Ex-Pakistani army Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir is proud to help India in the Bangladesh War as Pakistan was fighting for an unjust cause
It is said that achievers can make national borders dissolve in thin air. The recent Padma awards ceremony was an indirect example of it. Dressed in black and white, the former Pakistani military man, Lt Colonel (Retd) Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir posed shyly but with a sense of pride after receiving Padma Shri by Indian president Ramnath Kovind.
Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir has been conferred the highest civilian award in recognition of his sacrifices and efforts to thwart the Pakistani army in the Bangladesh Liberation war. Incidentally, India and Bangladesh are currently celebrating the 50th war anniversary as the war veteran turned 71.
Back in the 1970s…
It is known that Bangladesh and its residents were treated as subversions of Pakistan by Jinnah. Now, Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir has affirmed the allegations and said that indeed they were treated as second class citizens and had no rights. Despite Jinnah’s democratic promise, Bangladesh was inflicted with martial law.
This intrigued Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir to help Indian soldiers in the war. The second-generation army man felt isolated in the Pakistan elite para-brigade member in Sialkot. He then decided to reach Jammu via ‘probably’ the least patrolled route during the battle of Shakargarh. He had to hide in the gorge on reaching the border to save himself from the cross-border firing.
In one of his interviews, he said that he was thought to be a Pakistani spy and was taken to Delhi safe house for multiple rounds of questioning by senior men from different agencies. But no Indian officers have treated him as a war criminal and comforted him with necessities. Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir helped the Indian army to locate Pak forces by giving them their exact location coordinates. It was due to this Indian army was able to penetrate 56 miles into Pakistan territory in Shakargarh.
Padma Awardee Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir trained Mukti Bahini
Later in the war, Lt Colonel Sajjad was sent to serve at a camp adjacent to northeastern bordering states where he trained 850 Mukti Bahini men in guerilla warfare. He has no regrets for siding with the Indians in the war as he believed that Pakistani forces battling genocide, rape and murder charges were fighting for an unjust cause.
As many Bangladeshi said earlier, he also confirmed that the Indian army protected their Pakistani counterpart from being brutally killed by Mukti Bahini or Bangladeshi Liberation Forces. He had organized the second Artillery Force (under Sector 4) in the Sylhet region.
Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir went on to serve the Bangladesh Army after the Liberation war. He retired as a highly decorated officer. His father was a soldier in the British army, and his teenage brother had joined the Liberation forces back in the 1970s. His bravery shines bright as he boasts about his 50-year-old death sentence in Pakistan.
Apart from Padma Shri, Lt Colonel Sajjad Zahir also won the Bangladesh equivalent of the highest civilian award — Swadhinata Padak. He was also awarded the highest gallantry medal in Bangladesh – Bir Protik.