An American who was working in a rural area in the interior
throughout the period from March to December, has written a powerful and
passionate indictment of the Pakistan Army and auxiliary forces in these
'For nine months all human rights were completely suspended in
East Pakistan. Not only the Government and the Army, but every
soldier with a gun had supreme authority over life and death and
property, and could use that authority at will. ..
The military reign of terror in East Pakistan was directed almost
exclusively against the unarmed civilian population. It was not a
civil war of soldiers against a rebel army. It can be divided
roughly into three phases. First, there was the general repression
launched against all Bengalis, which began in March and continued
with varying intensity for nine months. The second phase was the
concentrated persecution of the Hindus, with the explicit intention
of eliminating the eight to ten million Hindus left in the country,
either by murdering them or driving them out. This second phase was
accompanied by a secondary persecution of the Hindus by their Muslim
neighbors with encouragement from the Army. The third phase was the
Collective Punitive Reprisal Program which increased tremendously
when the freedom fighters began hitting back.
The first phase began in earnest on March 26th. The Army simply
loosed a reign of terror against all Bengalis on the theory that if
they were sufficiently savage and brutal, they would break the
spirit of the Bengali people, and not only stop the rebellion but
ensure that it would never happen again. In the beginning this reign
of terror took place in and around the cities. Prime targets of the
army were anyone who were or could be leaders; Awami League
politicians, professors, students, businessmen. But any Bengali was
fair game for any soldier. Although later on this general program of
repression of everyone was toned down, it never completely ceased.
And throughout the entire nine months in which at least a million
died and millions more fled the country, the Army remained immune
from censure or punishment. Rather they were highly praised by the
President for their activities. Justice was completely dead
throughout the country.
In April the second phase, the concentrated persecution of the
Hindus, began. By the beginning of May it was obvious to observers
that it was the Government's avowed intention to kill or drive out
of the country all of the eight to ten million Hindus in East
Pakistan. Throughout the country, the Army was searching out Hindu
villages and deliberately destroying them and murdering the people.
They would attack a village suddenly and swiftly, killing any one
they encountered, whether men, women or children. They would then
loot and burn the village to make sure that the poor people had
nothing to return to. Not even a pretence was made of being just.
The only evidence needed against these people was the fact that they
were Hindus. The Army would come into a new area, enquire where the
Hindus lived, and proceed to wipe them out. Sometimes they would
claim that the village was harbouring freedom fighters, but never
did they make any investigation to see if the charges were true.
Throughout the country, literally thousands of Hindu villages were
destroyed in this way. These people lost their homes, their
possessions, their life savings, their means of livelihood, and
often their lives. Yet they were guilty of no crime, and were not
even accused of a crime. They were simply marked for extermination.
After the Army had clearly indicated that they were out to
exterminate the Hindu population, the lower element among the
Bengali Muslims began to take part in the terrorism. Their motive
was both hatred for the Hindus, and greed. For the expulsion of the
Hindus would enable them to take over their lands and possessions.
To satisfy their greed they stooped to drive out their neighbors and
let women and children suffer and starve and die. Local Muslim
leaders and Union Board Chairmen ordered the Hindus in their area to
get out within 24 hours, or they would call in the Army against
them. Knowing that it was not an idle threat, the Hindus had no
choice but to flee. In many areas, more harm was done to Bengali
Hindus by Bengali Muslims than by the West Pakistan Army.
What was behind this persecution of the Hindus? After a month of
repression it was evident that the military reign of terror was not
succeeding as planned. The Muslim army resented the fact that they
had to kill their Muslim brothers when so many Hindus were
available. And there was a danger that the rebellion would succeed
since the savagery of the repression had angered the entire nation.
So the Army changed its tactics to make the Bengali revolt look like
an Indian instigated rebellion. They attacked the Hindus as Indian
agents and called on all Muslims to unite against the common enemy.
They succeeded in getting many Muslims to collaborate with them out
of greed, but the general run of Muslims were not fooled by the
move. They knew well who the real enemy was.
The third phase of the Army program, that of Collective Punitive
Reprisals went into high gear when the freedom fighters began to
return from training and started their work of sabotage and
harassment of the military. This was the worst phase of all in its
cruelty and injustice toward civilians. Whenever any act of sabotage
occurred, the Army would immediately rush troops to the area. The
freedom fighters would of course be long gone, so the Army would
punish all the surrounding villages, burning and killing at will. No
effort was made to look for the guilty. The Army pattern of
slaughter in reprisal became so standardised that if a bridge or
pylon was blown up during the night, the entire civilian population
of the area would abandon their homes before daylight and flee into
the interior. This prevented the Army from killing so many, but it
did not stop them from looting and burning the homes. Day after day
the sky was billowing with smoke as thousands of homes were put to
the torch. ..
My own personal experience underlines the complete indifference
of the Army to the question of innocence or guilt. When a train was
blown up nearby, the local doctor at first refused to go to the help
of the victims because if the Army should show up they would
immediately kill everyone on the scene. I knew it was dangerous and
that his fear was reasonable, so I agreed to accompany him. When we
were still too far from the wreck to be identified the Army opened
fire on us. The fact that there was no evidence of guilt was of no
consequence. We saved our lives only by abandoning our boat and
swimming to shore. In another boat in the area a man was killed and
his five year old son was fatally wounded. The little fellow
lingered for a month in our makeshift hospital, and finally died in
pain and in fear. During his long month of misery, every time he
heard a gunshot, he thought the Army was after him again and he
would whimper to his grieving mother, ' Mummy, will they shoot me
again? Mummy, please don't let them shoot me again '. These words
from a five year old tell more about the situation in East Pakistan,
than volumes of testimony could. This is what the Army created for
the children of Bengal.
The final figures on all this horror, the full extent of the
terrorism and of the denial of every human right will probably never
be known. A million may have died, or two million or three. There
may have been 10 million refugees or only five million. The exact
number is really immaterial. It is definitely one of the most
shameful episodes in the history of the human race; and it happened
in the enlightened 20th Century. And it will happen somewhere again,
if the Nations of the World take no steps to prevent it.'
The author writes: 'At least in the beginning I could be considered
an unbiased observer of events. But after watching them bringing in
wounded children, and after visiting a few of the pillaged villages, and
after being shot at myself, I probably lost a bit of my objectivity.'
