Corporal Kazi Bahauddin, 24
Bengali soldier in Pakistan Army
The Western Front
“Is it true that you’re in love with the old girl’s daughter?”
I told the clowns the old woman treated me like a son and since I was going to get bloody killed any day I didn’t exactly mind a mother waiting on me. Not only was she kind and affectionate, she also brought me a glass of milk every day, though I forced her to accept payment. We had money on us, not being able to send any home. But those bastards didn’t like it and finally stopped her from visiting, with stuff like “The place is restricted”, or, “Why bring the milk? Do you want him to marry your daughter and take her to Bangal Mulk (Bangladesh)?”
The old woman lived in a nearby village with her beautiful young daughter who I had met but once.
The (West) Pakistanis had to trust us. Many senior non-coms in the unit were Bengalis. The div also had a Bengali infantry battalion (not sure about the unit) and we knew all along we were heading for a war but we were powerless to do anything openly. We could only pray to Allah to make Bangladesh independent, but on the ground we had to fight against India. Being stationed in (West) Pakistan, what worked was that we were Muslims and Indian were Hindus, at least most of them were, and we had fought before so if we have to fight again what was there to think about? If we were stationed in Bangladesh it would be different, but here we forced ourselves to think we were there to assist the Pakistanis. We decided not to desert them. We’d speak freely and tell them that now there was this conflict with India, this has to come to an end, one way or another.
“As Bengalis we’d naturally want Bangladesh to be free”, we told them. “Didn’t Muhammad Ali Jinnah want Pakistan? Didn’t he get it? Now Bengalis want to be free from Pakistan so if you give us our freedom the problem will be solved. But we’ll certainly fight the Indians here! Send us to the front and see! If we betray you we’ll have to answer some day. We recite the same kalemas”.
And they’d grin nervously. They had faith in us.
The div was to move at 8:00 that night and I was responsible for an area ten-mile square. I was there primarily to direct military traffic as all road signs had been removed. It was bush, brush and desert country and I was stationed near a bridge. Flares were going up all around and my Military Police armband could be seen from far. The border was three to four miles away and I knew that commandos were already in each other’s territory. I was shaking with fear and praying. Work was going on under the bridge 70-80 feet below. I could see their fires, even smell their dinner.
Then, regiment after regiment with their artillery, tanks and trucks began moving to their battalion locations. Passing drivers would mutter, “Is he one of ours?”
And I’d assure them” “Apna admi hai yaar, from 1 MP unit of Lahore. Don’t be scared. That’s the road you take. You’ll find another MP so many miles ahead and he’ll change your direction a bit. Don’t go over ten miles an hour…” et cetera. During a lull in the traffic a jackal almost gave me a heart attack. At 5:00 in the morning the MP jeep picked me up. Our camp was in a guava orchard.
That evening, people were at dinner or waiting their turn. We had almost finished eating when we heard this guy ask another beside him, “You’ve got meat in your plate so how come I don’t have any, sisterf…? Are you the cook’s father?”
Another was staring at a piece of meat in his lentils as his neighbour said, “The cook sure knows who to give meat to! So is he getting paid? How much is he getting?” (Cook told us later he was as bewildered because if there was meat he didn’t put it; meatless day it was as far as he knew.) Then someone shrieked, “Aye, what’s this in my plate?!” Something long and black, like a tail. And someone found a head. Looked like a rat.
There were horrified shouts and some people started getting sick. A few tough bastards however were still shoveling it down as their iron-stomached friends exhorted, “Come on, serve us! What’s happened’s happened. Now, let’s eat!”
I was a bit shaken but didn’t get sick or hysterical. As we were coming out of the tent, the quartermaster found me.
“What happened, Bahauddin?”
“Don’t know, Major Saab,” I said. “Seems like some got meat and others didn’t and didn’t like it. But I didn’t get any—”
The cooking fires were under a tree and a big fat rat had fallen into our dinner. The quartermaster ordered the cook to run around the orchard ten times—with the pot of lentils on his head. The cook almost died.
I was attached to Div HQ and at 4:00 in the afternoon they said we’d commence firing at 6:00, two hours away. I shivered involuntarily. I had never seen war. Training was one thing. I went and got half a dozen eggs and quickly boiled them and some chola (chanay ka dal) as well. I checked the rest of my gear. Everything was in place.
