The fall of Dhaka

Published: January 7, 2017

Dated: December 15, 1971 Indian army soldiers attacking Naya Chor, Sindh in support of Bengali rebels of the liberation army. PHOTO: AFP

“It was doomsday. I had fought many wars; I saw the division of a subcontinent. I have seen many of my friends dying in my arms, but this day was different. It was dark, it was gloomy. It was a sad day.”

My uncle Rashid swallowed a sip of his tea. His eyes were dipped in tears of sorrow.

Rashid, who I’ve always called Major Sahab, had witnessed Pakistan’s movement as a young boy. According to him, Pakistan was his life. He was in the Pakistan Army and was posted to Dhaka in 1971. He fought as a soldier in both the 1948 and 1965 wars. Whenever I asked him about his time fighting the wars, he would always be vague in his narration. It became an impossible topic for him to address because it was enveloped in sadness and grief.

Major Sahab always gave me the courage to face any situation; to fight for what’s right and to face all kinds of challenges. Yet, whenever we spoke about Bengal, he would hide behind his tears or change the topic. This one war changed everything for him.

“It was total chaos. We were ordered to finish the rebellious movement and Mukti fighters and yet we didn’t know what to do. The most difficult thing for a solider is to fight against his own people.” he elaborated.

“But it wasn’t the same for all soldiers. There was no law, there was practically no control. Soldiers were allowed to employ every tactic to tear this freedom movement apart. Rapes, killings, torture, everything”, he closed his eyes and tears flooded his eyes.

I have spoken to him many times about this and we always ended up reaching the same conclusion – a political issue cannot be solved with force and military actions. East-Pakistan was a purely political issue and the use of force was absolutely wrong.

A couple of days ago, I received a Facebook message from an old friend of mine, Faisal, saying that his two friends and colleagues have moved to Bonn (where I live) and I should meet them. He introduced me to the couple, Shahana and Waheed, in a Facebook group message. I welcomed them both and invited them for a dinner at our only local Indian restaurant.

Waheed is from Lahore and his wife Shahana, who was born in Belgium, has a Bengali background. Shahana has visited Pakistan many times and calls Pakistan her second home.

At the dinner table, among other light topics, laughter and jokes, we were discussing the progress that Germany has made after World War II.

Nazi socialists killed millions of people due to their religious ideals and race. Germany recognised that. It created a new constitution which acknowledges these atrocities committed by the state, offered apologies to the victims and made efforts to protect minorities. Germany is a perfect example of a country that has learned a lesson from the history and is trying to move forward. Suddenly, Shahana said,

“Hey, would you like to visit us on December 16th?”

“December 16th?” I replied.

“Yes. We light candles of peace at our home to commemorate the people who died in 1971.”

1971. I felt myself metamorphose into Major Sahab. Chaos was written all over my face. It was sorrow that wetted my eyes and discomfort took over. Perhaps the invitation came too abruptly, or maybe I wasn’t ready for it. Whatever the reason was, I had lost all words. I had nothing to offer.

“Atif, I’m married to a Pakistani and I love Pakistan. But whenever I think back to that, I feel unshakeable pain. It’s a feeling that can’t really be explained.”

I could understand that. It’s something I have seen that on Major Sahab’s face one too many times.

“Shahana, as a Pakistani, I can only share my soreness and anguish. I feel sorry.” I spoke finally.

Shahana held my hand and replied,

“If you know how wrong that was, if you recognise that human lives shouldn’t have been lost, and if you’re sad about that, I’m fine. I’m happy.”

Atif Tauqeer

Atif Tauqeer

A journalist and Media researcher living in Germany. He is an author of two books of Urdu Poetry. He is currently working on his English novel. He tweets @atifthepoet (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • wb

    “Soldiers were allowed to employ every tactic to tear this freedom movement apart. Rapes, killings, torture, everything”

    Nice way for your uncle to acquit himself and blame others. When it comes to 1971, Pakistanis argue that it’s physically impossible to kill 3 million people in such a short span of time by only 35000 soldiers.