His account does not, of course, give -the whole picture. It says
nothing of the attacks made on non-Bengalis. It makes no allowance for
the fact that the army were combatting an insurgent force which included
several thousand rebel Bengali soldiers fighting under civilian cover
with the help of the civilian population. It accuses all Pakistanis
equally, whereas evidence shows that there were occasions when the army
acted with restraint, and where individual officers or soldiers could
not bring themselves to carry out their sanguinary missions in full.
There may even have been some occasions, as the Pakistani army claim,
when excesses by soldiers led to courts martial, but if so they were
We have quoted extensively from this document as it gives a typical
account of the way the army's operations appeared to the civilian
population and describes the pattern of the massive violations of human
rights committed over a period of nine months against the population of
East Pakistan by the Pakistan Army aided by the Razakars and other
The principle features of this ruthless oppression were the
indiscriminate killing of civilians, including women and children and
the poorest and weakest members of the community; the attempt to
exterminate or drive out of the country a large part of the Hindu
population; the arrest, torture and killing of Awami League activists,
students, professional and business men and other potential leaders
among the Bengalis; the raping of women; the destruction of villages and
towns; and the looting of property. All this was done on a scale which
is difficult to comprehend.
The Crack-down in Dacca
President Yahya Khan returned to Karachi on 25 March, and at 10 p.m.
that night the army began to leave their cantonment in Dacca. Under the
orders of General Tikka Khan the troops unleashed a terrible orgy of
killing and destruction, lasting some 48 hours, which came to be known
as the army 'crack-down '. An estimated three battalions were used, one
armoured, one infantry and one artillery.
It is impossible to estimate accurately the numbers of civilian
killed in these 48 hours. All that can be said is that they are to be
numbered in thousands.
The operation was carefully planned. No shooting began for nearly two
hours. The army concentrated on surrounding and occupying strategic
points and taking up their positions. The firing began a little before
midnight and lasted throughout the night till 6.00 or 7.00 a.m. It was
resumed the next day and continued intermittently through the following
night and day.
One of the first targets was the University of Dacca, where the
attack was directed both at the students and at the University staff.
Many of the students who were militant supporters of the Awami League
had taken an active part in demonstrations in support of the 'hartal'
and non-cooperation movement.
Warning of the impending attack was received during the evening. The
students erected some rather amateurish road-blocks at the entrances to
the University campus. These students were unarmed. The attack on the
campus started at about one o'clock in the morning. The first attack was
directed at Iqbal Hall, which was the centre of the student wing of the
Awami League. The army's fire is described as having come from 'all
types of arms, mortars, tanks, cannon, machine gun fire and tracer
bullets'. The noise was deafening and continued through the night until
After Iqbal Hall, the attack was directed against Salimullah Hall and
later at Jagannath Hall, where students belonged to Hindu and other
minorities. These Hans were invaded and those students who could not
escape were ruthlessly killed. The Halls were set on fire together with
a number of other University buildings.
The only place from which any resistance was offered was Iqbal Hall
from which came some small arms fire, but this stopped after no more
than 35 or 40 minutes. The light nature of the resistance is borne out
by the fact that the control centre was heard by several witnesses to
enquire over the army radio of the officer leading the attack how many
guns had been found in Iqbal Hall. The officer replied 'Only 50 rifles'.
He was then ordered to add the number of all rifles and small arms taken
in house-to-house searches throughout the city as the recorded number of
small arms found at Iqbal Hall.
In addition to attacking the student halls, the army raided the
blocks of flats where the University teachers lived. Anthony Mascarenhas,
the West Pakistan journalist who was officially attached to the Pakistan
Army 9th Division and who later fled to Europe and published a detailed
account of the army atrocities, states that he was later told by three
separate army officers that the army had lists of people to be
liquidated. This is borne out by the fact that only some staff quarters
were attacked, but in those which were, the orders appear to have been
to kill all adult males. Some people had almost miraculous escapes.
Professor Anisur Rahman has given a moving account of how he was saved
by having placed a lock on the outside of his door, which led his
assailants to think he was away. He and his wife and children crawled
about on their hands and knees for some 48 hours in order not to be seen
from the ground. In the meantime they heard his colleagues, Professor
Guhathakurda and Professor Muniruzzaman dragged out of their flats and
shot. It was said afterwards that Professor Muniruzzaman, who spoke
Urdu, was shot by accident, and his family was given compensation by the
Those who were able to talk to their assailants in Urdu were often
spared. The wife of one lecturer who spoke fluent Urdu was told by a
soldier that their orders were to kill everybody, but they found it
difficult to carry out the order. Some were spared by pathetic
entreaties made by their families.
Altogether ten university teachers were killed, including a renowned
Professor of Philosophy, Dr. G. C. Dev. Estimates of the number of
students killed vary but seem to have totalled some hundreds. The number
would have been higher but for the fact that the University had been
closed since March 7 and many students had gone to their homes. A mass
grave was dug on the open ground outside the Jagannath and Salimullah
Halls. Bodies were collected in trucks from Iqbal Hall and elsewhere on
the campus and were thrown into the grave and loosely covered with earth
bulldozed into the grave. Some witnesses speak of the sight of arms and
legs sticking up out of the grave.
The libraries of the University Halls were burnt out. The Library of
the British Council building on the campus was attacked in the mistaken
belief that it was the University Library. An eight man Bengali police
guard at the British Council premises were shot to death in a small room
where they were hiding. A group of about 30 civilians from a nearby slum
quarter who had sought refuge on top of one of the blocks of university
teachers' flats were similarly wiped out.
Fearful as was the attack at the University, the greatest slaughter
was aimed at the poorest sections of the community living in old parts
of the town and in compounds of lightly built huts of bamboo and matting
scattered about the city. The raid on the old town began shortly after
midnight. Anyone seen on the streets was killed and the sound of firing
continued through the night. Twenty taxi drivers who had been sleeping
in their taxis on a rank in Victoria Square were killed. A crowd of some
300 coolies and waiting passengers sheltering in the launch station of
the river ferry were wiped out. On the following morning the
continuation of the curfew throughout the city was announced on the
wireless. Many who had not heard this went out in the morning and were
peremptorily shot. During the day of 26 March the army returned in force
to the old town and set fire to whole streets and rows of shops. Those
attempting to escape were fired at. Among the explanations which have
been suggested are that the army thought that this was where the
defecting East Bengali soldiers from the army had hidden and that it was
in the poorer quarters that the Awami League found its greatest support.
