Time and again there has been a clamour from politicians and the media that the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report should be made available to the public. Recently this demand was aired on a television channel. Actually, the report, which was a classified document, was officially declassified on 30 December 2000 and became part of the public narrative. Many people have criticised the report, which is a most remarkable document, without ever having read it. Within a week after he was sworn in as president, on 26 December 1971 Zulfikar Ali Bhutto appointed a commission of inquiry into the 1971 war with Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman as president and justices Anwarul Haq of the Lahore High Court and Tufailali Abdur Rahman of the High Court of Sind and Baluchistan as members. They were tasked to inquire into the circumstances in which the Commander Eastern Command surrendered and Pakistan’s armed forces under his command laid down their arms and a ceasefire was ordered along the borders of West Pakistan and India and along the ceasefire line in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Commission examined 213 persons including members of the public, political leaders, members of the army, navy and air force, serving and retired civil servants and journalists. The main report was submitted to Bhutto on 12 July 1972. Since some of the major actors in the East Pakistan tragedy were prisoners of war in India, the Commission tried unsuccessfully to interview them through the International Committee of the Red Cross. After the 1974 Simla Agreement, when these prisoners and civilian internees were repatriated to Pakistan, the Commission examined 72 persons, including Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi, Commander Eastern Command. The supplementary report, based on their evidence, was completed before the end of 1974.
The report hit the headlines when India Today carried excerpts from the supplementary report in the middle of August 2000 which were reprinted in Dawn. The publication in India Today, close to 14 August, was probably meant to divert attention from the brutal repression of freedom fighters in Indian-held Kashmir.
General Parvez Musharraf, then chief executive, constituted a committee comprising interior minister Moinuddin Haider, cabinet secretary Masuma Hasan and foreign secretary Inamul Haq to study the report and recommend what action should be taken. He accepted our recommendation that the report should be declassified and this was communicated to the public in a press release by the cabinet division on 20 December 2000, citing a long-standing demand that the report should be made available to the people.
The report was declassified on 30 December 2000 in the manner in which restricted records are made public in official archives all over the world. We took care to avoid declassification close to the Eid holidays and the first half of December when the war had been fought in East Pakistan, leading to surrender on 16 December 1971. The report was made public in its entirety except for some passages dealing with our relations with foreign countries. Copies of the report were placed in the cabinet division and its offices in Karachi and Lahore. They were consulted by the media and interested citizens and many newspapers printed excerpts from both the main and supplementary reports.
The main report deals comprehensively with the political issues leading to the crisis in East Pakistan. It criticises the Awami League’s civil disobedience movement as ‘a reign of terror’, and Yahya Khan’s flawed military and political strategy. In fact, Yahya Khan emerges as the chief culprit in the tragedy. This was a war, the justices wrote, in which Pakistan’s armed forces were not only outnumbered but also out-weaponed and out-generaled. With respect to Bangladesh’s claim that three million Bengalis were killed and 200,000 women raped, the justices wrote that so much damage could not have been caused by the entire strength of the Pakistan army stationed in East Pakistan even if it had nothing else to do.
The supplementary report, which examines the war sector by sector, makes painful reading because it deals with the surrender of 16 December 1971. It raises sensitive issues such as whether General Niazi was bound to obey an order to surrender and whether it was necessary for him to do so. He had 26,000 troops under his control in Dacca, the Indians would have required at least two weeks to take Dacca and since they were invading as declared saviours of the Bengali people, they would not have resorted to bombing. In the meantime, a ceasefire could have been negotiated. But Niazi was ‘in a state of almost complete mental paralysis.’
The Commission recommended that General Yahya Khan be court martialled on 15 charges and trial by court martial was also proposed for other officers of different ranks. It recommended that generals Yahya Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, M.M. Pirzada, Ghulam Umar and A.O. Mitha should be tried for criminal neglect of duty in the conduct of war on both fronts. However, no trials were conducted.
Anyone who had even the faintest idea of the response to Partition of India’s Hindu community and the Congress Party would have understood that India would not forego this chance in a lifetime to dismember Pakistan. Hence Indira Gandhi’s triumphant reference to history in the Indian parliament when she announced the surrender at Dacca.
I would like to end this narrative with reference to the tribute paid by the enemy to the brave defenders in the battle of Hilli. In The Lightning Campaign, D.K. Palit writes: ‘The Pakistan garrison virtually had to be annihilated before the post could be taken…Whenever the Pakistanis decided to hold out they fought ferociously. At Hilli they held their ground with admirable tenacity, though it was the courage of a desperate, doomed, beleaguered garrison left with no other alternative than to fight to the last man.’ They did not surrender.
The writer, Dr Masuma Hasan, is a former Cabinet Secretary.