    Although, there wre more soldiers, I’ll not get into that. I’ll just prove it to you Pakistanis how weak you are in mathematics, ergo logic and reason.

    Although the killings had started much before March 31st, I’ll only consider March 31st to December 9th (I’m even excluding the war days). That’s 8 months plus 9 days. Approximately 240 days (note that I’ve excluded another 9 days).

    That calculates to 0.357 or 0.36 person per soldier per day. In other words about 10 people being killed in a month by a soldier. That’s about 10 bullets per soldier per month.

    Really?! Are you guys so dumb that you think a soldier cannot fire 10 bullets in a month? Now tell me who is stupid in simple arithmetics and who’s not. Now also tell me i million in 8 months for 35000 soldiers.

    Note that, I have not even included Razakars whom you shamelessly and mercilessly abandoned.Recommend

  • vinsin

    What is the wrong with it? Aren’t people made Muslims in subcontinent by rapes, killing torture everything? If that is justified then why not Bengali Genocide? Weren’t same Bengali involved in Noarkali riots? Isnt Pakistan created by same tactics, Direct Action Day? Have Arabs recognized wiping out of Arab Pagans? Have Iran recognized wiping out of Sunni and Zoroastrians? Have Egyptian recognized wiping out of original Egyptians? I can go on and on. It is perfectly OK that is what Islam is?Recommend

  • AllahDaBanda

    This is called Jazba…90,000 the biggest surrender after world war 2…Recommend

  • Wajahat Shafi

    Mr.writer do not ever and never compare germany with east pak. india was agressor it crossed international border unlike germany pak.did not attack any country. i would suggest to read a book dead reckoning by sharmila boseRecommend

  • Muhammad Kamran Malik

    Picture captions, “December 15, 1971 Indian army soldiers attacking Naya Chor, Sindh in support of Bengali rebels of the liberation army.” Naya Chor is in Sindh almost thousand miles away from erstwhile East Pakistan. What were Bengali rebels doing there?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Third rate pidgin blog. Peddle it in Hindustan. The hindus will lap it up.
    Shabana’s ‘unshakable pain’?? How so? she was born in Belgium. She
    has nothing to do with the Bangladesh perched in eastern Bharat. Well,
    actually it’s a colony of Hindustan. Though it’s considered a separate country.
    So why is Shabana feeling the pain? Do German Americans feel Germany’s
    WW2 pain? Do Italian Americans mourn Italy’s destruction in WW2?
    Now think this,… the 84,700 Pakistani soldiers, mostly Pathans and Punjabis,
    surrounded by 1.5 million hindu soldiers on three sides. On the fourth side the
    Bay of Bengal. With no resupplying. Out of food, diesel, gasoline, ammunition,
    spare parts, and no flying aircrafts, [they were all shot down, or lacked aviation fuel]
    Chaos your Major Sahib claimed. You bet your sweet bippy it was chaos! It was a
    war zone! The local Bengali police and authorities had stopped functioning, And to make it worse, Mukhti Bahini was stabbing them in the back. These Pathans and Punjabis had nothing in common with the local Bengalis. Not even culture/language.
    Major Sahib was grieving and moaning about chaos, while the hindus overran him.
    So, you should metamorphose some more. And write a better blog. Say next year.
    Poor Major Sahib. From 1948 to 1965 he just made it to the rank of major? There
    was a shortage of good officers in the Pak army during that period. They could
    not train and graduate them fast enough, From the academies.
    He should have been at least a bare bones colonel, if not a brigadier!
    Poor, poor, Major Sahib.Recommend

  • Bharat

    One sentence is a problem. The victims were Hindus – not at all your people.
    So much for dishonestyRecommend

  • Muby

    Excellent .Recommend

  • Rohan

    Fall of Dhaka equalled fall of the 2 nation theory,joy banglaRecommend

  • Prashant Kishore

    Unfortunately we are doing it again in Baluchistan.
    The day is not far, when Baluchistan will be cut out and our heart will bleed again.Recommend