The army later described these operations as 'slum clearance'. Whatever
the reason, no attempt was made to discriminate. Hindu and Muslim areas
alike were set on fire and anyone to be seen on the streets was fired
The areas destroyed in this way included the Hindu temple to Kali
Bhari and the two villages where some 2,000 Hindus lived on the Dacca
race course; the Hindu areas of Chakri Putti; large areas of 'bustee'
houses along the rail track in the old town and near the University, and
numerous shopping areas or' bazaars'. Among those specifically mentioned
are Riya Bazaar, Shankari Bazaar, Sakhri Bazaar, tile old timber market,
Luxmi Bazaar and Shantinagar Bazaar.
After the first onslaught, the burning and killing continued for some
days, directed more specifically against the homes of active Awami
League leaders and against Hindus.
Shankhari Patti, a street in the old town, where the conch-shell
craftsmen lived, was closed at both ends. Everyone was ordered to leave
the houses. Hindus were separated from Muslims, and the Muslims were
ordered to return to their houses. The Hindus were then machine gunned
Missionaries who asked why Hindus were being killed were repeatedly
told by way of justification 'Hindus are enemies of the state'. Many
witnesses testify that the army seemed obsessed with the idea that the
movement for autonomy in East Pakistan was inspired by the Hindus, who
represented less than 20% of the population. Victims of West Pakistani
propaganda, they were erroneously but firmly convinced that the Bengali
people in general and the Awami League in particular were dominated by
this Hindu element and that they in turn were the agents of India, bent
on destroying the Islamic State of Pakistan. It is likely that most
Hindus voted for the Awami League in the 1970 elections, but the belief
that the Awami League was inspired and run by Hindus was quite false.
Its leaders and inspirers were all Muslim, and very few Hindu names
appeared among their membership.
Other prime targets of the army during the crack-down were the East
Pakistan Rifles and the East Pakistan police. Bengalis in the East
Pakistan Rifles had obtained warning of the impending attack on the
night of 25 March. They rightly surmised that their compound at
Peelkhana near the New Market would be attacked and they warned local
residents to leave their homes. Fighting continued for some hours
between the West Pakistan and Bengali forces before the Bengalis were
overpowered or fled. The police barracks at Rajarbagh were also
attacked. In these attacks tanks opened fire first; then troops moved in
and levelled the men's sleeping quarters, firing incendiary rounds into
the buildings. Not many are believed to have escaped.1 Police
stations throughout the city were also targets for attacks. Hundreds of
police and police recruits were killed. A police inspector was reported
as saying on the morning of 27 March, 'I am looking for my constables. I
have 240 in my district and so far I have only found 30 of them, all
dead.'2 Even the guard at the President's House, who until
then had apparently been thought sufficiently loyal to protect President
Yahya Khan, were wiped out to a man.
The Biharis were not slow to join in the attacks on Bengalis. In
Mohammedpur, which was predominantly a Bihari area, the houses of
Bengalis were raided by armed Biharis on 26 March and the Bengalis were
driven out of the area. In the early morning of 26 March a message was
intercepted passing over the army radio from the army headquarters to
unit commanders throughout the city, congratulating them on the night's
work. The message ended, 'You have saved Pakistan'. This phrase was
echoed by Mr. Bhutto. After flying back to Karachi on 26 March he
declared 'Pakistan is saved'.
On 26 March the radio of the Bangladesh Liberation Army declared
Bangladesh a sovereign and independent state, and a call for resistance
was made to the Bengali people. With the exception of Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, who waited at his home until arrested at 1.30 a.m., the Awami
League leaders escaped and set up a self-proclaimed government of
Bangladesh with its headquarters in Calcutta. On the night of March 26
President Yahya Khan in a broadcast to the nation declared that he had
ordered the armed forces 'to do their duty and fully restore the
authority of the Government'. The Awami League was banned, press
censorship was imposed and all political activity forbidden.
Thus the scene was set for a brutal civil war, in which each side was
convinced that the cause they were fighting for was right. The Pakistan
army, the Biharis, the Muslim League and the members of the Jamaat-e-Islam
were fighting for the unity of an Islamic Pakistan. The Bengalis were
fighting for the right to run their own country without interference and
exploitation from outside.
The West Pakistanis thought that a short sharp lesson would suffice
to subjugate the Bengalis. They certainly succeeded in the beginning at
Dacca. Observers talk of a sullen and cowed population in a dead city.
'It is clear,' one of them remarked, 'that the first aim was terrify
people into submission. All vehicles had soldiers standing with their
finger on the trigger of their automatic weapons. .. I have seen people
suddenly stampede from a main road simply because a military vehicle was
seen coming down the road. Similarly, I have seen a stampede simply
because a rickshaw tyre had burst.'
Another writer has described how within three days, the city was
quiet too quiet. The regime claimed that everything was returning
swiftly to normal, that the miscreants and the criminal elements had
been taken care of. But that normality was no more than the absence of
activity, it was the normality of the graveyard. Tens of thousands had
fled Dacca, thousands were dead. Those who remained had no choice but to
carryon as best they could, under the heel of the occupying army. In so
far as fighting subsided, things were 'normal', otherwise not.'3
When the Pakistan forces realised that the initial crack-down had
failed to subdue the Bengali population and that resistance was
continuing, they concentrated their attention upon three groups, Awami
Leaguers, intellectuals and students, and the Hindus. Sometimes only the
men belonging to these groups were shot. One Pakistani officer is quoted
as saying: 'We are humane, we don't shoot women and children.' On many
occasions, however, women and children were shot as well.
Outside Dacca the picture was very different.
The nucleus of the armed resistance was drawn from the Bengalis in
the army and police force who had escaped the army's attacks. In a
number of towns these forces succeeded in keeping the West Pakistan army
confined to their cantonment until reinforcements came, or compelled
them to break out from the town to seek assistance. During these days
and weeks when the insurgent forces were in command, there were many
attacks upon Biharis whose sympathy with the West Pakistanis was well
known and who, as Urdu speakers, were regarded as an alien element and
identified with the West Pakistani 'enemy'. The Biharis, of course,
regarded themselves as loyal citizens of Pakistan.
