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Another look at the war of 1971

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    Another look at the war of 1971

    EXCERPTS: Fodder to tease friends
    By Khushwant Singh

    Khushwant Singh recalls his encounters in Pakistan where he met Tikka Khan on one visit and reported Z.A.Bhutto's hanging on another.

    I was as eager to be the first Indian journalist to interview General Tikka Khan as the General was determined to have nothing to do with any Indian. He was angry that he had been dubbed by the Indian press as the 'Butcher of Bangladesh' and was smarting under the ignominious defeat inflicted by the Indian army on Pakistan. He did not acknowledge my letter asking for an interview. It was my friend Manzur Qadir who interceded on my behalf and persuaded him to talk to me as 'a friend of Pakistan'.

    General Tikka Khan received me courteously in his bungalow. He was a short, stocky man with a dour look. He looked more like a bank clerk than a soldier. With him was his orderly, a huge man in a Pathan-style skullcap with a stiffly starched turban. As I looked around I noticed paraphernalia usual in the homes of army top brass - regimental insignias, trophies and photographs in silver frames. On the mantelpiece and the walls were quotations from the Quran, including one which I was able to decipher. I kept it to myself as I felt it might come in handy in my dialogue with the General.

    He was a bitter man. He maintained that stories published in the Indian and the foreign press of mass killings and gang rapes committed by Pakistanis were untrue. "We are a God-fearing people, my soldiers were a disciplined body of men. They didn't go about shooting innocent Bengalis and molesting their women. It is you Indians who spread these lies and had British newspapers publish these calumnies against us," he said, looking directly into my eyes.

    I made a mild protest. I told him that I had visited Bangladesh soon after the war and heard stories of atrocities committed by Pakistani troops and officers from the mouths of Bangladeshi Muslims. "They could not all be lies," I said. "And I saw the enormous anger against Pakistanis. But for Indian troops to protect them, Pakistani prisoners of war would have been lynched by Bangladeshi mobs."

    "There might have been a few incidents," he conceded. "There are some black sheep in every herd. And you know how prone Bengalis are to exaggerating everything!" He quoted an Urdu couplet:

    Shauq-e-tool-o-peych is zulmat qade mein hai agar
    Bengalee key baat sun aur Bengalan kay baal deykh.
    (If you like to add length to a story, put a twist in its tail,
    Hear a Bengali talk (endlessly) and gaze upon his woman's long hair.)

    I found it very amusing and put it down in my notebook, fodder to tease my Bengali friends with. I went on to ask the General why the Pakistanis had put up such a miserable performance on the field of battle. "It was not a fair fight", he replied. "First you cut off air contact between West and East Pakistan. Then your men infiltrated deep inside East Pakistan, long before we were compelled to declare war. All these stories of the Mukti Bahini were propaganda. The Mukti Bahini were Indian soldiers trained for guerrilla warfare; there were very few Bengalis in it to start with. You armed them, your officers led and directed them. Our troops had to face the enemy in front as well as in their rear."

    The orderly volunteered his opinion: "Awaam hamarey khilaff ho gayaa tha" - the people had turned against us.

    The General did not approve of his orderly expressing an opinion and raised his hands to silence him. I cashed in on it. "That is exactly what I have been saying. What can an army do if the entire populace of a country rises against it?"

    "It was Indian propaganda", maintained the General. I did not have very much more to ask him. I pointed to the quotation from the Quran on the mantelpiece and, feigning innocence asked, "What does it mean?"

    The General read it out loudly: "Nasr min Allah Fateh-un-qareeb. It means Allah grants victory to those whose cause is just."

    "General Sahib, Allah in his wisdom granted us victory because our cause was just."

    For the first time during the interview, the General smiled. "Sardar Sahib, I suspect you knew what the quotation meant". I admitted I did. And took my leave.

    How can a man die better than facing fearful odds for the ashes of his fathers and the Temple of his Gods?