December Special

Willpower Defeats Sure Death

In January 1971, the Eastern Command of Pakistan Army was not in a position to cope with an insurgency, one for which India had started planning soon after the election results. It just wanted to disrupt overflight from West Pakistan to East Pakistan. An Indian Airlines’ Fokker F27 was hijacked during its flight from Srinagar to Delhi and landed at Lahore airport. All the political leaders read between the lines and categorically condemned the hijacking. They warned that the incident could well have been engineered by the Indian intelligence. As envisaged by the politicians the hijackers were Indian secret service agents and the whole drama was enacted to stop all overflights by PIA airplanes flying between East and West Pakistan. Reinforcement to Eastern Command became well-nigh impossible.



Against the President’s decision to postpone the Assembly Session under Bhutto’s pressure, the militants of the Awami League resorted to rape and arson of the Biharis and other non-Bengalis. Yahya lacked the ability to effectively handle the crisis. He held talks at Dacca with Mujeeb and his aides from March 15-25. The talks failed and Operation Searchlight was launched to stop the massacre of the Biharis by Mujeeb’s militants. Prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated. At the time six East Pakistan Bengal Regiments (EBR) were present in East Pakistan. The 1st EBR was located in Jessore, attached to the 107 Brigade. Out of 17 East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) Wings one was located in the Jessore sector. 107 Brigade was to disarm 1st EBR, EPR Wing, EPR Sector HQ and police force located in Jessore District.


Within half an hour, at about 1700 hrs, a bigger number of the insurgents crossed the bridge to carry the wounded. Again I repeated my performance and pushed them across the rivulet. Thereafter, it was calm. After sunset I saw a small empty fishing canoe meant for 2-3 persons floating towards me. It touched the bank next to the tree where I was hiding; a Bengali boy raised his head from under the boat, and whispered in English, “I am Pakistani; will come back after dark.” He did come back and asked me to slowly roll down in the boat.


Major Abu Osman Chowdhury, a Bengali officer was commanding an EPR Wing at Chuadanga-Jessore border. The situation in Jessore remained calm until March 30, 1971. In Kushtia (north of Jessore), on March 25 Major Abu Osman, with four wings of EPR, Kushtia police force, consolidated his position. He had the full complement of anti-tank weapons and mortars in addition to the usual infantry weapons. He had gathered a mixed force, about one thousand strong and set up roadblocks on the roads around Kushtia. Army troops from Jessore made probing attacks but could not reach Kushtia. 
On April 3 an army column moved from Jessore towards Kushtia, but was ambushed and driven back.  On April 5 it moved towards Jhenaidah. On April 6 all Bengali positions near Jessore were recaptured. An army column was ambushed enroute to Jhenaidah on April 7, suffering heavy casualties. On April 11, three army columns left Jessore, one each for Jhenaidah, Khulna, and Benapole. The 57th Brigade crossed over from Rajshahi and attacked Kushtia. By the last week of April, Bengali resistance had been driven across the border by the converging attacks of the 57th and 10th brigades.

The Bengali resistance had put up an unexpected stiff resistance and had managed to derail the initial Pakistani estimate of pacifying East Pakistan by April 10. General Niazi replaced Tikka Khan on April 11 and issued an order to drive the insurgents away from the interior. Against this strategy the insurgent field commanders tried to hold as much area for as long as possible since they expected an early diplomatic recognition of Bangladesh government in exile by India and also awaited the expected Indian military intervention.
In mid-June monsoon rains started and tracts in the interior were inundated with four to eight feet of water. Jute and paddy fields were the most deceptive, with 6-8 feet of water that took the lives of many soldiers. The terrorists infiltrated the flooded tracts in the interior. Major Abu Osman consolidated his hideout in the Nihatta village in the Jessore District. The place was hidden in the bamboo jungle and surrounded by flood water along the banks of the Madhumati River.