At Jessore the contingent of the East Bengal Regiment were called
together and told they were to take a holiday; they were to give up
their arms and go home. This they did, but as they left they were fired
upon and some fifty killed. The rest dispersed but gathered again in
secret and that night raided the armoury and re-armed themselves. They
managed to contain the rest of the troops in the cantonment for four
days until their ammunition ran out, when they disappeared either to
their homes or to join the 'Mukti Bahini' liberation forces.
At Dinajpur there was a three-day running battle between the local
contingent of the East Pakistan Rifles and soldiers of the Punjabi
regiment. The Punjabi troops were forced to make a tactical withdrawal
from the town to await reinforcement.
At Chittagong, which was the main recruiting centre of the East
Bengal Regiment, the EBR forces gained control of the town for a period
of about 15 days before sufficient reinforcements arrived to enable the
army to drive them out. Fighting there in fact began the day before the
army crack-down in Dacca. A munition ship had arrived in Chittagong. The
stevedores refused to unload it. When the army attempted to do so there
was fighting. Road blocks were set up in the town and when the army
attempted to get their supplies through there was fierce fighting with
many casualties on both sides. At 11.30 p.m. on 25 March (i.e. 1 1/2
hours after the army moved out of their cantonment at Dacca) the East
Pakistan Rifles mutinied in Chittagong cantonment and came out in
support of the Awami League and gained control of the town.
In Patna (note: probably, it should be spelled Pabna?) and Kushtia
the West Pakistani army companies were wiped out. Other places where the
army was attacked or contained were Rajshahi, Sylhet, Comilla, Feni and
Attacks on Biharis
There can be no doubt that in many of these towns where there was a
substantial Bihari population, the Bengalis turned against the Biharis
during the short period they were in control and some terrible massacres
resulted. Among the places where this happened were Chittagong, Khulna,
Jessore, Comilla, Rangpur, Phulbari, Dinajpur and Mymensingh. In areas
where the non-Bengalis were in a majority, as in some of the railway
towns, the Biharis turned and attacked the Bengalis. For example, in
Paksey nearly all the Bengalis who had not fled were murdered.
Anthony Mascarenhas has described the attacks on the non-Bengalis in
'Thousands of families of unfortunate Muslims, many of them
refugees from Bihar who chose Pakistan at the time of the partition
riots in 1947, were mercilessly wiped out. Women were raped, or had
their breasts torn out with specially fashioned knives. Children did
not escape the horror: the lucky ones were killed with their
parents; but many thousands of others must go through what life
remains for them with eyes gouged out and limbs amputated. More than
20,000 bodies of
non-Bengalis have been found in the main towns, such as
Chittagong, Khulna and Jessore. The real toll, I was told everywhere
in East Bengal, may have been as high as 100,000, for thousands of
non-Bengalis have vanished without a trace. The Government of
Pakistan has let the world know about that first horror. What it has
suppressed is the second and worse horror which followed when its
own army took over the killing. West Pakistan officials privately
calculate that altogether both sides have killed 250,000 people.'4
One may doubt these figures which, like all figures of victims of
atrocities, tend to be greatly exaggerated.
A description of the indiscriminate killing during this period has
been given by an American engineer who was working on a construction
project at Kaptai, near Chittagong. We have quoted from it at length as
it gives a vivid picture of the terror which reigned and of the blind
hatred which motivated the killings on both sides:
'Shortly after March 1, we received word from some British
friends in Chittagong that Bengali mobs had begun looting and
burning the homes and businesses of the West Pakistani residents and
were beating, and in some cases killing, West Pakistanis as well as
On the night of March 9, my expatriate staff and I decided to
depart Kaptai. As we passed through Chittagong we noted three of
four fires. A service station attendant told my driver these were
homes and businesses of 'Biharis'.
We returned to Kaptai on March 23. There was a small Army
garrison stationed at Kaptai. They were a part of the East African
Rifles which was a regiment of Bengalis with mostly Punjabi officers
and N.C.O.'s. The garrison was quartered in an old school building
about 400 yards from our residences.
On the morning of March 26 around 9 a.m. we heard shooting coming
from the school. I went to investigate and found a large crowd
gathered there. Some of the crowd was shooting toward one of the
upstairs school rooms. I was told that the previous night all
Punjabis in the Army garrison (about 26 or 27) had been arrested and
locked in the school-room. Now someone in the crowd was claiming
that shots had come from the room. After removing a sheet of roofing
several men with guns gathered around the opening and began firing
into the room. After a few minutes they came down and began
dispersing the crowd. I later learned that the commanding officer,
who was under house arrest within sight of the school, was slowly
beaten and bayoneted to death as his staff was being shot. The
officer's wife, in a state of terror, asked the mob to kill her too.
She was beaten to death. Their small son was spared and taken in by
a Bengali family.
I met immediately with the local Awami League leader and the
Power Station Manager, a Bengali named Shamsuddin. The Awami League
leader said the people had been told to remain peaceful and that he
had peace patrols roaming the area, but that he could not control
the large mobs. Shamsuddin told me that the mobs had killed many
Biharis the night before and thrown their bodies over the spillway
of the dam. He said he just managed to talk the mob out of taking
his three West Pakistani engineers but felt they were still in great
All India radio began an almost continuous propaganda barrage of
East Pakistan. This inflammatory propaganda roused the mobs in
Kaptai to new frenzies. After all known Biharis, including at least
two of our employees, had been killed, a search was begun for
'imposters'. On about the third day of the trouble we saw two
Bengali soldiers marching away a servant who worked in the housing
area. A few seconds later we heard a shot and ran out into the road.
The servant had fallen partway down a ravine. A crowd quickly
gathered and, when it became apparent the servant was still alive,
dragged him up onto the road. One of the soldiers motioned the crowd
away, knelt and very deliberately fired another bullet into the
body. After a short while the death-Iimp body was dragged and rolled
into the back of a pickup and hauled away. It had been found out
that although the servant had been living in Kaptai over 20 years,
he was born in India. By this time the mobs were killing anyone not
Friends and acquaintances in Chittagong said that on the night of
March 25 Bengali mobs descended on the homes of all known Biharis
and especially those military personnel living outside their
cantonment. The mobs slaughtered entire families and I heard many
horrible descriptions of this massacre. The mutinous East Pakistan
Rifles along with irregulars
laid siege to the Chittagong military cantonment. After seven or
eight days the siege was broken by a relief detachment which had
force-marched from the cantonment at Camilla. I am told that when
the entrapped garrison broke out it was with a terrible vengeance.
