Jackob with his book.Photo credit:Omi Rahman Pial
There he was. The famous Jew of the Indian Army, who pulled out a miracle in 1971. Charishmatic, one would rather say. He didn’t sit in the chair and signed in the `Ornaments of Surrender’ for the victorious allied forces like Aurora. Neither did he lead the Indians to the outskirts and sorround Dhaka to confine the Pakistan Army in a death trap like Nagra did. But Major General JFR Jacob made both those things happen. It was his shrewd strategic accuracy that eased the labour pain of Bangladesh and he literally wrote down the birth certificate too.
When the war finally broke out between the hostile neighbours on 3rd December, the Indian Army Chief Sam Manekshaw ordered his troops to go and seize Chittagong and Khulna to shut down the escape routes and resist possible aid for the enemy. The Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command ‘Jack’, as he is popularly known to his mates, thought otherwise and convinced Aurora to opt for Dhaka- the heart of the demon from where it all began. And he drafted the document, put in the words of his like and talked in Chief of Eastern Command of the Pak Army, Lt. General AAK Niazi to accept it. It was the first open surrender of a regular army and the second largest after World War II. On 16th December,1971 when Niazi led his troops in the then Racecourse (now Suhrawardy Udyan) and surrendered, it was mission accomplished for Jacob. He wrote it all in a memoir with the fitting words ‘Surrender at Dacca : Birth of a Nation’.
From then on, after 36 years the retired Lt. General was back in the land where the great triumph was achieved. Upon invitation by the Government, Jacob led an 11- member entourage of Indian Army war veterans of 1971 to the 36th Independence Day of Bangladesh. I was on his tracks right from he set his foot in the country. The Hero is ailing, and last of the top brass that led our independence. The interest was purely academic which made me pull a few strings in the office to get the assignment. I was desperate for an exclusive interview, but the tight schedule of his tour won’t let it happen. Three tensed days of uncertainity ended and after all the required formalities here and there I was sitting touching distance of him. Like I said before, there he was, my man.
Jacob skipped the tour to Comilla Cantonment on Friday, March 28. He opted to stay behind and the Indian High Commission arranged the press to meet him. There was only a few though. Half was photographers and half of the rest didn’t know why they were there. Jacob tried to make it a promotional ceremony for his book, which he successfully did. Some had it with them, asked questions as if to prove they read it. Some carelessly ignored the home work and had to stick to the questions like opinions of the guest on the performance of CTG or on the ups and downs of the relations between the two countries. I had other ideas. I was there to fetch answers for certain questions. The questions are often cleverly put to defame our spirit of the liberation war by certain quarters who were right against it from 1971. Their successors now play the same tune. If I had the answers, it would be an important document for those who fight hard to put an end to the controversies. After all, these would be on record statements coming from an authentic source.
The atmosphere was there. With the published book in his hand the General was nostalgic enough. Before the start he politely warned not to ask anything uncomfortable which he would ignore answering. And then to comfort us said, ‘I am jouranalist too, I write a lot. So take me as one of you.’ I had the honor to ask the first question and took the liberty to be right on spot. Complimenting his galantary in the WWII and reminding the holocaust, I asked his opinion on the genocide that happened to the Bengalis in the name of ethnic cleansing. ‘The atrocities committed by the Pakistan Army are well known to you. They are well documented and you have much better records than anyone else. Your people have gone through it, so you are in a better position to judge it’ was the answer referring to his visit to the liberation war museum the day before.
For the better of the readers I now put the rest of the conversations in the form of an Q/A, just to give it a flavour of an interview. Only the excerpts which I feel that relate to my objective I said.
How did the Indian Army get involved in the war of independence?
Jacob: You want the official version or the unofficial one (laughs)? After Operation Searchlight that took place on the 26th of March, the crackdown, we were monitoring the situation and were shocked to hear radio conversations of the Pakistan Army. We heard Mujib’s declaration, then Zia’s declaration of independence. And then the refugees started coming in countless numbers across the borders. We took note of the situation, and lent a hand to the Mukti Bahini, the freedom fighters of your country. Then in April, Tajuddin, Nazrul Islam, Osmani all came to Theatre road, organized the Mukti Bahini and the war was on. We provided all possible logistic support to them. Unofficially, it was from April and officially, much later.
What were the total Indian casualty figures?
Jacob: It’s written in my book. In the war of liberation of Bangladesh, 1, 400 Indian soldiers died and were 400 wounded.
Last year, in an interview you claimed that capturing Dhaka was not featured in the original plan of the Indian Army, but it was you who thought otherwise and disobeyed the order to march towards the Capital.
Jackob:Well it is a long story and you’ll get tired listening to it. The details are all written in my book, how everything happened and when. It is a very comprehensive documentation of the strategy and tactics used. I ask you to have a look at it.
