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The Rediff Special



The Rediff Special/ Jagjit Singh Aurora

The Battle for Bangladesh

Jagjit Singh Aurora In the montage of images that sweep by from the last 50 years, one photograph stands out as testimony of India's greatest military triumph. It is not a photograph of combat. It is not a visual of blood and death. It is a rather mundane photograph of two men in uniform signing a document. One man looks shaken, the other is tall, composed and dignified.

Twentyfive years later, Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora (retired) still retains that composure, that dignity, that quiet power which made him one of the best-loved officers in the Indian army. In this first person piece, exclusive to Rediff On The NeT, General Aurora recalls the battle that gave Bangladesh its freedom.

In 1969, I took over the eastern army command. In those days, the perceived threat was from China and not from Pakistan.

In the 1970 general election in Pakistan, Mujibur Rehman's Awami League won the largest number of seats and demanded more autonomy for East Pakistan. Moreover, Mujib should have been appointed prime minister of Pakistan. However, this was not accepted by leaders in West Pakistan.

Yayha Khan, the then president of Pakistan, ordered an increase in the military strength in East Pakistan. Pakistani troops crushed demonstrations at Dacca University. Because Mujib had tremendous support from Bangladeshi students.

Unrest spread among East Pakistani troops and Yahya Khan disarmed all Bengali Muslim soldiers. The Bengali border police also revolted. There was strong resentment among Bengali Muslims against the rulers of West Pakistan. They did not want Urdu as their language. They wanted Bengali to be given importance.

We had stationed a large number of troops on the border as we did not want the situation to flare up between the two countries. Those days we had two other problems, one was the border problem with Sikkim and the other was our own Naxalite problem. We were simply not ready for war.

We were not in a position to withdraw troops from the Tibet border as the relations with China was not cordial. Still, we took some troops from the Tibet border to the East Pakistan border as the situation there was getting worse.

The war could have begun in May 1971. But we did not want to take that risk as the monsoon was approaching. At the same time the Naxalite movement was gaining ground in West Bengal. We had to deploy troops in that area too. For all these reasons we were on the defensive.

Jagjit Singh Aurora As far as I remember, we started deploying our forces in large numbers from June 1971. We started moving our military administrative staff too because our depots were not well equipped to fight Pakistani troops on the eastern border. Whatever depots we had were set up during World War II. We also deployed more troops on the Assam and Tripura borders. Because we did not want to be caught with our trousers down if we were attacked on that front by Pakistani forces.

In October, we felt the war would start sooner or later. This time, we were ready.

Finally, it happened on December 3. Yahya Khan lost his cool and decided to go in for an air strike and ground activities on the western front, in Punjab and in Jammu. Indian airfields close to the Punjab were bombed. We ordered our troops to move in. In the early hours of December 4, we started attacking on all fronts.

I had planned the army's attack and defence strategy and I was sure the war would be over in three weeks. Eventually, The war ended in 13 days.

The advantage, we had over the Pakistani army was that we had the tremendous co-operation of the local population. This made our burden much less. In all these 13 days, we were on the attacking side rather than being defensive. Our Russian-made tanks were also superior to the Pakistani tanks.

But the most important event that led to our victory was that we deciphered the Pakistani army's codes. The messages which Pakistani army officers transmitted from one post to another post. We broke that code.

Finally, General A A Niazi, the Pakistani army commander in East Pakistan, wanted to give up. So, he conveyed a message via the American consul general that he wanted a cease fire. We said we were not interested in a cease fire.

If Pakistan was ready to surrender unconditionally, we said, only then were we ready for a ceasefire. We promised we would not harm any Pakistani soldiers. The next day, we got a message, saying they were ready to surrender and asked if we could send somebody to define the modalities of surrender.

When I discovered they were ready to surrender unconditionally, I called my staff and congratulated them. After that, we decided that the Pakistanis must sign the documents publicly. Ninetyone thousand Pakistani soldiers surrendered publicly.

I don't know why there was a confusion after General Niazi surrendered. It was reported that I studied with General Niazi in college. But this was not true. In fact it was Yahya Khan who was junior to me at the college in Quetta. I knew him. After the war, I made a statement, saying 'I had the pleasure to study with Yahya.' People got it mixed up and reported that he was a good friend and I don't know what not.

Our troops withdrew by March 1972. After that I went for a long holiday to Africa. Every year I attend the function on December 16 at Fort William, Calcutta, to celebrate the victory over Pakistan.

All my life, I have felt proud of this achievement. I feel good that it is the people of India who won this victory. I retired from the Indian army in 1973 at the age of 56. And I feel proud that I won a war before I retired.

As told to Syed Firdaus Ashraf

The Rediff Special

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