Among the many who were conferred with India's highest civilian award Padma Shri early this week, the felicitation of Col. Quazi Sajjad Ali Zahir stood out for an apparent reason. Col. Zahir is a former Pakistani soldier who risked his life by crossing over to India and helping liberate Bangladesh in the 1971 war. However, keeping in view the confidential nature of the military business. Lt. Colonel Zaheer essentially went by under the radar all those years ago.
He came back in the public's eye very recently when he stepped onto the podium to receive the Padma Shri, a recognition of his unparalleled contribution to the Indian Intelligence and, subsequently, the Bangladesh freedom movement.
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
The Back Story
As a 20-year-old officer posted in Sialkot, Lt. Colonel Zahir crossed over to neighbouring India at the height of the Pakistani Army's atrocities and human rights violations in Bangladesh(erstwhile East Pakistan), as per reports in Hindustan Times. He was suspected of being a Pakistani spy and hauled by Border security forces and later by senior officers of the Indian Army in Pathankot. The mere intent to help the Indian Army wasn't sufficient for Lt. Col Zahir to convince the Army of his cause. Until he produced some confidential documents of the Pakistani Army, later he was accommodated to a safe house in Delhi from where the Indian Intelligence coordinated with him to gauge the sensitive information. Later on, Zahir moved to Bangladesh, where he trained the Mukti Bahini (Mukti Bahini) in guerilla warfare to take on Pakistani forces.
A Deserved Accolade
Even to this date, Lt. Col. Zahir is an eye sour for Pakistan. According to the ex-military man, a death sentence has been pending in his name in Pakistan for the last 50 years. In Bangladesh, however, His contribution and sacrifice are highly recognized time and again by felicitating him with gallantry awards and medals such as the Bir Protik and the country's highest civilian honour, the Swadhinata Padak. Now India has recognized his extraordinary contribution to the military history of the Republic of India and conferred him with Padma Shri.