Looking back at COVID-19

(A few additional comments added on 02/21/21)

COVID-19 is still a menace that is affecting thousands of people every day across the globe. However, vaccination and palliative therapies indicate that there is less of it ahead of us than behind us. I am training in pathology at a hospital in Texas and do not have the required qualifications to talk about the nitty gritty of COVID virus and its structure. However, I was involved in management of patients with COVID who were in intensive care and before that, in procuring convalescent plasma for COVID patients. I want to write about the policy and public health side of managing COVID and not the clinical perspective, which is not my primary specialty. This piece was inspired by two articles in the New Yorker, the first is a long-read from Lawrence Wright (here) and the second is from Charles Duhigg (here).

When news about COVID started trickling at the end of December 2019, I was not alarmed. I thought of SARS, Swine flu, Ebola and MERS, which were mostly containable viral diseases and their human impact was not global. I was at a conference in Dallas at the end of January, where a presentation was on memories of dealing with the first Ebola case in the US. I remember sitting in the back row of the auditorium and listening to the lengths that a particular hospital in Dallas went, to quarantine the said Ebola patient. By February, there was news of how Chinese state was hiding things about the mysterious viral infection and whistleblowers were shedding more light on the disease. It was in late January-early February that first cases of the mystery virus were discovered in Seattle suburbs and suppression of data/news about COVID started in the US (the Trump administration). I was at another conference in Los Angeles at the end of February and saw the news that cases of COVID had been diagnosed near San Francisco.

Upon my return to work in the first week of March, I was required by the hospital to report travel to the employee health clinic, which I did. Prior to arrival of COVID, I was going to travel to Ohio for an elective rotation and to New York to present at a conference. With COVID, all plans had to be cancelled. Since March of last year, COVID has affected millions of people across the globe and disrupted life as it used to be. One of my friends refers to any year before 2020 as “X years B.C.” (before COVID).  Moving from my personal story to a bird’s eye view, what can we learn from COVID moving forward? I have tried to distill my thoughts about the pandemic, pandemic response and best practices.

Based on what we know now, here are a few things about COVID response, with relevant exceptions:

1. Island nations have generally done better, with exception of Britain and to an extent, Vietnam. At the start of the pandemic, there were fears that autocratic governments will prevail better because dictators don’t have to worry about human rights, laws or courts. That fear has not come true, generally. Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Sri Lanka or Vietnam are mostly democratic nations.

2. Things have been better when scientists and public health officials have been allowed to be at the forefront, except in the case of Sweden, where the top epidemiologist wanted to test his “herd immunity” theory.  The New Yorker story from Charles Duhigg that I mention above, refers to a significant difference in COVID cases and deaths between New York, where politicians were at the forefront of COVID response, versus Washington state, where public health officials made the rules.

3. African nations have done better at managing COVID than most ‘first-world’ countries, in my opinion, due to their experience in dealing with Ebola, MERS and similar viral illnesses. There has been a recent second wave and a South-African variant that is more resistance to the mRNA vaccines than the OG COVID-19 or the UK variant. There was a recent story in the BBC about the second wave (here) and earlier, about the low rates of infection and mortality in the African continent (here).

4. It is incredibly hard to restrict what constitutes “daily life” even in the face of a deadly pandemic. Human beings are social animals and severing that connection from others, whether in form of closing offices or bars and restaurants, cannot be reliably depended on for long periods. Travel has become another necessity in this day and age, for business or pleasure. Airlines and the hospitality industry as a whole will be running losses for years to come. I traveled three times during the last year, twice domestically and once on an international route. I tried to be cautious and got tested before/after each of these journeys, which, admittedly is not a perfect way of being safe from COVID. There were multiple studies about spread of COVID on airplanes and I was constantly in fear of contracting it while flying, despite all precautionary measures.

I do not frequent bars/clubs in general so i didn’t miss them much. However, I did miss spending time at the library and our nearby Barnes and Noble.  If one were to look at the graphs of cases and deaths in the US, there are peaks around memorial day, 4th of July, Labor day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. Around Christmas, close to a million people were flying every day in the U.S. Graphics from the Washington Post tracker.

5. China, not completely culpable but deserves blame for its early missteps and obfuscation (a la Great leap forward) when it comes to COVID. We still don’t know if COVID transmission started at a wet market or somewhere else. Wuhan is back to pre-COVID times while the rest of world keeps suffering. Chinese authorities have tried to strong arm the WHO and any outside effort to investigate the origin of transmission of COVID. I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory that COVID is a “China virus” or that it was manufactured in a Chinese laboratory.

6. Vaccines. I consider the development of COVID vaccines a modern day miracle. The fastest that a vaccine had been previously prepared was close to three years. The severity of disease, mounting death rate and irresponsible behavior by the general public, made the timeline for introduction of a vaccine shorter than ever. Fortunately, the mRNA type platform vaccines had been in development for years and this was the right moment for them. The journey started in January 2020, when COVID genome was first shared by Chinese scientists and culminated in November/December 2020, when two major candidate vaccines was ready to be administered. Since mid-December, more than 73 million doses of either of these vaccines has been distributed in the US. This is a graphic from the Washington Post tracking vaccine distribution in the US:

I got vaccinated in January and feel fortunate to have that immunity. However,  the mRNA vaccines have a 66% response to the South-African variant (versus 90-95% against the OG COVID).  The AstraZeneca vaccine has a 23% immune response to the South African variant. There is very little good data on vaccines developed by Russia, China and India. From what we know about their mechanisms of action, Russian vaccine is similar in mechanism to the AstraZeneca vaccine (uses inactivated Adenovirus), while the Chinese vaccine is based on inactivated virus and the Indian (serum institute version) uses live attenuated virus. Graphic from NEJM.

7.  Viruses don’t care about state or national boundaries. The Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota in August led to increased cases in neighboring Minnesota (here). A single conference in Boston in Feb 2020 lead to almost 300,000 cases (here). COVID has reached Antarctica, the last bastion of human presence without infection (here).

8. Disinformation spreads faster than the truth. The famous line that “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on” was truer during the COVID pandemic than any other modern peacetime event. Since I have a medical degree and had some exposure to COVID response, I was asked by many family members and friends from across the globe about various conspiracy theories circulating regarding COVID. The top hits included COVID vaccine altering your DNA, different cocktails for treating COVID (the whole hydroxychloroquine debacle), herd immunity, exaggerated vaccine side effects, masks, Vitamin D, COVID vs Flu, PCR vs rapid testing and their predictive values, various miracle cures etc. Many of these lies and misinformed views were spearheaded by medical personnel (doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners etc) which made it incredibly hard for a layperson to know what was the truth and what was just a fanciful conspiracy theory. To top it all off, many people initially (and still) refuse to believe that COVID is real.

