DACCA Diary from InterContinental Hotel by Wall Street Journal’s Peter R Kann
Sunday, Dec 12, 1971
A full-day curfew is in effect. City completely still as if some epidemic had suddenly wiped out all living things except the black crows hovering everywhere. Of course, the only epidemic in the city is fear.
We awoke to the noise of C130 transports circling overhead. Looks as if evacuation flights for women and kids really are coming in. If the planes are leaving, this diary may leave with them.
Father Timm of Holy Cross College arrives at the Intercontinental Hotel to say mass about 9:15, but word has just arrived that evacuation flights are on the way. Foreigners are rushing to the airport. “Now I know what it feels like to be a bride left standing at the altar,” the father says. Ride out to the airport with elderly American couple booked on evac flight. Man is wearing aluminum hard hat, lady is clutching cage with two myna birds. “I had to leave my dog,” she says. “It was terrible.”
At airport British diplomats and other volunteers out sweeping runway with tree branches to try to clear away shrapnel. British Air Force C130s make several passes; finally one risks landing on badly damaged runway. Safe landing amid great clouds of orange dust. Cheers and applause from evacuees. Propellers turning as evacuees run to planes and board. All quite orderly. Women and children on first plane and so on.
Indonesian embassy people try to get massive suitcases on board. “Ten kilos only” is the command. Amazing how attached people get to belongings; even last passengers for last plane trying to tote valises down runway when extra 30 seconds could mean missing plane. Some tears and frayed nerves.
Scenes like Pakistani army major approaching American official to ask if his wife could please be evacuated. Answer is no, and the Pakistani says thank you and turns away. Soviet consul is in good spirits. “I am happy my fair lady is aboard the plane,” he says.
Paks maintain symbolic presence at airport with immigration officer standing amid shattered glass and other rubble of terminal building to stamp passports of evacuees. But it’s basically a British show. “Now I know why you guys won the Battle of Britain,” German television correspondent tells a British colleague. Four C130s finally get off in the four hour airlift, taking all the foreigners who want to go.
Hotel strangely quiet now that evac flights gone. Remaining Westerners, mostly journalists, spend afternoon by swimming pool in pickup games of water polo and soccer and tossing dirt clots at the omnipresent crows. Games break off every hour on the hour for BBC radio news. Indians moving closer to Dacca, crossing rivers, supposedly dropping parachute units. But Dacca under curfew and no one going out to find the war. Someone at poolside reading book, “Six Days in June: Israel’s Fight for Survival.” Pak army has so far survived 10 days, but betting here is that it won’t last two weeks. Pak army still razing neighbourhoods in city outskirts, and fires can be seen burning from hotel.
Peter R Kann joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal in 1964 to become its publisher eventually. In 1972, he earned a Pulitzer for his coverage of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.