DACCA Diary from InterContinental Hotel by Wall Street Journal’s Peter R Kann
Thursday, Dec 16, 1971
At 10.10 a.m. a hotel official walks up: “It’s definite, it’s definite. It’s surrender.” Five minutes later, UN aides in the hotel make it official: “The ultimatum to surrender has been accepted.”
Several reporters hitch a ride out to Pakistan army cantonment to try to see Ge. Farman. No luck but quite a spectacle at cantonment gate. Soldiers now pouring into cantonment in every sort of vehicle – buses, trucks, cars, even rickshaw. Rolling by is a microbus with these words stenciled on back: “Live and let Live.” West Pak and Bihari civilians also trying to enter cantonment. Most of them seem to have deserted all personal belongings except transistor radios.
Pay visit to Paul Marc Henri, UN chief here, who is operating out of another neutral zone at Notre Dame college. Henri in ebullient mood over surrender but stresses his role only as channel of communications. He’s walking around college campus with big black Labrador on a chain. Labrador keeps getting into fight with another dog, interrupting Henri’s monologue. Henri still concerned of massacre of minorities. One of his associates puts it plainly: “Tonight will be the night of the long knives.”
Rush out to airport with other reporters. At 12:45 a Pak army staff car with two stars on plate rolls up. Figure it’s Pak general coming to meet Indian helicopter. But a general in purple turban and another in cavalry hat get out; that isn’t Pak military headgear. “Hello, I am Gen. Nagra, Indian army,” cavalry hat says, “and this is Brigadier Kier,” he adds, introducing turban. They had led the Indian column that pushed into Dacca suburbs from north early this morning.
We hear of mob trouble at Intercontinental Hotel and return to the hotel. A hysterical Mukti is carried through hotel gate with a light leg wound. Mukti is finally laid out on three hotel chairs. Hotel official arrives, dapper as ever in glen plaid suit. “He’s bleeding all over my damned best chairs, and all the bastard did was stubbed his damned toes,” hotel man says.
The city is full of panicky men with guns: excited young Muktis, confused Indians and frightened Pak troops who are trying to surrender but who don’t know how or where to do so.
This afternoon Gen. Nagra and Pak Gen. Farman come to gate in jeep. Mob begins shouting at Farman: “Butcher, killer, bastard.” Farman walks toward mob and says, soft-spoken, “But don’t you know what I did for you?” He means surrender, which saved lives. Maybe the mob knows, but doesn’t care.
It’s 5 p.m., and reporters rush to golf** course for formal surrender ceremony. Surrender papers are signed in quadruplicate. Takes a while because Gen. Niazi reads documents as if for the first time. Scene after signing is complete chaos. Mob trying to carry Indian generals on shoulders, Pak generals being jostled by crowds. Gen. Farman is wandering alone, dazed, through the milling mob. “You see, we are beaten everywhere,” he mumbles as two running Bengalis bump into him. Farman continues walking slowly, one hand in sweater pocket. “How do I get out of this place?” he asks no one in particular before I lose him in the crowd.
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.