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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-6)

On 22 March 1971, Capt. Oli met Col. Chowdhury in his office to discuss their preparation and future plans. He was suffering from fever. Little did Oli know that it was to be their last meeting. Col. Chowdhury was arrested by the soldiers of 20 Baluch regiment on the night of 25 March 1971 and was brutally killed by the Baluch Regiment on the order of Col. Fatemi. The road communication between the Chittagong Cantonment and the 8 East Bengal Regiment was disrupted. On the morning of 23 March 1971 the people erected hundreds of barricades on the main roads all over Chittagong. The newly designed Bangladesh flag was also hoisted on all buildings. People were left with no alternative but to walk on foot and contact each other by telephone. The distance between the Chittagong Cantonment and 8 East Bengal’s office in the city was about four miles. On 23 March 1971, Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury and M.R. Siddiqui, the two senior most political leaders of Chittagong left for Dhaka by car on the request of Major Zia and Capt. Oli, to meet Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and to brief him about the preparation of the 8 East Bengal Regiment at Chittagong. Capt. Oli and Major Zia wanted a clear instruction from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman about their role under the present situation. They wanted him to declare the independence of Bangladesh before it was too late. They were anticipating a final crackdown by the Pakistani troops at any time. Unfortunately Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury and M.R. Siddiqui on their return journey met with an accident in front of the Nizampur College, which was about 31 miles from Chittagong City. Next morning M.R. Siddiqui informed them that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had no directions for them at that stage and only instructed them not to allow the unloading of a ship called “Swat” This ship, anchored at the Chittagong Port, carried a large quantity of arms and ammunition form West Pakistan. Zia and Oli were greatly frustrated at the lack of political direction. Mujib could not foresee the danger ahead; but they knew that Pakistani troops would strike them at an opportune moment. At about mid day on 23 March 1971, Capt. Amin Ahmed Chowdhury telephoned Capt. Oli that he and Brig. Majumder were ordered to leave for Dhaka by a helicopter. Capt. Amin Ahmed Chowdhury felt that the authorities were suspicious of them and that they might be placed under ‘house-arrest’ at Dhaka or, worse, be interrogated to obtain information about the morale and psychology of the Bengali officers and troops. However, Capt. Amin assured Oli that Col. M.R. Chowdhury would remain in Chittagong and the troops of the East Bengal Regimental Centre were fully prepared under his leadership to meet any situation. Capt. Oli requested him to establish contact by telephone on reaching Dhaka and to inform him about the situation there. If he did not call Oli by 10 PM, Oli should presume that they were taken into custody. In the same evening at about 8 PM Capt. Amin left a message for Oli with the duty clerk saying that they were all right and were staying with one of the friends of Brig. Majumder at Dhanmondi in Dhaka. So far they did not sense any danger for them but had been asked to stay in Dhaka until further orders. Capt. Oli communicated all this to Major Ziaur Rahman. During the whole period they were ina state of tension and great ansiety. They were certain that they would be hanged for mutiny in the army.

On 24 March 1971 at about 7 PM, Lt. Col. A.R. Janjua, Commanding Officer of the battalion, sent a message to Capt. Oli to the effect that the 106 recoilless rifles, which were brought from the 20th Baluch Regiment on loan, should be returned at once and that Oli should go personally to hand over the weapons. The instruction left him full of suspicion. The journey from his location to the cantonment was not safe at all. He suspected that the Punjabis would ambush and kill him in the darkness. He got up from his bed and put on the uniform. He did not forget to carry a loaded pistol. Calmly he came down to the ground floor of the mess. He found Lt. Col. A.R. Janjua and Major Mir Shawkat Ali sitting together in the drawing room. Col. Janjua asked him to go immediately to return the rifles. Oli pointed out to him that an officer was not required for this trivial job. Capt. Oli suggested that one NCO could be deputed, or if he insisted on an officer, the duty officer of the day- Lt. Azam, a Punjabi officer could carry the weapon. The colonel insisted that Oli should go in person. Capt. Oli’s suspicion was further intensified. He refused to go during the night in the midst of political unrest. The colonel became annoyed and asked him to go back to his room. The news of these developments spread like wild fire among the troops. Capt. Oli was informed that some troops were getting ready to shoot the colonel if he insisted on Oli returning the rifle in person. Oli hurriedly left ofr the battalion lines thinking that any premature action on their part would jeopardize the plan and endanger their lives. On reaching the main gate of the Battalion Headquarters, Capt. Oli met Havilder Abdul Kader, who was with Oli in the 4 East Bengal Regiment, their parent battalion and informed him of the tense situation. Oli then found some troops with loaded rifles. Somehow he managed to cool them down. He assured them that he would order them into action when the time was right. At this critical point of time Subedar Major T.M. Ali, a Non Bengali JCO and the most senior among the soldiers, arrived on the scene. He maintained direct links between the troops and the commanding officer. Capt. Oli was worried and nervous to see him in the battalion lines. He immediately asked Oli to advise him as to what should he say to the commanding officer about this particular incident. Capt. Oli was worried and nervous to see him in the battalion lines. He immediately asked Oli to advise him as to what should he say to the commanding officer about this particular incident. Capt. Oli advised him to tell the colonel that the soldiers were agitated after hearing a lot of noise from the nearby areas and that Oli had handled the situation tactfully. Subedar Major Ali briefed the colonel accordingly and thus tackled the situation. He never disclosed the secret to anyone.

 

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