M A I N   N E W S

Remembering 1971
A surrender etched in history
Vijay Mohan/TNS

Brigadier Sant Singh (retd) with the portrait of Lt Gen AAK Niazi and his alarm clock which were seized from his office in Dhaka in 1971 after Pakistan troops surrendered.
Brigadier Sant Singh (retd) with the portrait of Lt Gen AAK Niazi and his alarm clock which were seized from his office in Dhaka in 1971 after Pakistan troops surrendered. Tribune photo: Vicky Gharu

Chandigarh, December 15
War is one of the defining factors that chart the course of history and leaves in its wake some decisive moments that have an everlasting impact on the psyche of the embattled nations as well as individuals who are part of it.

The 1971 Indo-Pak war was no different and its outcome had huge ramifications on the future of South Asia, as a new nation arose from the shattered remnants of a routed army.

The war was fought on the eastern as well as the western front and for the Indian Army there were several momentous occasions, the most notable being presiding over the largest surrender of troops in the history of warfare and detaining the enemy’s top commander in the east, Lt Gen AAK Niazi.

In fact, Lt Gen Niazi and Maj Gen GS Nagra, General Officer Commanding 2 Division and the first Indian general to enter Dacca (now Dhaka), were friends from a different era. They served together at one point of time with the British Indian Army. “The game is up Abdullah. I suggest you give yourself up to me and I will look after you,” was a message sent by Maj Gen Nagra to Niazi from the outskirts of Dacca. Niazi’s response to the message culminated in the surrender of Pakistani troops.

Maj Gen Jamshed Khan, GOC 36 Ad Hoc Division, which was responsible for the defence of Dacca drove over with a white flag. He was stripped off his official flag, weapon and badges of rank, recalled the commander of FJ Force, Brig Sant Singh, who was tasked by Gen Nagra to capture Dacca.

Jamshed’s official staff car was commandeered by the Indian Army and Maj Gen Nagra along with some other officers and troops drove to the Pakistani headquarters on the morning of December 16.

A file photo of Lt Gen Niazi signing the historic Instrument of Surrender with Lt Gen JS Aurora (GOC IN C East)
A file photo of Lt Gen Niazi signing the historic Instrument of Surrender with Lt Gen JS Aurora (GOC IN C East) 

Pakistani officers were destroying maps and documents. A few minutes later, Niazi, wearing a holstered pistol, came out from an underground bunker to his plush office now occupied by the Indians. He was silent and looked sad and anxious, recalled Brig Sant Singh, who, prior to Independence, had served in the same regiment, which Niazi later commanded.

FJ Force, comprising 13 Guards, 2 Para and 6 Bihar had rapidly advanced along the Mymensingh-Madhupur axis, securing the area and covering around 55 km before reaching Bhuri Ganga on the outskirts of Dacca. “Time was of essence and the fall of Mymensingh was among the decisive points of the war in the east,” said, Brig Sant Singh, who was decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra for his actions.

On the western frontier, the Battle of Longewala become the most notable operation, which has been immortalised by the Bollywood film Border. Fought on December 5-6 at the remote border outpost in the Jaisalmer sector, it was one of the first major engagements between India and Pakistan in the west. Touted as one of the biggest routs for Pakistan in this theatre, it goes down in the history of warfare as a classic example of human resolve and motivation in the face of extremely heavy odds, where an infantry company of about just 70 men from 23 Punjab held back an assaulting enemy brigade of over 2,800 troops supported by 65 tanks.

“We were given a choice. To stay put and defend the position or go in for a tactical retreat,” recalls Brig (then Major) KS Chandpuri, who was commanding the company and was later decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra. The first attack by Pakistani troops at night was stalled through anti-tank weapons. Reserve fuel drums kept atop tanks were exploded, throwing enough light for our gunners positioned on high ground, while their own smoke blinded their troops. “Though we were outnumbered and surrounded, Pakistani infantry was unable to advance. We held them till dawn when the IAF came in,” he added. When the operation ended, 22 Pakistani tanks had been destroyed.

Giving an example of another classic close-quarter battle, Maj Gen DD Dwivedi recalled the capture of the Bander Railway Station near Narainganj in the eastern sector. The attack commenced after last light and around mid-night close contact was made with forward bunkers. The leading echelons managed to break the crest and gain a foothold, but suffered heavy casualties in the process.

“Given the typical cliff-hanger situation, scales could have tipped either way. The clock was ticking fast and had the logjam persisted, the defender was sure to gain the upper hand,” he said. “But somehow we did manage to push through and break the stalemate. By wee hours, the defenders’ resistance began to weaken and by early morning Bander had new occupants,” he added. As the troops consolidated their position and got ready for the next assault in the final race to Dacca, fresh orders were received and the operation was called off.





HOME PAGE | Punjab | Haryana | Jammu & Kashmir | Himachal Pradesh | Regional Briefs | Nation | Opinions |
| Business | Sports | World | Letters | Chandigarh | Ludhiana | Delhi |
| Calendar | Weather | Archive | Subscribe | Suggestion | E-mail |