Times (London)

August 01 1971

The ‘plot’ against Yahya Khan

Murray Sayle

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Murray Sayle investigates the paranoid propaganda which is leading the Pakistan Army into a new war - and towards a Vietnam style disaster.

Minutes before the Boeing 707s of Pakistan International Airlines take off from Dacca airport for the long, long flight round India to Karachi, a military ambulance backs up to the rear door of each aircraft and stretchers are hurriedly, even furtively carried abroad. The patients are soldiers, going home to West Pakistan because the military hospitals in Dacca are full. These sad cargoes are concealed, more or less, from the people of Dacca, for no Bengalis are allowed on, or anywhere near, the airport; but once the plane is airborne non-military passengers can see the wounded soldiers and talk to the doctor escorting them.

On my flight this week there were six, two had had legs blown off by mines, and the other four, caught in ambushes, had bullet wounds in their upper body. Sometimes, I was told, the PIA planes are a quarter-full of badly wounded men. Clearly, it is too late to talk about the danger of war over Bangladesh. The Bengal war is now in full swing, with no end in sight. All that remains to be settled is who is silly enough to get involved in it. The parallels with Vietnam are the more striking the closer you look. The incoming PIA planes, for instance, now mostly bring soldiers, in uniform or plain clothes; but they also bring civilians, or people trying to pass for civilians, and the PIA stewards solemnly collect pistols and revolvers from them and return them at Dacca airport. The weapons themselves are a study in the grim comedy of “special warfare”; pearl- handled revolvers, nickelled automatics, and snub-nosed Bankers’ Specials as used by James Bond, Mafia hit men and CIA “contractors” in Vietnam.

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