Book Review: Blood Over Different Shades of Green: East Pakistan 1971 History Revisited

Book Review

Hamid Hussain

 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.

 Hamid Hussain

[email protected]

28 December 2019

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8 Replies to “Book Review: Blood Over Different Shades of Green: East Pakistan 1971 History Revisited”

  1. “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. ”

    This reminds me of this article

    https://herald.dawn.com/news/1153304

    “When Nurul Islam – a Harvard-trained economist who had served in key government positions in Pakistan during the 1950s and the 1960s – went into exile in Calcutta in 1971, he found his Bengali Muslim host opposing the cause of an independent Bangladesh. In his book, Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale, Islam recorded his host as saying that a “strong and united Pakistan was a balancing factor against India and provided some constraint on India’s discriminatory, if not outrightly hostile, treatment of the Muslims”. He also suggested that the “Muslims in the East should have settled their differences with Pakistan peacefully, without destroying its integrity”.

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    1. It’s a logical assumption though and it doesn’t apply the other way. A strong India (predominantly hindu) doesn’t deter pakis and bangladeshis from treating their minorities like crap (Allah has given them the right to do anything with minorities). CAA protests are the proof.

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    2. A strong balancing of India’s Hindu majority by Muslims was only possible within the state framework of an united India. It is very possible that Muslims all over India would have had a very united political platform. However, two very different regions more than thousand miles away from one another and also mired in economic and social backwardness, were never going to balance anything together.

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  2. The book sounds tantalizing. However, nothing is mentioned in the review about the heart of the matter, military operations against civilians in the East and subsequent battle between india and Pakistan in the Eastern front

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  3. I have heard him speak on various festivals. The book in a way is more of Pakistani side of story rather than Bangladesh. So i dont think it has much on military operation against Bengali etc.

    One of the funny event he narrates (dont know if its true or not) , that he was caught in crossfire b/w Mukthi Bahini and Pak forces, and he himself was forced to go as a refugee to Calcutta. 😛

    Indian forces caught him, from where he escaped to US Embassy in Calcutta where he had immunity and was repatriated to west Pakistan.

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  4. Mr saurav – your information is incorrect (1) he gave me the draft of his first book on escape from India (2) I edited the draft in detail with many comments (3) typical of him
    He did not acknowledge my comments which he incorporated in published book when this book was published (3) the correct picture which he acknowledged in first book was that he was visiting his parent unit 2 east Bengal
    On 25 March 71 when unit rebelled and killed west Pakistanis (4) as per his version 2 east Bengal took him to India but suspected him of dual loyalties and handed him to indian army (5) he was put in Pw camp from where he escaped as per his account (6) travelled over land to Calcutta (7) flew by civilian flight to Delhi (8) entered pakistan embassy in Delhi (9) sent to Nepal by Pakistan embassy (10) Thailand (11) pakistan (12) applied for infantry as atmosphere in aviation where he was serving was hostile (13) participated in 71 war in 47 Punjab now 4 Sindh (14) dismissed from service in 1973 (15) dismissal converted to retirement by gen Aslam beg (16) retirement converted to dismissal by Asif nawaz

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    1. Are sir, i was a bit of fuzzy on the whole , just had a gist of the whole event he narrated.But i am pretty sure there was an american embassy somewhere in the story

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      1. There was American consulate in the story and not embassy and this was in Calcutta – they also as per his account helped him

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