9. Masks work but not all masks are the same. This is related to point 4 from earlier (human nature cannot be suppressed for long). It is hard to wear a mask all the time. I work at the hospital and that being a high-risk area, everyone has to be masked almost all the time. But, due to strict masking requirement, infection rate of workers (both medical and non-medical) at our hospital stayed less than 1% even when the infection rate was close to 10% in the community that we serve. N95s which should be worn by individuals who are at the highest risk of getting COVID provide better protection than a regular surgical mask (efficacy close to 65%), which is better than a regular cloth mask (efficacy less than 50% and needs to be washed regularly). I have seen innumerable number of people wearing their masks incorrectly (i.e. nose not covered) but I think that at least they are wearing a mask. One reason that east asian nations did better at controlling the pandemic is because mask-wearing is normalized at a larger societal level, compared to “freedom from tyranny” type attitudes seen in the US. According to estimates, if 90% people in the US had worn masks at the beginning of COVID, we could have averted millions of cases and thousands of deaths.

In Arizona, there were dramatic improvements in case numbers once mask mandates were enforced. (paper from CDC here).

10. The curious case of Pakistan and India. Early in the pandemic, while COVID was running rampant through most of Europe, North America and South America, India and Pakistan had very few cases compared to their populations. While India has caught up with the rest of the world lately, Pakistan is still reporting less cases than any major city in the US per day. What is causing this divergence? There are many theories and until it is studied methodically, I don’t have a clear answer. Even people who got COVID in Pakistan, got a mild disease. Many people pointed to BCG vaccination as being semi-protective against COVID. Some commentators proposed immunity due to earlier sub-clinical viral infections. Are there genetic factors causing this? My hypothesis is that Pakistan is not as exposed to the outside world as lets say the United States is. Secondly, testing in Pakistan is at a much lower level than anywhere else. At one point last year, the state of Punjab, with a population larger than Germany, was doing close to 15,000 COVID tests a day. If you don’t test, you can’t diagnose. Cases in Pakistan and India, graphs from the Johns Hopkins dashboard.

11.Personal Responsibility. The mantra of personal responsibility has been used throughout the pandemic by mostly right-wing politicians, trying to avert blame from themselves, resulting in a terrible failure. Anyone who has ever worked in customer relations can tell you that most people don’t really care about other people (knowingly or unknowingly). Public health does not work that way. One can argue that even economics doesn’t work that way either, but that is a separate debate.

12. One heard the phrase “how many lives can you save by closing the economy” or variations of it since the early days of the pandemic. The lives versus economy rubric was debated over and over, without much evidence. Countries in the EU and Australia/NZ paid people to stay home. That approach is paying them off in the long run. In a paper titled “COVID-19 and global income equality” (here), Angus Deaton showed that saving lives has a positive impact on long-term economic outlook of a country.

13. Is the “office space” dead? Are we going to have a different economy after the pandemic? Would there be mass migration from major cities towards smaller towns and suburbs? I don’t have these answers as I am not an economist or a public planner. But these questions interest me and I am always trying to read about them.

14. Lastly, I cannot predict what is going to happen with COVID. When the pandemic started, my hope was that it would die down within six months. With a sharp decline in case numbers and increase in vaccinated individuals, I have hope that COVID would be under control by the end of the year. Would new variants disrupt this timeline and everyone will have to get a booster vaccine at some point in time? It is quite likely.

Comments and suggestions welcome!

 

 

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Forgotten Masters: Indian artists during the Raj

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to e-attend (over Zoom) a lecture organised by London’s Royal School of Drawing on Indian artists during the Raj. Titled Reflections on Forgotten Masters, the talk by William Dalrymple (the famous Scottish historian) and Xavier Bray (the director of the Wallace Collection) followed the eponymous exhibition organised by the Wallace Collection and co-curated by William Dalrymple last year.

The Wallace Collection is not as well known as other London museums such as the British Museum or the Victoria & Albert Museum. Originally built around the private collections of the nineteenth century British aristocrat Sir Richard Wallace, they have a wide repertoire and organise a number of interesting exhibitions, including on themes related to the subcontinent. I had previously attended their exhibition on Indian medicine titled Ayurvedic Man, which was excellent. Unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing lockdown last year meant that I couldn’t physically visit the Reflection on Forgotten Masters exhibition, and had to view it online.

Continue reading “Forgotten Masters: Indian artists during the Raj”

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The great drama of battle between light and darkness

This is an opinion piece, you have been warned. Wokeism and the saviorology perhaps have its origins from zoroastrianism. Of battling the forces of darkness by the forces of light. So any disagreement is not seen as mere disagreement, but a sign of evil baring its fangs, a sign of corruption, a sign of being a puppet ,sellout etc. And in todays world of social media, the need for virtue signaling, need for social credit above what one can achieve through one’s own talents or achievements are alluring to many. As I joked,
“what is the price of milk?”
ans: ‘fighting fascism’
“what do you know about the issues?”
ans: ‘fighting fascism’
” what is your name?”
ans: fighting for human rights.
” did you watch baywatch?”
ans: ‘fighting sexism’

Everything is about fighting fascism, fighting the good fight against the great evil other who is only an hour away from committing genocide seems to be their case. And it is a good racket, because one can fight fascism now, fascism tomorrow and fascism forever for creeping fascism is always there, ready to expand. And the way to answer is not merely by arguments. Not merely by knowledge amassed on history, politics, business or science. But by actions, to help people, creating a literature to sensitize people and humor . And by lending a sympathetic ear, there is a good tradition of oratory in black community, one can see this in cornel west.

People will paint you as the bad guy, that is their model they are selling to their followers, their audience. Way to bust that model is to reach out, help, lend a sympathetic ear where possible, look for allies with same values, they exist. The monopoly of speaking out for various causes right now is largely in hands of left. This has to be competed . Its not the jerk in front of you that you need to convince. It is the audience they cater to, the audience that they feed the images of you being an ogre. In a world where many have been educated in the art of stringing words together, but dont have the talent to build anything else, there is competition for leading and stirring up movements for social credit. Everyone has an opinion and can share it online to thousands.

One cant just be a priest and utter the sacred verses and claim that is enough or give the correct view of history. One must beat trust deficit models as such by creating trust capital , among various audiences. And get people to move away from painting the other as incorrigibly evil . And also rightly accuse others where they double down or refuse to accept truth, turn their own weapons against them. Always try to steelman others arguments, because that is what goes missing most of the time. And if one scales this, it would have a wider audience than others that divide people up. But as swami vivekananda put it. “An ounce of practice is worth a thousand words”.

