One of the best kept secret of the 1971 war was the fact that India laid out an elaborate deception game to beguile the enemy into believing that its war aim was to merely help the Mukti Bahini liberate Khulna, Chittagong and a few other districts, from where the independent Bangladesh movement would continue.
Inspired leaks to the international media hinted that India would help the Mukti Bahini create a liberated zone in East Pakistan and be satisfied with it.
However, when the war really began in December, many cantonments including Chittagong was simply bypassed. The orders had come that Dhaka, and only Dhaka would be the target. The order to troops was to bypass towns, use subsidiary tracks and head straight for Dhaka.
The Pakistani army, consequently never realised that in 14 days time, Indian troops along with Muktis would be at Dhaka’s doorsteps.
Indians and the Mukti Bahini needed to be in Dhaka fast, before the United Nations acted and declared a ceasefire, before China could manouvere troops to intervene on behalf of Pakistan.
One way was to para drop troops at Tangail who would link up with infantry and tanks moving up from the border and head towards Dhaka. Captain P.K Ghosh of the Para Brigade and Kader ‘Tiger’ Siddiqi, a flambouyant Mukti Bahini commander laid out the drop zone in Tangail almost a month before the actual drop.
The elite 2 Para commandos were dropped at Tangail, famous for its sarees, on December 11, to take over Poongli bridge on the Lohajang river and to link up with Mukti Bahini coloumn led by the `Tiger.’ The combined forces would act as a vanguard and await reinforcements by tanks and infantry before the final push to Dhaka. While this threat to Dhaka came from the North West, to the North East, 57 Mountain Division built up a position, again awaiting a link up with more reinforcements for the final push.
Troops of the IV Corp coming up from the East were heli-lifted from Brahmanbaria across the Meghna river in an operation codenamed `Cactus Lily`, bypassing strong Pakistani defences at Ashuganj and at a destroyed bridge over the giant river.
Dhaka was thus caught in a giant mouse trap laid out by the combined forces. Leading to Gen (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw’s famous All India Radio announcement that Pakistani forces in the city were surrounded by air, sea and land and had no option but to surrender and the city’s ultimate liberation on December 16, 1971.
Tibetans who fought for Bangladesh
Among the unsung heros in the war in Bangladesh, was an elite force of 3,000 Tibetans led by a Tibetan Dapon (equivalent to Brigadier). These men were trained in cutting communications, blowing up bridges and other acts of sabotage behind enemy lines. The Tibetan commandos, armed with Bulgarian AK 47 and Tibetan knives, were on direct orders from Delhi, often bypassing the Eastern Command of the Indian Army. Among their aims was to destroy Kaptai dam and some bridges around it. The whole operation was codenamed `Mountain Eagle.’
At one stage, there was a move to use the Tibetans to capture Chittagong, but since these men did not have artillery support or airlift, they were instead asked to block units of the Pakistan army from escaping into Burma. They are believed to have helped check Pakistan’s 97 Independent Brigade and 2 Commando Battalion in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Few know of the Tibetan `Phantom’ army, whose dream must have been to liberate their own homeland but who fought for Bangladesh. This secret force was drawn from India’s eilte Special Frontier Force.
A sidelight of the war’s end, was the near death of Gen A.A.K Niazi, who even after surrendering remained scared of losing his life: At Dhaka, where Niazi was to eventually surrender after last minute attempts to get the international community to broker a ceasfire failed, `Tiger’ Siddiqui reached Dhaka airport with a handful of Muktis, at around the time Lt Gen `Jake’ Jacob of the eastern Army was negotiating with Niazi the surrender terms. Indian Army lore has it that Siddiqui may well have shot Niazi long before the surrender was signed, if he had his way. Jacob managed to sweet talk that fiesty `gent’ into letting things happen as they did. After the surrender ceremony, it took a strong contingent of Indian soldiers to save the General’s skin from Mukti Bahini irregulars who weren’t exactly in love with him.