Hero of 1971 War Lt Gen JFR Jacob Passes Away

- Amit Kr. Yadav   14-01-2016


Lt Gen JFR Jacob (retd), who negotiated the surrender of Pakistani troops in Dhaka following the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, passed away on Wednesday. Jacob breathed his last at the age of 92 in New Delhi. Born in Bengal Presidency in 1923, Jacob is remembered for his important role in Bangladesh Liberation.

Jacob joined the army at the age of 19 and served as a Major General and Chief of Staff of the Indian Army's Eastern Command during the 1971 war. He fought in World War II and the Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 before he retired in 1978. Jacob’s Jewish family were originally from Iraq who settled in Kolkata in the middle of the 18th century. 

Role in 1971 War

Many of us know that Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora the then General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Command who led to an overwhelming defeat of the Pakistan Army and the creation of Bangladesh. However it was Jacob who was sent to get the surrender from Pakistani Army commander, Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi.

In March 1971, the Pakistan Army launched Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan. The action led to over 10 million refugees entering India, fuelling tensions between India and Pakistan. By the monsoon season, as Chief of Staff, Jacob was tasked with drawing the contingency plans for a possible conflict. After consulting with superior officers, Jacob developed a plan for engaging Pakistan in a "war of movement" in the difficult and swampy terrain of East Pakistan.

An initial plan, given to the Eastern Command by General Sam Manekshaw, involved an incursion into East Pakistan and the capture of the provinces of Chittagong and Khulna. Senior Indian Army officers were reluctant to execute an aggressive invasion for fears of early ceasefire demands by the United Nations and a looming threat posed by China. That, together with the difficulty of navigating the marshy terrain of East Pakistan through three wide rivers, led the commanders to initially believe that the capture of all of East Pakistan was not possible.

However, Jacob disagreed; his "war of movement" plan aimed to take control of all of East Pakistan. Jacob felt that the capital city of Dhaka was the geopolitical center of the region, and that any successful campaign had to involve the eventual capture of Dhaka. Realizing that the Pakistani Army commander, Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi, was going to fortify the towns and "defend them in strength", his plan was to bypass intermediary towns altogether, neutralize Pakistan's command and communication infrastructure, and use secondary routes to reach Dhaka. Jacob's plan was eventually approved by the Eastern Command.

The strategy eventually led to the capture of Dhaka. The Pakistani forces were selectively bypassed, their communication centers were captured and secured, and their command and control capabilities were destroyed. His campaign was planned for execution in three weeks, but was executed in under a fortnight.

Jacob understood that a protracted war would not be in India's best interests. On December 16, during a lull in the battle, Jacob sought permission to visit Niazi to seek his surrender. He flew to Dhaka and obtained an unconditional surrender from Niazi, who later accused Jacob of blackmailing him into the surrender by threatening to order the annihilation of Pakistani troops in the East by bombing.

The war was a significant victory for India, with nearly 90,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendering to the Indian Army. Dhaka fell, despite the fact that there were 26,400 Pakistani soldiers in the city and only 3,000 Indian soldiers in the immediate area. "It was a total victory over a formidable, well-trained army. Had Pakistan fought on, it would have been difficult for us. We expected higher casualties," Jacob said.

A study of the campaign by Pakistan's National Defence College concluded that "the credit really goes to General Jacob's meticulous preparations in the Indian eastern command and to the implementation by his Corps commanders.