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Why an ex-Pakistan army officer Lt Colonel Zahir was conferred with Padma Shri

The Padma awards were conferred this week by President Ram Nath Kovind to people for their exceptional and distinguished service and who immensely contributed to their cause or to a profession. But one name that stood out was that of Lieutenant Colonel (Retd.) Qazi Sajjad Ali Zahir, once a Pakistani soldier and now a Padma Shri awardee.

The story of this Pakistani soldier is very interesting and filled with grit. Lt Colonel Zahir was conferred with one of the highest civilian awards in India, in recognition of his sacrifices and contribution to India’s success in the 1971 war against Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh.

While India and Bangladesh celebrate 50 years of the 1971 liberation war, this award bestowed to Lt Colonel Zahir holds a special meaning who incidentally turns 71 this year, a number that is very close to the hearts of all Bangladeshis and also has a special meaning for India.

The valour of Lt Colonel Zahir can be understood from the fact that he proudly says there is a death sentence pending in his name for the last 50 years in Pakistan, almost showcasing it as a badge of honour.

Who is Lt Colonel Zahir?

At 20, Lt Colonel Zahir was an officer in the Pakistan Army posted in the Sialkot sector.

After the liberation of East Pakistan, he went on to serve the Bangladesh Army and is a highly decorated officer.

Lt Colonel Zahir was conferred with Bir Protik, the Indian equivalent of the Vir Chakra for gallantry.

Lt Colonel (Retd.) Qazi Sajjad Ali Zahir was bestowed with Bangladesh’s highest civil honour – Swadhinata Padak.

Lt Colonel Zahir was conferred the Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian awards in India.

The story of Lt Colonel Zahir

As a young 20-year-old officer in the Pakistan Army posted in the Sialkot sector managed to cross over to India in March 1971.

He crossed over to India at the height of the Pakistani army’s atrocities and human rights violations in erstwhile East Pakistan. 

Lt Colonel Zahir had documents and maps stuffed in his boots and Rs 20 in his pocket when he crossed over to neighbouring India.

Suspecting him of being a Pakistani spy, he was grilled by Indian forces at the border and later taken to Pathankot where senior military officers questioned him. 

It was when he presented documents of the Pakistan Army’s deployments that the officers knew it was serious business.

Lt Colonel Zahir was sent to Delhi where he stayed in a safe house for months before moving to East Pakistan now called Bangladesh.

In East Pakistan Lt Colonel (Retd.) Qazi Sajjad Ali Zahir trained the Mukti Bahini in guerilla warfare to take on the Pakistani army.

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