Notwithstanding the calm and peace in the cities, on August 17 news reached the 107 Brigade HQ in Jessore that in the village Mohammadpur, ten miles north of Nihatta village, about eighty Jamaat-e-Islami Razakars, mostly school and college boys, were killed by Major Osman’s terrorists. Their bodies were hung on the trees and their parents were not allowed to bury them.
After the initial massacre of the Biharis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis, the army had raised local protection contingents, consisting of mostly high school and college boys under the supervision of village elders/Jamaat-e-Islami local leaders. They were given training in handling of .303 rifles and some basics in defending their houses. Each Razakar was issued with fifty rounds of ammunition. They were housed in a jute storehouse in Mohammadpur village.

After surveillance of the village the terrorists besieged the storehouse on the night of August 14/15. The terrorists attracted Razakars’ fire and exhausted their fifty rounds, firing in the void. By dawn, a few boys escaped but majority were caught by the terrorists, shot and hung up on the trees.


Major Osman thought either I was dead or had exhausted my ammunition. They fired a short burst on the body of Niaz which lied in the open. Thereafter they started talking loudly in Bengali. I saw about 20-25 men crossing the bamboo bridge towards me. I quietly fixed a fresh magazine and waited for them to come in close rage. When they were just 30-40 feet away, walking through mud and knee-high grass I shouted at the top of my voice, “Fire” and sprayed them with automatic fire of my SMG.


I (then a Captain from 38FF) commanded 107 Brigade reserve coy at Jessore. About 1600 hrs on August 17, Brig Muhammad Hayat, Commander 107 Brigade, ordered me to move immediately to Mohammadpur village, retrieve the dead bodies of Razakars and give them an honourable burial. Thereafter, the area was to be cleared off the terrorists. I was told that Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami at Magura would arrange and coordinate the necessary details. The Brigade Major added that according to the Amir’s information the terrorists were about a hundred locals of the adjoining villages and only had .303 rifles. It was confirmed that they did not have any automatics/explosives. Hence it was decided that only one platoon was sufficient for the job.
By 1800 hrs, I reached Magura with one platoon. Mohammadpur village was located on the other bank of the river. To cross the river at dawn, we arranged three small boats on the home bank of the river at 0400 hrs. Five guides were also made available for leading the troops to Mohammadpur village.

On August 20 at 0200 hrs, I set off for Mohammadpur village in two trucks, one MG jeep and one command jeep. It was a narrow track, covered with bamboo growth on either side. The transport was to be left behind on the home bank of the river, which was to be crossed in darkness. Thereafter the said village was to be reached on foot.
I was leading the convoy. The trucks faced difficulty in keeping distance with the jeeps. At 0345 hrs the two jeeps reached the home bank with the trucks about 400 yards behind. Suddenly the rear truck was engaged by automatic fire from the bushes. There was a spy in the area – information had been leaked.

The LMG gunner, sitting on the top of the truck spotted the flash in the bush and engaged it. The terrorist fire stopped within a minute, however, three of the five guides and four of the soldiers were killed. My batman, Sepoy Multan Khan, laid on the side of the truck, his cheeks bleeding. I tried to carry him to the jeep; he groaned and whispered, “Sir, don’t take me anywhere, I have a few moments left. My heart is burning; hold my hand and put my head on your thigh so that I may die in peace.”
There was no blood on the chest but his back was riddled with bullet holes. In the twilight of an early dawn he looked at my face and gradually his grip loosened, his hand fell down and his head tilted to one side. Hours before this incident at 1130 hrs I had raided a house which, according to the locals, was occupied by a group of Indian BSF. I broke down the door of the house and was about to enter when somebody held me from behind so strongly that I could not move forward. It was Multan Khan; he whispered, “Sir if you enter first you will get the first bullet; let me take the first bullet on my chest and then you can enter.” The house was empty and nothing happened, but soon after Multan Khan did get hit with bullets.

