August 21 Issue


Behind Pakistan's Defeat
A 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 report has never been disclosed-until now.

The Nation

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Fifth Column
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Pendulum Politics

by Jairam Ramesh
Pandora's Box Is Open


Right Angle
by Swapan Dasgupta
Good Boys Don't Win


Flip side
by Dilip Bobb

Ransom Notes

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Behind Pakistan's Defeat

A 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.

By Samar Halarnkar

Indian Army Soldiers Building a BridgeA 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.

What is the Hamoodur Rahman Report?

On 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. The 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.

But that 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.

That was 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.

To Pakistanis, 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.

The commission 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.

"The 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.

More than 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.

The army 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."

It's not 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.

The commission 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.

The Hamoodur 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.


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Full coverages
with columns, infographics, audio reports.

»1971: The Untold Story
This is a story not told in Pakistan. A secret inquiry into the splintering of Pakistan in 1971 held army atrocities, widespread corruption, cowardice, even loose morals, among its generals in East Pakistan as prime reasons in losing the war. The explosive Hamoodur Rahman report, obtained exclusively by NEWS TODAY's Samar Halarnkar, has never seen the light of day—until now.

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» The SriLankan crisis
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» The Nepal Gameplan
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