Ikram Sehgal’s book Escape from Oblivion is a gripping narrative about his experiences during a time of great tribulation that followed the Pakistan Army’s crackdown on the rebellious elements in East Pakistan on March 25, 1971. It has been reported on, reviewed and written about fairly extensively. But when subjected to a critical analysis, it was found that the narrative suffers from contradictions and an inadequate explanation of events, especially those that took place after his arrival in Dhaka from West Pakistan up until his imprisonment. The comments that follow are, therefore, restricted to this period only.
I had reached Dacca on 27 March 1971 on posting to Logistic Flight, Eastern Command, and was on joining time
(page 5), while on page 124 he says
What I had witnessed on 25 and 27 March 1971 in Dacca had shocked me
which suggests that he had reached Dhaka on March 25, 1971. On the other hand, the special Confidential Report written on him on May 26, 1971, by Brigadier Jabbar, Commander Army Aviation Base, states that the officer who was on leave in West Pakistan, was informed NOT to proceed to East Pakistan on expiry of his leave due to the uncertain situation there prior to March 25, but he left Karachi without authorisation and joined his unit (Logistic Flight) in Dhaka on March 26. From this can it be inferred that he reached Dhaka on March 25 and joined his Flight on March 26, 1971?
On joining the Flight, he says:
I was informed that orders were waiting for me to go back to West Pakistan
on another assignment, but
I was told to continue with my joining time till I finally received my orders.
He then went to his immediate Flight Commander and informed him that
since I was on joining time for ten days I would like to go meet my unit, the 2E Bengal.
His statement that he was told to continue with his joining time till he formally received his orders is contradicted by the Desertion Report sent by his Logistic Flight to GHQ at 0200 hrs on March 31, 1971 which says:
PA 7374 IKRAM UL MAJEED SEHGAL deserted with personal weapon and batman after noon 29 March.
How, then, can the same unit that sent the Desertion Report, also tell him to continue with his joining time?
In choosing to go to 2E Bengal in Joydebpur [26 miles from Dacca] I had been led by my heart and not with my mind. It was to find out for myself after they had revolted on 28 March 1971, whether all that was being alleged against the 2E Bengal was true
(page 5) — whereas on page 4 he says that
the unit revolted on the night earlier, ie on 27 March.
The allegation against 2E Bengal was that when they revolted, they killed their West Pakistani officers, Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs), and Non Commissioned Officers (NCOs), including some families. The questions that arise are: When did he hear about the allegation against 2E Bengal? When did the killings take place? When did he leave Dhaka for 2E Bengal and when did he arrive there? If one is to presume that he arrived at 2E Bengal on March 31, 1971,
how can one forget the vociferous adulation that the entire unit bestowed on me on 31 March 1971
(page 6), why, if he had reached Dhaka on March 25, 1971 and reported to his Flight on March 26, 1971, it took him five days to reach 2E Bengal, and four days if, as he says, he had reached Dhaka on March 27, 1971 — road blocks notwithstanding?
By the time I reached my unit, my world had been turned topsy-turvy….one could never believe that the 2E Bengal had killed their West Pakistani colleagues. Sadly it was true
The question then is, having found out that
all that was being alleged against 2E Bengal
was true, why didn’t he return to his Logistic Flight in Dhaka? After all, this was why he had gone to 2E Bengal (page 5, para 2).
As a result of the “vociferous adulation” that the unit bestowed on ‘their Chand Sahib’,
the look of envy on the faces of some of the Bengali officers in the unit said it all. I was a dead man. The question was when? …. For me the choice no longer remained in my hands. It was destiny that had brought me here to the unit that I loved, even though I loved Pakistan from the very core of my being. I was now left with no choice but to die in uniform among my troops whom I loved
(pages 6-7). But he had a choice: escape to Dhaka with the help of his troops who loved their ‘Chand Sahib’. Indeed, now was the time for his mind to overrule his heart (page 5) and reshape his destiny to turn around his fortunes.
Instead, despite the murder of West Pakistani officers, JCOs and NCOs by the unit he loved, despite his world having been turned topsy-turvy, and despite his feeling that he was a dead man, he chose to stay on and accept command of 2E Bengal’s Bravo Company.
the original company commanded both by my father and myself
Would it then be a fair inference to draw from this that he was prepared to lead them in missions against Pakistani troops?
On 5 April 1971, when I refused to cross over into India, officers became doubtful whether my men would agree to cross over without me the tension among the younger officers was quite palpable, but they were powerless to take any action in the presence of the rank and file of 2E Bengal….hence I was cleverly lured away from my Company [two companies] by being told that Col MAG Osmany, who was soon to become General and Commander-in Chief of Mukti Bahini, wanted to meet me near the border…..I was taken under the escort of Major Khaled Mosharraf….When we reached the border Mosharraf said that we had to go on to the camp where Col Osmany was. The camp was near Agartala
(pages 7-8). Here, he says he was handed over to a unit of India’s Border Security Force.
This account also raises many questions: who ordered him to cross over into India? Why did he refuse knowing that, like other E Bengal battalions, 2E Bengal was also to operate as Mukti Bahini from sanctuaries in Indian territory? Was he ordered to go across with his companies or without them; if with them, did they also refuse? Who lured him away from his companies? Why did he get lured away by a scheme that was anything but clever? Did he ask why Col Osmany wanted to meet him? When the meeting with Col Osmany didn’t materialise near the border, why did he agree to go to his camp across the border, having earlier refused to cross over? In the event, why didn’t he move his companies up and take them along?
Be that as it may, the key question is, why were those who, on April 5, 1971, ordered him to cross over, so keen to get him out of 2E Bengal? Surely, it couldn’t have been because of his popularity among the rank and file of the unit.
I had a date with destiny which I could not avoid
It was destiny that had brought me
to 2E Bengal (page 6) — and after he became a prisoner, “Destiny had made my choice for me” (page 8). What was his choice?
Last but not the least, why has the book been written forty-one years later, and why, instead of being acclaimed as a hero for his escape, and for his superlative performance in the Sindh desert in December 1971, was he dismissed from the army?
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 21st, 2012.