The day dawned and blood stains were found on the spot where Sepoy Jungabad had fired with his LMG. It seemed that enemy ambush party consisted of a few persons and withdrew soon after when some of them were hit by Jungabad’s fire. The incident had alerted the enemy sitting on the opposite bank. So, the operation was undertaken on the next night. Mohammadpur had been reached. By then the terrorists had left and the parents had taken the bodies of Razakars. The insurgents had moved to their main base at Nihatta village, about ten miles south of Mohammadpur.
The paddy and jute fields were immersed in 8-10 feet of water. The guides arranged four small boats. Three for the three sections and fourth – a smaller boat – for me, Sepoy Jungabad, the LMG gunner, Lance Naik Asghar, the wireless operator and two more sepoys with three Bengali guides rowing the boat. Somehow, the other boats lagged behind and my boat was the first to reach near the objective. On the east of the paddy fields there was a narrow mud track with high ground across the track, covered with a bamboo jungle.

A few women and children were present on the track. I spotted two men with rifles, hiding behind a shrub. The women and children started running helter-skelter and were most likely to come in the crossfire. I held fire to save the women and in the process the two men, the scouts of the main terrorist body, escaped into the jungle. Within seconds my boat came under fire. It was near the track and everyone got out safely. There was a school barrack, about 200-300 yards from the place where we docked the boat, from one of its windows an automatic weapon started firing. I and Lance Naik Asghar crawled forward and reached within 25-30 yards of it but could not destroy it. While crawling back Lance Naik Asghar was hit by a bullet in his chest and was martyred instantly. On the wireless, I was told by the Platoon Commander that they were pinned down about five hundred yards behind me. I disclosed my position; while talking on wireless set a bullet grazed along my left shoulder, trickling some blood but it was nothing serious. I pulled Asghar’s body behind a coconut tree and changed his position, taking cover behind a big tree on the bank of a small river that entered the area from the west. By then Sepoy Jungabad, who was engaging the enemy automatics with LMG, had been silenced. The other two soldiers were not responding to my calls, and two of the Jamaat’s guides had been fatally hit while the third one was not traceable.
The rivulet was about 40-50 feet in breadth. On the far bank there were a number of bamboo huts; a rickety bamboo bridge connected the school barrack with the far bank. A number of MGs opened up from the bamboo huts, firing haywire. Some of the terrorists were sitting on the trees, hiding in the canopy of the palm trees. I noticed some movement in a tree, about 40-50 feet away. I fired a burst with SMG; two men fell down, crying for help. At 1100 hrs, my left leg was blown up above the knee by an MG burst. The first thought which crossed my mind was that I must not die of Hindu-sponsored terrorists fire, and that I must crawl through them at night. I pulled my blown up leg under my armpit and kept firing towards the windows. I had five SMG magazines, each with 30 rounds. By then I had exhausted about one-and-a-half magazine. To preserve ammunition I only fired on clear targets.

I did not have a morphine injection and asked the Platoon Commander on wireless to send it to me along with 3.5″ Rocket to destroy the MG that was firing straight at me. Havildar Major Rahman ran to me on the track carrying the morphine injection. He was shot and killed. Sepoy Niaz, an 18-year-old boy, carried the rocket and reached my position, but he forgot the launcher! Thankfully Sepoy Majeed, the wrestler, brought the launcher. Both survived the rain of bullets. Niaz aimed at the MG, but before he could fire the MG fired first, hitting him on the chest. Niaz had just been 5 feet from my position. He cried for his mother, with the light in his eyes fading he looked at me and asked for water. I threw my SMG sling to pull him behind a tree. Blood oozed out of his mouth and the sling slipped out of his hands. Slowly his head fell on the ground. Majeed pulled the rocket launcher and destroyed the MG. He ran back to bring another rocket, but could not return. I called the Platoon Commander again to bring me morphine; this time Havildar Aziz took the injection and ran to me; he was shot dead by the enemy and embraced martyrdom.


