Ikram Sehgal & Dr. Bettina Robotka. Blood Over Different Shades of Green: East Pakistan 1971 History Revisited (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2019)
This book is history of the last chapter of united Pakistan in 1971. Ikram Sehgal is in a unique position to write about the separation of eastern wing of Pakistan and emergence of independent Bangladesh. His father was Punjabi and mother Bengali. He had personal relations with Bengali and non-Bengali senior political and military leaders. He understands the passions involved on both sides. In addition, he was a young army officer and served in both theaters of war in 1971. He had a front row seat to the final act of the tragedy, and he gives his side of the story candidly.
First few chapters give details of social, political and economic differences between two wings. It then highlights events that gradually widened the gulf and then details about final days of united Pakistan and emergence of independent Bangladesh. Ikram also narrates his personal experience in 1971 war and many brushes with angel of death.
This book highlights for the first time, the role of 1965 India-Pakistan war in almost complete alienation of Bengali public. At psychological level, separation was complete after the war as almost all Bengalis were shocked to see that West Pakistan risked fifty five percent of its Bengali population surrounded by India on three sides and with very meagre resources to defend itself against India for few hundred thousand Kashmiris.
Civilian and military leadership dominated by West Pakistanis never understood Bengali view point. The defense doctrine of ‘defense of east Pakistan from west Pakistan’ was never seriously evaluated in the broader context of national security. If one region of the country arrogate itself the title of ‘heart of the country’ and relegate another region as less important ‘periphery’, it is bound to have serious reservation from the entity relegated as periphery. This was the reason that this doctrine was viewed as absurd from Bengali point of view.
In discussing Pakistani 18 Infantry Division operations in western desert, authors raise the question of why Jacobabad airfield was not activated regardless of whether GHQ asked for it or not? Air Commodore ® Sajjad Haider has provided the answer in his memoirs Flight of The Falcon. Air Chief Air Marshal Rahim Khan visited army headquarter on 04 December 1971 and was informed by Chief of General Staff (CGS) Lieutenant General Gul Hassan about the attack of 18 Division in south-west towards Indian city of Jaisalmer. Air Chief protested and informed him that closest Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bases of Sargodha and Karachi were over 300 miles away. He also explained that Jacobabad airfield could not be activated due to paucity of resources and even if decided PAF needed ten days to activate the airfield. He also informed CGS that Indian Air Force had three air bases in that area that could play havoc with the advancing Pakistani troops without air cover. Army went ahead with the operation despite Air Chief warning and hence the disaster.
There is a minor error regarding U.S. base in Pakistan. It is mentioned that U-2 surveillance flights operated from Badaber Air Station near Peshawar. Badaber was only a listening post and not an airfield. It was an electronic listening facility run by National Security Agency (NSA) and project was code named ‘Operation Sandbag’. Peshawar and Lahore airfields were used for U-2 surveillance flights. There were no permanent stationing of U-2 planes in Pakistan. Detachment 10-10 based at Incirlik, Turkey flew missions from Pakistan. U-2 pilot and some ground personnel were flown in a C-130 plane to Pakistan a day before the flight. A standby pilot brought U-2 from Incirlik to Lahore or Peshawar. In four years, there were only twenty four U-2 overflights. Out of these twenty four, ten originated from Pakistan; five from Lahore and five from Peshawar. (I have written a detailed piece about these missions titled Eye in the Sky).
This book adds to the literature of 1971 Indian-Pakistan war and independence of Bangladesh by a first-hand witness. Book is a must read for everyone interested in history of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
28 December 2019