The Civil War, Mar to Sep 1971.
The myths. War was won by Mukti Bahani is false and far from reality. It was naked Indian aggression.
We discussed Operation search light commenced on the night of 25/26 Mar. It was launched against all advice by Yahya khan who was frustrated by the attitude of Bhutto and Mujib at they made sure assembly session was not held and last hope of talks collapsed. Effective March first Mujib and Awami League were defecto in control of East Pakistan. Whereas other political parties in West Pakistan lacked the vision what was coming to happen. Loop Chittagong was in bad shape since the killing of non Bengalis was in full swing . The troops there mostly, 10 EBR and EBR Centre were all EP . The non EP Battalion was 20 Baluch under Lt Col Fatmi. They were under orders to maintain restrain and engaged in port area. There was extreme stress on the troops both among EP soldiers who were being influenced by the political events and 20 Baluch troops. On the night 25th , Lt Col Rashid Janjua sent his 21C major Zia Ur Rehman ( later Gen Zia’s ur Rehman President of BD) to Port to assess the situation. He disobeyed and returned on learning of operation Search light to disarm EBR and killed his CO. He then from the Battalion wireless announced he is the President of the Independent Bangladesh Desh. This was picked by International and Indian media and broadcast world over including BBC. 20 Baluch found itself in a fight with 10 EB, its erstwhile sister Battalion. Outnumbered by 10 EB and Recruits of EBR 20 Baluch found itself in dire situation. Brigade Commander 57 Brigade Iqbal Shafi along with 24 FF under Col Shahpur left for Chittagong from Comilla to retrieve the Cantt and disarm EBRs. In Comilla, 53 Field Artillery was deputed to restore order as earlier narrated. 4 EBR in Comilla was already sent to Brahman Baria in IS role. To keep the operation secret Brigade Dinner Night was arranged in Comilla Club with families and children of all officers. By 10 PM officers of units proceeding to Chittagong had quietly slipped away while troops were already on the move. 57 Brigade area was from Sylhet to Chittagong, a stretch around 400 kilometres with border in rivers, jungles and Tea Gardens in semi hilly area. Most of towns and major cities like Feni, Laksham, Shaista Gunj, Sri Mangal and Sylhet are at stones throw distance. This facilitated rebel troops later to cross over to India, their erstwhile enemy.
All hell broke next morning on 26 March. Our colleagues and Friends till previous night changed their loyalties and permanent breach among brothers occurred. The very purpose of operation,s first objective was thus lost. Complete disarmament could not take place. We were in the midst of civil war. Firing broke out within the Cantt. As a result there were casualties. There are different views on this but exact figures can not be ascertained. Most of the Bengali troops had already moved out. Bangladesh claim hundreds but that is not true. As 4 EBR was in Brahman Baria except rear parties. Bengali troops in support units were disarmed. There was complete Chaos. Reports were poring in as thousands in mob were marching towards Comilla Cantt. Field guns had to be placed at entry points in direct role due to shortage of troops. All the families were shifted to the centre of Cantt. Bengali officers who had deserted, there families were stationed also together in school area and were fully protected. There was gloom all around.
The columns left for Chittagong under Brigadier Iqbal Shafi came under fire out side Chittagong industrial Area. Maj Zia had blocked the road by deploying 10 EB troops and EPR on the side of the border which was running parallel. At some places one could speak across. Col Shahpur tried to manoeuvre from the flank but came under intense fire. Col Shahpur embraced shadat and was first senior officer who sacrificed for the unity. When the news reached Comilla it was a shock. In Cantt and Port area 20 Baluch was surrounded. GOC Khadim Hussain Raja flew to Chittagong, Brigadier MH Ansari was given command of Chittagong. As reinforcement 2 Commondo Battalion to Chittagong Under Lt Col Suleman. He moved Mohammdi company to relieve pressure on 20 Baluch which was highly outnumbered due EPR and EBRs and cunning deployment by Major Zia. On way to port the Commando Battalion was ambushed. Lt Col Suleman, Capt Sakindar, a subedar and 19 soldiers embraced Shadat. There after full scale assault was launched to hunt the rebels. Maj Zia moves companies of EBR across Karnafulli river with one company forward. Full scale attack was launched and Zia crossed over to India leaving a tale of destruction and sorrow. Thousands (one figure over 30/40 thousand) of non Bengali residents were killed in cold blood. In some areas of Non Bengali localities many thousands were not only killed but also cut to pieces. Women were raped and stomachs were ripped in extreme hate. Whole localities were eliminated. Some places the blood of innocent was knee deep. This left a deep psychological impact on Pak army soldiers. They were torn between discipline and anxiety.