To Hindus in usa, reach out to jews, reach out to blacks, native Indians, members of other communities, speak, sensitize, lend a hand or a sympathetic ear where possible. Rss, bjp members outside India can also do the same, reach, help. Lies are broken by actions, not mere words. People can twist your words, it is harder to twist your good deeds where there is no intent of conversion or anything else. You have the power to make friends. And that is a great power . And so is humor, one must ask, “How many fascists did you find and slay today?”.

Hindus should also consider dialectical advaita/buddhism.
Again, do not reinforce their self imagery of being “liberal or left”, of them fighting evil, instead challenge their self imagery with probing questions and your behavior. cognitive dissonance should be our aim. The idea that everyone else are brainwashed and programmed except them is something to challenge. Ask them, when were they wrong?. Where does their models fail, If they were never wrong, then it is the best evidence of them being brainwashed.

Either you question and probe their identity or you fall for their essentialist identity trap they designed for you by getting you to become enraged. Freedom is in pushing back through first option, otherwise you too become dogmatic and shut yourself in completely. Remember that Identity looks for reasons , reasons dont make identities. The democrats focused on racial identity, republicans on religious identity.

Again, do not reinforce their self imagery of being “liberal or left”, instead challenge their self imagery with probing questions. When we do not turn Our Philosophy into dialectic methods of probing questions of identity, we fall for the trap they designed for us. To put us into a box they created for us to fall into. To contain and constrain one’s self expression and pursuit for truth.

Terms you use are extraordinarily important. Words you use have an effect, what is the effect you intend, just spout facts or challenge the identity of your opponent?. Question their self image of themselves and their belief, break their illusions. All else is wasteful. Our job is to seed doubts in their constructed identity . With every word, every sentence, we need to probe them again and again. And create a better literature to both study sociology and try to help create a better way by reducing animosity. We should try to understand the world through our ideas of nyaya/vedanta/buddhism. What is the buddhist view of Human history is an important question to consider. It can expand our imagination and perspective, they too are good tools to probe the current issues and move away from antagonism.

A very good article.
https://quillette.com/2021/01/27/beating-back-cancel-culture-a-case-study-from-the-field-of-artificial-intelligence/

https://nypost.com/2021/01/31/10-ways-to-fight-back-against-woke-culture/

Remember, they are here to paint you as an ogre. You only need to reach out, help in your own way and speak truth and build your trust capital to break their lies.

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The (Original Brown) Pundits: Spies, Explorers and Scholars during the Great Game

Galwan Valley, Pangong Lake, Karakoram Pass, Doklam Plateau, Mishmi Hills. These obscure geographical features and landmarks in the high Himalayas separating India from China have suddenly made their way back into the public consciousness. The catalyst this time is the increased friction between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India. I use the phrases “way back” and “this time” deliberately. To scholars and enthusiasts of the Great Game, these names and the surrounding context are eerily familiar: shadow boxing between an ascendant, assertive superpower (Tsarist Russia) trying to throw its weight around in its immediate neighbourhood and an ostensibly weaker but rising middling power (British India) trying to protect its interest in its backyard.

The original Great Game, which played out over the course of the nineteenth century between the British Indian and Russian Empires in South and Central Asia, had all the characteristics of a bestselling novel, filled with action, adventure and intrigue. It also had its set of glamorous characters: Sir Alexander ‘Sikunder’ Burnes- the famous British spy with oodles of charm and dashing good looks to boot- was the James Bond of his era. He was matched on the Russian side by Captain Yan Vitkevich, the enigmatic Polish-Lithuanian orientalist and explorer. Mercifully, there was very little by way of direct bloodshed between the principal protagonists, although things did come close to getting out of hand on a few occasions. No wonder the Russians evocatively called the contest “The Tournament of Shadows”.  It was compelling drama and the public- in Britain, India, Russia and beyond- lapped it up. The romance and zeitgeist of the times was captured by the great Victorian author Rudyard Kipling in his famous novel, Kim.

Continue reading “The (Original Brown) Pundits: Spies, Explorers and Scholars during the Great Game”

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Error Rate of Different Disciplines



After the covid era, we might do better to quantify our trust on the expertise of experts in various fields. Neils Bohr defined expert as a person who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field. And Richard Feynman once wrote that what he could not create, he does not understand .So there are experts in physics,  maths,  chess, Jiu Jitsu. So a Phd in these fields makes one an expert , where they have a consequential knowledge of different moves one can make and their consequences. cooking for example is one area where trial and error works so quickly that everyone can become experts in a range of dishes.

By comparison, journalism and history for example are different and phd in humanities is not to be seen on par with science. There should perhaps be a visible distinction to stop the confusion. Science often is open to experiments that can be repeated and tested, history is not. Perhaps one could quantify expertise in different fields with regard to the number of variables involved, the ability to carry out experiments or to be able to simulate in say a computer or contemporary availability of information, sources and feedback. . Couple of years back, in a ted talk, a surgeon talked about the human errors in his profession and compared to batting averages in baseball. We can be sure that doctors made treatments that were not adequate in early period of covid pandemic and have made their methods better over the following months .

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/29/coronavirus-doctors-now-have-more-treatments-to-save-lives.html

Taken together, ability to experiment and get feedback quickly makes the difference and the contemporary availability of information to check and verify would place journalism marginally better than history. So perhaps ranking the expertise of experts would be along these lines, cooking, chess, jiu jitsu ,  engineering, computer science, maths ,  physics, biology , economics, journalism and perhaps history. Ranking the validity of expertise in different subjects would perhaps help us focus more on areas that are easier to hack by partisans. 

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Denial of Hindu persecution and its beneficiary.

Bjp and Hindutva are beneficiaries of academic denial of persecution of Hindus. It seems common sense that when Hindus see that there is a blanket denial of their persecution or burial of news about it, they will seek to choose an option that explicitly stands for them. If people will deny your persecution, how can you trust them with anything?. Academics should be mindful of this that this very discourse by them pushes many towards bjp. I am not surprised that many among the literate Indians have shifted to support bjp. Where congress was the default option earlier. This kind of discourse also comes with serious humanitarian costs on hindu minorities in particular in present day pakistan and bangladesh. For these thinkers, neither do hindu minorities exist, not does their suffering matter. And there is no name to the ideology that torments them. For these folks Islamic bigotry did not exist in pre Independent Indian subcontinent. And if it did, it was politics all the way, as though politics and religion are always mutually exclusive.

