Former Pakistan Brigadier spills the beans on 1971 war
“Tanks not supported by Air Force at Longewala”
Pakistani Army trained Mizo insurgents in East Pakistan: Brigadier Khan
“Unsuccessful coup attempt made to overthrow President Yahya Khan”
New Delhi: The Indian Air Force battered Pakistani tanks in their already-botched ground offensive at Longewala in the 1971 war, primarily because they were not supported by their own Air Force despite urgent pleadings.
- The Pakistani Army helped and trained Mizo insurgents in East Pakistan led by Laldenga.
- An unsuccessful coup attempt was made to overthrow President Yahya Khan, who handed over power to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto soon thereafter.
These are some snapshots from a book authored by a former Pakistani Brigadier, who himself arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from his Dhanmondi residence in Dhaka on March 25, 1971.
The book also delves into graphic details of the situation prevailing in the then East Pakistan, which finally led to the surrender of the Pakistan Army to the Indians in 1971.
The Way It Was — Inside the Pakistan Army by Brig. (Retd.) Zahir Alam Khan has been dubbed by its Indian publisher ‘Natraj’ as “the first honest and no-holds-barred autobiography of a soldier in the Pakistan Army.”
Brig. Khan, a trained commando, himself led the forces into Longewala, an operation which was meticulously planned.
Under ‘Operation Labbaik’ as it was called, the Pakistani forces started from Reti and entered India from the Tanot area.
They were to have taken over Longewala, Ramgarh and Ghotaru and then proceed to capture Jaisalmer.
“IAF had a field day”
However, the author said, that as there was no support to the Pakistani troops from their own Air Force, the Indian Air Force ‘Hawker Hunters’ had a field day bombing Pakistani tank formations as these were rendered sitting ducks.
“The IAF, which appeared a little after 7o’clock, flying without any opposition from the Pakistan Air Force, had four Hawker Hunters ... Anything that moved was immediately attacked, otherwise the Hunters circled for their endurance and before returning to their base, attacked the tanks that had been located.”
Countering commentators on the battle who claimed that the 22 Cavalry did not use its anti-aircraft machine guns, Brig. Khan said these had got jammed by the desert sand and five tank commanders were killed trying to **** the jammed machine guns with their feet.
On the Mizo insurgency, Brig. Khan said, “They were being supplied food by the Government of Pakistan just across the border from Assam.”
The Mizos were led by “President of Mizoram, Laldenga” whose “government” consisted of various ministers and commander-in-chief of the army.
“One of them [who] identified himself as Paulian, the Foreign Minister of Mizoram,” met Brig. Khan and informed him that there were about 2,000 men and 3,000 non-combatant civilians living in the Pakistani territory and these food supplies had stopped.
He said that during discussions with his seniors “I recommended that we allow them to come to Rangamati [in East Pakistan], supply them with food and then use them to clear the [Chittagong] Hill Tracts.”
This suggestion was accepted by General Tikka Khan, who headed the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan then.
“I returned to Chittagong and informed Paulian that the Mizos could start coming to Rangamati, we would supply food for their army and the non-combatants, they would have to place their army under my command. Paulian was satisfied and left immediately to inform his government.”
Coup bid foiled
Regarding the coup attempt against Yahya Khan, the former Brigadier said that several top Army officers had “drafted a letter asking President Yahya to resign and hand over power or else 6 Armoured Division would march on Rawalpindi and enforce his removal.”
“Major General M.I. Karim, the then GOC, was asked to sign the letter and [he] did so. Col. Javed Iqbal and Col. Alim Afridi flew to Rawalpindi and delivered the letter to the CGS [Chief of General Staff] who conveyed the contents to President Yahya.”
Following this, pro-Yahya sections in the Army decided to airdrop commandos on the division headquarters with plans to seize it. Thus, the coup attempt was foiled.
Eight years after the 1971 war, the author spent some time with the former Army Chief, Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan, in Lahore and had a private conversation.
“I asked him why, after announcing on the 16th [December] that the war in West Pakistan would continue, a ceasefire was announced two days later. His answer was that the Generals were not obeying orders.”
Besides operational details, the former Pakistani Army officer provides insight into the internal politics in the force, the overzealousness as also cowardice shown by certain officers, some of whom later rose to very senior positions in the Pakistan Army echelons.
As there was a delay in launching an operation during the 1971 war, a Pakistani officer himself drove a rail rake carrying tanks at a high speed causing a major accident.
The author also spoke of one officer who used to jump into the trenches even before bombing would begin.
The officer had also got trenches dug up outside his office for no reason, Brig. Khan said, and added that the officer later rose high in the military hierarchy. — PTI
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Another military officer writes a book about 1971. With so many books and so many versions of 1971 in place how would you analyze this?