The slightest resistance was cause for annihilation of everyone in a
particular area. For instance, the Army made a habit of destroying,
by tank cannon, everything within a wide radius of hostile
roadblocks. I saw the remains of a completely razed three to four
square block area of Chittagong near the entrance to the port area.
I was told that after encountering resistance here the Army
encircled and set fire to the entire area and shot all who fled.
Hundreds of men, women and children were said to have perished here.
When the East Pakistan Rifles and Bengali irregulars began
retreating from the fighting around Chittagong, many of them passed
through Kaptai en route to Rangamati and the Indian border areas.
These renegades began looting their fellow Bengalis as they came
through Kaptai. They also began to murder the surviving wives and
children of previously killed Biharis. They demanded and took food,
clothing and other supplies from the local residents. By April 10,
everyone in Kaptai, including myself had become terrified of these
deserters. Mr. Shamsuddin suggested, and I agreed, that he and
several members of his staff, along with families, move into the
houses around my residence.
After great pressure from implied threats, Shamsuddin had finally
banded his three West Pakistani engineers over to a mob after he was
told they would not be harmed, only held in jail at Rangamati.
Shamsuddin agreed to hand over the engineers provided two Bengali
members of his staff be allowed to accompany the engineers on their
trip to the jail. This was agreed and they were taken away. Everyone
felt certain these men would be killed but they were spared. When I
last heard of them they were safe with their families in Dacca.
Shamsuddin, although a Bengali, attempted on several occasions, at
great risk to himself and his family, to stop the killings by the
mobs but with little success. Also he saw to it that the existing
generating units remained in operation throughout the trouble.
An Army unit arrived in Kaptai on the morning of April 14. Except
for those in our area Kaptai and surroundings were completely
deserted. The unit consisted of a tank, two jeeps, a half-track and
about 250 infantry. As they approached the tank fired blanks from
its cannon and the soldiers fired intermittent bursts from their
weapons. The object seemed to be to cower the inhabitants with the
noise. The army immediately began burning the shanties ('bustees')
in which most of the people had lived. The bazaar and a few
permanent type dwellings were also burned.
While his troops were searching the area, the commanding officer
and his staff took tea in our residence. They congratulated and
warmly praised Shamsuddin and his staff for their attempts to
maintain order and for keeping the generating units in operation.
The C.O. said that the Army's objective was to restore normality as
quickly as possible. One of the officers told of a terrible scene
they had come upon in a town about 10 miles from Kaptai called
Chandagborna. About 40 to 50 women and children -survivors of
previously killed Biharis - had been taken into a loft building
where they had been hacked, stabbed and beaten to death. He said
this grizzIy scene had driven the troops to an almost incontrollable
rage and he said it was fortunate that Kaptai was deserted except
[Mr. Shamsuddin was later taken from the house by two Pakistan
soldiers.] We ran after them. They were taken behind the fire
station which was about 250 yards away. Just as we arrived at the
station we heard two shots. Shamsuddin and another man lay dead on
the grass, each with a bullet through his chest.
The officer-in-charge appeared and questioned the soldier who had
done the killing. We later found this man was a Major. After
questioning by the O.I.C. the Major's weapon was taken and the Major
was ordered immediately to Chittagong. The O.I.C. told us the whole
thing was a tragic mistake. Later I was told what had happened.
While directing the search of the area the Major and his driver came
upon a woman with a small child who told that her husband and son
had been killed by the Bengalis. She charged that Shamsuddin was the
leader of the mobs and instigator of the atrocities. The women was
taken to the fire station and the Major and his aide set off to find
Shamsuddin. When Shamsuddin was brought before the woman she
immediately identified him and the Major instantly carried out the
executions. The man who died with Shamsuddin had also been accused
by the woman, who was crazed by fear and grief.'
The Army's Attacks
It is clear that when the army regained control of these centres, the
vengeance wreaked by them and the Biharis upon the Bengali population
The army shot, killed and destroyed at sight on the least suspicion,
and burnt down village after village, especially those inhabited by
The army commander in one town was reported as saying: 'When people
start shooting you shoot back. We killed them all. You don't go around
counting the bodies of your enemies, you throw them in the rivers and be
done with it.'5
Hariharpara village near Dacca was turned into an extermination camp.
People were brought in trucks and bound together in batches and taken to
the river edge where they were made to wade into the water and then
shot. The army were assisted by local Biharis who, at the end of the
war, fled to Bihari colonies at Mohammedpur, Mirpur and the Adamjee Jute
Italian missionaries at Jessore have described the mass killings
there beginning on April 4. One of them was told by Pakistani soldiers
that they had received orders to kill everybody. ' And they did it', he
commented, 'men, women, babies. ..I cannot describe it. It was too
terrible. ..' An Italian priest was walking down a street. Soldiers
shouted to him to come over with his hands up. He did so and as he
approached they shot him dead. Another priest who witnessed this said,
'They often did it that way '.7
Most of the estimates made on both sides of numbers killed are, we
believe, much exaggerated and wholly unreliable. The figure of 250,000
quoted above as a Pakistan estimate of the total killed on both sides up
to June 1971, may be also be an exaggeration, but it carries with it an
implied admission by the Pakistan army with fearsome implications. In
March 1972 Mr. Bhutto told an Indian correspondent that the Pakistan
estimate of the numbers killed by the army was 40,000 to 50,000. General
Tikka Khan told Clare Hollingsworth, the Daily Telegraph correspondent,
that his estimate of the number killed by the army up to August was
15,000 and for the whole period till December was 30,000. Even these
figures are appalling. As Clare Hollingsworth pointed out in reply to
General Tikka Khan, 15,000 was the total number killed on both sides in
the battle of Alamein, probably the bloodiest battle outside Russia in
World War II.
