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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-3)

So they continued to meet regularly. They devised possible ways and means for procuring arms and ammunition, which were then at the disposal of the Punjabi officers. They remained sensitive to the contemporary political situation and the demands of the mass movement. They also collected information about the strength and specific location of Pakistani officers and soldiers serving in East Pakistan.

Thus the seeds of rebellion were sown in the minds of those who mattered most at that point of time.

In this Chapter, the researcher offers an insider’s view of the Bangladesh Revolution. He argues that although Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his political colleagues prepared the nation for the struggle of self-rule and autonomy, he was subsequently not available to guide and lead the nation in the crucial time. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the undisputed leader of East Pakistan. His party, the awami League, turned out to be the majority party not only in East Pakistan but also in Pakistan since it secured 167 seats in 313-seat Pakistan National Assembly in the 1970 general election. When President Yahya Khan postponed the session of the National Assembly on 1 March 1971, the people of East Pakistan began demonstrating in anger against the Pakistani ruling elite. The people of different sectors in East Pakistan i.e. the students, teachers, professionals, Bengali civil servants, leaders of different political parties in East Pakistan came out in the street decrying the decision of President Yahya Khan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman knew it. He also made it public that he would make a significant declaration in the meeting to be held on 7 March 1971 at Paltan Maidan. Everybody including the members of the armed forces expected that Sheikh Mujib would declare independence on that day. He, instead, called for a non-co-operation movement since 7 March. At that time there was only one infantry division in the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan (Akhan, 1993: 41). The researcher feels that had the declaration come on 7 March, East Pakistanis would have been able to achieve independence with lesser bloodshed.

The Bengali military personnel, to a significant extent, filled in the vacuum created by the political leadership. The revolt by the Bengali officers in Chittagong, in fact, marked the beginning of the nation’s organized resistance to the Pakistani occupation forces. The revolt was engineered by an active and enthusiastic section of the Bengali officers, who were able successfully to disseminate the spirit of revolution to the rank and file and, eventually, to the civilians. To sum up in more specific terms, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman prepared the nation for struggle, but he failed to provide the leadership in the face of the Pakistan Army’s crackdown on the Bengali officers, soldiers and civilians. Capt. Oli prepared and coordinated the soldiers of the 8 East Bengal Regiment and played the main part in the revolt on the crucial night of 25/26 March 1971. Major Ziaur Rahman declared the Independence of Bangladesh.

The Gathering Storm

Immediately after the appointment of the researcher as the Quarter Master in the 8 East Bengal regiment, Major Ziaur Rahman was posted there and was appointed second-in-command. Capt. Oli found in Major Zia a smar, well-versed in war-strategy and accomplished officer. He used to speak less, Listen more and work swiftly. Major Zia had a very good command of English and Urdu languages. Their Offices were located in a cluster, adjacent to one another, separated only by a thin wall of about 5 inches. At that time Major Zia and Capt. Oli was in an advantageous position, which required all officers and staff to associate with him. Their food, rations, clothing and other amenities were at his disposal, which gave him an opportunity to interact frequently with them. The researcher’s good relationship and association with the officers and soldiers caught the attention of the second-in command Major Zia who started to take an interest in Capt. Oli and became closely associated with him, especially when it emerged that he also shared the same view of the situation.

During the month of February 1971, Major Zia called Capt. Oli to his office several times. He wanted to ascertain what was going on in the political arena. He made queries about the ideas, feelings and views of Bengali army personnel. Capt. Oli was still not quite comfortable enough to open up fully to him and followed a rather cautious approach. Moreover, the researcher’s training in intelligence work during his service with the Pakistan Air Force made him even more cautious. Major Zia, however, talked things over with Oli without reservation. Although, Capt. Oli was careful, he was quite aware of the rapidly changing political situation in the country and of the necessity to develop a dedicated group who would be ready for action.

Major Zia called the researcher, on an emergency basis, to his residence one evening in the third week of February 1971. On that day, without any hesitation, Capt. Oli was open with Major Zia and briefed him all about the Bengali officers and soldiers. Zia seemed to be determined to act directly to safeguard the interests of the Bengali nation and Oli assured him of his support. They discussed the problems and prospects of such direct action in detail. The only information, which the researcher did not disclose to Major Zia, was about the understanding between Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury and himself. He kept it a secret for the time being and wanted to observe and understand Zia further. He also felt the necessity to consult with the political leaders of the Awami League in Chittagong, in order to search for a coordinated strategy of action and to keep them abreast of the political situation.

Within a short while, Oli gained the complete confidence of Major Zia and they became very close. Major Zia and Capt. Oli had regular exchanges of thoughts and plans. The 20th Baluch Regiment was stationed in the Chittagong Cantonment. The Baluch regiment’s overriding purpose at that time was to check and contain the Bengali nationalist movement. Captain Iqbal Hussain was the Quarter-master of the Baluch Regiment. Capt. Iqbal and Capt. Oli shared the same type of duties and responsibilities, and thereby developed an intimacy. Besides they studied together at Pakistan Military Academy and were course mates. During the first week of March.

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