DECEMBER 16TH, GENERAL NIAZI AND IMRAN KHAN
DECEMBER 16th is a national holiday in Bangladesh to commemorate the joint victory of the Bangladesh freedom fighters and the Indian army over the Pakistani armed forces in 1971. This day is called Bijoy Dibas in Bangladesh and Vijay Diwas in India. The then General Officer Commanding Eastern Command of the Pakistan Army, Lt. Gen Ameer Abdullah Khan Niazi, had surrendered his weapon to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Command, of the Indian Army, Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, on December 16, 1971 at Ramna Race Course Ground, which is now called Suhrawardy Udyan.
December 16th is considered to be a day of grief in Pakistan because of the country’s dismemberment. Ordinary Pakistanis have been made to believe that India broke their country in 1971. Most Pakistanis are not aware of the fact that Sheikh Mujib of the Awami League had supported Miss Fatima Jinnah (sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah) in the 1965 presidential election against the military dictator, Field Marshall Ayub Khan. Very few young Pakistanis know that Sheikh Mujib had won a majority in the first ever general elections of Pakistan in 1970 but the then military ruler, President General Yahya Khan, did not transfer power to him.
This grave injustice forced Sheikh Mujib’s hands. General Yahya ordered the use force but Lt. Gen. Sahibzada Yaqoob Ali Khan refused to use force against his own people. He suggested a political solution. Ultimately he resigned. The Pakistani army subsequently launched a military operation and the majority leader was arrested in Dhaka and shifted to the Mianwali Jail in West Pakistan. The question is: Why was Sheikh Mujib shifted to Mianwali instead of any other major prison of Karachi or Lahore? He was arrested on the orders of Lt. Gen Tikka Khan who was later replaced by Lt. Gen. Niazi in April 1971. The new Commander of the Pakistan Forces in Dhaka, Gen. Niazi, belonged to Mianwali and was glad that Sheikh Mujib was imprisoned in his hometown. Some Pakistanis still prefer to call him “Tiger Niazi.” I read an article in an Urdu newspaper, Daily Dunya, on December 14, 2014 in which “Tiger Niazi” was painted as a national hero. The writer of the article never mentioned that the Pakistan government had discharged General Niazi after stripping him of his military rank, the pension usually accorded to retired soldiers, and his military decorations because a commission of inquiry had charged him with misconduct and corruption in Dhaka.
The three member commission, led by Justice Hamoodur Rehman, examined more than 200 witnesses including Niazi. The final report was submitted to the Pakistan government in 1974 but it was never made public for several years. This report was released very quietly only a few years ago. The Hamood Commission had recommended a public trial of several senior army officers and suggested a court-martial of Niazi on 15 different charges including smuggling of betel leaves and involvement in immoral activities. But no government in Pakistan dared to hold his trial which could have enlightened the people of Pakistan about the background of the surrender on December 16, 1971.
The naivety of many Pakistanis about the events of 1971 turned into an embarrassment on November 30, 2014 when a popular opposition leader, Imran Khan, announced in a big public gathering that he would shut down the country on December 16 to protest against the alleged rigging in 2013 elections.
Imran Khan faced harsh criticism not only from some federal ministers but also from the opposition parties. PPP leader and former President Asif Zardari dubbed him as “Imran Khan Niazi,” saying he knows nothing about the tragedy of December 16th. It is just a coincidence that Imran Khan belongs to the Niazi clan of Mianwali and won his National Assembly election for the first time from Mianwali in 2002. His full name is Imran Khan Niazi. He has always criticised the military operation of 1971 and even pressed Pakistan to apologise to Bangladesh for the excesses committed by its armed forces in 1971. Yet he failed to remember that December 16th is a day of shame for Pakistan.
Why? I quote page 520 of Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report which said that Lt. Gen. Ameer Abdullah Khan Niazi failed to defend Dhaka and agreed to a shameful and premature surrender in spite of his own assertion before the commission that Indians would have required at least a period of seven days to mount offensive and another week to reduce the defenses of Dhaka. The report added: “He (Niazi) displayed a shameful and abject attitude in agreeing to surrender when he had himself offered a ceasefire to the Indian commander-in chief; in signing the surrender document agreeing to lay down arms to the joint command of the Indian forces and Mukti Bahini; in being present at the Dacca airport to receive the victorious Indian General Aurora; in ordering his own ADC to present a guard of honour to the said general; and in accepting the Indian proposal for a public surrender ceremony which brought everlasting shame to the Pakistan army.”
The Hamood Report has mentioned an incident of December 7, 1971 when the Governor of East Pakistan, Mr. Malik, called Gen. Niazi and asked about the situation at the war front. “The governor hardly said a few words when Niazi started crying loudly with tears.” Tiger became a jackal. Page 534 of the Report suggested: “If Gen. Niazi had done so and lost his life in the process, he would have made history and would have been remembered by coming generations as a great hero and a great martyr but the events show that he had already lost the will to fight after December 7, 1971.”
After being relieved, Gen. Niazi wrote a book titled Betrayal of East Pakistan [in 1998] and criticised Justice Hamoodur Rehman because he was a Bengali. Justice Hamoodur Rehman only recorded and reproduced statements of some army officers who served under Niazi in East Pakistan and, interestingly, all of them were Punjabis.
Forty-four years after the fall of East Pakistan, very few Pakistanis are ready to accept that December 16th is a day of shame for them. Even Imran Khan had to reschedule his shutdown plan which was set for December 16th. Imran Khan may have realised that a day of surrender can’t become the day of his victory against the Sharif government.
The people of Pakistan need to learn lessons from the 1971 surrender at Dhaka. They need to debate the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report in the parliament. They need to know why the interference of the army in national politics is bad for the country. They need to know that General Niazi saved his .38 revolver by deceiving Indian army but he failed to save the honour of his country on December 16th, mainly because he was actually fighting not against India but against the majority population of his own country.
The writer works for Geo TV in Pakistan.
DECEMBER 16, 2014