Mascarenhas reported that he was repeatedly told by senior military
offlcers in Dacca and Comilla, ' We are determined to cleanse East
Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means
killing off two million people and ruling the province as a colony for
30 years.' His evidence is particular value, not only because he heard
such remarks made by Pakistan officers when, 'off-guard' , but because
he made contemporaneous records of the conversations in his diaries,
many of which he smuggled out with him. Perhaps the most damning
statement of all those he heard was one made by Major-General Shaukat
Riza, commanding the 9th Division:
'You must be absolutely sure that we have not undertaken such a
drastic and expensive operation - expensive both in men and money -
for nothing. We have undertaken a job. We are going to finish it,
not hand it over half done to the politicians so that they can mess
it up again. The army can't keep coming back like this every three or
four years. It has a more important task. I assure you that when we
have got through with what we are doing there will never be need
again for such an operation.' 8
Statements of this kind make clear that the atrocities committed
against the population of East Pakistan were part of a deliberate
policy by a disciplined force . As such, they differed in character
from the mob violence committed at times by Bengalis against Biharis.
To quote Anthony Mascarenhas again (from a taped interview):
'What struck me was the impression I got, a very hard impression,
that this was a regular pattern. It wasn't somebody venting his
spleen, but he had clear orders to clean up. It was the pattern of
the killing. You killed first Hindus, you killed everyone of the
East Pakistan Rifles, the police, or the East Bengal Regiment you
found, you killed the students, the male students, if you got a
woman student you probably did something else, the teachers. ..The
teachers are supposed to have been corrupted by the Hindus. It is
the pattern that is most frightening. I have seen the partition
riots in Delhi in 1947. That was mob frenzy. It was completely
different here. This was organised killing, this is what was
terrifying about it. It was not being done by mobs. It was a
systematic organised thing.'
By the middle of May, the army was in full control of the towns of
East Pakistan, most of which had been evacuated by more than half their
residents and rows of buildings and houses razed to the ground.
The Report of a World Bank Mission on East Pakistan dated July 8,
1971, described Dacca and other towns in early June 1971 as follows:
'The first thing that strikes one -whether in Dacca or travelling
in the countryside -is that there seems to be very few people about.
The situation varies greatly from Dacca, where our collective
impression is that no more than 50% of the usual population is in
evidence during the day; to Chittagong, where only a third of the
population appears, and these feel it necessary to indicate their.
loyalty' by displaying Pakistani flags on their vehicles or their
persons; to Kushtia, where no more than 10% of the normal population
remains; to Bhola, where virtually the total population seems to be
in place. One ominous development is that the population is reliably
reported to have doubled in areas of Patuakhali and other parts of
the coastal region where the food situation is already critical and
there is serious doubt that even the normal population can be
supplied with adequate food grains over the coming months.
This is the impression one gains by day. After dark the situation
is more unusual still. Most areas have curfews. In Sylhet it is 7.30
p.m. to 5.00 a.m.; in Chittagong 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m.; in Dacca
curfew was abolished on the 11th June. Whatever the curfew hours,
the streets begin to clear in mid-afternoon and are completely
deserted by dark.
People fear to venture forth and, as a result, commerce has
virtually ceased and economic activity generally is at a very low
ebb. Clearly, despite improvements in some areas and taking the
Province as a whole, widespread fear among the population has
persisted beyond the initial phase of heavy fighting. It appears
that this is not just a concomitant of the army extending its
control into the countryside and the villages off the main highways,
although at this stage the mere appearance of military units often
suffices to engender fear. However, there is also no question that
punitive measures by the military are continuing; even if directed
at particular elements (such as known or suspected Awami Leaguers,
students or Hindus), these have the effect of fostering fear among
the population at large. At the same time, insurgent activity is
continuing. This is not only disruptive in itself, but also often
leads to massive army retaliation. In short the general atmosphere
remains very tense and incompatible with the resumption of normal
activities in the Province as a whole.'
The Report went on to describe the army destructions 'with a trail of
devastation running from Khulna to Jessore to Kushtia to Padna, Bogra,
Rangpur and Dinajpur', and then stated 'however, one similarity for all
districts is that all remained very far from normal up to the time of
our departure from East Pakistan on June 11'.
On 28 June, 1971, President Yahya Khan once again addressed the
nation and announced plans for framing a new constitution. He admitted
that 'normalcy in its accepted meaning can never return to a country
without full participation of the people in its administration ...and
this can happen only when the representatives of the people assume
responsibility for the administration of the country '.
He promised that he would be able to achieve this goal in a matter of
four months or so, but in the meantime the slaughter and destruction by
the army continued. On the day of his broadcast to the nation, an
Associated Press dispatch from Dacca quoted reliable sources as saying
that the army had attacked five villages within the past four days. The
army continued to run amok. Mascarenhas has recounted how the West
Pakistan army systematically massacred tens of thousands of Bengalis. He
described how one Major Iftihar set fire to a row of houses in a Hindu
village and ruefully said on the following day 'I burnt only sixty
houses, if it hadn't rained I would have got the whole bloody lot'.9
These missions were officially known as 'kill and burn missions'. This
title is itself sufficient to show that they were a flagrant breach of
the Geneva Conventions.10
Mascarenhas has also told of Hindus hunted and killed, and truckloads
of human beings disposed of with a flick of a pencil.
It was to escape this terrible slaughter that the refugees fled in
millions to the safety of the Indian border. It is estimated that the
population of Dacca, a city of well over a million inhabitants, was
reduced by some 25 %. Jessore, formerly a town of over 100,000 was
reduced to about 10,000 by the time of the liberation. A similar exodus
occurred from other towns. The population of thousands of destroyed
villages fled in their entirety.
The evidence of the massive and indiscriminate destruction of
villages is overwhelming. To give some precise examples: the Anglican
Bishop of Dacca writes: 'From a place called Jalirpar (south of Faridpur)
I travelled south to Kadambari, about 5 miles. I did not see a single
homestead that had not been burnt down. ' He explained that the road had
been built up on both sides. The Reverend Phil Parshall, a U.S.
missionary, travelled in April by rickshaw from Golando to Faridpur, a
distance of 18 miles, with another missionary. 'We tried to count' he
said, 'and to reckon that 80% of the houses on both sides were
destroyed. No distinction was made between Hindus and Muslims.' In June,
Clare Hollingsworth of the Daily Telegraph, returned to Dacca. She was
flown to the north of the country in a low-flying helicopter. 'I tried
to count the burnt out villages' she said, 'but just lost count.'
Faced with the mounting flow of refugees, the Pakistan Government
declared variously that they were lured into India by false promises,
that they were prevented from returning to Pakistan, and that only 2.2
million of the people in the camps were refugees, the rest being
homeless Hindus from the streets of Calcutta.
