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.
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”
Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971 Major A.H Amin (Retired) https://www.militaryhistorycentre.com/blogs/news/pakistan-army-between-1965-and-1971 Why Military Defeat in 1971-The Qualitative Destruction of Pakistan Army between 1955 and 1971 • August 2020
Research teaching and writing were unproductive jobs in British India since they did not enable a man to be a deputy collector or barrister or doctor! It was a mad race made further mad by frequent outbursts of communal frenzy, which increased as population increased during the period 1890-1940. All this helped the Britishers who had been traumatically shaken by the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 when a largely Hindu majority army had rebelled under Muslim leaders! The British were thus happier playing the role of judges resolving Hindu Muslim disputes rather than performing the more unpleasant task of facing a combined political movement of all Indians regardless of race or religion as in 1857, 1919 or 1922! This is the basis of anti-intellectualism in the Indo-Pak Sub-continent. It is truer for Pakistan since the Muslims were educationally more backward and relatively less true, yet still true and applicable to India too! Pakistan and India have produced very few serious military writers. In Pakistan the situation is worse since an unofficial ban was imposed on military writing by various military usurpers who ruled the country for the greater part of its existence.
The finest summarizing of the incalculable qualitative harm inflicted on the Pakistan Army, by the self-promoted Field Marshal of peace, by a contemporary, was done by Major General Fazal I Muqeem, when he described the state of affairs of the Pakistan Army during the period 1958-71; in the following words: “We had been declining according to the degree of our involvement in making and unmaking of regimes. Gradually the officer corps, intensely proud of its professionalism was eroded at its apex into third class politicians and administrators. Due to the absence of a properly constituted political government, the selection and promotion of officers to the higher rank depended on one man’s will. Gradually, the welfare of institutions was sacrificed to the welfare of personalities. To take the example of the army, the higher command had been slowly weakened by retiring experienced officers at a disturbingly fine rate. Between 1955 and November 1971, in about 17 years 40 Generals had been retired, of whom only four had reached their superannuating age. Similar was the case with other senior ranks. Those in the higher ranks who showed some independence of outlook were invariably removed from service. Some left in sheer disgust in this atmosphere of insecurity and lack of the right of criticism, the two most important privileges of an Armed Forces officer. The extraordinary wastage of senior officers particularly of the army denied the services, of the experience and training vital to their efficiency and welfare. Some officers were placed in positions that they did not deserve or had no training for” 1.
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.
The following story was narrated by a dear friend and he didnt want to use the captain’s name. I felt it should be preserved, even if without names. So here is my friend’s verbatim account, with names and punjabi curses redacted:
I met a retired army officer (let’s call him captain X) while stationed in a small town in Punjab in the 1990s. People said he had been traumatized by 1971 and it had changed his life, but he didnt like to talk about it. As we became better acquainted, I asked him about that period. At first he wouldn’t talk about it, but one day after chatting about many things, he agreed to tell me his story:
The retired captain was a young army officer in early 1971 when he was informed that he was being posted to East Pakistan. His father was a retired (senior) army officer and a coursemate of General Z, who was a two-star general in Dhaka. He called General Z and mentioned that his son was coming over and to “take care of him”. General Z said “I will do more than that for you old friend, I will put him on my staff, he will be totally safe”.
Captain X arrived and joined Generaz Zs staff in Dhaka. His main job was to manage General Z’s various appointments and to arrange an endless series of lunches and dinners for the senior officers at Dhaka garrison. In the course of these duties, he became very familiar with the catering staff at Dhaka Intercontinental hotel. Life was easy and pleasant until December 1971, when bombing began in earnest and the war finally reached Dhaka. On the 16th of December, Eastern command surrendered to the Indian army and like everyone else in the Pakistani army, young captain X was depressed, sad and angry; but like everyone else, he gave up his side arm and became a POW. Initially the Indians were very disciplined and well behaved and the young officers were simply put under guard in their own officers mess. The General meanwhile had shifted to the Intercontinental hotel.