Even in public discourse in India, by many mainstream journalists, the bigoted jibes of “bhakt” and “gaumutra” has been normalized, it seems the elites in India have imbibed colonial prejudices to the degree that in their need to be contrarian they accept even bigotry and denial of persecution of hindus as legitimate tactics and count such people as their allies, they have no objective criteria in their minds of what constitutes bigotry towards Hindus and they dont care and people are noticing this.

If there are many qualifiers to explain away bigotry but there isnt any adequate criteria for what should constitute bigotry, one could get away with about anything.

This brings to memory a good article of scott aaronson, “The Kolmogorov option” .That science requires no martyrs , so truth will come out in the end.
And a good response to it.

https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/10/23/kolmogorov-complicity-and-the-parable-of-lightning/

where the catholic apologetics is mentioned on how scientists were held guilty of their views on non scientific things and were not strictly persecuted for their views on science.



Roger Bacon was a thirteenth century friar who made discoveries in mathematics, optics, and astronomy, and who was the first Westerner to research gunpowder. It seems (though records are unclear) that he was accused of heresy and died under house arrest. But this may have been because of his interest in weird prophecies, not because of his scientific researches.

Michael Servetus was a sixteenth-century anatomist who made some early discoveries about the circulatory and nervous system. He was arrested by Catholic authorities in France and fled to Geneva, where he was arrested by Protestant authorities, and burnt at the stake “atop a pyre of his own books”. But this was because of his heretical opinions on the Trinity, and not for any of his anatomical discoveries.

Lucilio Vanini was a philosopher/scientist/hermeticist/early heliocentrism proponent who was most notable as the first person recorded to have claimed that humans evolved from apes – though his theories and arguments were kind of confused and he probably got it right mostly by chance. City authorities arrested him for blasphemy, cut out his tongue, strangled him, and burned his body at the stake. But nobody cared about his views on evolution at the time; the exact charges are unclear but he was known to make claims like “all religious things are false”.

Pietro d’Abano was a fourteenth century philosopher and doctor who helped introduce Arabic medicine to the West. He was arrested by the Inquisition and accused of consorting with the Devil. He died before a verdict was reached, but the Inquisition finished the trial, found him guilty, and ordered his corpse burnt at the stake. But he wasn’t accused of consorting with the Devil because he was researching Arabic medicine. He was accused of consorting with the Devil because he was kind of consorting with the Devil – pretty much everyone including modern historians agree that he was super into occultism and wrote a bunch of grimoires and magical texts.

Giordano Bruno was a contemporary of Galileo’s. He also believed in heliocentrism, and promoted (originated?) the idea that the stars were other suns that might have other planets and other life-forms. He was arrested, tortured, and burned at the stake. But although his “innumerable worlds” thing was probably a strike against him, the church’s main gripe was his denial of Christ’s divinity.”
A recent example of this has been how amnesty international and press have kept quiet about rohingya massacre of hindu minorities as it was not opportune to make their case, only later was this news revealed.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-idUSKCN1IN2DR

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/south-asia/new-evidence-reveals-muslim-majority-rohingya-massacred-105-hindus-amnesty/articleshow/64293239.cms


http://sadhanag.blogspot.com/2021/01/aurangzeb-man-and-myth-audrey-truschke.html?m=0

A review of the book . It is important to call out such consequential lies . Does not matter who or how many. To actively deny persecution poisons the well and lets people come to the conclusion that they only have themselves to trust and no one else. And they are better off to go it alone even at the expense of others .And the fact that there have not been many Indian muslim scholars who are willing to call faults on their side even from history, irrespective of how horrible the characters have been leads people to be more suspicious of them. It is not surprising that bjp in power is not in a hurry to redress this as it can only gain from such discourse.

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Being Technological progressive.


https://balajis.com/the-purpose-of-technology/


A duty to evangelize technological progress
That is because people with scientific and technical backgrounds have not taken it upon ourselves to write about technological progress as a duty. We need to take time out of our busy days to make the case, repeatedly and with high production values, that technological progress is the most important thing we can do for broad-based prosperity and economic growth, and for life itself…




The tech ecosystem has natural advantages here. We have the domain knowledge. And the experts at hand. We’re already doing content marketing, podcasts, conferences, and a tweetstorm or two. We understand search engines, social networks, and distribution. And yes, we have learned to code.

What we haven’t done yet is full stack narrative. That is, with a few exceptions, like Elon Musk, we haven’t really told story arcs with technological progress at the center. We haven’t taken the pitch we use to recruit engineers and externalized it for the public. We haven’t infused emotion and meaning into our public communications. We haven’t made every one of our companies a media company. We haven’t set out to tell our story ourselves.

We need to correct that immediately, and start evangelizing technological progress with every word and action. To recognize that the purpose of technology is to transcend our limits, and to motivate everything we’re doing with a sense of that purpose. To take the winnings from our web apps and put them towards Mars, to feel no hesitation towards starting small and no shame in dreaming big, to tell the world that it actually is possible to cure the deaf, restore sight, and end death itself.”
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General AAK Niazi, Military career

The following is a note from Dr Hamid  Hussain about the military career of Gen Niazi, who later earned infamy in the eyes of humanists for the genocide in East Pakistan and in the eyes of Paknationalists for surrendering Pakistan’s Eastern Command on Dec 16 1971.  Based on these events, most people imagine that he was an incompetent buffoon at every stage in his career, but as this note makes clear, that is not entirely true. While no Rommel or Guderian, he had done reasonably well in various positions until he got promoted above his level of competence..

26 December 2020

Someone had asked about Lt. General Niazi’s career especially early days.  The journey ended up picking many interesting points.  I thought would be interesting to document a chapter of history of Pakistan army.

Hamid

 Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi – Career Profile

Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi was commander of Eastern Command in December 1971 when East Pakistan seceded with the help of Indian army and emerged as an independent nation of Bangladesh.

Niazi was born in 1915 in a small village near Mianwali district of Punjab.  He joined Indian army as a sepoy.  Details of early part of his career are not available and even in his own autobiography, Niazi did not mention it.   He joined the army probably in 1935 (this estimation is based on the information that in a news item published in 1946 about him when he commanded the guard of honor for Lord Mountbatten during his visit to Java in May 1946 stated that he had eleven years of military service).  He probably joined the ranks of Ist Battalion of 7th Rajput Regiment.  Class composition of this regiment was fifty percent Hindu Rajputs and fifty percent Punjabi Muslims. Continue reading “General AAK Niazi, Military career”

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Nadir Ali 1936-2020, RIP

My father, Colonel Nadir Ali, was born in Kohat (KPK) in 1936 to a Khatana Gujjar lawyer who was the first in his village to go to school, to college and then to Aligarh. The family soon moved back to Gujrat (district Gujrat, in Central Punjab) where he grew up in our village (Machiana) and the city of Gujrat. As a precocious 11 year old he helped his father to rescue some kidnapped Sikh and Hindu girls during the partition pogroms (because he was young enough to be allowed to go into the women’s quarters to talk to them). He attended Normal School Gujrat and Cadet College Hasanabdal before joining the Pakistani army in 1958. He got married to my mother in 1960 (what in Pakistan used to be called a “love marriage”) and for 61 years the two of them showed the world, through thick and thin, what true love could be like.