Dr. Homer Jack, Secretary of the World Conference for Religion and
Peace, particularly investigated these claims and found them all to be
without foundation. 'All (the refugees) left their homeland because of
killings, of lootings. They did not leave because of Indian promises,
they heard none.' He talked to an Indian district magistrate about the
allegation that the refugees were prevented from returning. The
magistrate told Dr. Jack 'that he would love to have some or all of the
600,000 refugees living in his small geographical area leave. He said
that the sooner they go back, the better, but none of them are going
back.' On the figures given by the Pakistan Government. Dr. Jack had the
following to say:
'I obviously was not in a position to count the refugees
personally. Perhaps the Indian figure is inflated, but more probably
Pakistan for her own purposes is only counting the Muslims who are
refugees and the six or more million Hindu refugees who are still
Pakistani citizens have been conveniently excluded from Islamabad's
Relief workers from the refugee camps deny categorically the
suggestion that the' refugees' included homeless Hindus from India. One
recalled an earlier unsuccessful attempt of the Indian Government to
resettle the homeless of Calcutta in camps outside the city. They just
returned to the streets from which they had come.
Another feature on which very many accounts agree is the wholesale
rape of women and young girls by Pakistan soldiers. The Bangladesh
Government allege that over 70,000 women were made pregnant as a result
of these rapes. Whatever the precise numbers, the teams of American and
British surgeons carrying out abortions and the widespread government
efforts to persuade people to accept these girls into the community,
testify to the scale on which raping occurred. The officers turned a
blind eye to this savagery, and when challenged denied that it occurred.
In many cases the officers themselves kept young girls locked up to
serve their pleasure.
While the guerillas were stepping up their activities, the Pakistan
authorities were bringing over police and 'rangers' from West Pakistan
and recruiting men locally for the auxiliary force known as the Razakars.
Their task was to try to maintain control of the inner areas while the
Pakistan army was deployed on the frontier to try to prevent
infiltration of Mukti Bahini from India and to counter the threat of
invasion from India which they feared. In areas with a large non-Bengali
population, many of the Razakars were Biharis. In other areas, and
particularly in rural areas, they were recuited from the Bengalis. Some
were fanatical Muslims, others were recruited from the criminal
population. They were often joined in their brutal repression by local 'dacoity'
(armed robbers) who saw an opportunity for easy money. Looting and
extortion by Razakars and West Pakistan police was on a colossal scale.
A senior police official who investigated complaints against Razakars in
the Chittagong area after the end of the war has reported that many of
them claimed that they had to loot in order to meet the demands of the
West Pakistan officials in charge of them. From the enquiries he had
made he was satisfied that in many cases this was true.
In some areas the brutality of the West Pakistan police and Razakars
was such that the people said that they wished that the Pakistan army
The Mukti Bahini
Despite General Yahya Khan's claim at the end of July that all was
normal in East Pakistan, the challenge of the guerillas was growing
every day, and large areas of the country were under their control.
The terrain of the country, the nearby sanctuary across the Indian
frontier, and the support of the civilian population all served to make
the circumstances ideal for guerilla warfare. Communications were easily
severed by blowing road and railway bridges, and the main export
industries of tea and jute were largely brought to a halt. Two
expatriate tea planters disappeared at the beginning of June and there
is evidence to show that one was murdered in Sylhet on June 14 as part
of a campaign to dissuade expatriates from collaborating with the
When the Mukti Bahini regained control of a rural area, it was their
practice to mete out rough justice against Razakars and dacoity who had
pillaged and terrorised the population.
At the end of August President Yahya Khan tried to obtain the
cooperation of the population by more peaceful methods. General Tikka
Khan was replaced by a civilian governor, Dr. A. M. Malik, with a
civilian cabinet. On 5 September, the President declared a general
amnesty and many suspects were released. The President said he hoped the
amnesty would 'remove all manner of doubt, fear and anxiety from the
minds of those who may have committed offences during the course of and
due to the heat generated by political disturbances in East Pakistan and
gone outside the country or underground'. He invited men to return to
their homeland and rejoin their families and resume their normal
After all that the army had done, it is not surprising that there was
virtually no response to President Yahya Khan's appeal. In September and
October guerilla activities increased still further. The disorganised
and undisciplined groups of insurgents developed into a more effective
and reasonably well organised guerrilla force. India helped with arms,
sanctuary and training. By the middle of October it was estimated that
there were about 80,000 West Pakistani troops opposed by somewhere
between 50,000 and 100,000 Mukti Bahini.
One of the most dramatic of the guerrilla successes was the damaging
and sinking of ships in East Pakistan's two major harbours. Sidney
Schanberg reported in October, 'the latest casualty was a Greek tanker,
which Bengali frogmen damaged in Chittagong about a week ago. Some
shipping lines are thinking of halting all their traffic into East
Pakistan. That would be a severe blow to the ability of the Pakistan
Government to support its military occupation there.'12
The result of the increased guerilla activities was an increased
stream of refugees into India. Every act of sabotage was followed by
reprisals by the armed forces who continued to 'burn and kill' whole
villages. The villagers fled, often as soon as the acts of sabotage
occurred, and before the reprisals came.
On 25 October 1971, President Yahya Khan invited the Secretary
General of the United Nations to visit India and PakIstan in order to
discuss the withdrawal of troops from both sides of the Indian frontier,
with U.N. observers in the frontier areas. The Indian Government and the
provisional government of Bangladesh not unnaturally opposed the plan,
which would have operated to the advantage of the Pakistan Government.
By that time the Pakistani troops had almost completely withdrawn from
the interior of East Bengal, and the war against the guerrillas was
largely left to the Razakars and West Pakistani police.
The successes of the Mukti Bahini in Dacca, where there were many
foreign journalists and diplomats was particularly galling to the
Pakistan authorities. Explosions were heard almost nightly. A curfew was
declared on 18 November, and a house to house search was instigated.
Over a hundred 'miscreants' were arrested. Threats of reprisals against
persons living within a radius of 100 yards of any explosion served to
check these Mukti Bahini activities in Dacca.