By the next day, the Indian officers were getting drunk and some became rowdy and verbally misbehaved with their prisoners, but nothing too serious happened. That evening two young Indian officers showed up at the mess and asked for him by name. They had learned that he used to handle catering arrangements and they were planning a big celebratory lunch the next day and wanted him to help with arrangements. He told them that catering used to come from the Intercontinental hotel, so they put him in their staff car and headed that way. He was in the front seat with a driver and the two officers (both mildly drunk) sat in the back. On the way, the car got stuck in a mob of Bengalis shouting Joy Bangla and looking for collaborators and sundry enemies. When one of the officers (a Sikh) stuck his head out of the car, he was recognized as an Indian and the crowd started cheering and shouting slogans for the Indian army. As the crowd pressed around the car, the Indian officers thought they would have some fun and they told the crowd “this man is a Pakistani officer, how does he look now?”. The crowd immediately grabbed hold of captain X’s hair and several people slapped him and spat upon him. He held on to the door handle and fought for dear life as some of the crowd tried to pull him out. This went on for a few minutes and he was badly beaten around the head and neck but he held on to the handle and they could not open the door.
After initially laughing at his discomfort, the two Indian officers thought things were getting out of hand and told the driver to move on and pushed the crowd back. At the same time an older Bengali in the crowd started berating the crowd and saying “don’t kill the poor man, he is only a kid”. Pro-Indian feeling was high, so they got their way and managed to pull away. As they drove off, the Indian officers joked that “this is only a trailer, maybe we will bring you back tomorrow and watch the crowd finish you off”.
Captain X was shaking with terror and humiliation. His clothes were torn and his face swollen. He was bleeding from several cuts. They got to the hotel and stopped at a side gate and he managed to ask the guard to call xyz from catering. As he was standing there waiting (the hotel being a declared safe zone, was off limits to most Indian soldiers) he suddenly spotted General Z standing at the main gate a 100 feet away, chatting with some people. The main gate was open and was only guarded by a hotel guard. There seemed to be no Indian soldier there. Thinking “these officers will probably kill me tomorrow”, and still stunned and bleeding from his beating, captain X saw his chance and took off for the main gate, shouting “General Z, General Z, please save my life, these Indians will kill me”.
The Indian officers, taken by surprised, were a few yards behind him as he ran for dear life. General Z looked up, saw the captain, grasped the situation.. and ran. He ran inside the gate and shouted to the guard to close the gate. By the time captain X got there, the gate was closed. He stood banging helplessly at the gate, watching General Z running into the hotel as he screamed “Sir, they are going to kill me, Sir, please help!”.
The two Indians caught up with him and gave him another thrashing. Then they took him back. He was never taken into the city again and spent the next year in captivity, dreaming of nothing else except the day when he would get back to Pakistan and kill General Z.
When he got back, his friends (who had heard him say as much hundred of times) told his father about his plans. His father forcibly took him home and got him out of the army and made him promise never to see General Z again in his life. And of course, he broke off all relations with General Z. General Z called his father several times and even wrote to him to say “please listen to my side of the story first” but dad was done with General Z.
Until one day, 10 years later, General Z, now retired and holding a senior civilian position (that being the norm in the army) came to their town. His staff showed up at their house, insisting that General Z wanted to meet for lunch. General Z himself called and spoke to Captain X’s mother, who was unable to say no and agreed to have General Z come over for lunch. Dad then searched his son’s room, found a pistol and took it away and locked him in the room, forbidding him to come down. Mom made him promise on her life not to do anything stupid. There was a very cold lunch, with dad absolutely refusing to say or hear anything about 1971. General Z came and left. They never met again.
Captain X says if it was not for his mother making him promise on her life not to carry out his threat, he would have strangled General Z at that lunch with his bare hands.
And so it goes.
Many stories about East Pakistan are now recorded in various books written by Pakistani officers who served there, but this particular incident has not made it into history. In somewhat redacted form, I hope this post will preserve it for posterity.