  • Kushal

    Good question. It appeared to me that it might be an war strategy to divert attention from eastern theater. it was employed by both sides.Recommend

  • Kushal

    For your kind info both Germany and Pak crossed international border. Germany many times over in history. Pak four times, including 1971. Official hostilities started after PAF bombed Indian air bases.Recommend

  • Sane

    Take care of Kashmir, this piece of land is going to cut from India and Khalistan to follow.Recommend

  • Sane

    Fall of 2 nation theory has resulted Bangladesh a satellite state of India, ruled by an Indian agent.Recommend

  • Sane

    Recall what your PM Modi said when on visit to Bangladesh. He has accepted that India infiltrated Indian army personnel who posed and acted like local Bangalis (Mukti Bahini) and fought against Pakistan. Never mind, This shall be revenged by Kashmiris and Sikhs.Recommend

  • Sane

    Don’t forget biggest shame of India, when India was divided by Muslims. Irony is that Hindu population having majority in many folds could not do anything. Must also not forget to be ashamed when Muslims invaded India in era of 1500 AD and captured and ruled on Whole India for 800 years. Recommend

  • Solomon2

    I think the most edifying stories of 1971 are not those of the soldiers from West Pakistan but the stories of the soldiers and civil servants from East Pakistan who decided to break their oaths of loyalty to Pakistan and pledge allegiance to Bangladesh instead: they experienced a terribly conflicting set of emotions that has yet to be illustrated in Pakistani literature or movies.Recommend


    Sun should rise in the west if u r dream should come trueRecommend


    Pakis never confess defeat so such a type of article should be published? Just to bash India What else ?Recommend

  • Pratibha Patel

    so ?
    there were a few Indian spies in Dhaka? god forbid ? every country spoes on every other country in the world – US was tapping into Angela Merkel’s phones for the last few years
    Indira Gandhi was lothe to interfere in Pakistan’s stupod affairs – until syhe was told that they were killing Hindus.

    You people had started that hate for minorities and you still doRecommend

  • Pratibha Patel

    Before the fall of Dhaka, Pakistanb wanted the whole country to stay with URDU only . every other language was going to go.
    East Pakistan did NOT want URDU and at one point they want separation through autonomy.
    At election time Bhutto had only 3 seats from East Pakistan , and mujibur Rehman had a 2/3rd majority in the Pakistani parliament.
    Ayub Khan ( one of many incompetent dictators of Pakistan) wanted Bhutto in – partially because of the skin colour and mainly because of the language uissue.

    So – despite the fact that Rehman won the elections there was an army coup. They started killing civilans in East Pakistan. of the 3 million killed – 95% were hindus. And Paklistan never put on trial the people involved . Kayani was in East Pakistan at the time. Musharaff was sett5ing up the strategy in AbbotabadRecommend

  • Patwari

    Banarsi Mulla back on track with pedantic diatribe…that’s hindu for you.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Good for the world.Atleast it’s not ruled by terror sponsoring animalsRecommend

  • wb

    I understand your predicament. Being a Muslim you’re poor in mathematics and logic while we are superior to you by virtue of our culture. That’s why logic appears like pedantic diatribe to you.Recommend

  • Sane

    Does the reality bites you? And when you have no answer, talk here and there.Recommend

  • Anwar Ali

    It is interesting to note that nowadays more and more people of Pakistan and India are unfolding the cruel chapter of 1971 war and emergence of Bangladesh. But a very few Bengalis are seen active in such blog. Have the brave hearts of 1971 saga lost their beacon?Recommend

  • wb

    Calm down. There’s a place and time for verbal outburstsRecommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    running away from facts…thats Pakistani for youRecommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Only in your delusional mind…Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    You mean the same Sikhs who have been beating Pakistan in wars all these years?Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    You must be speaking of your countrymen i can bet

