It's the victory by freedom fighters, not otherwise: Jacob
Retired Lt Gen JFR Jacob Friday revisited the history framed with a click and a flash—the bloodied birth of a nation: Bangladesh. It was not a formal press conference though. bdnews24.com's senior correspondent Omi Rahman Pial took the opportunity to capture the moments of revisiting the Liberation War history by the former Indian army officer who had designed the capture of Dhaka and surrender of Pakistani forces in 1971.
Omi Rahman Pial
bdnews24.com Senior Correspondent
Dhaka, March 28 (bdnews24.com)- It is a history framed with a click and a flash—the bloodied birth of a nation: Bangladesh.
On the afternoon of 16th December 1971, in the then racecourse ground, the Pakistan army surrendered to the Indo-Bangladesh allied forces. The official conclusion to the war on the eastern front was being signed on a wooden table by Pakistani commander, Lt Gen AAK Niazi and the commander of the joint forces, Jagjit Singh Aurora sitting on one side.
In the photograph, almost all the key players were present, one of them leaning from the left of the table as if to see whether Niazi was signing correctly. And he had every right to do so. Lt Gen JFR Jacob made it happen.
The Pakistan army surrendering in the open was the second largest ceremony of its kind after the World War II. As the chief of staff of the Indian army's Eastern Command, Jacob drafted the instrument of surrender and convinced Niazi to accept it. The feat was the licence to the freedom of Bangladesh.
Thirty-seven years on, the general is yet again in the land where the great triumph was achieved. Upon invitation by the government, Jacob led an 11- member entourage of Indian army war veterans of 1971 to the 37th Independence Day.
Author of the book "Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation," Jacob met the press Friday at the Indian High Commission conference room.
Immersed in nostalgia, a good-humoured Jacob claimed himself to be a journalist and urged the "brethren" to be kind to him with questions that would be possible for him to answer. There were a few that he dodged, but obliged to set the record straight about some issues exploited with 'evil intentions' by some quarters.
It was not a formal press conference, and the bdnews24.com correspondent took the opportunity to capture the rare moments of revisiting the Liberation War history by Jacob.
You had fought in Africa and the Pacific during WW2. You know about the holocaust. How do see the ethnic cleansing of Bangalees in 1971 in the form of genocide?
Jacob: The atrocities committed by the Pakistan army are well known to you. They are well documented and you have much better records than anyone else. Your people have gone through it, so you are in a better position to judge it.
How did the Indian army get involved in Bangladesh's War of Independence?
Jacob: You want the official version or the unofficial one (laughs)? After the Operation Searchlight that took place on the 26th of March, the crackdown, we were monitoring the situation and were shocked to hear radio conversations of the Pakistan army. We heard Mujib's (Sheikh Mujibur Rahman) declaration, then Zia's (Ziaur Rahman) declaration of independence. And then the refugees started coming in countless numbers from across the borders. We took note of the situation and lent a hand to the Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters of your country. Then in April, Tajuddin (Tajuddin Ahmed), Nazrul Islam, Osmani (MAG Osmani) all came to Theatre Road (in Kolkata), organised the Mukti Bahini and the war was on. We provided all possible logistic support to them. Unofficially, it was from April and officially, much later.
Last year, in an interview you claimed that capturing Dhaka had not been featured in the original plan of the Indian army, but it was you who had thought otherwise and disobeyed the order to march towards the capital.
Jacob: Well, it's a long story and you'll get tired of listening to it. The details are all written in my book, how everything happened and when. It's a very comprehensive documentation of the strategy and tactics used. I ask you to have a look at it.
Is it true that the freedom fighters were trained in India before the war?
Jacob: No, not before the war. To be precise, it was from the 13th April that we started helping them and it was a continuous process.
How did you guess that the surrender was on the cards?
Jacob: On the 14th December, we intercepted that a meeting was to be held at the Governor's House. Assuming that Niazi would be there with the governor, we planned an air strike. After it was carried out, the governor resigned. He took refuge in the Intercontinental Hotel. The situation was critical as the UN had the Polish resolution in their hand, the Russians telling us to hurry up as they were worried about the overuse of the veto power in our favour.
That afternoon, General Niazi sent a ceasefire proposal to the UN. Bhutto was in New York and he refused. On the 15th of December, the US proposed a ceasefire in Delhi and we accepted it. On the 16th of December, I was told to go and ask them to surrender.
You had drafted the instrument of surrender. What was Niazi's reaction when you placed it before him?
Jacob: He (Niazi) said, 'Who told you that we want to surrender? You are supposed to talk about ceasefire.' Then, the argument went on and on. Then it got stuck with regard to surrendering to the joint forces. He insisted it was to be the Indians. And I refused and insisted that it was going to be both Bangladesh and the Indian army. Later, when he was summoned to the Hamudur Rahman Commission in his country, he said that the reason for his surrender was that I blackmailed him. He wrote that in his book too. I never blackmailed him. I was just negotiating the surrender process, not blackmailing him. All I said was that we would not take any responsibility for the resumption of any hostile situation if they did not surrender.
Then, I gave him 30 minutes to think it out. When I came back, he still kept quiet. Then I walked up to him and said, 'General do you accept this document?' I asked him thrice, but he didn't answer. So I picked it up and said I'd take it as accepted.
Then I saw tears in his eyes. I looked at him with pity and thought this man has behaved very badly with the people of Bangladesh. You know what his army did and I don't want to repeat that. I wanted him to surrender in front of the people of Dhaka.
He (Niazi) said, 'I won't surrender anywhere else. I'll surrender in the Dhaka office.'
I said no. You will surrender at the racecourse in front the people of Dhaka.
It's the only public surrender in history.
Niazi said: 'You'll also provide a guard of honour.'
It was he who had said Dhaka would fall over 'my dead body'. That's why I made it a point to make him surrender in front of the people of Dhaka.
Why was the commander-in-chief of Bangladesh army, General MAG Osmani, absent at the ceremony?
Jacob: There is a lot of propaganda about it. The fact is, he was in Sylhet. He was in a helicopter that was shot at by the Pakistan army. I had ordered everyone on the Bangladesh side to stay in Kolkata. But he rode the chopper, got shot and couldn't attend the ceremony. It's not our fault. He should have been there. We wanted him there. Khandker (deputy commander-in-chief AK Khandker) attended in his absence.
Afterwards, you had the chance to interrogate Niazi and Major General Rao Farman Ali (a key player in the 1971 crisis and adviser to the governor of East Pakistan). What did they say?
Jacob: They denied everything, the atrocity and everything. They kept on saying that they would not forget the humiliation and would take 'badla' (revenge).
The 1971 war is often referred to in different quarters as another Indo-Pak war and some say it was a civil war, and these words hurt our pride. What's your view on it?
Jacob: I've always said it was your liberation war. It was your war of independence, not otherwise.
The call for trying collaborators, the local war criminals, is heating up as sector commanders have launched a broader movement. Should India come forward with facts and documents, as some say they possess, to facilitate the process?
Jacob: It's the internal matter of the government of Bangladesh, your own problem which you have to solve yourselves. I have nothing to say on that because it is for you to decide. Apart from that, I'm just a soldier, not a politician.
Last of all, I want to tell you something. The freedom fighters and the East Bengal Regiment, who with their limited resources fought a mighty regular army, earned the liberation of Bangladesh and it was their love for the country that made them victorious.
We helped them, we were brothers in arms. But it was their fight, they fought it. They fought with passion and they achieved what they fought for. I give my heartiest blessings and share the pride for them. They are the gems your country should be proud of.