He served three tours in the SSG and was a much loved instructor at PMA when he volunteered to rejoin 3 commando battalion as it conducted “internal security” duties in East Pakistan in April 1971. He returned to West Pakistan in October having been, in his own words, driven mad by the experience (link to  a speech he delivered in Bangladesh about these events is attached at the end of this post and can be read for more details).

After a spell in psychiatric care he left the army and started a new life that eventually saw him become a Punjabi poet, an award winning short story writer, an active participant in Najam Hosain Syed’s Punjabi literary circle and the patriarch of a large and growing family. He always idealized his childhood in the village and refused to adapt to the pretensions and sterile isolation of modernity. He was also a fan of Marx (who he usually referred to as “nabi akhir uz zaman”, the last prophet of the age) but his well-developed bullshit detector saved him from falling blindly for any party or political movement. Above all else, he loved children. His own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were endlessly indulged and unquestioningly and unstintingly loved and supported in everything they ever wanted to do, but his love was not limited to his own family. Every child was his child and every child felt this and responded to him with affection and joy.

It is impossible to put in words how much we will miss him.  And “we” are legion: his wife and kids and their spouses, kids and grandkids will never forget his affection, his jokes, his songs, his wisdom and his high spirits. But then, neither will his brothers Colonel Azam Ali and Sarwar Ali, his sisters Safia Choudhry and Razia Choudhry, his brother in law Justice Sajjad Sipra, his sisters in law Zohra and Shahida Sipra, his boon companion Altaf Malik, his best friend Brigadier Aslam Malik, his mentor and teacher Najm Hosain Syed, his cousin Major Akram, his countless other friends and admirers, the list goes on and on. And so many that have left us already; who knows, he may be up there right now singing and dancing with friends and family who left us before he did. I at least would like to believe this is indeed the case and he and Professor Haider Ali, Choudhry Sher Ali, Choudhry Hakim Ali, Imtiaz Sipra, Riaz Sipra, Iftikhar Sipra, Ayaz Sipra and so many others are right now looking down at us, drinking and singing old Indian film songs. And of course, he is with his father, Choudhry NIamat Ali, who came in his dreams recently, asking him to join him.

Details of his talk and interviews regarding 1971 can be found here.

Nadir Ali Reading one of his stories:

Ae sab sael bahar da hai ee.. (this is a voyage on a trackless ocean, without ship  or shore..

Banhan jinhan diyan pakRiye, sir deejay, banh na choriye..  (once we take someone’s hand, we should be willing to lose our head, but not let go of the hand)

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Bangladesh’s War of Liberation-Historicising a Personal Narrative

The following is from a talk given by Colonel Nadir Ali at BRAC university in Dhaka in 2007..

Bangladesh’s War of Liberation
Liberation War-Historicising a Personal Narrative
December 16, 2014 0 2,619 Views
|By Col Nadir Ali (Retd) , Pakistan Army|

Former Pakistani Col Nadir Ali’s talks of his experiences from 1971 in Bangladesh at the BRAC University in Dhaka.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to be in the great city of Dhaka and be in the BRAC University addressing this august gathering.

But this interaction can only be meaningful if you ask me questions. I will answer your questions honestly and candidly. Hopefully, we will add to each others’ knowledge in this interaction.

Historicizing a personal narrative is difficult in the best of times. Recalling 1971 is a very sensitive issue and it touches most of us very deeply.
First, a litte of the personal: I was in Dhaka at the Army Ordnance Depot at Tejgaon from 1962-1964 and in 3 Commando Battalion at Thakurgaon and Chittagong from 1965-1966. As an army officer, I also happened to know several Bengali officers who later became major players in Bangladesh . Among them, General Zia-ur-Rehman was a fellow instructor at Pakistan Military Academy. Brigadier General Khalid Musharraf was my roommate and course mate at Military Academy and a fellow officer in the commandos in the early sixties. General Mir Showkat Ali was also a course mate in the Military Academy . Major Ziauddin of the Naxalites and now a maulana is a personal friend. Brigadier Abu Tahir was a fellow officer in the commandos and a friend too. Many of my students at the Pakistan Military Academy also rose to high ranks in the Bangladesh Army. The life of an average West Pakistani officer in the then East Pakistan , remained confined to cantonments among the overwhelming majority of West Pakistani officers.

The handful of Bangladeshi officers who had also served in West Pakistan were naturally much more relaxed here. But the majority of Bengali officers remained distant from the West Pakistani officers, who occupied the command and key staff positions. I spent the happiest four years of my life here, but my life remained confined to family, office, officers mess, Dhaka Club. Language is the house of being. We remained non-beings in Bangladesh , or alien beings in this respect, because we did not learn the Bengali language and did not partake of the rich culture of this land.

While my personal experience in Bengal had been very positive, the story in the historical context was very different. The Bangladeshi fellow officers in the Pakistan Army rarely became close personal friends with West Pakistani officers. Even two of the very prominent Bengali officers, Lt Col. (Retd) Qayyum, whose elder brother was the Head of Bengali Dept at Dhaka University , and Group Capt MM Alam of air force who stayed on in Pakistan , are now alienated and lonely beings. People as prominent as Sher-e-Bangla Mr. Fazlul Haq and Mr. Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy, despite their prominence in the Pakistan Movement and Pakistan politics, were alienated by the dominance of West Pakistanis in politics, which resulted in the creation of the Awami League, which played a central role in liberation.

AK Fazal Ul Haque started his career as early as Praja Conference of 1914. Mr Surawardy was not only a Prime Minister, but opened the China door door and set up Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Technology. All these came to play key roles in our subsequent history. There may even be some lesson in history, in the sub-continental context, in the fact that the Neta Ji Subhash Chander Bose was the most fascinating of figure in the forties. He was very different from Mr. Gandhi. Who was more right is a question for you to decide. In any case, “History,”as Hegel said, “has a certain cunningness and history is always rational.”

We the Punjabi Pakistanis were fighting against reason and we were the oppressors. At the same time, Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s leadership defined the rationality of history. The Indian Army only acted on the rationale that had been created by the Awami League victory in the 1970 elections. But today I want to talk about Bangladesh and my limited personal experience in the midst of these historic and tragic events.

