STORY OF 1971
secret inquiry into Pakistan's debacle in the 1971 war held army atrocities,
widespread corruption, cowardice and the moral laxity of its generals
as prime reasons for the defeat in East Pakistan. The explosive Hamoodur
Rehman report, suppressed by successive Pakistani governments, has never
been disclosed-until now.
country is sometimes overwhelmed by its own myths. Even 29 years after
the ignominious surrender in Dacca, it has become conventional wisdom
to blame the separation of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh
on an elaborate Indian conspiracy. It's true India played a big part in
training the Bangladeshi army of liberation -- the Mukti Bahini. It's
also true Indira Gandhi finally ordered General Sam Manekshaw's men to
"liberate" East Pakistan.
is the Hamoodur Rahman Report?
December 26, 1971, the then president of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali
Bhutto set up the War Inquiry Commission. Its brief was to "inquire
into the circumstances in which the Commander, Eastern Command,
surrendered, and the members of the armed forces of Pakistan under
his command laid down their arms". Headed by chief justice
of Pakistan Hamoodur Rahman, a Bengali, the other two members of
the commission were Justice S. Anwarul Haq of the Supreme Court
of Pakistan and Justice Tufail Ali Abdur Rahman, chief justice of
Sind and Baluchistan; its military adviser Lt-General (retd) Altaf
Qadir. During its secret inquiries, the commission examined nearly
300 witnesses, mostly Pakistani officers. A provisional report was
submitted in July 1972, awaiting witnesses who were in Indian custody.
final report was completed on October 23, 1974. It was in effect
Pakistan's truth commission. But because of its scathing indictment
of the military establishment, the report -- a matter of much speculation
and periodic "leaks" in Pakistan and Bangladesh -- was
never released; instead Bhutto allegedly ordered all copies destroyed.
was only part of the story. History books and Pakistani war memoirs persist
with the claim that Bangladesh was created against the will of its people
and that the Pakistan Army wasn't really defeated, just betrayed. An entire
generation has been assured that 1971 will be avenged.
not the way the War Inquiry Commission -- appointed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto,
then president of Pakistan, in December 1971 -- saw it. In its report,
suppressed by all governments since 1974, and now in the possession of
INDIA TODAY, the commission, headed by then chief justice of Pakistan
Hamoodur Rahman, held widespread atrocities, other abuses of power by
Pakistani generals and a complete failure in civilian and martial-law
leadership responsible for the loss of East Pakistan. It recommended a
string of court-martials and trials against top officers. Nothing ever
happened. The army's role in splintering Pakistan after its greatest military
debacle was largely ignored by successive Pakistani governments and many
of those indicted by the commission were instead rewarded with military
and political sinecures.
the fate of the report is a mystery. "When Justice Hamoodur Rahman
in his official inquiry recorded the truth of 1971, Bhutto as prime minister
personally ordered that each and every copy of the report be burnt,"
said political analyst Jamaluddin Naqvi in The Dawn of Karachi. "Not
one copy was saved. And to date no attempt has been made to reconstruct
the causes that led to our dismemberment."
A copy of
the final report was indeed saved. And the reconstruction that many Pakistanis
-- and Bangladeshis -- seek is exactly what the commission did. It was
in a sense, Pakistan's truth commission. "There is a consensus on
the imperative need of bringing to book senior army commanders who have
brought disgrace and defeat to Pakistan by their subversion of the Constitution,
usurpation of political power by criminal conspiracy, their professional
incompetence, culpable negligence and wilful neglect in the performance
of their duties and physical and moral cowardice in abandoning the fight
when they had the capabilities and resources to resist the enemy,"
the report said.
examined nearly 300 witnesses, hundreds of classified documents and army
signals between East and West Pakistan. The final
report was submitted on October 23, 1974, detailing how political,
administrative, military and moral failings were responsible for the surrender
in East Pakistan.
publication of the report is all the more necessary in the context of
the present-day political situation in Pakistan," journalist Akhtar
Payami wrote in The Dawn in December 1999. The report has a bearing on
General Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan because it documents how political
power corrupted and weakened the army.
anything else, the Hamoodur report punctures the rewriting of history
in Pakistan, a revisionism that glosses over the profound anxiety in West
Pakistan after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League won a majority on
its own in the 1970 general election. It was this unwillingness of West
Pakistan to play by democratic rules that created a political crisis and
precipitated a civil disobedience movement. It was to counter this that
the army, with the tacit approval of the politicians in West Pakistan,
cracked down on the night of March 25-26, 1971. As East Pakistan bled
and millions were made refugees in India, there was rejoicing in the West.
"Thank God, Pakistan is saved," crowed Bhutto.
action in East Pakistan, wrote Ikram Sahgal, editor of Pakistan's Defence
Journal in March 1998, "was professionally correct and it was carried
out with surgical precision... The major part of the army behaved as professional
soldiers." But the UN Human Rights Commission in its 1981 report
said the genocide in Bangladesh was one of the worst in history. According
to Bangladeshi human rights activist Jahanara Imam, "Even if a lower
range of 1.5 million deaths was taken, killings took place at a rate of
between 6,000 to 12,000 per day, through the 267 days of carnage."
merely the image of professional rectitude that the commission has demolished.
The Pakistan military has nurtured the myth that the forces in East Pakistan
weren't defeated, they were betrayed into surrendering -- variations of
this myth resurfaced during the Kargil war. In his memoirs, General A.A.K.
Niazi blamed Yahya Khan, Bhutto and General Headquarters (GHQ) for letting
the Eastern Command down.
blamed Yahya, Niazi and the GHQ for the defeat in Dacca. But reading between
the lines, it is quite clear that it was the entire Pakistani military
establishment that was at fault. Fattened, corrupted and brutalised by
power, the army just wasn't in any position to take on the Indian Army
in adverse circumstances. Put to the test, its grandiose strategic doctrine
-- "The defence of East Pakistan rests in West Pakistan" --
crumbled. And, as the report makes clear, it wasn't merely sinful
commanders in the East who surrendered without a fight. There were repetitions
in the West as well.
report is a valuable document. Partly because of what it tells us of the
1971 war but substantially for what it tells Pakistan about its government
and its army.
Genesis of Defeat
The Loss Of Character
Bravado and Capitulation