In the December of 1971 war broke out in the Indian sub-continent. India had given support to the East-Pakistani (now Bangladesh) demand for independence and was locked in a struggle against time. Formidable diplomatic pressure was being placed by Pakistan’s allies in the Nixon White House. This was the headed by Henry Kissinger and the then representative at the UN (later President), George H.W. Bush.
On December 7, Indian diplomatic efforts were crushed when 104 countries voted for a cease-fire and withdrawal against only 11 countries (mostly USSR and Soviet bloc) supporting India’s case. Still, the war continued with India relying on the Soviet veto.
In a shocking revelation, it later emerged that Kissinger had actually encouraged China to bring up its forces on its border with India and start border skirmishes forcing India to divert its forces. The US 7 fleet with the carrier USS Enterprise entered the Indian Ocean. But the Chinese would have taken 2 months to build up the forces needed for a serious conflict. Further, the Chinese were also alarmed at the Soviet buildup against their own borders.
India had always known that any war would be a race against time. They gambled on a bold strategy. Eschewing the safer option of capturing key cities and bargaining with them after the surrender, they bypassed all major cities and centers of Pakistani build-up. Highways were avoided in favor of smaller roads which were less likely to be defended. The target of all this movement was the capital of East Pakistan, Dacca.
By the start of the third week of December, things were reaching a head. On December 13, the Soviet Union vetoed a US resolution at the UN, but informed India that there would be no more vetoes. The USS Enterprise task force could reach Dacca within 4 days. Only small sections of Indian forces had reached Dacca. The gamble was looking set to fail.
On December 14, Indian command got information that there was to be a meeting at government house in Dacca. Within 2 hours, the IAF bombed the building. The next day, the governor of East Pakistan resigned. The chief of Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, Lt. Gen Niazi met the American consul general with a cease-fire proposal which would hand over government to the UN.
The cease-fire resolution was introduced by Poland the UN General Assembly on 15th December. Protesting that India had not been condemned as the aggressor, the Pakistani Foreign Minister gave this memorable performance tearing up the document.
Nonetheless, the cease-fire went through.
Gen Niazi invited Indian Maj. Gen. JFR Jacob to lunch in Dacca on December 16 to discuss the terms of the cease-fire. But on the morning of that day, Jacob received a call from his boss, the Chief of Army Staff, Sam Manekshaw in Delhi to get a surrender. Jacob flew by helicopter to Dacca airport and was met by UN officials who wanted to come with him to arrange for the withdrawal of Pakistani forces. Jacob dismissed them telling them their help was unnecessary.
At Niazi’s headquarters, Jacob had the surrender document read out to him. Niazi was angry. This was not as he had planned. He told Jacob, “You have only come here to discuss the ceasefire and the withdrawal of the Pakistani army.”
Niazi’s aides also urged him to reject the surrender. Jacob finally told him,
“Look general, you surrender, I will ensure your safety, the safety of your families, ethnic minorities, everyone. You will be treated with respect. If you don’t I am afraid I can take no responsibility for what happens to you or your families. What is more, we will have no other option but to order the immediate resumption of hostilities. I give you 30 minutes.“
Jacob walked out of the room. Outside, he was sweating. There were only 3000 Indian troops outside Dacca. On the other hand there were between 26,000 to 30,000 well entrenched Pakistani troops inside Dacca. Niazi could hold on for another 3 weeks by which time the diplomatic pressure would have become unbearable for India. Jacob paced the halls outside trying to appear calm before the BBC reporters there who were asking him questions.
He struck up a conversation with one of the Pakistani guards asking about the man and his family. At the end, the guard replied that even his own officers did not speak or ask so much after him.
After thirty minutes, Jacob re-entered the room. Niazi was seated with the surrender document on the table. Jacob asked, “General, do you accept this paper?” Niazi did not respond. Jacob asked three times to be replied with silence. Seizing the moment, Jacob held up the paper and declared “I take it that it is accepted.”
Niazi’s eyes filled with tears. The Pakistani generals in the room glared. But the surrender went ahead.
Lt. General Niazi signing the surrender document. Maj. Gen. Jacob standing behind his left shoulder