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DACCA Diary from Intercontinental Hotel, Dec 11, 1971

  • Published at 11:29 pm December 10th, 2019
Dacca_Diary
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

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

Saturday,

Mid-morning blast at United States Information Library. Debris scattered 100 yards around. Books lying all over the road, including “The Nuclear Years” and “The Role of Popular Participation in Development.” This is land of popular participation in destruction. Did Mukti Bahini do it? Librarian says man who blasted spoke Urdu, language of West Pakistan. Who knows? Within minutes books being looted from the rubble. Old man goes by with tome called “Religion and Ethics” under his arm.

Big rumor of the day is that Gen. Rao Farman Ali Khan, deputy martial-law administrator and “gentleman general” of Pak forces here, was involved in secret negotiations, apparently with UN, to make conditional surrender of Pak forces in East Pakistan. But – the rumor goes – the commander here, Gen. Niazi, and President Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan in Islamabad found out. All this said to have affected evacuation planes, which don’t come in again today. Part of the problem with planes is that India, for political reasons, insists they fly to Dacca from Calcutta. Pakistan, for political reasons, won’t accept that.

Stranded foreigners sense they have become political pawns. Looks more and more likely that Pak army will make a last-ditch stand in Dacca. Diplomatic say more troops being brought into city – or simply falling back here on their own. Gen. Niazi reported to have told a journalist at the airport: “You will be here to see me die.”

Mood at American consulate very low. Realization America backed losing side and will suffer diplomatic and perhaps other consequences from it. “The U.S. mucked up this situation perfectly,” a Western diplomat says. This afternoon a curfew is clamped on the city. The streets are deserted. One estimate says fewer than half the city’s 1.3 million people are still here.

Red Cross calls meeting at hotel. Meeting is presided over by retired British colonel, now Red Cross official. Very David Niven. Tells hotel residents to disregard the “quite extraordinary rumors floating around” but adds that hotel guests on higher floors might want to move down a “wee bit.” Says hotel security man, Mr Beg, did “jolly god job” of defusing those bombs in the toilet and says they have since been buried in a slit trench so the pool is open again. Applause. But cautions that quite a bit of shrapnel from ack-ack guns has been pulled from swimming pool. Dive at your own risk.

Journalists try telephoning various towns around East Pakistan to see whether Pakistani or Indian army answers the call. Most phone lines are down, but we get through to Khulna, town in southwest that supposedly fell to Indian army days ago. Some sergeant answers phone. “Where are the Indians?” we ask. Good cowboy-movie line. “Not here,” he says.