A lasting humiliation for Pak, Gen Aurora foreseeing the surrender of Pak by Lt Gen AAK Niazi

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission, constituted 50 years ago, had accused several Pak Army officers of creating a situation that led to civil disobedience in the then East Pakistan

New Delhi: Next month will see the completion of 50 years of the constitution of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission that was formed by the Pakistan government in December 1971, immediately after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto succeeded General Yahya as the President of Pakistan.

The Commission was formed to investigate causes of the defeat of Pakistan, in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, during the 1971 war and the atrocities that were committed in the region by the Pakistan Army at the time. The Commission, which was constituted by then President of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was headed by Hamoodur Rahman, the then Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan and had two other Supreme Court judges, Justice S. Anwarul Haq and Justice Tufaif Ali Abdur Rahman as members, apart from other members.

The report quoted statements of serving officers and bureaucrats apart from technical evidence to reveal the barbarism that was put on display by the Pakistan Army in Bangladesh.

The main report of the Commission—which has more than five parts, is 250 pages long and divided into multiple chapters—was never made public as it contained details, findings, and evidence that would have caused irreparable damage to the image of the Pakistan Army, both in Pakistan and outside. Only 12 copies of the findings were prepared, which were submitted to the Pakistan President on 12 July 1972. All but one copy of the same were destroyed. Later, the Commission submitted what was called a “supplementary report”, which was based on the details shared with it by the Pakistani Prisoners of War (PoWs) who were released by the Indian Army.

This supplementary report, presented to the President in October 1974, was later declassified by the Pakistan government more than 47 years later in August 2000 because of conditions that left it with no option but to make it public.

This supplementary report stated that the way in which the Pakistan Army conducted itself in Bangladesh, it was because of this action which finally led to the creation of Bangladesh. The commission recommended severe action against several officers for causing atrocities of various nature, but none of the Army officers who took part in the atrocities were ever punished.

After completing its investigation, the Commission recommended setting up a high-powered commission to take action against the Army officers who inflicted “wanton cruelty” on the people of Bangladesh. “On the basis of the evidence coming before the Commission, we have been able to indicate only in general terms the direct and indirect responsibility of certain senior commanders and others, but the question of fixing individual responsibility and awarding punishment appropriate thereto need to be determined according to the prescribed procedures available under the Pakistan Army Act and other applicable laws of the land. We would, accordingly, reiterate the recommendation made by us in Paragraph 7 of Chapter III of Para V of the main report that the Government of Pakistan should set up a high-powered Court or Commission of Inquiry to investigate these allegations, and to hold trials of those who indulged in these atrocities, brought a bad name to the Pakistan Army and alienated the sympathies of the local population by their acts of wanton cruelty and immorality against our own people. The composition of the Court of Inquiry, if not its proceedings, should be publicly announced so as to satisfy national conscience and international opinion.”

According to the report (Chapter 2), the nature of the allegations of the excesses committed by the Pakistani Army were divided into the following categories: a) Excessive use of force and fire power in Dacca during the night of the 25th and 26th of March 1971 when the military operation was launched; (b) Senseless and wanton arson and killings in the countryside during the course of the “sweeping operations” following the military action; (c) Killing of intellectuals and professionals like doctors, engineers, etc., and burying them in mass graves not only during early phases of the military action but also during the critical days of the war in December 1971; (d) Killing of Bengali Officers and men of the units of the East Bengal Regiment, East Pakistan Rifles and the East Pakistan Police Force in the process of disarming them, or on pretence of quelling their rebellion; (e) Killing of East Pakistani civilian officers, businessmen and industrialists, or their mysterious disappearance from their homes by or at the instance of Army Officers performing Martial Law duties; (f) Raping of a large number of East Pakistani women by the officers and men of the Pakistan Army as a deliberate act of revenge, retaliation and torture; (g) Deliberate killing of members of the Hindu minority.

Chapter 1 of this supplementary report that dealt with the “moral aspect” of the Pakistan Army was particularly scathing on the conduct of the Army. “…in view of the vehement assertions made before the Commission by a large number of respectable witnesses drawn from various sections of society, including highly placed and responsible Service Officers, to the effect that due to corruption arising out of the performance of Martial Law duties, lust for wine and women and greed for lands and houses, a large number of senior Army Officers, particularly those occupying the highest positions, had not only lost the will to fight but also the professional competence necessary for taking the vital and critical decisions demanded of them for the successful prosecution of the war. It was asserted by these witnesses that men given to a disreputable way of life could hardly be expected to lead the Pakistan Army to victory.”

“After analysing the evidence brought before the Commission, we came to the conclusion that the process of moral degeneration among the senior ranks of the Armed Forces was set in motion by their involvement in Martial Law duties in 1958, that these tendencies reappeared and were, in fact, intensified when Martial Law was imposed in the country once again in March 1969 by General Yahya Khan, and that there was indeed substance in the allegations that a considerable number of senior Army Officers had not only indulged in large scale acquisition of lands and houses and other commercial activities, but had also adopted highly immoral and licentious ways of life which seriously affected their professional capabilities and their qualities of leadership.”