The War between India and Pakistan
Meanwhile, on the Indian frontier, firing from both sides had been
increasing for some time. On 21 November, the Indian Government admitted
to making raids with tanks into East Pakistan during which they captured
and brought back to India some Pakistani tanks. They said it had been
found necessary to modify previous instructions to Indian troops not to
cross the border because 'opposition forces were seen advancing in tanks
On 23 November, President Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency
following an alleged four-pronged attack by India towards Jessore,
Chittagong, Sylhet and Rangpur, and on 24 November, the Pakistan
Government called up all its military reservists. India had already
mobilised reservists during the month of October.
Border skirmishes between Indians and Pakistanis became more frequent
and widespread. They continued until 3 December when the Pakistan
airforce launched their 'pre-emptive air strike' against Indian
airfields over a wide area in the western sector. The airfields attacked
were at Amritsar, Pathankot, Srinagar, Awantipur, Uttarlai, Jodhpur,
Ambala and Agra. Agra is 330 miles inside the Indian border and 110
miles from New Delhi.
There have been many speculations why Pakistan launched this attack
which they must have realised was likely to lead to a full-scale war.
Whatever the reason, India made the predictable response. Prime Minister
Indira Ghandi declared 'Some hours ago Pakistan launched a full-scale
war against us '. The Indian Army then invaded Pakistan on both the
eastern and western fronts. On 6 December, India recognised Bangladesh
as an independent state.
On 7 December, President Yahya Khan announced he had formed a
coalition government with an elderly East Pakistani at its head. This
was Nurul Amin, an independent, who was one of the two non-Awami League
members of the Assembly elected from East Pakistan. His deputy was Mr.
Bhutto who explained that 'during the present emergency, I have agreed
to temporarily accept the second position in the civilian government
with the understanding that wars do not last for ever and that things
must be changed afterwards. After all, Mr. Nurul Arnin represents only
himself, whereas I represent the people of West Pakistan.'
The war which Mr. Bhutto had said could not last for ever in fact
lasted for twelve days. On 12 December, Indian parachutists landed near
Dacca and on 14 December Indian troops began their assault on the city.
Dr. Malik's civil administration resigued on the same day.
On 15 December, President Yahya Khan authorised General A. A. K.
Niazi to take the necessary measures to stop the fighting. On the same
day Mr. Bhutto dramatically walked out of the Security Council in New
York. On the following day, 16 December, the Pakistan military and
auxiliary forces surrendered unconditionally at Dacca.
The Final Killings
While the population were throwing flowers on Indian troops, some of
the Bengali guerrilla forces started killing 'collaborators' and West
Pakistanis. Lt-General Jagjit Singh Aurora, General Officer commanding
the Indian and Bangladesh forces in the eastern theatre, was forced to
state that he was allowing Pakistan soldiers to keep their arms for
The prime target of the Bengali forces were the hated Razakars. One
incident which gained immediate world wide publicity as it occurred in
front of the television cameras, was the stabbing to death at the Sports
Ground of four Razakars. This was carried out by one of the irregular
guerrilla units who were not under the control or orders of the
Bangladesh government in exile. It was led by a Colonel Abdul Kadir
It must be remembered that these incidents occurred in the immediate
aftermath of a most brutal civil war, and took place at a time when no
government had yet been established in Dacca, let alone been able to
take action to restore law and order. As soon as the new government was
established and in particular after Sheikh Mujibur Rahman returned to
Dacca early in January to assume the office of Prime Minister, all the
authority of the new Government was brought to bear to stop these
revenge killings and to leave the fate of collaborators to be determined
by the courts after due process of law. In general this policy has been
successful, though feelings against the Biharis are such that explosions
of mob violence against them may recur. One such outburst occurred in
Khulna in March 1972, when some 200 Biharis are believed to have been
killed by a Bengali mob.
These reprisal actions became all the more understandable when it was
learned how large numbers of intellectuals and leading Bengali figures
had been rounded up and put to death within the last few days before the
surrender of the Pakistan army.
It is impossible to assess the precise number of those killed in this
way between II and 14 December. Some have suggested as many as 2,000,
others indicate some hundreds. Lists have been published giving the
names of some of the victims. Nine university teachers have been named
as killed, and at least another 15 were searched for but managed to
escape. Eight journalists have been named as being among the victims.
These murders were perpetrated by members of Al Badr, a Bengali
organisation which came into being after 25 March, 1971, and which is
believed to have been the action section of Jarnaat-e-Islam, the
extremist Muslim Party. Their goal was to wipe out all Bengalis who
advocated independence and the creation of a secular state. It has been
alleged that the AI Badr raid, were directed by a group of Pakistani
officers, who are said to have approved the list of those to be
The AI Badr raids were carried out at night, the victims being led
away blindfolded at gun point, never to return. Many were taken to the
Dacca College of Physical Education building. A janitor, at the College
stated 'They brought in hundred, of people, all nicely dressed and tied
up. We could hear the screaming all the time from the rooms.'
The victims were later taken in trucks to a deserted brickyard near
Mohammedpur. The only knwon survivor, who managed to loosen the rope
with which he was tied and escaped, has described how these prisoners
were tortured before being taken out to be shot. The victims included
women, one of whom was an editor who was found with two bayonet wounds,
one through the eye and one in the stomach, and two bullet wounds. It is
alleged that a heart specialist, Dr. Fazle Rabbe, had been cut open and
his heart ripped out.
Similar atrocities are alleged to have been committed in other parts
of East Pakistan in the closing days of the war.
The insensate vengeance and hatred which led to these killings in the
closing stages of the war is a grim epilogue to the record of systematic
repression in East Pakistan from March to December.
1Simon Dring, of Daily Telegraph (London), in Washington Post,
March 30, 1971.
3David Loshak, Pakistan Crisis, 1971, Heineman, London, p. 88.
4Anthony Mascarenhas, Sunday Times, London, June 13, 1971.
5Malcolm w. Browne, New York Times, May 9, 1971.
6Lewis M. Simmons, Washington Post, 21 January, 1972.
7U.P.I. report, 13 December, 1971.
8Sunday Times, London, June 13, 1971.
9Sunday Times, London, June 13, 1971.
10See Part IV below.
11Statement by Dr. Homer Jack to the Sub-Committee to
Investigate Problems Connected with refugees and Escapees, of the
Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate, Ninety-Second Congress,
First Session, September 30, 1971, p. 295.
12Sidney H. Schanberg, New York Times, October 10,1971.