Niazi was not a man of that mettle. Although he was liked by his subordinates, his manner of handling the situation showed that his vision did not extend beyond deployment of companies and platoons, an unfortunate trait of senior infantry officers in both India and Pakistan. He was unimaginative and relied too much on his subordinates to run things while he indulged in the worldly pleasures his status bestowed on him. As a result, he was never master of the situation throughout his tenure as Martial Law Administrator.
Pakistani intelligence evaluated about this time that the insurgency would not only be stepped up but Indian intervention in aid of the Mukti Bahini was very much on the cards.
Before Niazi took over, an operational instruction for the defence of East Pakistan was issued. This was based on a series of war games held at formation levels under the code name Titu Mir. The aim of this plan was to defend the territorial integrity of the eastern region at all costs. Its defence was organised in tiers which visualised giving battle at a series of defence lines based on urban builtup areas and river obstacles. The troops, if hard pressed, were to fall back on the defences of Dacca, where the final battle was to be given. The plan envisaged uninterrupted lines of communication which would enable the withdrawal of formations without interference. By the time Niazi took over, the parameters on which this plan had been prepared had changed considerably.
With the reported training of large numbers of guerillas in India in the monsoon months, the insurgency was likely to be stepped up after the rains by the large-scale induction of such forces along the border from the Indian side. Pakistani intelligence evaluated about this time that the insurgency would not only be stepped up but Indian intervention in aid of the Mukti Bahini was very much on the cards. In view of the Indian support to the guerilla operations, the assessors recommended sealing the border to thwart. infiltration by Freedom Fighters. As it was, much damage and resultant demoralisation of civilian morale was caused by sabotage in the tea industry and in shipping, apart from the disruption of essential services throughout the province.
The pattern of these nibbling operations, widely spread along the border, may be compared to an attack by ants on a sleeping lion.
Based on intelligence reports, as also on his own observations after taking command, Niazi started revising the operational plan. After the surrender in December, he explained that he had not expected a major attack from India and felt that the Indian efforts would be confined to capturing a large chunk of territory adjacent to its own as a base for establishing a Bangladesh government. He therefore reoriented his plans for a forward posture of defence. This posture involved occupation of border outposts strongly and backing them with adequate reserves to restore the local situation in case they were attacked. Since effective sealing of the border meant establishing a large number of such BOPs, troops meant for setting up depth lines of defences, particularly around Dacca, were consumed. Niazi sacrificed depth for strength of the forward border posture, but this was a fatal mistake for which he was to pay dearly later.
Rebel activities progressively increased on the border as well as in the interior. Large-scale sabotage, attacks on police stations and other centres of government authority and killing collaborators instilled fear among the population and created a sense of insecurity. Yahya Khan warned India that if Indian troops attempted to enter East Pakistan this would be considered an open war against Pakistan and would be suitably dealt with. Niazi personally identified himself and his command with this policy without understanding its implications in the context of the developing possibility of Indian intervention. He kept on telling his troops “not an inch of territory would be allowed to be lost.” As events moved to a climax, he became obsessed with the idea that a tactical withdrawal from the forward posture would be a personal defeat for him and a stigma on his honour as a soldier.
The local military commander took appropriate action to repulse the Pakistani attacks. In this action, 13 Pakistani Chaffee tanks were destroyed.
Niazi was gradually squeezed by Mukti Bahini, and this inflamed the entire border with well-planned attacks on BOPs accompained by efforts to capture some salients inside East Pakistan which would help India’s eventual full-fledged intervention. These raids across the border were gradually built up from a low pitch to a crescendo from early October to the end of November with a purpose. The pattern of these nibbling operations, widely spread along the border, may be compared to an attack by ants on a sleeping lion. By the middle of November, Niazi was provoked to such a degree that the Pakistani troops started sallying very close to the Indian border, and at times even crossing it.
The pattern these forays followed was that the Mukti Bahini operated inside Pakistani territory supported by Indian artillery deployed on our side of the border. If Mukti Bahini men got into difficulties they were helped out by BSF and the Indian Army. To’ the extent possible, the use of regular Indian troops was avoided inside East Pakistan as this would have been an act of war, but there were occasions when the intensity of operations—like those at Bayra, Hilli, Kamalpur, Akhaura and Belonia-made this unavoidable. These Mukti Bahini actions were so numerous in terms of numbers and spread of time and space that it is difficult to describe them individually. It may be said however that by the time Yahya Khan declared war the net gains of these nibbling operations were considerable.
Niazi was gradually squeezed by Mukti Bahini, and this inflamed the entire border with well-planned attacks on BOPs accompained by efforts to capture some salients inside East Pakistan”¦
The biggest action in the southwestern sector was fought at Bayra, in the Jessore area, northeast of Calcutta. In an offensive defence action, 9 Infantry Division troops pursued Pakistani intruders across the border in strength. A fierce battle, involving the use of armour and air support on both sides, raged near the village of Gharibpur, about five miles inside Pakistani territory. The village exchanged hands a few times, but was eventually secured by the Indians on 23 November. Chaughacha town was also captured at the same time.
Mrs Gandhi made a statement on the incident in Parliament on 24 November: “On 21 November, Pakistan Infantry, supported by tanks and artillery, launched an offensive on the Mukti Bahini, which was holding the liberated area around Bayra, five miles from our eastern border. Pakistani armour, under heavy artillery cover, advanced to our border, threatening our defensive positions. Their shells fell in our territory, wounding a number of our men. The local military commander took appropriate action to repulse the Pakistani attacks. In this action, 13 Pakistani Chaffee tanks were destroyed.