By Anisur Rahman
DHAKA, Dec 15, 2020 (BSS) – A former Indian military captain has unveiled off late a new behind the scene story to add to the prelude of Pakistani surrender in 1971, sketching the first moments of the victors interactions with the defeated Pakistani forces.
Indian army’s retired lieutenant general Nirbhay Sharma said, as a young captain, he stepped into Dhaka city as part of advanced victor troops as he recently came up with a write-up that revealed little known story of the events of the first hours of December 16, 1971.
According to Sharma, who later served as India’s governor of Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, he along with a fellow captain were the first Indian soldiers to enter “Dacca” through the Mirpur Bridge to make their way to Pakistan’s military headquarters.
But some eventful episode upset their first attempt to reach Pakistani commander Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, whom they reached subsequently carrying a message from Indian Major General Gandharv Nagra.
Sharma said on their second journey, this time along with his commanding officer in India’s 2 Para Battalion Colonel Pannu and few others, they succeeded in reaching the message again as the “first of the many troops to enter ‘Dacca’” on that day.
“While the battalion made a triumphant entry, Colonel Pannu, with me and a few other officers, made a dash to General Niazi at his headquarters. Pannu asked Abdul Quader Siddiqui, or Tiger Siddiqui, to also accompany us,” read Sharma’s article appeared in India’s ThePrint newspaper.
According to Sharma, after some eventful episodes in subsequent minutes, their military vehicle reached Niazi’s headquarters at Dhaka cantonment carrying the message of Nagra, India’s general officer commanding for 1010 area.
“As we entered Pakistan’s Eastern Command Headquarters and parked our jeeps next to General Niazi’s office, a smartly attired, tall and well-built soldier confronted us,” wrote the then Indian captain.
Sharma added that the Pak soldier was a “stick orderly standing guard” who blocked the Indians entry into the office as he was quite unaware of the goings-on and did not know “what to do or say”.
“He asked us not to park our jeeps in the space reserved exclusively for his general. We pushed him aside and barged into the general’s room,” Sharma wrote, adding that Colonel Pannu looked hard at Niazi and the latter could not meet his gaze.
According to the captain, Niazi was unshaven and held his head in both hands with despair and “I clearly remember his mumblings — “Pindi mein baithe haramzaadon ne marva diya (Those sitting in Rawalpindi have let us down)”.
He said that Rawalpindi kept fooling him until that morning that “help was on the way”.
Sharma recalled that the Indian troops took the enemy by surprise by knocking at the doors of Dhaka at Mirpur Bridge point on the midnight of 15-16 December while shelling and desultory firing continued till December 16 morning.
He said Nagra landed at the scene in the morning while “the enemy was deployed on the other side of the Mirpur Bridge”.
“He (Nagra) informed us that the Pakistani Army had agreed to surrender and we were to take a message for Lt General A.A.K. Niazi . . . It read: ‘My dear Abdullah, I am here. The game is up, I suggest you give yourself up to me and I will take care of you’,” he wrote.
According to Sharma, initially he being the battalion adjutant, was asked to convey the message to Niazi along with Nagra’s aide de camp Captain Hitesh Mehta while they got into a jeep with Nagra’s handwritten message for Niazi while both were acquainted to each other since their early age and “were on first-name basis”.
He said as the two officers moved to the jeep two other officers Major JS Sethi and Lieutenant Tejinder Singh jumped into the jeep and “oblivious to the impending danger, all of us were excited at the thought of moving into Dhaka with the message of surrender and making history”.
“Little did we know at the time that the Pakistan Army on the other side had not received instructions to surrender. They opened fire on us as we crossed the bridge. We stopped,” Sharma wrote.
“Collecting all my wits, I shouted to tell them to stop firing. The firing stopped.”
But, he said, the Pakistani soldiers surrounded and disarmed the small Indian detachment and he asked a Pakistani junior commissioned officer-in-charge to call a senior officer.
The Indian captain simultaneously “threatened him (JCO) with dire consequences if any harm came to us because the Indian Army had surrounded Dhaka and their general had agreed to surrender”.
Sharma said “luckily” soon a Pakistani captain arrived took the detachment to the Mirpur Garrison where its commander asked them to wait and “nearly an hour later, Major General Mohammad Jamshed, GOC of Dhaka Garrison, arrived” there.
Along with Jamshed they returned to Mirpur Bridge in their Indian army jeep while a Pakistani one followed them and on their way back “we were fired upon again, neither side knowing who we were”.
He said Major Sethi received a medium machine gun burst on his left leg and another bullet pierced the helmet of Singh right in the middle, but was fortunately deflected but “the situation was restored and we reached our side of the bridge”.
“General Nagra arrived shortly along with Colonel Pannu and was received by Pakistani General Jamshed, who surrendered and handed over his pistol to General Nagra,” Sharma wrote.
Shortly thereafter at 10:42 am, he said, the Indian officers detachment reentered Dhaka to hand over Nagra’s chit to Niazi.
Pakistani military spokesman Major Siddiq Salik in his book “Witness to Surrender” described the subsequent episodes ahead of the formal surrender negotiations an hour later after Indian Eastern Front’s general staff chief Major General JFR Jacob.
According to Salik, receiving Nagra’s message, Niazi briefly discussed the situation with senior Pakistani generals present including navy commander in East Pakistan Rear Admiral Mohamad Shariff and Major General Rao Farman Ali.
They both, he said, suggested Niazi to give up and respond to Nagra’s call as Pakistani side did not have enough strength to defend “Dacca”.
“General Niazi sent Major General Jamshed to receive Nagra,” Salik wrote.