The Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission Report

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In December 1971, within a week of replacing General Yahya as the President, Bhutto formed a commission headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Hamood-ur-Rahman. The Commission’s responsibility was to ascertain the facts of the 1971 debacle. The commission interviewed 213 persons including General Yahya, Z. A. Bhutto, Chief of Air Force, Chief of Navy, senior commanders, and various political leaders. It submitted its first report in July 1972.

Originally there were 12 copies of the Report. These were all destroyed; expect the one that was handed over to Z. A. Bhutto. Neither Bhutto, nor the Army which took over in 1977, made the Report public. Though the Report remained classified, its contents were presumably learned from various writings and memoirs of the military officers narrating their side of the story of what the Hamood-ur-Rahman Inquiry Commission had to say. The report recommended public trials of the concerned officers responsible for the 1971 debacle.

The inquiry was reopened in 1974. The Commission again interviewed 73 bureaucrats and top military officers and submitted its supplementary report in November 1974. It was this supplementary report that was presumably published by an Indian magazine in August 2000, and afterwards allowed to be published in the Pakistani press. Publicizing of the Report by the Indian media was not a surprise since it had come out at a time when there was international pressure mounting on India to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Immense human rights violations were being reported by international organizations such as Amnesty International and Asia Watch with reference to the role of Indian Security Forces in the Indian-held Kashmir. The publication of the Report was seen in Pakistan as an attempt by India to divert the world attention from its inhumane and unjustified actions in Kashmir.

Volume I of the main report dealt with political background, international relations, and military aspects of the events of 1971. Volume I of the supplementary report discussed political events of 1971, military aspect, surrender in East Pakistan and the moral aspect.

A large number of West Pakistanis and Biharis who were able to escape from East Pakistan told the Commission awful tales of the atrocities at the hands of the Awami League militants. It was revealed that many families of West Pakistani Officers and other ranks serving with East Bengal Units were subjected to inhuman treatment. Their erstwhile Bengali colleagues had butchered a large number of West Pakistani Officers.

As the tales of slaughter reached West Pakistani soldiers of other Units, they reacted violently, and in the process of restoring the authority of the Central Government, committed severe excesses on the local Bengali population. The Report’s findings accuse the Army of carrying out senseless and wanton arson, killings in the countryside, killing of intellectuals and professionals and burying them in mass graves, killing of Bengali Officers and soldiers on the pretence of quelling their rebellion, killing East Pakistani civilian officers, businessmen and industrialists, raping a large number of East Pakistani women as a deliberate act of revenge, retaliation and torture, and deliberate killing of members of the Hindu minority.

Having dealt with the claim of General Niazi that he had no legal option but to surrender, the Commission proceeded to consider whether it was necessary for General Niazi to surrender, and whether he was justified in surrendering at that
particular juncture, for most of the messages that emanated from the General Head Quarters were studiously ambiguous and designed. Secondly, General Farman Ali had suggested to him that instead of ordering surrender en masse, he should leave it to each Divisional Commander to surrender or not, according to his own circumstances. It was pointed out in the Report, that despite the assurances given by the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army and the terms of surrender, the killing of loyal East Pakistani population, West Pakistani civilians, and civil armed forces by the Mukti Bahini started in full swing soon after Army’s surrender.

It was maintained in the Report that the defeat suffered by the armed forces was not a result of military factors alone, but had been brought about as the cumulative result of political, international, moral and military factors. The political developments that took place between 1947 and 1971, including the effects of the two Martial Law periods, hastened the process of political and emotional isolation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan.

The dismemberment of Pakistan was also accelerated by the role played by the two major political parties, Awami League and the Pakistan Peoples Party, in bringing about a situation that resulted in postponement of the National Assembly session, scheduled to be held at Dhaka on the March 3, 1971. The events occurring between March 1 and 25, 1971, when the Awami League had seized power from the Government, resulting in the military action of March 25, 1971, were deplorable. The Commission also touched upon the negotiations, which General Yahya Khan was pretending to hold during this period with Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman on the one hand, and political leaders from West Pakistan on the other. Although he never formally declared these negotiations to have failed, yet he secretly left Dhaka on the evening of March 25, 1971, leaving instructions behind for military action to be initiated as soon his plane landed at Karachi.

The Commission declared that military action could not have been substitute for a political settlement, which was feasible once law and order had been restored within a matter of few weeks after the military action. No serious effort was made to start a political dialogue with the elected representatives of the people of East Pakistan. Instead fraudulent and useless measures were adopted. The use of excessive force during the military action had only served to alienate the sympathies of the people of East Pakistan. The arbitrary methods adopted by the Martial Law Administration in dealing with respectable citizens of East Pakistan and their sudden disappearances made the situation worse. The attitude of the Army authorities towards the Hindu minority also resulted in a large-scale exodus to India.

