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Balochistan is a logical area to train guerrillas: Ex-Army chief Shankar Roy Chowdhury

Gen (retd) Shankar Roy Chowdhury said if India were to train guerrilla forces today, Balochistan is a logical area to look at and PoK can be taken up later.

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Former Indian Army chief General Shankar Roy Chowdhury at the India Today Conclave East in Kolkata. (Photo: Yasir Iqbal/India Today)

During the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, the Indian Army trained guerrilla forces of the Mukti Bahini, which later fought alongside it against the Pakistani forces. Fifty years on, as India celebrates golden jubilee of the 1971 war, at a time when relations with some of its neighbours are strained, does this strategy hold any contemporary significance?

Speaking at the India Today Conclave East during a session on the 1971 war and lessons learnt from it, former India Army chief Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury said there are still plenty of areas where this strategy can be used and Balochistan is one of them.

Gen Chowdhury, himself a 1971 war veteran, had trained the Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces during the war.

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"There are plenty of examples where we can still train guerrillas. We have the expertise and knowledge. I would not look too far into the future. But there are plenty of vulnerable areaslike Balochistan," he said.

Elaborating on this, the former Army chief said, "Wherever you have friendly people, I think you should support them. In 1971, the Bengalis (in present-day Bangladesh) were a friendly population wanting to be out of Pakistani domination. And, from what one reads, sees and hears today, I think Balochistan is a logical area to train guerrilla forces. Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) can follow later but the obvious place you can go to is Balochistan."

How 1971 victory was different

Responding to a question on how the 1971 victory was different from other victories of the Indian armed forces, Gen Chowdhury said the war's biggest feature was that in it "India defeated Pakistan totally".

"In modern times, it was a rare event in battlefield. A clear-cut victory and a clear-cut defeat. The result of the war was a feature generally not found in these days," he said.

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Speaking also in the session was Col (retd) Ashok Kumar Tara who rescued the family of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, leader of the Mukti Bahini and Bangladesh's first president.

Recalling his experience of the rescue, Col Tara said it was a daunting task as the family was held captive by armed Pakistani troops. One of the captives that he rescued was present Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Pakistani officer who helped India during war

One of the heroes of the 1971 liberation war was a Pakistani officer, Lt Col (retd) Quazi Sazzad Ali Zahir, who crossed the border and shared vital information, including maps of major Pakistan Army formations, with the Indian Army.

Speaking at the India Today Conclave East in Kolkata, Lt Col Zahir said, "Indians had helped us so much in the 1971 war and my pride and prestige is that I could at least help the Indian soldiers on the western front."

Asked what made him take the decision, he said it was akin to the tragedy of Hamlet. "To be or not to be, to do or not to do. It prompted me to take the decision. I am a very well-trained officer. I know military tactics very well and I know how to fight as a commando. I felt I am sitting in Pakistan and my people are being slaughtered. What the hell life is all about? You have to fight for your country and a solider is never scared."

Lt Col Zahir said while he took the decision on his own, but he spoke to a number of Bengali officers. "They said you have a 5 per cent chance of escaping. You are being watched. You will be caught and shot. I said I am smarter than them, and the war proved it too."


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