Surrender of Pakistani troops after nine months and nine days
DHAKA, Dec 15, 2014 Nirapad News : Although a cease-fire was in place on December 16, 1971 the frequent crackle of gunfire could be heard from a long distance.
These were isolated pockets of Pakistani troops, who were not yet aware of the surrender process underway as their military communication was blown up by the Mitra Bahini, a long time back.
In Demra, the Pakistani forces had fortified themselves at the jute mills overlooking the River Sitalakhya.
They continued to fire at the Mitra Bahini forces led by Major Dhillon who were located across the river till 12:40 pm. Outgunned they decided to surrender. By that time most Pakistani troops stationed there had fled.
As the troops moved into Dhaka thousands of civilians had joined them shouting “Joi Bangla” and “(Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib, (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib,” the New York Times wrote.
“Civilians were carrying the Indian army artillery,” the report went on. “The military column seemed more like a carnival than an approaching army unit,” the reporter observed.
But the first Indian troops to enter town was 101 Communication Zone led by Major General G Nagra.
This formation had been operating in the northern sector and had reached Savar on December 15, 1971 The 2 Para Battalion was at the Mirpur bridge, which had been miraculously left intact by the retreating Pakistan army, from the evening of December 15, 1971 where they were exchanging fire with Pakistani troops in the wee hours of the night.
On the morning of December 16, 1971, they intercepted the cease-fire communication from General Niazi and all fighting came to a halt. The sector commander, Maj Gen G Nagra arrived in the early morning. He was informed by the Brigade commander, Brig Kler about Niazi’s message.
Immediately Gen Nagra sent two officers, Capt Nirbhay Kumar, Adjutant of the Para Battalion and Capt Mehta, his ADC, under a flag of truce with a personal message to Niazi.
The message read “My Dear Abdullah, I am here, the game is up. I suggest you give yourself up and i will take care of you”.
A short while later, Maj Gen Jamshed, the commander of Dhaka area came over to meet Gen Nagra at the bridge. Then at 10.45 am, the first Indian troops, from the 2nd Para entered Dhaka followed later by units of 95 Brigade.
Jubilant crowds welcomed them with garlands and shouts of Joi Bangla and (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib, (Bangabandhu) Sheikh Mujib.
Maj Gen Nagra met Niazi and exchanged jokes and pleasantries over tea. After a couple of hours, Maj Gen Jacob arrived with the surrender document. As Jacob was to recollect later, “But Niazi was crafty. He insisted, first that there be a ceasefire and not surrender”.
Later, when he agreed to surrender he wanted the ceremony to take place inside the Dhaka cantonment. “We wanted it at the Race Course where Bangabandhu had given his famous March 7(1971) speech, nine months and nine days, earlier”, he remembered.
Obviously, Jacob understood what Niazi was doing: expecting international politics to take over.
He was exasperated and used his ultimate trump card “Either you accept our terms, in full, or we leave the matter to the Mukti Bahini.”
That did it. 10 minutes before ceasefire time expired, a sobered Niazi accepted the terms of surrender without any modification. Accepting the surrender from India was Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, the GOC-in-Command, Eastern Army Command.
As soon as the document had been signed, a cheer went up in the Dhaka Race Course and Dhaka became the free capital of a free country.
Earlier Lt Gen Aurora inspected a combined Guard of Honor offered by local Pakistani troops as well as the Indian Army troops which had come to Dhaka. Gen Aurora was accompanied by his wife.
The surrender ceremony was the conclusion of hectic and protracted negotiations that went on since morning.
It started as a response to Gen Mankeshaw’s message on December 15, 1971 to the Pakistani troops. A radio signal was received at 8 am on December 16 confirming acceptance of surrender and asking for an extension of the hold in air operations in the eastern sector.
This was granted and even the land operations were ordered to cease and by 1 pm, the chief of staff, eastern command, Maj Gen J F R Jacob was in Dhaka meeting Pakistani commanders and showing them the draft of the surrender document.
By that time an Indian army battalion under General Nagra had already entered town.
At around 10.40 am the first Indian columns entered the city and were given a tumultuous welcome by the crowd. The Pakistanis accepted the terms in the surrender document and initialed it at 2.45pm.
Soon the Indian army’s Eastern Command headquarter was notified. Top officials of the Indian army’s campaign in “East Pakistan” took off from Kolkata to Agartala. From there on, the Indian delegation was flown to Dhaka by Mi-4 helicopters.
The surrender document said that all Pakistani, military, paramilitary and civilian forces would lay down arms and surrender to the Indian Army. Though they were under the joint command of India and Bangladesh, all of them would be treated as per the Geneva Convention.
Gen Aurora had given his solemn assurance, that prisoners would be treated with dignity and respect that soldiers were entitled to under the Convention. Protection would be given to civilians and minorities in Bangladesh.
The surrender ceremony was held at the historic Dhaka racecourse at 5 pm. As Niazi signed the document and handed it over to Gen Aurora. Aurora signaled acceptance by signing on the document.
Then on a nod from Aurora, Gen Niazi took out his pistol, removed the bullets and handed over the firearm to Gen Aurora. The ceremony was covered by several journalists and press persons from all over the world.
“With that he had handed over East Pakistan as free Bangladesh” reported one officer on the scene.
The Pakistani Army HQ had signaled the local formations elsewhere to arrange for surrender ceremonies individually. Accordingly several Pakistani formation commanders contacted their Indian Commanders and arranged the surrender.
In the Jhenaidah sector, Maj Gen Ansari surrendered to Maj Gen M S Barar, GOC 4 Division. Further to the north, Maj Gen Nazar Hussain of 16 Pak Inf Division surrendered formally to Maj Gen Lachman Singh in a surrender ceremony by offering his arms and signing a document.
Maj Gen Mohd Kazi offered his surrender to Maj Gen B F Gonsalvez, GOC 57 Div. Several other surrender ceremonies took place all across the country including Sylhet and Khulna. The total number of Prisoners of War (POWs) was expected to be in the range of 90,000 plus.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Liberation War and president of the Bangladesh government, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was still in prison in West Pakistan where he was denied all information about the outside world.
In New Delhi, a jubilant Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi speaking in the Lok Sabha hailed Dhaka as “the free capital of a free country.” At the same time, the Indian Government announced a cease-fire on the front between India and West Pakistan to take effect the following day.
In making the announcement a government spokesman stated that India had no territorial ambitions in the conflict.
Even as the country rejoiced in its military victory there was an element of tragedy, as across the country people started searching for missing ones at the numerous execution grounds and mass graveyards around the country.