The night of massacre, 25th March 1971, was a complete military operation by Pakistan Army, officially named Operation Searchlight. The idea of this operation came to some of senior Generals after massive demonstration of East Pakistanis on 21st February 1971. This is one of very few military operations in post World War II history which ultimately had been planned against civilians, just to kill a smart percentage of them and to scare survivors. The concept of Operation Searchlight was inspired by the My Lai massacre that U.S. Army did in Vietnam.
The plan was drawn up in March 1971 by Maj.Gen. Khadim Hussain Raza and Maj.Gen. Rao Farman Ali, as a result of a meeting between Pakistani army staff on the 22nd of February. Senior Pakistani officers in East Pakistan who were unwilling to support any military attack on civilians, Lt.Gen. Shahabzada Yakub Khan, GOC East Pakistan, and the governor Vice Adm. Ahsan, were relieved of their duties. As a replacement of these two officials, Lt.Gen. Tikka Khan was made both the Governor and GOC of East Pakistan.
On March 17, Gen. Khadim Hussain Raza was given the go ahead to plan for the crackdown via telephone by Gen. Hamid, COS Pakistan Army. On the morning of March 18, Gen. Raza and Maj.Gen. Rao Farman Ali put the details to paper at the GOCâ€™s office at Dhaka cantonment. The plan was written on a light blue office pad with a lead pencil by Gen. Farman containing sixteen paragraphs spread over five pages.
Gen. Farman wrote out the operational premises and conditions for success, while Gen. Khadim dealt with the distribution of forces and particular tasks of the individual brigades and other units. Planners took this to consideration that the Bengali officers and other military or para-military units will revolt at the onset of operations. To minimize that risk, it was suggested that all Bengali armed units like Police, Riffles (EPR) should be disarmed and the political leadership arrested during their meeting with the President, Gen. Yahya Khan. No operational reserves were earmarked. Though the draft asked to disarm Police, EPR units, thousands of unarmed Police men & EPR troops were massacred inside Dhakaâ€™s Police lines at Rajarbag & EPR Headquarters at Pilkhana.
The handwritten plan was read out to Gen. Hamid and Lt.Gen. Tikka Khan on the 20th of March at the flag staff house. Gen. Hamid objected to the immediate disarming of regular army Bengali units but approved the disarming of EPR, armed police and other para-military formations. In the initial draft of the massacre plan, Pakistanâ€™s genius Generals like Gen. Farman suggested that Awami League leaders could be arrested amid the ongoing dialogue with Gen. Yahya, but another genius Yahya Khan refused it, proved he is at least wiser than Gen. Farman . After frequent verification & scrutiny, the amended plan was approved and the operational plan was distributed to various area commanders on the 24th and the 25 March daytime, when a group of Pakistani Generals, accompanied by Gen. Hamid, Gen. Mittha, the QMG, and Col. Saadullah, PSO, visited the major garrisons via helicopter and personally briefed the various garrison commanders or senior West Pakistani officers on the operation. Gen. Mittha was the chief of the Special Services Group (SSG Commandos). SSG was given the vital role of the most dramatic chapter of total plan, the arrest of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Maj.Gen. Qamar Ali Mirza, and Brig.Gen. Harrison later arrived from West Pakistan to assist Gen. Mittha for arranging the logistical details, mainly because the non cooperation program by Awami League was causing immense impact including hampering food supplies to the military. Secrecy was maintained at extreme strictness, only a few junior commissioned officers learned about the plan beforehand on a need to know basis. Some Bengali officers had become suspicious of the all West Pakistani officer briefings. Later it showed that some of Bengali officers initiated revolts as a confused advance from their suspicions.
The Operation started on the night of 25 March, 1971 in Dhaka, and other garrisons were to be alerted via phone about their zero hour to start their operations. Gen. Farman Ali commanded the forces in Dhaka, while the rest of the province was commanded by Gen. Khadim himself. Lt.Gen. Tikka Khan and his staff were present in the 31st field command center, to supervise and support the command staff of the 14th division inside Dhaka Cantonment. To the time of leaving Dhaka for Karachi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto accompanied Gen. Tikka Khan inside the cantonment. While observing the massacre under name of â€˜Operation Searchlightâ€™, Zulfikar Ali at a moment showed interest to be taken with a military unit see what is happening in the city and asked for Gen. Tikkaâ€™s consent. Gen. Tikka refused him showing no reason.