Monday, April 4, 2011

Operation Searchlight In Dhaka

Operation Searchlight was a planned military operation carried out by the Pakistan Army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement East Pakistan in March 1971. It is known as “The Dark Night of Bangladesh”. This operation ordered by the central government of West Pakistan. The original plan envisioned taking control of the major cities on March 26, and then eliminating all opposition, political or military, within one month. Prolonged Bengali resistance was not anticipated by the Pakistani planners. These systematic killings enraged the Bengalis, who
declared independence from Pakistan (March 26), to achieve the new state of Bangladesh with Indo-Soviet backing.

The violence resulting from Operation Searchlight led to the war of liberation by the Mukti Bahini against Pakistani Army and Pakistani Rajakar forces in Bangladesh. Following the ill fated Operation Chengiz Khan, Indian intervention resulted in the Pakistani Army's unconditional surrender to the joint command of the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini on December 16, 1971.

The planned and designated centers of offensive operations under that plan were Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong, Comilla, Jessore, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Saidpur and Sylhet areas, where West Pakistani army units were concentrated. Some details of Operation Searchlight in Dhaka are given below:


Pakistani squads in Dhaka, commanded by Maj. Gen. Farman, had the following objectives:

1.    Impose curfew at 0110 hrs and close telephone, telegraph and radio station and shut all presses down.
2.    Arrest Sheikh Mujib and 15 top Awami League leaders during operation.
3.    Subdue Dhaka University, EPR HQ and Rajarbagh police line, disarm 2nd and 10th EBR.
4.    Seal off the city by taking over road, rail and river communication and Patrol River.
5.    Take over and protect Ammunition factory at Gazipur and Arms depot at Rajendrapur.
6.    Conduct house to house search in Dhanmondi and Hindu areas.

So, Pakistani plan of action for Dhaka, as drawn up by Maj. Gen. Farman, was:

1.    A platoon from 3 SSG was to capture Sheikh Mujib.
2.    13th Frontier Force to stay in cantonment as reserve and provide security.
3.    18th Punjab was to fan out and secure Nawabpur and old Dhaka.
4.    22nd Baluch regiment would disarm the EPR and seize wireless at Pilkhana EPR Headquarter.
5.    22nd Baluch and 32nd Punjab was to neutralize Dhaka University “rebels”.
6.    22 Baluch would be reinforced at Pilkhana.
7.    31st Field was to secure Second capital, Mohammadpur and Mirpur.
8.    32nd Punjab was to neutralize Rajarbag Police line.
9.    43rd Light Ack Ack regiment was to secure Tejgaon airport.

Bengali EPR officers were detained by the Pakistanis in Pilkhana and the squads were mostly ordered to stand down and relax, while 22nd Baluch took over security duties at Pilkhana on March 25 morning hours. Rumor spread in the city after evening that Yahiya Khan had left and Awami League volunteers put up makeshift barricades in the streets, but these did not cause any significant delay to Pakistani squad movements. The volunteers manning the barricades were the first civilians to be shot by Pakistani squads. Although the operation was to start at 0110 hours, Pakistani Army squads moved out at 11:30 PM from Dhaka cantonment as the Pakistani field commander wished to cut the reaction time of the Bengali people forces. The army was given a 6 hour deadline to achieve its goal in Dhaka. Pakistani Army squads quickly shut off all communication channels in Dhaka before commencing the operation.

The 10th Bengal was easily disarmed in the cantonment and later eliminated. The 31st Field was quickly spread out in the second capital of Dhaka city itself and secured the northern part of the East Pakistan (Present Bangladesh). The commandos, accompanied by Major Belal and Lt. Col. Z.A. Khan easily captured Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at the beginning of the crackdown, but most of the Awami League senior leaders save one managed to evade capture and left the Dhaka city by 29 March.
22nd Baluch at the EPR headquarter attacked and controlled the disorganized resistance of the mostly disarmed EPR after an all night battle. Pakistanis captured the EPR squads posted at Mirpur, the President House and the Governor house without resistance, but many managed to flee while some were executed.

Contingents from the 18th and 32nd Punjab regiments assaulted the Dhaka University area, controlled the light resistance from the Awami League volunteers, killed unarmed students present in the resident halls, also murdered some professors, then moved on to attack the Hindu areas and the old town on the morning of March 26. The Police at Rajarbag, aided by Awami League volunteers, put up a strong resistance, but were eventually overcome and most survivors were captured or scattered. Pakistani forces had used artillery and armor liberally, disregarding civilian safety altogether during the operation. The city was secured before dawn and a curfew was imposed. Surviving EPR and police fled the city; some crossed the Buriganga River to gather at Jinjira. Sporadic attacks on the army took place during March 26-April 5, but barring the failure to arrest Awami league leaders, the army had achieved its objectives. Pakistani army had also destroyed the Shaheed Minar, offices of the Daily Ittafaq, Daily People and the Kali temple at Ramna, none of which had any military value.

Arrested Bengali soldiers, EPR and police personnel were either executed or imprisoned without trial. From March 26 to April 6, in an operation dubbed “GREAT FLY-IN”.PIA Boeings and C 130 Transports would fly the 9th (made of the 27th, 313ed and 117th Brigades) and 16th (34th and 205th Brigades) divisions (a total of 5 Brigade Headquarters, containing 16 infantry battalions) to Dhaka and elements of these formations would be flown to various locations in East Pakistan to reinforce Pakistani garrisons. 2 Mortar batteries and 2 wings each of West Pakistan Rangers and EPCAF, accompanied by a considerable number of Thai and Tochi Scouts were also deployed.

On 27 March Pakistan army lifted the curfew for 2 hours, when thousands of people left Dhaka for the countryside. Pakistani squads began to move out of the city after March 26, taking up positions at Demra to the east, Tongi to the north and Narayanganj to the south to block road access to the city. In April 10, Pakistani Army had taken over the area between the Padma River to the south and Tangail-Narshindi to the north.

Operation Searchlight is a real dark night of Bangladesh. If you want to know more about Operation Searchlight, you can see Operation Searchlight in Chittagong, Mymensingh-Joydevpur and Comilla, Sylhet-Jessore, Khulna-Kushtia and Rajshahi, Rangpur-Saidpur.


  1. This is a real history of Operation Searchlight in Dhaka. Thanks for publish this.

  2. This was a real systematic operation on March 25.

  3. I think it was a systematic killing operation.