On General Niazi’s departure to the other world: A Bengali perspective
By A.H. Jaffor Ullah
“I never expect a soldier to think.”
—George Bernard Shaw in ‘The Devil's Disciple’
We Bangalees should not lament excessively the death of retired army General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi. The English Bard, Shakespeare, wrote: “Moderate lamentation is the right of the dead, excessive grief the enemy to the living.” On February 2, 2004, Lt. General A. A. K. “Tiger” Niazi, one of the masterminds of Bangladesh Genocide had died in Lahore, Pakistan of diabetic complications.
To wash off his sin, Gen. Niazi wrote a memoir entitled “Betrayal of East Pakistan” [Oxford Univ. Press. August 1998. ISBN: 0185777271] in which he blamed the whole shebang of Rawalpindi Generals for the political trouble in erstwhile East Pakistan. He correctly pointed out that the political crisis brought on by Z.A. Bhutto had to be solved by military might of Pakistani army. Nonetheless, the memoir engendered a furious debate about Niazi’s role in dismemberment of Jinnah’s Pakistan. The memoir was published 3 years before the leakage of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report.
The disgraced Pakistani army General died at the age of 89 making him one of the oldest senior army officers who participated in 1971 to squash our legitimate fight for freedom to have survive that long! One by one, Pakistan’s vile military leaders who wittingly participated in genocide during Bangalees 1971 freedom struggle had passed from this mortal world. Not too long ago, on March 28, 2002, another rogue army General of Pakistan, General Tikka Khan, who terrorized Bangalee civilians in occupied Bangladesh, also had departed from this world. The one who is still surviving to our knowledge is retired major General Rao Farman Ali Khan, the head of the then Pakistani military intelligence in Dhaka. Bangladesh’s Jamaat-i-Islam leaders who are now partner in Khaleda Zia government should have no qualms recognizing these rogue army leaders who were ably assisted by them to carry out killings of the intellectuals. One of the Jamaati executioners, M. Ashrafuzzaman Khan, now lives in the borough of Queens in New York City doing a thriving business as tour guides to Hajj performers from America. The reason I am bringing the nasty episode of Jamaat’s involvement with marauding Pakistani military while remembering Gen. Abdullah “Tiger” Niazi’s misdeeds is the following: Niazi’s men were able to kill quite a few Bangalee intellectuals in the fag end of the war for independence in December 1971 because of the involvement of the likes of Ashrafuzzaman Khan, Delwar Hossain Saidee, Prof. Golam Azam, Motiur Rahman Nizami, Maulana Ali H.M. Mujahid, Maulana Mannan of daily Inquilab, and few more. Some of these men have now become legislators in Bangladesh and are now serving as cabinet ministers under Khaleda Zia. Gen. Tikka Khan, Gen. Yahya Khan, Gen. Abdullah Niazi, and Mr. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto must be rolling in their graves. Such is the irony of life.
