DACCA Diary from InterContinental Hotel by Wall Street Journal’s Peter R Kann
Monday, Dec 13, 1971
A morning paper announces with bold headline, “Enemy Advance Halted,” but longest article in paper is “Specter of Famine Haunts Upper Volta.” From breakfast room, one can watch hotel employee pulling pieces of ack-ack shrapnel out of the swimming pool with a magnet tied to the end of a rope.
Driving to city center during six-hour period when curfew lifted. Much of Bengali population has deserted city, but many Biharis (non-Bengali minority) visible on streets and, of course, the rickshaw peddlers. I see fewer Pakistani flags flying today. “Every sewing machine in Dacca is busy working on Bangladesh flags,” diplomat says.
General A.A.K. Niazi, commander of Pakistan forces in the East, shows up across street from the hotel and gives curbside interview. How is the battle going? “As I planned it.” Will you defend the city? “To the last.” But doesn’t that mean Dacca may be destroyed? “These are the prices of freedom.” What about a cease-fire or surrender? “The army will die. There is no question of surrender. There will be no one left to be repatriated.” Wonder if his troops share the sentiments.
Small crowd of perhaps 25 Biharis standing around Gen. Niazi chanting, “Pakistan, Zindabad, Pakistan, Zindabad,” meaning, “Long life, Pakistan.” Several are weeping. Several others jumping up and down screaming madly. Rickshaw passes, and Bihari passenger does wild war dance on the seat as Bengali driver pedals on with head bowed. Biharis going out in kind of frenzy of the damned.
The press corps, under the direction of handful of Red Cross people, now has taken over most of the responsibility for security of the hotel, which has been declared a neutral zone. So there’s an early-afternoon security search of all rooms in an effort to confiscate any remaining guns and to try to ascertain how many people are holed up in hotel and who they are. Four more guns found on West Pakistani civilians, some of whom are living six to a room. In the evening, residents meet in a room that used to feature Australian strippers in better days. Rather solemn talk about first aid and fire-fighting equipment, security guard duty, slit trenches.
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.