“This is the way, my boy”!
Lt. Col. (Retd.) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir Bir Protik
Young Captain Nadir Ali was posted to 3 Commando Battalion of Pakistan Army. This Battalion was deeply involved in Operation Search Light launched by Pakistan Army on the midnight of March 25, 1971. Its Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Zahir Alam Khan and Company Commander Major Billal played the key role in ceasing the house of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the fateful night of March 26, 1971.
In the first week of April, Captain Nadir Ali was promoted to the rank of Major and was shuttling between Dhaka and Chittagong areas being ferried by MI-8 helicopters. He was yet to see a major action. On 15 April 1971, his Commanding Officer tasked him to prepare for a major operation. Excited as he was, he prepared himself along with his troops for the operation.
The order from the Commanding Officer was different than all the operational orders he had been accustomed to during training in Pakistan Military Academy, School of Infantry and Commando Schools. It was, "It is Mujibur Rahman's home district. It is a difficult area. Kill as many bustards as you can and make sure there is no Hindu left alive."
Confused young Major Nadir Ali asked his Commander, "Sir, I do not kill unarmed civilians if they do not fire on me." To his surprise, the tough Commando Commanding Officer replied harshly, "Kill the Hindus. It is an order for everyone. Do not show me your commando finesse."
Nadir Ali flew with two helicopters packed with his commando soldiers. They were dropped behind a town near a village area. The routes of the helicopter caused dust in the barren area. As per his teachings, he quickly and efficiently set up a firm base and fired all around to make sure that there were no Pakistani enemies around. There was no reply to their fire indicating that there were no challenges waiting for them. Suddenly he found in the long distance civilians running towards them. Through his binoculars, he saw ordinary villagers carrying buckets with water running towards them.
They all seemed unarmed. Major Nadir Ali ordered his troops not to open fire but to relax, as they were only common villagers. He sent his Junior Commissioned Officer to check as to why the villagers were running towards them. The JCO came back with a message that the villagers thought that the helicopter might have crashed as so much dust was being picked up. In order to put down fire and to help the victims, the villagers came running with water to put down the fire and to help the victims with drinking water.
Nadir Ali was relaxed. He ordered his soldiers to put away their weapons, take a break, and drink tea. He saw a flag of Pakistan hoisted at a distance. "Yesterday all Awami League flags was over the villages (they meant Bangladeshi flag)", the Subedar told him. In the meantime, another Pakistan Army Infantry column was moving towards the position of the commando company as they had a plan to link up and combine. In between were those villagers. The infantry column started moving with machineguns blazing. There was hue and cry and with horror Nadir Ali, through the smoke and dust, saw human bodies falling. The infantry column was mercilessly firing on the unarmed villagers who had rushed with water to save human life.
Slowly the infantry column emerged through the smoke and dust over running, the villagers joined up with the commando group. The proud Colonel of the infantry column came near Nadir Ali and with beaming face asked, "What is the score you made." Confused Nadir Ali replied, "There was no resistance so we did not kill anyone."
The Colonel said, "We fired from our machineguns and many fell dead." Nadir Ali responded, "They were the villagers who had tried to bring us water and all of them fell dead."
"That is the way my boy", said the beaming Colonel and confused Nadir Ali looked in utter surprise.
The writer is a Freedom Fighter.