I was taken to CMH, Jessore. The bone-marrow had blocked the mouth of femoral vein and artery and thus reduced the bleeding, embolism had occurred. According to doctors if the femoral vein and artery are cut, death occurs within 10-15 minutes. Here was a case where both the femoral vein and artery were cut, first aid was given after 22 hours and yet I was alive; I defeated sure death with my ‘willpower’ and the terrorists through sheer courage and resilience.


It was now around 1400 hrs, I stopped replying to enemy fire and hid my head in a pit which I had dug with my hands behind the tree. I could hear the terrorists talking in Bengali, at times the officers (Maj Osman, Capt Azam and Capt Hyder – known after the operation) called to me in English. One of the officers asked me to surrender, telling me that my wounds would be treated and if I did not surrender I would die a horrible death. I kept quiet and for the next hour or so, not making any move nor sound.
Major Osman thought either I was dead or had exhausted my ammunition. They fired a short burst on the body of Niaz which lied in the open. Thereafter they started talking loudly in Bengali. I saw about 20-25 men crossing the bamboo bridge towards me. I quietly fixed a fresh magazine and waited for them to come in close rage. When they were just 30-40 feet away, walking through mud and knee-high grass I shouted at the top of my voice, “Fire” and sprayed them with automatic fire of my SMG; the platoon in the rear also fired in whatever direction they were facing. But it had its effect; I hit some of them while others ran back. The wounded cried for help at the top of their lungs. From across the rivulet all the MGs opened up, the splinters of tree-trunk behind which I was hiding, flew right and left. Fortunately, I was not hit. 

Within half an hour, at about 1700 hrs, a bigger number of insurgents crossed the bridge to carry the wounded. Again I repeated my performance and pushed them across the rivulet. Thereafter, it was calm. After sunset I saw a small empty fishing canoe meant for 2-3 persons floating towards me. It touched the bank next to the tree where I was hiding; a Bengali boy raised his head from under the boat, and whispered in English, “I am Pakistani; will come back after dark.” He did come back and asked me to slowly roll down in the boat. I was reluctant to trust him. The boy said, “You are going to die anyway, why don’t you try for a chance at life?” I rolled in the boat very quietly and the boy stowed me in the lower space meant for storing fish. He went down under the boat and pushed it with his hands. It was dark and the boat passed just a few yards from the terrorists whose voices were clearly audible.
When we were out of reach of the terrorists, the boy came up and introduced himself as Zahid, a Bengali college student. After a few minutes, another boy by the name of Sadullah, joined Zahid. Sadullah was a Bihari, both were from Jessore city. By morning they had reached Magura, and contact was established with the army. By 0900 hrs an ambulance arrived. I saw an AMC Havildar in Khaki and feeling safe, I gradually fainted.

I was taken to CMH, Jessore. The bone-marrow had blocked the mouth of femoral vein and artery and thus reduced the bleeding, embolism had occurred. According to doctors if the femoral vein and artery are cut, death occurs within 10-15 minutes. Here was a case where both the femoral vein and artery were cut, first aid was given after 22 hours and yet I was alive; I defeated sure death with my ‘willpower’ and the terrorists through sheer courage and resilience.
The army rewarded Zahid and Sadullah for risking their lives for a West Pakistani. Zahid said that in Jessore his house was burnt, members of his family killed, and he, in a half-naked state was seen by me, on my way to Khulna. I had given him my sleeping suit to cover his body. Sadullah said that all of his relations, except his little brother were killed by the Mukti Bahini. For two days he hid his little brother without food in the bushes near Jessore Cantt. I had seen them and gave them food. Thereafter they joined the Razakars and went all out to save their benefactor.

The next day on August 22, an SSG company and two naval gun boats rescued my platoon and recovered 27 Vicker MGs from the area.


Read 148 times


Share Your Thoughts

Success/Error Message Goes Here
Note: Please login to your account and leave your thoughts on this article.

TOP