Before I move on to the grim events of 1971, let me recount some of my earlier experiences in Bangladesh that may illustrate the way we, as army officers, thought and were encouraged to think. One of the major political events of the sixties was the 1964 winter presidential election, contested by General Ayub Khan and Miss Fatima Jinnah. Historically, it was a non-event, but it gave me some insight into the working of the civil government at the time. I, a young non-entity of a captain, while doing election duty in Manik Ganj subdivision of Dhaka district, was personally called on the telephone by Mr. Monem Khan, the then Governor, to say that the area magistrate police officer and Member National Assembly were working for the Combined Opposition Party.
I submitted that I had come on duty in aid of civil power and the magistrate and police officer were supposed to tell me what needed to be done and not the other way around.

Again, while on duty during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Narayangunj area, I received a call from Governor House to ask why I was feeling restrained by the DIG Police and magistrate, i.e.: I should go out and open fire whenever I felt the need. During the day, I had been reprimanded by Gen. Yahya, the General Officer Commanding, as to why some civilians were standing around as he drove past. I said that I had been evacuating some Hindu families who had been attacked. “You are not the Red Cross, boy!” the General had roared. It is likely that he had reprimanded the Governor as well. I was then ordered to carry a machine gun instead of single shot rifles and the DIG and magistrate were removed. Legally, the position was that the GOC was junior to the governor and I was way junior to the DIG and magistrate, and I was also supposed to get their written permission before opening fire. But in actual practice, the GOC could order the governor around and I could freely bypass the civilian magistrate and the senior police officer.

The next significant political event in the sixties was the Agartala Case. In 1968, at Staff College , we were given a briefing by Director General Military Intelligence. It was done very dramatically, by shutting all doors and with music from the movie “From Russia , With Love.” It was a common joke in the officer messes, that the Bengali officers called each other “General”, a rank they would supposedly hold when they seceded from the Pakistan army.
What we had always treated as a joke was now being cited as “treason discovered.”! The farcical nature of the “conspiracy” can be gauged from the fact that someone as junior and insignificant as an air force sergeant and corporal were also mentioned as major characters in the conspiracy to topple state authority.

I felt then that we were headed for disaster because the powers that be were living in another world. The die was finally cast in the 1970 elections, but rumbles could already be heard. I was at heart against martial law and West Pakistan ruling over East Pakistan . But I was a young nobody and among a tiny minority in the army. The 1970 election was as cyclonic as the cyclone over Hatya Island that year. The Six Points had been voted for and that meant autonomy for then East Pakistan .

Bangabandu had thrice used the word ” Bangladesh ” in his election speech in Nov 1970. The then head of Pakistan Television, Mr. Roedad Khan, has written that he had told Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman to delete these words. But the agreement was to allow the leaders to say what they wanted and he refused to delete those words, it was aired as such. The results were stunning. History had been made. But while the fellow Bangladeshi officers were elated, West Pakistanis were not happy with the results.

Then came the unwillingness to accept the election results, the military action in East Pakistan and the Liberation War! The war touched your lives deeply and those who lived through it in Bangladesh mentally and physically paid a very heavy price. The entire population of Bangladesh was terribly oppressed when the army ran riot. Death stalked everyone’s life and neither life nor honor nor property was safe. I unfortunately, was a witness and participant in those events, though I never killed anyone or ordered anyone to be killed. Still, I knew and heard about a lot of killing and other atrocities. I may have a thousand stories to tell of what I saw from early April 1971 to early October. But one person’s, experience is not history nor its accurate picture.

I rejoined 3 Commando Battalion on 10th April, 1971 as second in command of the battalion and took over its command on 6th June 1971 and was there till the beginning of October 1971. A detachment of this battalion had arrested Bangabandu Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman on the night of 25th-26th March 1971, only two weeks before I joined it. I was directly under the Eastern Command Headquarter and I interacted frequently with General Niazi GO C-in C Eastern Command, and General Rahim and General Qazi, commanders of 14 Din and Gen Mitha who assisted Gen Tikka till Gen Niazi took over.

The first major incident was the arrest of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. Colonel Zaheer Alam, who led the detachment charged with arresting him, saluted Bangabandhu and said, “Sir, we have been ordered to take you into custody.”
According to his book, when he reported to Eastern Command after the arrest the three generals, Gen Hamid, Chief of Army Staff, Gen Tikka and Gen Mitha who were present all asked only one question: “Why did you not kill him?”

Imagine, if he had been shot, that would have been a catastrophe and changed many things even further for the worse. The reaction would have been far worse and the whole of Bangladesh would have gone up in flames.
But though we did not kill him then, did we not murder him as well as Mr Bhutto in a span of four years in the late seventies?

In Pakistan the state apparatus was dictatorial and willful and it got worse over time. The State’s insensitivity to the dictates of law and justice was neither political nor civilized. It would decide the fate and state of the nation. Murder Incorporated had taken over. I arrived in Bangladesh on 10th April 1971. On 11th April, 1971, I traveled to Rangpur as one of our sub units was there. The night before, I had heard enough accounts at Army and Air force messes. I wanted to orient myself.

Most of the boasting in the messes was of the night of the generals on 25th/26th March and how a brigade column from Joydeblpur had “sorted out” Dhaka . There were tales galore of the Mukti Bahini’s alleged massacre of non-Bengalis and there was an album of blood and gore at Chittagong .
When I got to Rangpur, the senior tank unit commander boasted of how he had lined up the miscreants, the noisy political workers who had taken over the town till 25th March. He added some professors too for good measure. Then he took them all to a nearby brick kiln and had them shot. When I asked if there was any resistance or use of arms by those people or others in town, he said,
“Nadir, you should have seen how they behaved before 25th March. They jeered at us”
….that jeering and protesting was apparently enough to earn them a summary death sentence.
Then he added,
“One of my Bengali officers too-he was protesting too much. I had him shot too.”
I mildly protested. “He was a fellow officer and only a proud kind?”. And he was a brother officer. Sympathy for civilians was even less likely. While the commanders in Rangpur were painting a picture of too much resistance in Rangpur, Gen Mitha had landed there in a helicopter single handedly with a Bengali ADC, whose pistol was the only weapon they carried.
He rebuked the local commanders. He had known Bangladesh and knew what and how much resistance was likely. Perhaps his background also mattered. Gen Mitha, from Mumbai, was married to a Christian lady of Bengali origin, whose father was Dr Chatterji, the famous philosophy teacher.

