Retired Lieutenant Colonel Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir was recently conferred with the prestigious Padma Shri award. In the glittering ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the former Pakistani soldier who played a pivotal part in India’s victory in East Pakistan was bestowed with the award by President Ram Nath Kovind.
Elated at being recognized, Lt. Col Sajjad in an interview to WION remarked, “It’s like a dream come true….I thought things are forgotten but I found Indian people, Indian govt and your system does not forget. The small role I played, has been remembered.”
President Kovind presents Padma Shri to Lt Col Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir (Retd.) for Public Affairs. He is an independent researcher and author on the Bangladesh Liberation War. He joined the War of Liberation and participated in many battles alongside the Indian Army. pic.twitter.com/xhuCupSCto
— President of India (@rashtrapatibhvn) November 9, 2021
Lt Col Quazi Sajjad was a Pakistani soldier who had joined the forces out of desperation. Born on April 11, 1951, Sajjad had joined the 78 Field Regiment Artillery in Pakistan in 1971.
However, upon seeing the unspeakable act of cruelties inflicted by the Pakistani army upon the commoners, he switched over, carrying the confidential Pakistani documents which helped the Indian Army gain a sizeable advantage over the enemy.
Jinnah’s Pakistan was a graveyard: Sajjad Ali
Speaking about his change in allegiances, Sajjad remarked, “I was part of the elite 14 Para Brigade but the horrors from East Pakistan moved me. I decided to desert and crossed into Jammu and Kashmir from the Samba border. I had Rs 20 with me, along with the pant and shirt I was wearing. But I gathered whatever I could on Pakistan’s war plans and got in touch with the Indian Army,”
He further stated that Jinnah’s Pakistan had become a graveyard for the likes of Sajjad, “Jinnah’s Pakistan became a kabristan (graveyard) for us. We were treated like second-class citizens, with no rights. We were a deprived population. We never got a democracy as was promised; we only got martial law. Jinnah said we would have equal rights but we didn’t have any. We were treated as servants of Pakistan.”
Indian Army devastated the Pakistani Army based on Sajjad’s intelligence
After crossing over, the Indian border security force questioned Sajjad and took him to Pathankot where he was further grilled by senior officers. However, when Lt Col Zahir presented officers with the confidential documents, he was shifted to a safe house in Delhi from where he coordinated with the Indian intelligence.
Reportedly, Sajjad gave details of Pakistani minefields, artillery position, helicopter pads to the Indian side. As a result, the Indian Army penetrated 56 miles into Pakistan’s Shakargarh and captured the strategic town of Zafarwal.
According to a Zee report, he later trained Mukti Bahini in guerilla warfare to take on the Pakistani army. Pointing to the source of his inspiration to take the decision, he said, “We heard the call of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, calling people this time struggle is for freedom and independence.. I could train the Mukti Bahini.”
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahma had a huge role in the liberation of Bangladesh as well. He is referred to as the “father of the nation”. Although Bangladesh does not have a secular constitution anymore, Sheikh Mujibur had proposed the same in 1972.
— Neeraj Rajput (@neeraj_rajput) September 2, 2020
Akin to India, the newly liberated Bangladesh also owed a tremendous debt to Sajjad and honored him with medals such as the Bir Protik, the equivalent of the Vir Chakra for gallantry in India, and the Swadhinata Padak, which is the country’s highest civilian honor.
Death sentence active on the head of Sajjad for the last 50 years
It is pertinent to note that an enraged Pakistan after getting to know Sajjad’s role put up a death sentence against his name.
“The commanders started suspecting…Indian Airforce comes in and bombs and goes away. Some helicopters come, Sajjad must be sitting on them. I was not on the plans. It was my map..court martial was ordered and I was given death sentence. Order was to capture me alive and we would execute. We will parade u on TV, they say, Rakhey Allaha Marey Ki.”
Reflecting upon the death sentence issued in his name for the last 50 years, the Lt. Col stated, “It is an honour for me that there is a death sentence issued by the Pakistan Army against me. My family suffered a lot because of Pakistan. My father’s small house in Dhaka was burnt down. My mother and sister were chased by the Pakistani soldiers from their house till they were able to get a refuge,”
While Lt. Col. Sajjad Ali wears the death sentence as a badge of honour, it reflects well on the part of the current Modi government that it chose such a deserving candidate for one of the country’s highest civilian honor.