How Indian Army rescued B'desh PM from Pak soldiers

49 years on, Bangladesh PM recalls how an Indian Army officer rescued her from Pakistani soldiers

Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina. Credit: PTI file photo.

Dhaka’s residential neighbourhood Dhanmondi witnessed a dramatic scene on December 17, 1971 – a day after 93,000 Pakistan Army personnel surrendered to the Indian Army, bringing to end the nine-month-long war that gave birth to the new nation of Bangladesh. A 29-year-old Indian Army officer left his own weapon and three accompanying soldiers in the vehicle and walked unarmed towards a house, which was guarded by about a dozen Pakistan Army personnel.

Even as the Pakistan Army soldiers trained machine-guns and rifles at him and were ready to open fire, Major Ashok Tara remained calm. He explained to them patiently that the rest of the Pakistan Army had already surrendered and they too had no other option, but to give up. After a couple of tense hours, they finally relented, lowered weapons and let Maj Tara go in and rescue the family of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the legendary leader of the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

The hostages, whom the Pakistan Army soldiers had orders to eliminate in case of an imminent defeat, included Bangabandhu’s 24-year-old daughter Sheikh Hasina and her five-month-old son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy.

Hasina, now the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, recalled on Thursday how an Indian Army officer rescued her and others of her family on this day 49 years ago.

“My mother, my sisters and my brothers were all incarcerated. Col Ashok Tara, who was then a major in the Indian Army, rescued us from the Pakistan Army’s custody in the morning of December 17, 1971,” Hasina said during a virtual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Today, the December 17, is a very special day for us. The rest of Bangladesh were freed (from Pakistan Army) on December 16, 1971, but our family was rescued a day later,” she said, paying tribute to the Indian Army soldiers, who had laid down lives in the 1971 war. “India is our true friend. I pay my gratitude to the government and people of India for extending wholehearted support to our struggle for liberation of Bangladesh”.

She and Modi jointly unveiled a commemorative postal stamp issued by the Government of India on the occasion of birth centenary of Bangabandhu. They also launched a digital exhibition to commemorate the founding fathers of the two neighbouring nations, Bangabandhu and Mahatma Gandhi.

Mujibur Rahman, was imprisoned in Pakistan when Bangladesh was born. Pakistan was forced to set him free on January 8, 1972. He returned to Dhaka via London and New Delhi on January 10, 1972. He later took over as Prime Minister of Bangladesh, but was assassinated by some military officers during a coup d'état on August 15, 1975. His wife, brother, sons and daughters-in-law were also assassinated along with him. Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana survived as they were in Europe.

“Among the ones whom Maj Tara rescued that day (December 17, 1971) only three are still alive – my sister Rehana, my son Joy and myself,” Bangladesh Prime Minister recalled during the virtual summit on Thursday.

Hasina herself had honoured Tara, who retired from Indian Army as a Colonel in 1994, with the “Friend of Bangladesh” award in Dhaka in 2012. She had also introduced him to Modi during an event in New Delhi in April 2017.