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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-4)

The Bengali troops became intolerant of vacillating role of political leadership and agitated, as they felt that the speech failed to voice their expectation. Farooq Aziz Khan is of the same opinion in his book, Spring 1971: “To many Bengalis it was a lost opportunity. If Mujib had declared independence on March 7, as a lot of people thought he would, the history of our independence movement would have taken a different hue. Yahya thus got more time to prepare his army and execute his plans drawn up while he was shooting ducks in Larkana along with his co-conspirators as guests of Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto.” (Khan, 1993: 40)

In this connection, the statement of Colonel Shafaat jamil, one of the interviewees in this study, is equally interesting. He said: “Before 7th March the then East Pakistan had a very small army. It consisted of only one infantry division. We had five battalions of East Bengal Regiment and there were five battalions from West Pakistan. We were superior to them. Apart from that there were the East Pakistan Rifles and the Police which were overwhelmingly manned by East Pakistanis. Had the declaration come on 7 March, we would have been able to achieve our end with lesser bloodshed. Whereas from 7 March to 26 March they got 17 days’ time on account of negotiations. During those 17 days they brought in 10-12 infantry battalions, thereby outnumbering the military might of the Bengalis to 3:1.”

On 8 March at about 5.30 PM, Capt. Oli received a telephone call from Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury, while he was exploring with Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury the possible course of action. Lt. Col. Chowdhury wanted to give Oli some indtructions and he wanted to do so via Lt. Shamsher Mobin. Lt. Mobin and Lt. Col. Chowdhury talked in the Sylheti colloquial dialect so that no one could understand them. Mobin then translated for Oli “He has instructed you to report to him in the Western side room of the Chittagong Stadium and Captain Amin Ahmed Chowdhury will be waiting for you in the evening. You proceed immediately.” Capt. Oli rang Lt. Col. Chowdhury again and asked permission to bring Major Zia along with him. Col. Chowdhury was taken by surprise for a moment, but agreed following Oli’s explanation.

Accordingly, Major Zia and Oli reached the Western gate of the Stadium at 7 PM. Havildar Jan-E-Alam received them at the gate and escorted them to Captain Amin Ahmed’s room. Havilder Alam appeared to be very jubilant to see them. Captain Amin, who was ansiously waiting, informed them that Lt. Col. Chowdhury had gone out to meet Brigadier Majumder in the Chittagong Circuit House. He wanted them to wait until he returned. In the latest situation there, as Lt. Col. Janjua was suspicious of their movements. Moreover, their movement to the city was prohibited and it was not safe for them (Zia and Oli) to remain out together for a long time. Major Zia was sitting with Capt. Amin while Oli went back to the battalion. Oli, however, came back within thirty minutes and joined their discussion. About the meeting of 8 March 1971, his diary reads: “Had a discussion at the Chittagong Stadium Building with Lt. Colonel M.R. Chowdhury, Major Ziaur Rahman and Captain Amin Ahmed Chowdhury at 1930 hours regarding the situation prevailing in Bangladesh and the behavior of West Pakistani Officers. This meeting was arranged by Lt. Colonel M.R. Chowdhury and Captain Amin Ahmed Chowdhury. We finally decided to revolt in case the President does not fulfill the demands of the Bengalis”.

In the meeting it was also decided to inform M.R. Siddique and Col. M.A.G Osmani about their proposed revolt. Both of them were members of Parliament, representing the Awami League and were very close to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Thereafter, Lt. Col. Chowdhury, Major Zia and Capt. Oli started to meet on a regular basis and discussed about the day-to-day situation, future plans and programmes.

On the 11 March 1971 in the afternoon, three officers of the Baluch Regiment came to the 8 East Bengal Officers’ Mess. A few minutes later the Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Janjua joined them. Their demeanour was very suspicious and they seemed to be in a great hurry. Four of them left the mess and started walking towards the residence of Major Zia and Lt. Mahfuz. The researcher immediately rushed to the roof of the mess to observe them. He could see the residence of Major Zia from there. He saw that they went near the residence of Major Zia, stopped for a few minutes and came back to the mess. Soon after they left the mess. The researcher got the impression that Lt. Col. Janjua took these officer to show them the location of Major Zia’s residence and feared that they had designs on Zia. Later on, Oli informed Major Zia of the incident and advised him to keep weapons handy. Thereafter, Zia used to keep weapons in his house. Zia and Oli received positive information that the West Pakistani officers were having secret meetings regularly and were intensifying their vigilance on the Bengali officers.

On 18 March 1971, Captain Khalequzzaman came to Capt. Oli’s room and asked to accompany him to the residence of Captain Rafiqul Islam (Retired as Major), then Adjuatant of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), Chittagong Sector, stationed at Halishahar. Capt. Oli suggested that they should take Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury along with them. Accordingly, Captain Khalequzzaman, Lt. Mobin and Capt. Oli arrived at the residence of Captain Rafiqul Islam at 7 PM sharp.

Ansiously walking the lawn, Captain Rafiqul Islam seemed quite restless. He informed his colleagues that some other gentlemen would also join them. Capt. Oli suggested that the meeting should be held in some place outside the city, which Captain Rafique readily endorsed. It was decided to hold the meeting at the residence of Shamsul Alam, the Chittagong University Librarian. Within a short time, Captain Haroon (retired as Major General) of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), Dr. Jafar, an eye Specialist of Chittagong, and Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser MNA joined them. They proceeded towards the University.

The discussion was fairly extensive. At one point, Captain Rafique, Captain Khalequzzaman and Dr. Zafar raised the question as to what should be the action against the enemy in the event that the Pakistani Army attacked them. This led the group to discuss and assess their overall strength including the resources of the Bengal Regiment, EPR and the available arms and ammunition. Capt. Oli was not in favour of discussing the operational strategy too openly and suggested that Captain Rafique and he should meet later.

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