It further stated, “From a perusal of Paragraphs 30 to 34 of Chapter 1 of Part V of the Main Report, it will be seen that the graveness of the allegations made against Lt. Gen. Niazi is that he was making money in the handling of Martial Law cases while posted as G.O.C Sialkot and later as G.O.C and Martial Law Administrator at Lahore; that he was on intimate terms with one Mrs. Saeeda Bukhari of Gulberg, Lahore, who was running a brothel under the name of Senorita Home, and was also acting as the General’s tout for receiving bribes and getting things done; that he was also friendly with another woman called Shamini Firdaus of Sialkot who was said to be playing the same role as Mrs Saeeda Bukhari of Lahore; that during his stay in East Pakistan he came to acquire a stinking reputation owing to his association with women of bad repute, and his nocturnal visits to places also frequented by several junior officers under his command; and that he indulged in the smuggling of Pan from East Pakistan to West Pakistan.”

Similarly, the commission found that one Pakistan Army Brigadier was entertaining a woman in his bunker even as India was shelling on the troops under his command. “That inquiry is also necessary into the allegation made against Brig. Hayatullah that he entertained some woman in his bunker in the Maqbulpur sector (West Pakistan) on the night of the 11th or 12th of December, 1971, when Indian shells were falling on his troops.”

The commission in all examined nearly 300 witnesses in total in two phases. A number of classified documents and military signals between East and West Pakistan were also looked into. The Commission further noted, “military action (in West Bengal) was based on use of force primarily, and at many places indiscriminate use of force was resorted to which alienated the public against the Army. Damage done during those early days of the military action could never be repaired, and earned for the military leader names such as ‘Changez Khan’ and ‘Butcher of East Pakistan’.

“At the same time there is some evidence to suggest that the words and personal actions of Lt. Gen. Niazi were calculated to encourage the killings and rape.”

Lt. General Niazi or Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi was responsible for defending East Pakistan during the war.

The commission further found that “During the present phase of our inquiry, damaging evidence has come on the record regarding the ill repute of General Niazi in sex matters, and his indulgence in the smuggling of Pan. A mention may be made in this behalf of the statements made before us by Lt. Col. Mansoorul Haq (Witness No. 260), ex GSO-I, 9 div. Lt Cdr. A.A. Khan (Witness No. 262), of Pakistan navy, Brig I.R Shariff (Witness No. 269) former Comd. Engrs. Eastern Command, Mr. Mohammad Ashraf (Witness No. 275) former Addl. D.C. Dacca, and Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmad Khan (Witness No. 276). The remarks made by this last witness are highly significant: ‘The troops used to say that when the Commander (Lt. Gen. Niazi) was himself a raper, how could they be stopped. Gen. Niazi enjoyed the same reputation at Sialkot and Lahore’.”

Another significant statement to the Commission, highlighting the atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army, was made by Maj. Gen. Rao Barman Ali, Adviser to the Governor of East Pakistan. “Harrowing tales of rape, loot, arson, harassment, and of insulting and degrading behaviour were narrated in general terms. I wrote out an instruction to act as a guide for decent behaviour and recommended action required to be taken to win over the hearts of the people. This instruction under General Tikka Khan’s signature was sent to Eastern Command. I found that General Tikka’s position was also deliberately undermined and his instructions ignored…excesses were explained away by false and concocted stories and figures,” Ali told the Commission.

Brigadier Shah Abdul Qasim (witness No. 267) told the Commission about the excessive force deployed by the Pakistan Army. “About the use of excessive force on the night between the 25th and 26th March 1971, we have a statement to the effect that “no pitched battle was fought on the 25th of March in Dacca. Excessive force was used on that night. Army personnel acted under the influence of revenge and anger during the military operation.”

In the end, the Commission, in its 10-page, 5,000-plus-word recommendations, named several high ranking officers for the loss of the Pakistan Army and for creating a situation that led to civil disobedience in East Pakistan: “That allegations of personal immorality, drunkenness and indulgence in corrupt practices against General Yahya Khan, General Abdul Hamid Khan and Maj. Gen Khuda Dad Khan be properly investigated as there is prima facie evidence to show that their moral degeneration resulted in indecision, cowardice and professional incompetence. The details of the allegations and the evidence relating thereto will be found in Chapter I of Part V of the Main Report. That similar allegations of personal immorality, acquiring a notorious reputation in this behalf at Sialkot, Lahore and Dacca, and indulgence in the smuggling of Pan from East to West Pakistan made against Lt. Gen Niazi should also be inquired. The details of these allegations and the evidence relating thereto will be found in Chapter I of Part V of the Main Report and in Chapter I of part V of this supplementary Report.”