Major General Rao Farman Ali Khan (1923 – January 21, 2004). He took commission in an artillery regiment in 1942 and later commanded the 26 Field Regiment. He was the artillery commander in East Pakistan from where he was promoted to the rank of Maj Gen in 1970 and was then the adviser to the governor of East Pakistan. During his tenure of services in East Pakistan in 1971, he was allegedly involved in the genocide and killing of the Bengali intellectuals. During his military career he was the Director General of Military Training and of Military Operations in the General Headquarters.
Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report (HCR), denied the involvement of Pakistan army personnel in the murders of Bengalis. Gen. Farman Ali categorically denied the charge levelled against him that he had 200 intellectuals killed. The Bengali’s claimed these killings occurred on December 14, and not on December 16 of 1971, as General Farman contends. While the latter accepts that a sizeable number of corpses were found on the morning of December 17, he maintains that Pakistani army personnel could not have conducted the killings since they had already surrendered on December 16. According to Maj. Gen. Farman Ali on December 9 or 10, 1971, he was summoned by Maj. Gen. Jamshed to Peelkhana. On reaching the headquarters he says, he saw a large number of vehicles parked there. Maj. Gen. Jamshed was getting into a car and asked Maj. Gen. Farman Ali to come along. On the way, Gen. Jamshed informed Gen. Farman that they were thinking of arresting certain people. Gen. Farman Ali maintains he advised against it. On reaching General Niazi’s headquarters he says, he repeated his advice, but neither Gen. Niazi nor Gen. Jamshed responded. Gen. Farman Ali states that he does not know what transpired after he left, but he thinks no further action was taken.
Rao on Mukti Bahini and General Niazi
In his book, How Pakistan got divided , Maj. Gen. Rao Farman does express the fear that “orders countermanding the earlier orders were perhaps not issued and some people were arrested. I do not till this day know where they were kept. Perhaps they were confined in an area which was guarded by mujahids. The corps or the Dacca garrison commander lost control over them after surrender and they ran away out of fear of the Mukti Bahini who were mercilessly killing mujahids. The detained persons might have been killed by Muktis or even by the Indian army to give the Pakistan army a bad name. Dacca had already been taken over by the Indians.”
Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali, Adviser to the Governor of East Pakistan said, in (HCR) regarding General Niazi”Harrowing tales of rape, loot, arson, harassment, and of insulting and degrading behaviour were narrated in general terms…. I wrote out an instruction to act as a guide for decent behaviour and recommended action required to be taken to win over the hearts of the people. This instruction under General Tikka Khan’s signature was sent to Eastern Command. I found that General Tikka’s position was also deliberately undermined and his instructions ignored…excesses were explained away by false and concocted stories and figures.”
Rao’s controversial letter and diary
The Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, made a formal complaint with Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at Dacca on Friday, the June 28, 1974 that Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali had written on Government stationery that “The green of East Pakistan will have to be painted red.”
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman promised to supply a copy of this document to the Government of Pakistan. The insinuation was that this writing amounted to a written declaration of the intentions of the Pakistani Army and the martial law administration in East Pakistan to indulge in large-scale bloodshed in order to suppress the movement for Bangladesh. This writing was put forward as a proof of the killings alleged to have been carried out in East Pakistan during the military operations.
Maj. Gen. Farman Ali explained the significance of this writing and the circumstances under which it came to be made by him. He stated that the words “the green of East Pakistan will have to be painted red” were uttered by one of the NPA leaders in Paltan Maidan, Dacca, now called Dhaka in a public speech during June 1970. The Martial Law headquarters thought that these words had been uttered by Mr Mohammad Toha of the NAP, and the General was asked to call for the explanation of Mr Toha and warn him not to say things prejudicial to public peace. To remind himself he wrote these words down on the back of his table diary, when they were repeated to him on telephone by Lt. Gen. Sahabzada Yakub Khan, the then Zonal Martial Law administrator in East Pakistan. Toha later denied having uttered these words and mentioned the names of Qazi Zafar and Rashid Menon in this connection. As these gentlemen had gone underground, General Farman Ali could not take any further action against them. The General further explained that as Mr Toha and his associates had communist leanings, these words were intended to convey their conviction and objective that East Pakistan would be turned into a communist state, and not that there would be bloodshed. Finally, Maj. Gen. Farman Ali has stated that he did not give any importance to this note and it must have fallen into the hands of his Bengali Personal Assistant, when the diary for the year 1970 was replaced at the close of that year.
Doubts on Rao’s version of 1971
He served in Dhaka cantonment for more than a decade and was involved in intelligence gathering, making strategic decisions and formulating policies. He was also involved in buying Bengali politicians to subvert nationalist movements. He was in charge of the civil administration, knew about Bangladesh more than his peers.
In the book ‘The Betrayal of East Pakistan‘, General Niazi described General Farman as an opportunist, a conspirator and a swindler. Niazi also said, implicating Farman’s involvement in the killing of the intellectuals, that Farman requested Niazi to send him back to Pakistan, for, “Mukti Bahini would kill him of his alleged massacre of the Bangalees and intellectuals on the night of 15-16 December. It was a pathetic sight to see him pale and almost on the verge of break down“.
When asked about Farman’s refusal to admit his involvement in the killing of the intellectuals Brigadier Siddique Saliq, another senior military officer during the war, said,” ….He (Farman) was the major general in charge of civil administration. As such nothing would happen which he would not know?…“.
In The Separation of East Pakistan, Mr Hasan Zahir, a Pakistani civil servant wrote: “ Major General Farman Ali was the executioner of Dhaka part of ‘Operation Searchlight’. He succeeded in ‘shock action’ by concentrated and indiscriminate firing on target areas…….”
Brigadier Siddique Saliq in his book, Witness to Surrender, wrote,”The plan for operation Searchlight-1 visualized the setting up of two headquarters. Major General Farman with 57 Brigade under Brigadier Arbab, was responsible for operations in Dacca city and its suburbs while Major General Khadim Raja was to look after the rest of the province. In addition Lieutenant General Tikka Khan and his staff were to spend the night at the Martial Law Headquarters in the Second Capital to watch the progress of action in and outside Dacca…..”
Mr Altaf Gohar, recounted an incident from his memory. One of Gohar’s friends told him that a hit list had been drawn up for elimination of certain Bangalis. A friend of his was also in the list and he requested Gohar if he could do something to save his friend. Gohar then took the matter to one of his close friends who was a common friend with Farman. Gohar’s friend met with Farman and requested him to drop the name from his hit list. ” Farman took, said Gaohar’s friend, a diary out of his drawer and crossed the name out. The name was of Mr Sanaul Huq and he was spared.” After civil war of 1971 Farman’s diary was recovered from the ruins of the Governor’s house. The copy of a page from the diary shows the list of intellectuals from Dhaka University. 14 of them were killed on 14 December, 1971.
It is said that Rao Farman suffered from the purity complex, where he believed that due to the Hindu influence, Bengalis were not pure Muslims. Farman firmly believed that the impurities of the Bengalis could have been mended if they were absolved of the Hindu influence.
Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali died in 2004 after a brief illness. He was 82.