Our artillery opened up on time and continued until 8:00 at night. Four hours later, the Indians opened their account. It was hell. Shells and bombs began descending on us. A 500 pounder landed a couple of hundred yards away and made a huge crater—my bunker collapsed and I was being buried alive! I raised my head from under the sand and began hollering at Shafayat, a Bengali from Comilla, in the nearest bunker. He must have been very occupied and I managed to scramble out on my own but everything else—haversack, clothes, boiled eggs, lentils, water, even my rifle—was under a ton of sand. I could only curse the Indians.
The following evening, the first prisoners arrived—four Sikh soldiers. We had made a pen with barbed wire and they continued to deliver them until there were eighteen. And there were three of us—a Punjabi driver, a Pathan guard and I but we assured the prisoners we’d shoot only the troublemakers. They swore they wouldn’t try anything.
We were then told to take the lot to Chhanga Manga a huge forest more than a hundred miles away where they had an underground prison. We loaded the prisoners in a three-ton lorry. The Punjabi and the Pathan sat in front and I was the lone guard at the back. Perhaps the two had conspired that if the prisoners made a break it’d be the Bengali who’d get hurt. The prisoners assured me repeatedly that they would give me no trouble. It was very cold and their condition was bad. Many were wounded. Let alone escape, I thought some might die on the way. I had a blanket top of the overcoat and with a prayer to Allah to protect me from the elements I gave it to them saying, “huddle together and put this on top. It’ll ease the cold a bit”.
As we rumbled along, I noticed a young Indian sitting nearby. His name was Makhan Sheel and he was a good athlete of the Indian army. He had caught a bursting in one shoulder. They had plugged him and patched him up but only just. He seemed like a nice guy so I tried a conversation.
“Achcha, Makhan, tell me truthfully. Do you want that our two countries should fight and destroy each other?”
In obvious pain he grinned thoughtfully and said, “What can I say, bhaiya? I swear, my heart never wishes that we fight Pakistan for a single day. Look at the result. I’m hurt and a prisoner. Likewise, many more of your comrades are our prisoners in the east. Why should we fight? It’s true that I’m a Hindu and you’re a Muslim. In the end, a Hindu and a Muslim are brothers. It’s not as if you’re from Europe and I’m from Africa. Pakistan and India are together (meaning side by side). The places have not moved after independence. So, why was there a war? Can anyone explain with satisfaction? But what can you and I do? Our officers command us and we have to obey and so we have to fight each other or for sure they’ll shoot us!” He said that laughingly. Both armies had once been the same British Indian Army.
“Are you actually going to kill us”, he asked after a long pause.
“Of course not!” I retorted. “They’d have done it earlier if they wanted. Now the Red Cross know about you. No father’s son has the power to kill any of you”.
I added I’d see to it that they got medical attention when we reached. Then, I revealed that I was a Bengali from Dakha. His face brightened up as he whispered, “What can I do for you?” And he was a prisoner! He shook my hands but there was a tinge of sadness in his voice when he said, “That’s why you’re so kind to us”.
I didn’t know what to say, so after a while I shouted out to the Pathan in front; “Khan, come over! I’m dying of cold!”
“Bhai, I’ll join you. Give me a couple of minutes”.
When the lorry stopped I got down to stretch. The Pathan sidled up and whispered., “If anyone tries to escape, don’t make it hard for him, let him go”. He was shaking like a leaf with the cold or fear I don’t know.
“Son of a sisterf…!” I hissed. “If any escape they’re going to blame the Bengali first—me! They’ll shoot me and you’ll get off! If you do any hanky-panky, I’ll shoot you!!’
“No yaar, I was just joking!”
Didn’t sound like joking when he proposed it. We reached at five in the morning. The prisoners were half-dead.
“See that they get their puree and tea”, I told the regimental cook. “After all they’re human beings. Maybe because of our kindness Almighty Allah will forgive our sins”.
The cook gave me a curious look.
“They are allocated rations, aren’t they?” I asked him, meaning the prisoners.
“They too have many of our men”, I said gently. “Maybe Allah will ease their troubles a bit over there if we do our bit over here”.
And the man agreed.
The Pakistanis laid waste Cussre Hind and Fuckre Hind, twin Indian townships. The place was a pilgrimage spot and the Indians had thick concrete bunkers that the Pakistanis couldn’t dent in ’65, but now they were a mess. The Indians retreated beyond the river and then destroyed the bridge. And everything that could be taken, was carted away by the Pakistanis, including railway tracks. The Indians were doing the same in other fronts.