Is it true that the liberation fighters were trained by India before the war?
Jacob: No, not before the war. To be precise, it was from the 13th of April that we started helping them and it was a continuous process.
How did you guess that the surrender was on the cards?
Jacob: On the 14th of December, we intercepted that a meeting was to be held at the Governor’s House. Assuming that Niazi would be there with the Governor, we planned an air strike. After it was carried out, the Governor resigned. He took refuge in the Intercontinental Hotel. The situation was critical as the UN had the Polish resolution in their hand, the Russians telling us to hurry up as they were worried about the over use of the veto power in our favour. That afternoon, General Niazi sent a ceasefire proposal to the UN through the American consul-general Spivack. Bhutto was in New York and he refused. On the 15th of December, the US proposed a ceasefire in Delhi and we accepted it. On the 16th of December, I was told to go and ask them to surrender.
It is said that you drafted the instrument of surrender. What was Niazi’s reaction when you placed it before him?
Jacob: He said, who told you that we want to surrender. You are supposed to talk about ceasefire. Then, the argument went on and on. Then it got stuck with regard to surrendering to the joint forces. He insisted it was to be the Indians. And I refused and insisted that it was going to be both Bangladesh and the Indian Army. Later, when he was summoned to the Hamdur Rahman Commission in his country, he said that the reason for his surrender was that I blackmailed him! He wrote that in his book too. I never blackmailed him. I was just negotiating the surrender process not blackmailing him. All I said was that we would not take any responsibility for the resumption of any hostile situation if they did not surrender.
Then, I gave him 30 minutes to make up his mind. When I came back, he still kept quiet. Then I walked up to him and said General do you accept this document? I asked him thrice, but he didn’t answer. So I picked it up and said I’d take it as accepted.
Then I saw tears in his eyes. I looked at him with pity and thought this man has behaved very badly with the people of Bangladesh. You know what his Army did and I don’t want to repeat that. I wanted him to surrender in front of the people of Dhaka. He said, ” I won’t surrender anywhere else. I’ll surrender in the Dhaka office.” I said, “No. You will surrender at the racecourse in front the people of Dhaka.” It’s the only public surrender in history, and you’ll also provide a guard of honor.” It was he who had said Dhaka would fall over ‘my dead body’. That’s why I made it a point to make him surrender in front of the people of Dhaka.
He bragged about the firepower he had to defend Dhaka for two more weeks, and as I said before that the UN was working on the ceasefire which would be imposed in a day or two, then why he had accepted the most humiliating surrender in history? He answered, “Jacob blackmailed me!”
Why was the Commander in Chief of the Bangladesh Army, General MAG Osmani, absent at the ceremony?
Jacob: There is a lot of propaganda about it. The fact is, he was in Sylhet. He was in a helicopter that was shot at by the Pakistan army. I had ordered everyone on the Bangladesh side to stay in Kolkata. But he rode the chopper, got shot and couldn’t attend the ceremony. It’s not our fault. He should have been there. We wanted him there. Khondkar attended in his absence.
Afterwards, you had the chance to interrogate Niazi and some other generals. What did they say?
Jacob: They denied everything, the atrocity and everything. They kept on saying that they would not forget the humiliation and would take ‘badla’-revenge.
The war of 1971 is often referred in different quarters as another Indo-Pak war and some say it was a civil war, and these words hurt our pride. What’s your view on it?
Jacob: I’ve always said it was your liberation war. It was your war of independence, not otherwise.
The call for trying the collaborators, the local war criminals is heating up as sector commanders have joined in the demand. Should India come forward with facts and documents, some say they possess, to facilitate the process?
Jacob: It’s the internal matter of the Government of Bangladesh, your own problem which you have to solve yourselves. I have nothing to say on that because it is for you to decide. Apart from that, I’m just a soldier not a politician.
Last of all, I want to tell you something. The freedom fighters and the East Bengal Regiment, who with their limited resources fought a mighty regular army, earned the liberation of Bangladesh and it was their love for the country that made them victorious. We helped them, we were brothers in arms. But it was their fight, they fought it. They fought with passion and they achieved what they fought for. I give my heartiest blessings and share the pride for them. They are the gems your country should be proud of.
To show that he meant what he said, Jacob held up the cover of his book, ‘see, this is the Indian edition and I put the photograph of the liberation fighters on it. But the publisher of Dhaka with out my permission changed it with the picture of the surrendering ceremony.’ I had my interests back to the publicity with grattitude since the General has provided me with the answers to the most of the queries. It was running late for both parties. With a successful mission I couldn’t wait to go back to my pc. I had an important document to share with all concerned. Thank you General Jacobs for your kind assistance to the liberation of our country, for your respect towards our beloved freedom fighters. And last but not the least, our gratitude for what you have said for the sake of the history.