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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-2)

This role of the Bengali bureaucrats at that critical time politicized them still further. The Agartala Conspiracy Case of 1968, which charged 33 Bengali politicians, civil servants and military officers with conspiring to bring about East Pakistan’s secession in collusion with India, indicates how the Bengali bureaucrats were implicated because they were calling attention to East Pakistani interests (Ziring, 1971; Ahamed, 1988: 42). The testimonies of these military officers also indicate how much politicized they were. These officers complained that in Pakistan they had been treated ‘not as equals’ but ‘as inferior breeds’.

Many of the civil servants and military officers established linkages with the dominant East Pakistan political party, the Awami League, and remained on good terms with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Many of them supplied secret information to the Awami League leadership, which helped the Sheikh to sharpen his case for autonomy (Jahan, 1972: 198-202). Not surprisingly, therefore, the bureaucrats, both civil and military, lent full support to Sheikh Mujib’s call for civil disobedience and the non-cooperation movement which paralyzed the entire administration in East Pakistan from 1 March to 25 March 1971. It is also of great significance that the Six-Point Programme (Appendix-2), which had been the basis of the national movement in East Pakistan since 1966, turned out to be a One-Point demand i.e. the demand for the independence of East Pakistan, after the ill-considered and impolitic declaration by President Yahya Khan on 1 March 1971, which called for suspension of the session of National Assembly to be held on 3 March 1971. Only in this context, can the role of the Bengali military officers be properly appreciated, as well as that of the Chittagong Cantonment, where a few junior officers worked together.

Capt. Oli joined 8 East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong in September 1970. Within a few days, more Bengali and Punjabi Officers were posted to the new battalion. They included Lt. Col. A.R. Janua as Commanding Officer, Major Kelvi, Captain Abbas, Captain Ahmed Ali, Captain Akthar, Captain Majid, Lt. Humayun Khan, 2nd Lt. Azam. Captain Chowdhury Khalequzzaman (now retired Brig.), Captain Sadeque Hussain (now retired Brig.), Lt. Mahfuzur Rahman (later on Lt. Col.), Lt. Shamsher Mobin, Major Mir Shawkat Ali (later on retired Lt. General and former Cabinet Minister under Begum Khaleda Zia’s BNP Government) and Major Ziaur Rahman (later on Lt. General and President of Bangladesh). Lt. Col. Janjua originally belonged to the 4 East Bengal Regiment, wherein Lt. col. M. R. Chowdhury was the Commanding Officer. Lt. Col. Chowdhury was also transferred to the Chittagong Cantonment as the Chief Instructor of the East Bengal Regimental Centre.

The researcher’s association with Lt. Col. M. R. Chowdhury in Lahore was deep and far-reaching which made them even closer in Chittagong. The researcher used to visit Col. Chowdhury to discuss the political situation in the country and map out strategies of possible army involvement if necessary. The discussions were, needless to say, carried out secretly during the first and second week of February at Chittagong Cantonment and both officers were tense with anxiety lest they be disarmed and arrested. Lt. Col. Chowdhury’s office was located inside the cantonment. The 20 Baluch Regiment, comprising some of the Punjabis, was also located next to his office. Pakistan army intelligence became very alert at that time and was keenly observing the movements of the Bengali officers.

Working inside the Pakistan army, the researcher was aware of the Pakistani officials’ attitude of demeaning Bengalis as a nation who, according to the Pakistanis, were no good at fighting. The rank and file in the Army was also taught to believe this stereotype. Drawing on his experiences of dealing with the Pakistanis, the researcher felt that despite a clear victory for the Awami League in the parliamentary election, the central political leadership of Pakistan would never transfer power democratically and peacefully. These events troubled him and the seeds of revolt were sown in his consciousness.

The researcher, as well as most of the Bengali military officers, felt that a critical situation lay ahead. Major General Ejaj ahmed Chowdhury, one of the interviewees for this study responded: “Pakistan Army started mobilizing their troops from early March. From their mobilization of troops I could understand that Pakistan army was going to take actions to neutralize and suppress political crisis in the then East Pakistan.” Major General Mohammed Abdul Halim, another interviewee, said in that connection: “During the non-co-operation movement [of March] I was watching the situation and was mentally prepared for the war and kept my fingers crossed.” Major General Safiullah, another respondent had this to say: “Pakistan, which we knew comprising both East and West, I should say, did not exist in East Pakistan after 1 March 1971. When Awami League, having won absolute majority for forming government [at the centre] and when Sheikh Mujib was declared as the prospective Prime Minister of Pakistan, they [Pakistani ruling elite] were making issues not to give that authority to Bengali leadership. So in the guise of conflict with India they were pouring in troops and at one stage there was a dialogue between the central government and East Pakistani leaders. We as military personnel knew what they were trying to do.”

Being summoned, Capt. Oli met Lt. Col. Chowdhury in the first week of February 1971. He looked anxious and tense, especially over the uncertainty of the political dialogue, which was then in progress, between the Awami aLeague leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and General Yahya Khan, Zulfiquer Ali Bhutto and others. Col. Chowdhury and Capt. Oli were of the same mind. They believed that the West Pakistanis would never hand over power amicably. Then they moved on to the more significant issue: how would they react when and if their Bengali brethren sought assistance from them? They decided to extend their full support to uphold the cause of the Bengali nation even at the cost of their blood. They set together and discussed the plans in detail. Both of them also decided in principle that they should do whatever was needed to be done under the political direction of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was then leading the movement as the recognized leader of East Pakistan. Mujib had a mandate from the people and represented the absolute majority in Pakistan. It was their belief that Mujib knew his business well by virtue of his long association with such veteran politicians as Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani, Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque and Hssain Shahid Suharawardy. Col. Chowdhury and Capt. Oli also decided that relevant information should secretly be collected about all the Bengali Officers stationed in different cantonments of East Pakistan (See Appendix-1).

 

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