KARACHI: “My father was a prisoner of war in 1971, and those were the three most difficult years for my family,” said Mehnaz Nawab, who had come to the launch of Ikram Sehgal’s book, Escape from Oblivion: The story of a Pakistani prisoner of war in India, at the Pearl Continental Hotel on July 11. Nawab remembers that her father, Safdar Nawab, appeared “shaken and weak” when the whole family went to greet him excitedly at train station at Wagah Border.
The book recounts Sehgal’s escape from Dhaka. He was tortured at the prisoner of war camp that had been established in 1971, until he escaped on the 100th day of his captivity. The chairman of JJ Media, Javed Jabbar, described the book as “candid, persuasive and extremely thrilling – an adventure unfolding.”
The 130-page book takes the reader through Sehgal’s journey back to Pakistan – from his encounters with the Hindus who led him to Calcutta, the American Consulate in Calcutta that provided him refuge and his final de-briefing after his return to his native land. Sehgal’s father was a Punjabi and his mother was a Bengali. Jabbar, who has been one of Sehgal’s close comrades for the last 35 years, said that “it is remarkable how the author himself personifies the dilemma of the 1971 war.”
Sehgal is a regular columnist as well as a defence and political analyst. He is currently the Chairman of Pathfinder G4S. He graduated from the Pakistan Military Academy in 1965 and was appointed as a Major in the Pakistan Army before retiring in 1974. He was the first Pakistani POW to escape from India in 1971.
Speakers at the event included Ameena Saiyid, the managing director of Oxford University Press, Lt. Gen. Ali Kuli Khan, Brig. Muhammad Taj, Brig. AR Siddiqi, the chief guest Imran Khan, and the highly esteemed author himself. All of them spoke highly of the book and the author.
Imran, who was just 18 during the war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, applauded Sehgal’s courage, saying that he can’t fathom the way Sehgal was interrogated by his own countrymen. “If you had been interrogated by the Pakistani intelligence agencies right now, you would be a missing person!” he added emphatically, as the crowd tittered.
Imran was playing an under-19 cricket match against the East Pakistan team just a few days before Sehgal was captured. He said that he was very apolitical at the time as he had been “shielded by the West Pakistan media.” Imran went on to describe his next few years in England in which he actively defended the Pakistan Army. It wasn’t until later in 1974, when he met Ashraf-ul-Haq, the captain of the East Pakistan team, that he fully realised the atrocities of the Pakistani army. Imran said that he didn’t blame the army, but the leadership. “I decided then, I would never back the military against our own people!”
Imran was a true crowd-pleaser as he put the record straight in front of the army heroes who still look at the East Pakistan debacle with colored eyes.
Brig. AR Siddiqi, a fellow columnist of Sehgal, marveled at the way Sehgal put his harrowing tale together in words. He described the book as a “unique privilege of seeing the war from both sides.” Lt. Gen. Ali Kuli Khan described the book as a “complete story of the web of circumstance that was the 1971 war.”
Brig. Muhammad Taj, who had commanded Sehgal, pulled at the heartstrings of the crowd as he described his experience with Sehgal. “You rarely find such soldiers,” he said proudly.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.