The other had come to be defined in religious terms in India and Pakistan .
Your level of education and political beliefs could go only as far as the fellow soldiers and your army commanders allowed it. There was a feeling of revenge among the troops for the social siege and aggressive political stance of the Awami League. The soldiers thought that Awami Leaguers were not patriotic. But the senior commanders/Generals led the way and decided that this supposed rebellion had to be put down with the force of arms.
Somewhere the think tank had also decided that Hindus were the root cause of the problem. Orders were given to spread out and pacify by force of arms, by terrorising and by picking out and killing the Hindus. A license to kill, given to a soldiery with a besieged mentality, to whom the whole of Bengal appeared alien, made it a free for all, a horrifying dance of death.

I had gone from West Pakistan . I found relief in walking out and seeing for myself. I drove all the way from Rangpur to Dhaka by road with only a driver and our personal arms. I faced no resistance or threat. If you were sympathetic with the politics of the people and could gauge the extent of resistance, you saw thought and behaved differently.

My first so called operation was on 15th April, after a day of aerial reconnaissance, I took off with two columns of commandos and was heli dropped east of Faridpur town. I was told “It is a hard area. It is Mujib-ur-Rehman’s home district. Go and let them have it! And pick out especially the Hindus.”
The man giving orders was my old teacher and friend. I said
“Sir, I cannot kill anybody who is not armed or firing at me. Don’t expect me to do that. That is against the law sir, even if it is martial law.”
He said
“You have just come from West Pakistan , teaching your Bengali students and drinking with your Bengali friends, you don’t know what has been happening here.”
When finally I was dropped on the road to Pabna, east of Faridpur, we took position and fired to make a base for ourselves. We were up high on the road. On the low ground, I saw some civilians running towards us. I halted the firing.
“What do you want?”
I asked the man with a bucket.
“We have brought water for you to drink.”
I ordered a ceasefire.
We sat down, resting against the bridge wall and started making tea. I asked the civilians,
“I saw Awami League flags here yesterday, from the air.”
“Sir, we have taken those down. We have put up a Pakistan flag. You can see one from here.”
I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Then I saw a glimpse of collaboration.
The villagers were kicking and dragging a poor fellow.
“Sir, he is an Awami Leaguer and was demanding mon;ey from the villagers.”
I searched his pockets and found some thirty bucks. I returned these to the villagers.
“Should I shoot him?” asked a soldier.
“I will shoot anyone who so much as touches his weapon.” I said.
But the villagers too wanted to join us in eliminating this innocuous symbol of rebellion. They wanted to earn our approval. Soon the main army column that had come through the city of Faridpur came by they were setting fire to every village along the road.
“What is the score?”
asked a Rommel like colonel standing in a machine gun fitted jeep.
“Sir, there was no resistance so we killed no one.”
He gave a burst from his machine and some of the innocent onlookers standing around us fell dead. “That is the way my boy,” the Colonel told this poor Major.

The next episode was around 25th April, to clear Barisal , the last district town to come under army control. I knew the area and had gone as a guide with the battalion attacking Barisal . The advance party of thirty who had gone by naval gun boats the night before was missing. The colonel waited out the night on the outskirts and called an air strike before moving in the morning. As we moved forward, the city of Barisal had already been conquered by our missing advance party of thirty men! Only a sweeper, whom the colonel had killed in panic, was a casualty. But after that the battalion did do a lot of killing and looting, as I learnt later during a tour of the area. Meanwhile, “Three-pronged attack on Barisal repulsed,” said a banner headline in an Indian paper from Calcutta .

On 6th June, from a dug-in position a regular rebel battalion of East Bengal Regiment in Belonia with minefields, repulsed a brigade attack from the Pakistani army. The 53 Brigade from Commila failed with forty dead. I was called in to give commando support to a reinforced brigade attack. The night before the planned attack I jumped into the midst of the battalion at night.
We faced little resistance as we were in the middle of forward and rear positions. Where the brigade attack had failed, I succeeded. The whole salient next morning was found vacant.
Somehow, with this I became a hero.
My CO, who had refused the mission, was sacked and I became commando battalion commander. The General commanding 14 Div Gen Qazi, after that took me along on most visits and I traveled all over Bangladesh . We provided flying guards to PIA aircrafts flying in the area and I could issue air tickets. I was very mobile.

One day after my taking over as a commanding officer, they announced demonetization of big denomination notes. I was sitting having tea in my balcony. It was raining and I saw a lot of high denomination notes flowing down into the drain. Some soldiers of mine had obviously looted those notes. My command was going to be difficult. I would never know what would happen when I turned my head!

I was also reminded of an event in a distant past. In 1947 after the first monsoon rain on Aug 16,1947, I had seen looted material floating down a drain. How many holocausts was one to see in a life time!

To stay away from the kill and burn forays on the home ground, I started operations across the border with volunteers provided by Jamaat-e-Islaami. I met Prof Ghulam Azam and Ch Rehmat Elahi, who used to come to my office. I also frequently met Mr. Fazlul Qadir Chaudhry and Maulana Farid Ahmed.
I did not indulge in any killing nor ordered any, but I was aware of a lot of killing and looting done by the army all round Dhaka . At the same time, a false sense of normalcy prevailed in the limited circuit of my social life i.e, Dhaka Club, Officers Mess, Chinese food near DhanMandi.

Meanwhile every Bangladeshi was oppressed and terrorized, even if not directly a victim of it. When I saw hundreds of abandoned cars on the Ghat on the road west of Dhaka and saw a fleet of cars in my own unit, I was aware of the missing or robbed masters. There were nearly 10 million refugees in India and more than ninety percent of them were Hindus.  Thousands were killed and millions rendered homeless. Over nine million went as refugees to India. An order was given to kill the Hindus. I received the same order many times and was reminded of it . The West Pakistani soldiery considered that Kosher. The Hamood Ur Rehman Commission Report mentions this order. Of the ninety-three lakh (9.3 million) refugees in India, ninety lakh were Hindus Casualty figures may have been exaggerated, but every citizen was scared and oppressed and feared for his life. Nobody felt secure even in his own house.

What drove me mad? Well I felt the collective guilt of the Army action which at worst should have stopped by late April 1971. Moreover, when I returned to West Pakistan, here nobody was pushed about what had happened or was happening in East Pakistan. Thousands of innocent fellow citizens had been killed, women were raped and millions were ejected from their homes in East Pakistan but West Pakistan was calm. It went on and on .The world outside did not know very much either. This owes to the fact that reporters were not there. General Tikka was branded as “Butcher Of Bengal”. He hardly commanded for two weeks. Even during those two weeks, the real command was in the hands of General Mitha, his second-in-command. General Mitha literally knew every inch of Bengal. He personally took charge of every operation till General Niazi reached at the helm. At this juncture, General Mitha returned to GHQ. General Tikka, as governor, was a good administrator and made sure that all services ran. Trains, ferries, postal services, telephone lines were functioning and offices were open. There was no shortage of food, anywhere by May 1971. All in all, a better administrative situation than Pakistan of today ! But like Pakistan of today, nobody gave a damn about what happens to the poor and the minorities. My worry today is whether my granddaughter goes to Wisconsin University or Harvard. That nobody gets any education in my very large village or in the Urdu-medium schools of Lahore, where I have lived as for forty years so called concerned citizen, does not worry me or anyone else.