Although General Yahya Khan was not totally unaware of the avowed intention of India to dismember Pakistan, he didn’t realize the need for early political settlement with the political leaders of East Pakistan. There was wastage of considerable time during which the Indians mounted their training program for the Mukti Bahini and freely started guerillas raids into the Pakistan territory. Pakistan Army was almost unable to prevent infiltration of Mukti Bahini and Indian agents all along the borders of East Pakistan. In the presence of these two factors, the Pakistan Army was obviously fighting a losing battle from the very start.

There had been a large exodus of people from East Pakistan to India, as a result of the military action. The results of Indian efforts to propagate this refugee problem on an international level cannot be undermined. The Indian propaganda was so forceful that all endeavors made by the military regime in Pakistan to defuse the situation proved to be futile and left the world unimpressed. The mutual assistance treaty signed between India and the U. S. S. R. in August 1971 further aggravated the situation.

No rational explanation was available as to why General Yahya did not take the dispute to the Security Council immediately after the Indian invasion of East Pakistan on November 21, 1971. Nor was it possible to explain his refusal to accept the first Russian resolution, if indeed the situation in East Pakistan had become so critical that surrender was inevitable. The Army High Command did not carry out any in-depth study of the effect of these new factors, nor did it pay any attention to the growing disparity in war preparedness and capability between the armed forces of Pakistan and India as a result of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of August 1971.

The traditional concept of defense adopted by the Pakistan Army that the defense of East Pakistan lays in West Pakistan was never implemented in a determined and effective manner. The concept remained valid, and if ever there was need to invoke this concept, it was on November 21, 1971, when Indian troops crossed the East Pakistan borders in naked aggression. Unfortunately, the delay in opening the Western front and the half-hearted and hesitant manner in which it was ultimately opened only helped in precipitating the catastrophe in East Pakistan.

Besides, the detailed narrative of events, as given in the supplementary report, clearly shows that the planning was hopelessly defective. There was neither any plan at all for the defense of Dhaka, nor any concerted effort to stem the enemy onslaught with a Division or a Brigade battle at any stage. It was only when the General found himself gradually being surrounded by the enemy which had successfully reached Faridpur, Khulna, Daudkandi and Chandpur (the shortest route to Dhaka), that he began to make frantic efforts to get the troops back for the defense of Dhaka.

The Report maintained that there was no actual order to surrender. In view of the desperate picture painted by the Commander Eastern Command, higher authorities gave him permission to surrender if he, in his judgment, thought it necessary. General Niazi could have opted not to surrender if he thought that he had the capability of defending Dhaka. On his own estimate, he had 26,400 men to hold out for another two weeks. The enemy would have taken a week to build up its forces and another week to reduce the fortress of Dhaka. But evidence showed that he had already lost the will to fight after December 7, 1971, when his major fortresses at Jessore and Brahmanbari had fallen. Detailed accounts of witnesses given to the Commission indicate that Lt-General Niazi had suffered a complete moral collapse during the closing phases of the war.

It had been concluded that apart from the political, international and military factors, an important cause for defeat of the Pakistan Army was the lack of moral character and courage in the senior Army Commanders. 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. These tendencies were intensified when General Yahya Khan imposed Martial Law in the country once again in March 1969. A large 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 lewd ways of life, which seriously affected their professional capabilities and their qualities of leadership. It appears that they had lost the will to fight and the ability to take vital and critical decisions required for the successful prosecution of the war. These remarks particularly applied to General Yahya Khan, his close associates, General Abdul Hamid Khan, Major General Khuda Dad Khan and Lt-General A. A. K. Niazi, apart from certain other officers. The Commission recommended that these grave allegations be dealt with seriously.

The surrender in East Pakistan had been a tragic blow to the nation and had caused, not only dismemberment of Pakistan, but also shattered the image of Pakistan Army as an efficient and excellent fighting force. In the end it was hoped in the Report that the Nation would learn the necessary lessons from these tragic events, and that effective and early action will be taken in the light of the conclusions reached.

The Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission Report is a valuable document. It was prepared with the explicit purpose of not repeating the various mistakes committed by the Army, General Yahya Khan and Z. A. Bhutto, which resulted in the separation of East Pakistan. Writings and memoirs disclose that apart from its inquiry into the 1971 crisis, it also makes thoughtful recommendations about the defense of the country as a whole.

This article was last updated on Sunday, June 01, 2003