New Delhi: India has honoured Qazi Sajjad Ali Zahir (retd), a former Pakistan elite para-brigade member in Sialkot who became a Bangladeshi Lt. Col., for his contribution in liberating Bangladesh from the atrocities of Pakistan.
Lt. Col. (retd) Zahir, a Pakistan Army officer who went on to serve the Bangladesh Army, is a highly-decorated officer. Interestingly, there is a death sentence for him for the last 50 years in Pakistan for showcasing his bravery.
Lt. Col. (retd) Zahir turned 71 when India and Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of the war this year.
He was conferred with Bir Protik, the Indian equivalent to a Vir Chakra, for gallantry, and Bangladesh’s highest civil honour, Swadhinata Padak.
India has now conferred him with the Padma Shri — one of the highest civilian awards — recognising his sacrifices and contributions to India’s success in the 1971 war against Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
He came to India when he was 20 with documents and maps about Pakistan’s plans.
He was a young officer in the Pakistan army posted in the Sialkot sector and thereafter managed to cross over to India in March 1971, seeing the brutality and genocide in East Pakistan.
He had just Rs 20 in his pocket when he crossed the border. Initially, he was suspected as a Pakistani spy, but gained trust later on.
Once he landed in India, he was taken to Pathankot where military officers grilled him about Pakistan army deployments.
He was kept in a safe house for months before moving to East Pakistan, training the Mukti Bahini in guerilla warfare to take on the Pakistan Army.
He had cited that the reasons for his escape from Pakistan was that Jinnah’s Pakistan had become a ‘Kabristan’ (graveyard).
They were treated like second class citizens, with no rights. They were a deprived population. They never got a democracy as was promised. They only got a martial law.
“Jinnah said we will have equal rights but we didn’t have any. We were treated as servants of Pakistan,” he stated.
He is a a second generation military officer, who is proud of all those who serve their country. His father was an officer in the British Army and was part of the Burma (Myanmar) action in the Second World War. His teenage brother was part of the Mukti Bahini that fought for the freedom of Bangladesh.
Lt. Col. Sajjad was master of map reading and night navigation.
He claims that because of his information, the Indian Army penetrated 56 miles into the Pakistani territory in the Battle of Shakargarh.
From Delhi, he was sent to East Pakistan where he served at a camp adjacent to Tripura and Assam border in a hilly area where there were 850 mukti bahini men whom he trained in guerilla warfare.