In Dhaka, where I served most of the time, there was a ghostly feeling until about mid April 1971. But gradually life returned to normal in the little circuit I moved: Cantonment, Dacca Club, Hotel Intercontinental, the Chinese restaurant near New Market. Like most human beings, I was not looking beyond my nose. I moved around a lot in the city. My brother-in-law, Riaz Ahmed Sipra was serving as SSP Dhaka. We met almost daily. But the site of rendezvous were officers’ mess, some club or a friend’s house in Dhan Mandi. Even if I could move everywhere, I did not peep into the hearts of the Bengalis. They were silent but felt oppressed and aware of the fact that the men in uniforms were masters of their lives and properties.

Dr Yasmin Sakia, an Indian scholar teaching in America, told me once an anecdote. When she asked why in the 1990s she could not find any cooperation in tracing rape-victims of 1971, she was told by a victim,” Those who offered us to the Army are rulers now.”

One can tell and twist the tale. The untold part also matters in history. Two Bengali soldiers whom I released from custody, were issued weapons and put back in uniform. They became POWs along 90 thousand Pakistani soldiers and spent three years in Indian jails. I discovered one of them serving as a cook in 1976 in Lahore. I had regained my memory. “Kamal –ud-Din you?” I exclaimed on sighting him. “Sir you got me into this!”

The Pakistani Army had thrown them out. The other guy teaches in Dhaka now.

The untold part of the story is that one day I enquired about one soldier from Cammandos unit. He used to be my favourite in 1962. “Sir, Aziz-ul –Haq was killed”, the Subedar told me rather sheepishly.

“How?” was not a relevant question in those days. Still I did ask.

“Sir! first they were put in a cell, later shot in the cell”.

My worst nightmare even forty years later is the sight of fellow soldiers being shot in a cell. “How many ?” was my next question. “There were six sir, but two survived. They pretended to be dead but were alive,” came the reply.

“Where are they ?”

“In Commilla sir, under custody”.

I flew from Dacca to Commilla. I saw two barely recognizable wraiths. Only if you know what that means to a fellow soldier! It is worse than suffering or causing a thousand deaths. I got them out, ordered their uniforms and weapons. “Go, take your salary and weapons and come back after ten days.” They came back and fought alongside, were prisoners and then were with difficulty, repatriated in 1976. Such stories differ, depending on who reports.

All these incidents, often gone unreported, are not meant to boast about my innocence. I was guilty of having volunteered to go to East Pakistan. My brother-in-law Justice Sajjad Sipra was the only one who criticized my choice of posting. “You surely have no shame,” he said to my disconcert. My army friends celebrated my march from Kakul to Lahore. We drank and sang! None of us were in two minds. We were single-mindedly murderous! In the Air Force Mess at Dacca, over Scotch, a friend who later rose to a high rank said, “ I saw a gathering of Mukti Bahini in thousands. I made a few runs and let them have it. A few hundred bastards must have been killed” My heart sank. “Dear! it is the weekly Haath (Market) day and villagers gather there,” I informed him in horror. “ Surely they were all Bingo Bastards!,” he added. There were friends who boasted about their score. I had gone on a visit to Commilla. I met my old friend, then Lt. Col. Mirza Aslam Beg and my teacher, Gen. Shaukat Raza. Both expressed their distaste for what was happening. Tony, a journalist working with state-owned news agency APP, escaped to London. He wrote about these atrocities that officers had committed and boasted about. It was all published by the ‘Times of London’. The reading made me feel guilty as if I had been caught doing it myself! In the Army, you wear no separate uniform. We all share the guilt. We may not have killed. But we connived and were part of the same force. History does not forgive!

When I received orders to move back to West Pakistan for my promotion at the end of September, I was suddenly shaken out of my state of unreality. I completely lost my mind. I got out of my VIP power boat over Rangamati lake and got onto a nauka to share dal bhat with the surprised poor boatman.
I was dined out later that evening by the rich and famous of Dhaka . I was also given a farewell dinner at Gen Niazi’s house, who as usual gave me the gift of some dirty jokes that always interspersed his daily order sessions.

I returned to West Pakistan and broke down with paranoid schizophrenia, completely out of touch with reality. I was a mental patient for two years, was hospitalized for six months and lost my memory in the process of treatment. I was retired as a disabled person in 1973.

Over many years, I have rediscovered and reconstructed myself as a Punjabi poet. I acquired a literary and artistic consciousness from Bangladesh and I hope I can now validly represent the literary conscience of Punjab .
Now, as a Punjabi poet and writer I offer apologies and ask forgiveness from those who suffered so terribly in 1971. And I want to say that there are many more in Punjab who feel the same shame and regret and who are also discovering a connection between the military mindset that led to those tragic events and our own loss of culture. But alas at the time of my departure no one except my brother –in- law Justice Sajjad Sipra, decried my choice of posting.
Today, the world is changing fast. Any of the three looming crisis: the falling dollar, rising oil prices or runaway inflation and high food prices may ruin us and the regional economy. Let Bangladesh , which is thriving after liberation, lead the way. And why not ; it was here that you first talked of praja, the people , swaraj the independence and Liberation War Mukti Judh. Be it Azad Hind Fauj. Krishak Praja Dal or Mukti Bahini, these all had their origin in Bangladesh .
Neither across the ocean nor across the Himalayas is anyone coming to rescue us. Together, we three can make a formidable alliance. Let us attend to our teeming millions of poor and not be misled by our habitually misleading leaders. Half of the entire world’s poor live in the sub continent. Let us not raise huge armies that can only destroy each other. I will sum up with Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s lines on Bangladesh :
“After how many Shraban rains,
Shall be washed the blood stains
After friendly intimacy.
We became strangers again.”

There was a lengthy question and answer session. Instead of twenty minutes I spoke for over an hour at the directions of the chair and people received it very well and wanted some more. There had been a lot of discussion on the subject of War Crimes Tribunal. When asked my opinion, I submitted, “Sir between you and me, the War criminals do very well in life. The real culprits always live well above the Law and only the poor and politically marginlised people will be prosecuted.”

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