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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-5)

On 18 March 1971, Capt. Oli recorded in his dairy: “Had a discussion with Captain Rafique of EPR about the West Pakistani Officers’ plan to disarm all Bengalis, and to kill them if they resisted. The discussion was held at the University Campus and attended by the following officers – Captain chowdhury Khiquzzaman, Captain Haroon of 17 Wing EPR, Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury – Ataur Rahman Khan Kaiser MNA and Dr. Zafar, an Eye Specialist.”

Capt. Oli approached Major Zia with the request to go alone to have a word with Captain Rafique in the specified place. This time Capt. Oli did not accompany Zia, as it was unwise for him to leave the mess since the Quarter-Master was always wanted. Major Zia went to meet Captain Rafique as planned and briefed Oli about their discussion on his return. Capt. Oli M.R. Chowdhury and Captain Rafique to finalize their plans, programmes and strategies. They also decided to inform Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, via M.R. Siddiqui about the latest activities of the Pakistan Army in Chittagong.

On 20 March 1971, Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury, Major Zia and Captain Rafique met at the residence of Shafi Ahmed, the Member (Planning), of the Railway Board and outlined the following plan of action: Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury with EBRC troops would occupy the entire Chittagong Cantonment and, if required, attack the 20 Baluch Regiment quartered nest to their location. Subedar Helal of EBRC would take the responsibility for working out the details of ‘three inch mortar firing’ positions on 20 Baluch Regiment and carry out the firing when ordered (this particular weapon could be fired from a distance without seeing the target and was a high trajectory weapon); Captain Rafique with the EPR troops under his command would occupy the Naval Base and the Chittagong Airport; the 8 East Bengal Regiment would remain on stand-by under the leadership of Major Zia for any emergency. It was also decided that M.R. Siddiqui of the Chittagong Awami League would be kept informed about this plan and the subsequent amendments on a regular basis. Capt. Oli briefed Captain Khalequzzaman and Lt. Shamsher Mobin about these developments so that they could remain alert and mentally prepared to resist the Pakistan Army, Capt. Oli ordered his trusted Naib Subedar Quarter Master Abdul Hamid to mobilize their loyal troops against the Pakistani aggression.

On 21 March 1971, around 8 AM, all officers were ordered to remain present at the Battalion Headquarters in uniform. Gen. Abdul Hamid Khan, the Chif of Staff of the Pakistan Army along with Maj. Gen Khodadad Khan, Quarter Master General, and other top ranking officers would be visiting the battalion at 9 AM. They arrived at the Battalion Headquarters on time. Brig. M.R. Majumder, the Chittagong Area Commander, was also with them. All officers of the battalion were present except Major Zia. He was away at Chittagong City, shopping as it was a holiday.

General Hamid maintained a very low profile during the visit as if everything was normal. He did not mention anything about the prevailing situation. Capt. Oli was suspicious of the motives of his visit, believing that Gen. Hamid came to have a final review of the arrangements taken by the Pakistani officers against the Bengalis. From Oli’s past experience, he could not recall so many top-ranking officers visiting a battalion on a Sunday (A holiday) without there being any emergency. Gen. Hamid left for the Chittagong Cantonment at 11 AM. Major Zia returned to the Battalion Headquarters at 11.30 AM. And Capt. Oli narrated everything to him including his suspicions about being attacked or disarmed by the Pakistan Army at any time. Major Zia decided to meet Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury and Captain Rafique to discuss the implication of the general’s untimely visit. Brig. Majumder, in addition to holding the post of Chittagong Area Commander, was the Commandant of the East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) at the Chittagong Cantonment and Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury was the chief instructor under him. They hailed from the same area and had been keeping close contact with each other since 8 March 1971. Bring. Majumder extended his full support and assurances that other Bengali officers would join. However, he pointed out that it would be better to keep him away from the direct leadership, since the Punjabis had him under surveillance. Both Zia and Oli asked him, Through Col. Chowdhury, to contact Col. Mohammad Ataul Ghani Osmani who had joined the AL and was the senior most retired Bengali military officer working for Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Osmani was informed of the plans and programme in detail and was given the responsibility of contacting and coordinating the 4 East Bengal Regiment at Comilla, the 1 East Bengal Regiment at Jassore, the 2 East Bengal Regiment at Joydevpur and the 3 East Bengal Regiment at Saidpur. Col. Osmani agreed to take this responsibility and act as the vital link between Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the Bengal regiment. They had already developed contacts with local leaders of the Awami League in orderto keep abreast of the political developments at Dhaka. East Pakistan was now under the de facto control of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from 2 March 1971, the government of Gen. Yahya Khan having lost effective control. Col. Osmani conveyed that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman intended to have several meetings with Gen. Yahya in Dhaka to work out the details of handing over power to him.

The Declaration of Independence

Since the beginning of March 1971, Captain Yakub, the Quarter Master of the 20th Baluch Regiment in the Chittagong Cantonment had been communicating with Capt. Oli by telephone about their activities and about the movement of the Pakistan Army from West Pakistan to East Pakistan. In addition, Oli had several casual meetings with Captain Yakub in his office in connection with the different requirements of discussions, Capt. Yakub informed him that new battalions of FF, Baluch, Punjab and other troops were being brought from Pakistan. These troops, comprising the F.F., Baluch regiment and Punjab regiment were brought from Pakistan and deployed in East Pakistan with a view to suppressing the Awami League leaders and supporters and the Hindus who, the West Pakistani leaders and Generals thought, were trying to disintegrate Pakistan. As usual Oli informed Col. Chowdhury and Major Zia about all developments.

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