In Brahman Baria, 2IC Major Khalid Musharraf arrested his CO Lt Col Khizer and some WP officers, and later log stock and barrel crossed over to Agartala with unit and all equipment, and embraced erstwhile enemy. He with the support of Indians made contact with Awami league Leadership and they moved few Kilometre opposite Akhura and declared Govt of Bangladesh in exile. They later moved to Calcutta.
Reinforcement started on request of Gen Tikka. Two partial divisions were air lifted, 9 and 16, without artillery and heavy components. A Battalion was reaching every day. After reinforcement by April 10, 9 Division with three Brigade East of Meghana river. 313 in Sylhet Brig Iftikhar Rana, 117 at Comilla under Brig KM Khalid; 53 at Chittagong under Brig Iqbal Shafi who was leading troops from Comilla. 14 Division under Maj Gen Rahim khan at place Maj Gen Khadim Hussain Raja since posted out. 27 Brigade under Brig Noor Ahmed Hussain at Dacca. 117 at Mymensingh under Brig Arif; 57 at Dacca under Brig Jehanzeb Arbab; 107 at Jessore under Brig Hayat . 16 Division at Natore under Maj Gen Nazar Hussain to look after Area between rivers Jamna and Ganges. 23 Brigade at Rangpore, under Brig Abdullah Malik. 34 Brigade Bogra/Natore under Brig Mir Naeem.*
In Comilla, Maj Gen Shoukat Raza, a very professional soldier, took control and existing Brigade HQ was converted to Divisional. Headquarter G 1 Operations, Aslam Baig (later Gen) were briefed by me on the terrain and on prevailing situation. Maj Gen Shoukat was my Commander in Kasur Sector during 1965 war. First area around Cantt and Lalmahi Hills was decided to be cleared by 12 FF. CO Lt Col KK Afridi (later Lt Gen) and myself as Battery Commander advanced from two prongs and it was cleared by night. There was slight resistance by remnants of EBR. Next was to restore control of Laksham, a small town between Feni and Comilla. It was important Railway Junction for Chandpur. Two companies, 12 FF under Maj Khattak and myself were tasked. My guns were in direct support. We encountered tough resistance by EBR and Mukti Bahni Elements by now organised by Indians. I instructed enemy to be engaged by direct fire. Excellent gunfire by Gun Position Officer under Capt Khalid Kidwai (later Lt Gen) quickly made rebels to retreat towards Laksham. Company ex 22 Baluch was sent as reinforcements. By evening we seized control of town and railway junction. Rebels had vanished toward border running parallel Comilla Laksham road. By night we tightened the defence and carried out search operation. By morning Laksham was fluttering with Pak flags. There were few casualties in both sides but not much.
Next was to sieze control of Brahman Baria where 4 EB under Maj Khalid Musharraf had made the city fortress. Learnt later, Indian officer were assisting Bengali rebels. Advance to contact operation was planned to clear the area and town with two battalions, 12 FF under Lt Col Afridi and Lt Col Sultan ( embraced Shadat during war in Western sector, even Indians buried him with full honours). Brahman Baria when cleared it was littered with bodies of non Bengali residents killed by Angry mobs. It was planned to move on to Sari Mangal.
To be Continued…