By Matiar Chowdhury
Cries of “Go Niazi, Go” at recent anti-government rallies by the opposition parties in Pakistan have raised curiosity about why Prime Minister Imran Khan is referred to in this manner. That is because he belongs to the Niazi clan of Pathans who migrated from Afghanistan to escape constant attacks by Mongols and settled in what is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the former North-West Frontier Province.
The Indian delegation at the United Nations also took the cue from this and ridiculed Imran Khan as ‘Niazi’ for promoting militancy and exporting it, partly to save his skin and the rest, his mentors/ minders in the Pakistan Army require it.
The term of ridicule is because of late Lt. Gen. Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, though he is not directly related to Imran Khan, but a clansman. The Pakistan Army’s last military commander in its erstwhile eastern province remains in unsought limelight as the man who led 93,000 soldiers to surrender to the joint command of the Indian Army and the Bangladeshi freedom fighters.
That surrender, a rare happening in the annals world’s military history, took place in Dhaka on December 16, 1971. It ended a sordid chapter that began as “Operation Searchlight” of the Pakistan Army, on March 25 in 1971, — a little over 50 years ago. Those whom the army attacked retaliated with call for freedom by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. That makes it Bangladesh’s 50th – Swarnim — Independence Day.
Gen. Niazi, of course, took over from Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan, who went on to become the Army Chief. The history had willed that the much of the blame and shame should go to Niazi. Even so, he had carried his reputation as a corrupt general with him to Dhaka. Only, he was not the only one as concluded by the Justice Hamoodur Rehman Report that inquired into the war – and the eastern province – that Pakistan lost in December 1971.
To be fair to Niazi, the Commission that had the then Chief Justice, two high court chief justices and representatives of the military and civil bureaucracy, waited for his return where he was a prisoner of war (POW), the last to repatriate. His side of the story was heard and recorded. Niazi also wrote a book seeking to clear his name. But his became a name of shame and ignominy and he died an unsung man.
On page 504, the Commission’s report disregarded much of his defence and chose to believe the testimony recorded by several of his subordinates, both military and civil, and recommend further inquiry against him and six other military officers.
The Commission took note of the allegations against Niazi that “he was “making money” in the handling of Martial Law cases when posted in Sialkot and Lahore before he went to Dhaka.
It noted that Niazi was “on intimate terms with one Mrs Saeeda Bokhari of Gulberg, Lahore, who was running a brothel under the name of Senorita and was also asking as the General’s tout for receiving bribe and getting things done.” Niazi was also “friendly with another woman, Mrs Shamim Firdaus of Sialkot, who as playing the same role as Bokhari.”
The Commission noted that during his stay in Dhaka, Niazi “came to acquire a stinking reputation owing to women of bad repute, and his nocturnal visits to places frequented by several junior officers under his command.”
The Commission rejected his version that “I became very religious during the East Pakistan trouble. IK was not so before. I thought more of death that these things.”
Niazi’s fellow officers accused him before the Commission of smuggling Pan and making huge sums. One of his sons was in the business of ‘export’ of Pan. The betel leaf to which many Pakistanis were addicted came entirely from the eastern province.
The ‘business’ was run by his own staff officers who prevented the normal movement, called ‘exports’ by the Commission, by others in that trade. His staff also sought to place restrictions on the air movement conducted by Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
The Commission noted that six top officers of the Eastern Command were involved in the largescale movement of money. A sum of Rs 1.3 crores was removed from just one bank branch at Sirajganj. There allegations of the officers’ family members being entrusted with funds that Major General Mohammed Jamshed told the probe body were ‘secret’ and “non-auditable”. Such movement became frenetic towards the end of war, right till the day of surrender.
Circumspect, Justice Rehman and fellow members of the Commission concluded thsat they had “no desire” to probe allegations of personal nature, or “immorality and dishonesty”. They had done so “owing to the universal belief that such infamous conduct had a direct bearing on the qualities of the determination and leadership displayed by these officers in the 1971 war.”
The Commission has noted that several places in the document declassified by the Pakistan Government that the debacle in 1971 of “the Muslim army of Pakistan” began way back in 1958 when it seized power under Gen. Ayub Khan.
The Commission was instituted by the government of Z A Bhutto. Justice Rehman submitted the report to him in 1975. It had also gone into the role and the failure of the political class that led to the conflict in the eastern province and the eventual war that the military lost. In particular, it had criticised the role Bhutto had himself payed. Bhutto could not have liked it.
Wikipedia quotes official records: “When the report was submitted the then Prime Minister Bhutto, the Prime minister wrote to the chairman War Enquiry Commission Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman, that the commission has exceeded its limits. The commission was appointed to look into the military “aspect of a debacle”, not the aspect of political failure; therefore, Bhutto classified the publications of the commission and marked its report as “Top Secret”.
(Writer: Senior Journalist in London)