In honour of the month of victory, the Dhaka Tribune is republishing the Pulitzer Prize winning daily dispatches of then Wall Street Journal (WSJ) correspondent Peter R Kann
Dacca seems to be learning to live with war – or, rather, threat of war, because Indians so far bombing only few military targets on city outskirts. But people do keep glancing nervously at the sky. UN tried again for a mercy flight, but the plane was hit by naval gunfire, presumably India, off East Pakistani coast. India not winning very many friends among the stranded Westerners here. Some Americans in hotel lobby demanding to know why the Marines don’t come in and evacuate them. “We did it in Congo,” another says. “It will be soon,” the first says
I am out near the airport when an air-raid siren goes off. Run across field and spot a fox-hole. So do four Bengali rickshaw peddlers. So we all squat politely around the rim of the fox-hole – no one wanting to be the first to hop in. It wouldn’t hold more than three. But the planes pass over, and we share a cigarette.
The military situation remains, in the words of a Pakistani communique, “unclear.” An American diplomat says Pakistan is “between a rock and a hard place.” Have lunch with a West Pakistani pilot for Pakistan International Airlines who is stranded. “What will you plan to do?” he is asked. “Die here,” he says. Almost everyone thinks there will be another bloodbath soon, with Bengalis taking their revenge on the non-Bengali minority (Biharis) and other army collaborators. If it’s an eye for an eye, there will have to be a lot of Bihari eyes lost.
Rumor that food supply to the hotel is running short. Menu is dwindling a bit, but food is still remarkably good and always lots of butter available. The hotel bought out the stock of a Danish dairy project that folded just before the war. “But can man live by butter alone?” one foreigner asks.
More air strikes in the afternoon. High-altitude bombing. Now the hotel roof is full of journalists and photographers. One cameraman just up from the swimming pool is still in his bathing suit. Another reporter brings a chair. A diplomat on the roof says Biharis are looting evacuated homes. “Well,” he adds, “they can’t take it with them where they’re going.” General feeling seems to be that Biharis had fun while it lasted. One talks of mass killing quite calmly here. A half-million Bengalis massacred by the army in the last nine months and so on. East Pakistan is like a sponge that soaks up suffering. “You could drop Biafra into East Pakistan and never find it again,” the diplomat says.