General Niazi will live forever in infamy for the picture in which he was shown signing a document of surrender on December 16, 1971 in Ramna Green while seating next to a turban-clad Indian General by the name Jagjit Singh Aurora. That infamous picture had graced the front page of newspapers all over the world. The same picture was shown in many network news in America and Europe too. It brought shame to Pakistanis because General Niazi and his ninety thousand men in uniform were taken prisoner of war (POW) by the Indian army and interned in India for months. Niazi became an instant escape goat and characterized being a coward by Pakistani military in post-war days. When the interned Pakistani soldiers were handed over to Z.A. Bhutto’s government, Niazi was arrested immediately and he languished in jail without a trial. Neither Niazi nor Pakistani military leadership had shown any remorse for their wrongdoings in the dark days of 1971. Years later, Niazi wrote his experiences in occupied Bangladesh as his army participated in gratuitous mass killing, which contradicts with many scholarly writings on the subject. In his memoir, Niazi essentially blamed Pakistani Generals such as Gen. Yahya Khan, the military president of Pakistan and General Hamid Khan, the military chief of Pakistan for fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971. But his description of war atrocities pales to what others had written on the subject. A case in point is the writings of Mr. R.J. Rummel, a well-recognized expert of genocide. Here is just an excerpt from Mr. Rummel’s book “Death by Government”:
The human death toll over only 267 days was incredible. Just to give for five out of the eighteen districts some incomplete statistics published in Bangladesh newspapers or by an Inquiry Committee, the Pakistani army killed 100,000 Bengalis in Dacca, 150,000 in Khulna, 75,000 in Jessore, 95,000 in Comilla, and 100,000 in Chittagong. For eighteen districts the total is 1,247,000 killed. This was an incomplete toll, and to this day no one really knows the final toll. Some estimates of the democide [Rummel's "death by government"] are much lower -- one is of 300,000 dead -- but most range from 1 million to 3 million. ... The Pakistani army and allied paramilitary groups killed about one out of every sixty-one people in Pakistan overall; one out of every twenty-five Bengalis, Hindus, and others in East Pakistan. If the rate of killing for all of Pakistan is annualized over the years the Yahya martial law regime was in power (March 1969 to December 1971), then this one regime was more lethal than that of the Soviet Union, China under the communists, or Japan under the military (even through World War II). (Rummel, Death By Government, p. 331.)
Years later, Niazi’s fellow army officers had recognized him as both a fighter and womanizer. He also got involved in lucrative pan (betel leave) trading while he was the military chief and administrator in Dhaka in the waning days Pakistani rule in 1971. Niazi in his memoir wrote that he was very optimistic about both the Nixon Administration and Mao Tse-tung regime bailing out Pakistani soldiers trapped in the quagmire of erstwhile East Pakistan in early December 1971. But since no help came from world super power, he had to surrender to Pakistan’s archenemy, India. Pakistan’s military establishment never did forgive him for that. He was immediately labeled as coward and whatnot. His retirement fund was frozen and Pakistani government mistreated him. Niazi saw with his own eyes that while Gen. Tikka Khan’s post-military career flourished as the General was appointed as the governor of Punjab, he career just withered in the vine. This bitterness led Niazi to write his memoir in which he blamed every living army Generals of Pakistan. Many Pakistanis had opined at the time that it would have been better for Niazi and his men to fight Bangalee freedom fighter, Mukti Bahini, and Indian army rather than to surrender. General Niazi had to live with shame for 33 long years. His countrymen never did understand the difficulty his men were in as they fought a very unpopular war. The world opinion was against Pakistani army while the news army atrocities against Bangalee civilians were filtering out in world press.
Niazi and his marauding soldiers had received impunity against the crime they had committed in occupied Bangladesh. The nonchalant Pakistani army never did apologize for all the killings the army had done. In all probability, they will not ask for apology from Bangladeshi folks for the crime, which is so well documented. From time to time, Bangladesh Genocide becomes a burning topic in myriad discussion forums in the Internet. The issue has divided Pakistanis and Bangladeshis into two camps. The two nations that share a common history for the period 1947 through 1971 remain divided because of war atrocities done in the nine-month period. General Niazi being the big boss representing the brutal Yahya regime in the waning days of 1971 shared the ignominy until his passing away from this mortal world. We Bangladeshis sadly remember the ruthless repression of Pakistani army on unarmed civilians. General Niazi’s name will go down in the history of Bangladesh as a vile military leader who committed crime against humanity. With that kind of crime, could his soul rest in peace? While the Pakistani military gave a heroic last rite to Tikka Khan with military honor when he was buried in March 2002, no such rite will ever take place for General Niazi. And that is for sure. His fellow officers wrote him off as a sore loser. Even the much-touted Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which was leaked out in 2001, had recommended to court martial Gen. Niazi for the misdeeds Pakistani army had perpetrated against the civilians in the eastern wing. Nonetheless, Niazi was never court-martialled. He simply ate the bitter bread of banishment in his homeland until the day he closed his eyes forever.
A. H. Jaffor Ullah, a columnist and researcher, writes from New Orleans, USA
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