pakistani establishment among the Bangla-speaking people in East Pakistan, who had been treated as second-class citizens in their own country. The Pakistani army decided to crush the voices of self-determination through a crackdown called Operation Searchlight which resulted in large-scale rape, murder and looting. The flood of refugees into India meant another confrontation with Pakistan.

The sense of urgency was heightened when a post at Dalu Haat (on the border of India and East Pakistan in Meghalaya), used by refugees to cross over, was attacked by Pakistani troops. The Border Security Force (BSF), despite significant casualties, fended off the attack. After this, my unit was ordered to immediately move into Meghalaya to look after the border from Baghmara to Mahendraganj.

As an intelligence officer (IO), I routinely went with the Mukti Bahini to register targets. The Mukti Bahini initially comprised only students and non-military personnel, had a limited leadership and was fearful of the Pakistani army. But having trained with the Indian Army, it was successful in several missions.

In October, we moved to Tripura and were tasked to clear the Belonia bulge. We were to support the Mukti Bahini operating in East Pakistan as part of this. Amid regular attacks by Pakistani artillery and Sabre aircraft, we, along with the Mukti Bahini, gained control of the Belonia bulge by mid-November. We then pulled back into what is now Trishna Wildlife Sanctuary. At the end of November, the unit was tasked to plan a roadblock behind the forward defensive line in an area 10-11 km in depth.

It was believed that a Pakistani artillery regiment of 105 mm guns was positioned near Parikot. I was to go behind enemy lines with a Mukti Bahini guide to get information on the location of the guns, and also scout for locations where the battalion could take up blocking positions to cut off the Chauddagram axis. When we reached the enemy positions in Parikot, I could locate the sentries who had to be tackled. However, this would entail the risk of being pursued by the enemy once the bodies were discovered. Fortunately, as I was about to silence the sentries, the guns fired, and this assisted in mapping their locations. My team had around ten jawans and we had to make a 30-km dash back from enemy territory before first light.

On December 3, war was officially declared with Pakistan. We received orders to make a daylight attack on December 4 to capture Chauddagram, where the Pakistani positions overlooked the road that went to Parikot and onwards north to Chandpur. I was tasked to lead the assault, which seemed a rash idea as the enemy could see us coming. We were met with heavy enemy fire and suffered casualties. We had no choice but to wait out the counter-attack. On the morning of December 5, we launched an attack on the Pakistani post which we captured.

We were told to proceed to Mudaffarganj that was en route to Chandpur. We encountered many Pakistani units as they tried to retreat to Chandpur. We captured a large number of Pakistani officers and soldiers, a risky operation as they often outnumbered us. We had to convince them that they were surrounded by a much larger force. These prisoners of war were handed over to the divisional resources tasked to handle them.

Mudaffarganj presented another problem as the Pakistanis had surrounded that area and inflicted casualties on 1/11 GR. Our unit surrounded the Pakistanis and our firing broke their morale leading them to run away towards Chandpur. In the morning, the corps commander arrived in a helicopter and told our unit to rush to Chandpur as the Pakistanis were abandoning it. This called for innovation as we had no transport. We rounded up everything that could move — fire engines, garbage trucks, cars and cycles to assist in our dash. Using this unorthodox method, we captured a large number of Pakistani troops.

From Chandpur, we were ordered to join our brigade and move to Chittagong. I was to move before the unit to carry out a reconnaissance mission. I decided to take a shortcut and landed in Comilla town which had not yet been liberated. On spotting my jeep, the locals started celebrating the liberation of the town.

Later, I learnt of the risk taken as Comilla was still under Pakistani control. The move to Chittagong had to be through the hill tract. I led the recce through hills to find a route for the unit and brigade which followed the path by cutting bushes to clear a lane. On December 16, we received news of the surrender at Dhaka, came out of the jungles and moved into Chittagong where a surrender ceremony took place.

A short swift war, a manoeuvre on foot in which the Pakistani army was outclassed tactically and strategically giving birth to a new nation — this victory has no parallel in military history anywhere in the world.

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