    Its no hidden fact that muslims from the subcontinent were enslaved and beaten into Islam by Afghans

    How how does it feel recalling the 800 years of shame? 800 years being under the rule of Afghans?Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Does the reality bite you hard?
    You chaps are provoking Afghans with your proxy wars a lot. If these Afghans lose their cool then they might once again invade you and rule over you….this time for more than 800 yearsRecommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Pak AirForce started bombing the Indian Air Base first

    Learn history properly and then comment instead of displaying your ignoranceRecommend

  • Patwari


  • Rex Minor

    Yet, whenever we spoke about Bengal, he would hide behind his tears or change the topic.

    His tears were of the shame that rarely a soldier wants to experience for getting caught in the act of killing the civilian resistance in ones own country only to be stopped by a foreign power. The army committed a genocide against the citizens of a different culture and were then taken prisoner and had to suffer a humilition for a very long period. It is ironic that the military personnel of the coming generation are not taught history of their own past failures.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Sane

    Don’t worry we can again rule you. This time may be for 8,000 years. We have a history to rule India. When you will be invaded again all Indian will be bystanders like they were in history.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Afghans have a history of ruling and enslaving Pakistanis/Punjabis
    When you will be invaded again all Pakistanis will be bystanders like they were in history.

    The 1971 disaster is yet to become a faded memory among youRecommend

  • Motiwala

    Be careful. The Germans might catch you and send
    you back to the Wakhan Corridor. Where you belong.
    Then you will be talking about your own extremists and
    terrorists annihilating your own regular Afghanis.
    A foreign power had to come and save your bacon. And
    the foreign power is STILL there, after 16 years. The other
    coalition of foreign powers simply gave up and left. They just
    got tired of protecting the Afghanis from their own brother Afghanis….
    Not to mention the whole country is still living in the 7th century.
    And the most favorite sport, in the Afghani country, is dog fights.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Now the 84,700 Pakistani soldiers, mostly Pathans and Punjabis,
    surrounded by 1.5 million hindu soldiers on three sides. On the fourth side the
    Bay of Bengal. With no resupplying. Out of food, diesel, gasoline, ammunition,
    spare parts, and no flying aircrafts, [they were all shot down, or lacked aviation fuel]

    Do the shortfalls justify a surrender of a professioal army in the midst of its millions of citizens? No sir, the army which fights its own civilian citizens is not a professional army but an incompetent force of rag tagkhakis whose commander in Dacca was an incompetent individual who volunteering for a public surrender simply to save his own skin. The Indian army was made up of a smaller contingent whose commander made a strategic move against the capital and compelled a surrender of the Paki General without a fight. The Major Sahib is a good human and can only cry for there is nothing to explain about an army which takes pride in suppressing its own people. The entire chain of command should have been coutmarshalled after the surrende of the debacle as a lesson for the future.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    Well…some of
    it is obvious in the comment. Recommend

  • Sane

    Afghans are Muslim.Recommend

  • Sane

    When Afghan invaded it was India not Pakistan. India is prone to invasion and Hindus always welcomed invaders as they were weak to defend their lands.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Germany is sorrounded by more foreign countries than any other Country in the World. It needs now ans then a space for fresh air.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Patwari

    Comment edited by hindu moderators at ETRecommend

  • shiva the destroyer


    Before partition you were Indians and now with a different nationality but same identity as the ones who were enslaved by Afghans. The religion and identity you inherited through slavery

    Nothing can change that Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Did I say they are Aliens? LOLRecommend

  • gp65

    Indian spies fought in 1971? Are you kidding? It is the Indian army that fought. It is the Indian army that the Pakistan surrendered to. That is what Modi was talking about and it was not a secret. Please google India Pakistan 1971 war.Recommend

  • GK

    running away from fact will not make any difference but put us in more detroit situation so please stop saving the people who did the wrong things or atleast stay low.Recommend

  • dr sohail khan

    What a way of writting…beautiful..atif you are a great poet and writer indeed..lots of love.Recommend