We knew Bangladesh was almost free. In the west, Pakistan had been beaten almost everywhere and only our div had actually captured Indian territory, Allah knows how, something like five miles deep by ten miles across, I think.
I saw a forest that was the place of a terrible battle. Ten to fifteen thousand soldiers had fought in a small area. Big trees had been torn up and blown to matchsticks. I also saw lots of dead animals. Vultures were circling near and far but for man or animal there was no way to know.
The Indian soldiers were not that courageous, but their officers were a different thing altogether and were usually out charging in front. Captured Indian officers had often remarked that soldiers of Pakistan officered by Indians could beat any army in the world. Remarkably, many Pakistani soldiers agree, privately of course.
Once, a second lieutenant’s mother and sister were visiting him when a shell landed in their midst killing all three. The only other casualties near me were villagers, old people who were also sickly, seven or eight of them, all victims of shelling.
No one wanted to leave his bunker because of the artillery and the planes. If you missed chow-time you missed for good for the day. What was left, and little was, they’d bury immediately afterwards.
On 8 December, I was coming from the langar-khaana with a flask of tea when Indian planes arrived over us! In a flash, I was on my knees with my nose pressed to the ground. But I still held the flask aloft with my left hand and with my right, I frantically tore handfuls of grass from a nearby clump and showered them over my backside. Camouflage, little bit.
Just then, the div commander came out and saw me. The motherf…began laughing like he was going insane. “Look, sisterf…s, look at the Bengali’s wits!” he screamed. “Come out of your bunkers! Even if you get killed you must see this!! Dekho Bangali ka halath dekho! Dekho uska dimagh kasia kam kiya!” (Look at the Bengali’s state! See how his brain worked!).
Some bastards laughed so hard they almost got sick.
Next morning I was feeling terrible. From the day the war started, a week earlier, I had not washed or changed. I couldn’t dig my stuff out because I couldn’t get any help in that “Ya Nafsi, Allah, Allah” situation. I was itchy and icky all over and stinking. I finally decided, come what may, I’ll take a bath. After a crap, I went to a large bush near the canal’s edge and stripped. Stark naked, I glanced around. Three Indian warplanes came darting in, straight at me, and the sons of bitches were firing!
Like a turtle I dove and disappeared under the water! The pilots must have seen me because I’d seen them. Underwater, I could hear the slugs coming in all around me though not in the immediate vicinity. A minute later I had to come up for air. The planes were still circling. I scrambled ashore but had a hard time pulling on my clothes over my wet body (try it sometimes). A gale of laughter greeted me from other bunkers but I jumped into my trench before the sons of bitches in the sky came in for another strafing run. Then Pakistani aircraft came and chased them away.
Thousands of civilians arrived to see the captured territory. Many had come from as far as Karachi. One family in a car stood parked nearby for a long time and it was our duty to move them along so I walked up.
“Are you waiting for something, sir?” I asked the man at the wheels.
“Yes”, he said. “Just to speak to you.”
“Because you’re a soldier of the nation. My two children (boy and a girl) would like to shake your hands”.
“Okay”, I said.
They came out of the car.
“Do you just want to shake hands or do you want a meeting of hearts?”, I asked.
The kids grinned as I hugged them and the man wept.
“Why’re you crying?”, I asked.
“Out of pride and happiness”, he replied.
I was moved but told them soldiers couldn’t fraternise too much and MPs even less. The kids touched my feet in reverence before they left.
A squirrel had jumped and startled a jackal, or it was the other way round, but lance corporal Lal Khan decided Indian commandos were paying a call. He opened fire and the entire brigade came alive to possibilities.
“Couldn’t you realise…?” they asked later.
“What’s there to realise” Lal Khan demanded with some heat. “Where there’s not supposed be any noise, this bloody jackal’s making like commando, so what do I know?”
You really couldn’t blame him much but later we’d tease him about Indian commando jackals.
Firing had eased; the war had stopped officially. One day, Hav Maj Mohammad Hossain called me over.
“Yaar, leave now and I’ll personally see that no one shoots at you”, he said pointing at the border. “Go! Bangladesh is already free!”
I didn’t accept his offer, wasn’t sure everyone would follow the drill. But other Bengalis were crossing over and without invitation.