1971 Bangladesh war: RAW heroes India forgot to honour

Government must recognise the contribution of RN Kao and his officers.

 |  7-minute read |   16-12-2015
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Both India and Bangladesh celebrate December 16 as victory day when Pakistan army was defeated in 1971 war. That is as it should be. But both countries are silent on the role and sacrifices of brave intelligence officers of RAW who played a pivotal and decisive role in this war under the leadership of late RN Kao, founder of RAW. Not a single word is uttered for them or has been in the last 44 years. I think it's time our countrymen were told of the valour of this hidden community in this two phased war, that is, first the guerrilla operations by RAW and second direct intervention by Indian army on December 3, 1971. 

Prior to the December 1970 elections in Pakistan, RAW sources inside army, political and diplomatic circle of Pakistan had given clear indications that in case Sheikh Mujibur Rahman got a majority he would not be allowed to rule Pakistan. There were reports of shifting of huge army personnel to East Pakistan by the air route. Kao planned a meticulous operation to stop these over-flights on Indian soil.

On January 30, 1971, an Indian Airlines plane Ganga was hijacked from Srinagar though a RAW source and taken to Lahore airport. All 26 passengers were released and the plane was set on fire. This was an outdated plane which was due to be dumped soon. The Indian government immediately banned over-flights going from West to East Pakistan. This action of Kao hampered the transportation of men and material from air route although Pakistan continued it via Colombo but slowed down this process in view of the international outcry.      

army-embed_121616075_040917071115.jpg It would not only revive the sagging morale of the intelligence community but will also boost its morale for the future. Photo: Indiatoday.in

On March 25, 1971, Yahya Khan, the military dictator of Pakistan, arrived in Dhaka at 5pm amid tight security to fly to Karachi for the 2,000 mile journey vide the Indian peninsula and Ceylon when the political solution was put on hold. Yahya Khan was apprehensive that if any military action would start while he was in Dhaka, there was every possibility of Indian intervention. He was briefed that RAW could play mischief which would be dangerous to his life as well as to Pakistan. Yahya Khan did not want to risk being intercepted and forced to land in India by Indian Air Force at the behest of RAW.

So, military action was planned to follow after his safe arrival at Karachi. After he landed at Karachi, message of his safe arrival was flashed to Dhaka by the army. Immediately thereafter, the worst ever genocide of Bengalis started that night at 11.30pm. RAW operatives had earlier briefed Mujib at 8 pm in his house at 32, Dhanmandi that his house would be raided that night by Pakistan army. Mujib sent his political confidants into hiding but refused to leave his house fearing the army would burn down the whole of Dhaka to trace him. Around 1.30am on March 26, 1971, Mujib was arrested. Subsequently RAW intercepted a message of Pakistan army that "the bird is caged".

This message was flashed by Indian media all over the world.   When the Pakistan army unleashed brutal crackdown on innocent East Bengalis, the influx of refugees increased beyond the control of Indian administration. Prime minister Indira Gandhi called Army chief Sam Manekshaw and RAW chief RN Kao.

She discussed the modus operandi to liberate East Pakistan. She told Manekshaw that she wanted to take military action against Pakistan Army in this area. General Manekshaw replied that Indian Army had always been told by political bosses that their role was defensive and meant to protect the territorial integrity.

If Indian Army was to put in action in East Pakistan, special riverine operation equipment and training was required wherein we were lacking. Manekshaw did not want a premature operation in this war and repeat the mistakes of 1962 and 1965 wars. When Gandhi asked Manekshaw how much time the army would take for the preparation of offensive inside East Pakistan, he replied, at least six months. She told the general to make preparations for the war and inform her when he was ready for it.

The prime minister then asked RN Kao to prepare all possible ground for the army for its final assault. Kao's team of dedicated officers K Sankaran Nair, head of Pakistan desk, PN Banerjee, head of Bangladesh operation, and brigadier MBK Nair head of technical division of RAW made all preparations around East Pakistan to train guerrilla outfits at all vantage points. Many monitoring stations were opened on borders and inside East Pakistan. A provisional Bangladesh-government-in-exile was formed at Calcutta at Theatre Road on April 14, 1971 and Mujib Nagar was named the capital.

A Bangladesh radio station "Free Bengal Betal Kendra" was established at Mujib Nagar for regular news to the people of East Pakistan on the impending plans of the government in exile and to coordinate various factions of the guerrilla forces that were scattered in far flung areas. Syed Nazrul Islam was named vice president and acting president in the absence of Sheikh Mujib and Tajuddin Ahmed was appointed prime minister. Colonel MAG Osmani, trusted aide of Mujib, was made the provisional chief of staff of Bangladesh Army and, in that capacity, the chief of all freedom fighters and head of Mukti Bahini. PN Banerjee, joint director of RAW at Calcutta, was overall in-charge of the government-in-exile of Bangladesh and coordinating all overt and covert operations of the guerrilla forces. Mukti Bahini was operational in majority parts of East Pakistan barring few areas where other guerrilla outfits were in command.

Besides Mukti Bahini, the main guerrilla outfit, Mujeeb Bahini, another wing, was operating in the Chittagong Hill tract under the direct supervision of Special Frontier Force (SFF) of RAW. Major General SS Uban, head of SFF, was personally supervising all operation inside East Pakistan and the unit almost captured Lal Denga - a rebel Mizo leader who was helped by Pakistan and also saved two sons of the Hindu Raja Tridip Roy of Chakma community of this region who was minister in Pakistan government. This Raja and his family had unleashed atrocities on Chakmas with help from Pakistan army and SFF was wary of them being lynched by local Chakmas. SFF and Mukti Bahini were solely responsible for liberation of Chittagong Hill tract from Pakistan Army.

There was another guerilla outfit, Kader Bahini, under RAW operative Abdul Kader Siddique nicknamed as "Tiger Siddique" which played havoc with the Pakistan Army in and around Dhaka by disrupting communication systems, ambushing army columns, blowing up supply and ammunition dumps and assaulting enemy convoys. Many bridges were blown up by Tiger Siddique's force which hampered movement of Pakistan army in this area. 

Overall, surrender of Pakistan's 93,000-strong army in the two weeks war with Indian forces was made possible in coordinated venture of Phase I - Guerrilla Operations and Phase II - Final Assault of Indian Army. Kao and Manekshaw had their offices in South Block near the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). They had excellent rapport which was master stroke of this war. Kao personally told me that they used to walk into one another's office without hesitation to discuss various strategic planning at odd hours. Phase I of this war belonged to RAW which trained a guerrilla force of more than 1,00,000 Bengali population to harass the Pakistan Army for eight months before the final war was fought in Phase II from December 3 to 16. This is a unique achievement of the RAW that has no parallel in the history of any other intelligence agency of the world.

This was meticulously planned by Kao who had no equal in experience or intellect. RAW was three years into its inception and lacked strength and equipment. Even then Kao accomplished this memorable task with the vigour of his able officers. Kao never believed in half-measures as per my assessment of him. The government of India conveniently forgot Kao's contribution and never recognised the valour of this hidden community of Indian intelligence. Bangladesh too honoured all and sundry who helped them in 1971 liberation but never awarded any officer of RAW. This is highly questionable. Most of them are not alive and some of them are quite aged now.

It is high time the government shed its political inhibitions and recognised the contribution of Kao in Indian intelligence. It would not only revive the sagging morale of the intelligence community but will also boost its morale for the future.

Also read: Why celebrate 1971 War victory over Pakistan when we have failed our heroes?

Writer

RK Yadav RK Yadav @rawrkyadav

Former RAW officer and author of Mission R&AW.

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