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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-7)

On 25 March 1971, officers and troops of 8 East Bengal Regiment were deployed to remove the barricades created by the civilians on the road between their location and the Chittagong Cantonment in order to stop movements of Pakistani officers and soldiers. The colonel himself was supervising the operation. Major Kamal (Punjabi) and Capt Aziz (Bengali) along with their troops from the East Bengal Regimental Centre started the cleaning and clearing operation from the other end. Capt. Oli was the only officer not directly deployed, thus he was sitting in the office pondering matters. All the incidents of the last 24 hours gave him a clear indication that something was going to happen the night. Around 11 AM he saw Col. Janjua along with Major Shawkat, Capt. Ahm. Ahmed Ali. Capt. Sadeque, Capt. Khalequzzaman and Lt. Azam coming back with their troops to the battalion. The colonel explained to Oli about the change in the plan. He said that Major Zia along with some other officers and soldiers of the battalion had been given the task of clearing the road. While from the other end, Major Kamal and others, were given the task. Everyone would have their afternoon and evening meals at the place of duty. As usual they left for the Officers’ Mess after 2 PM and the colonel left for his residence. At about 4 PM Capt. Oli received a message from the colonel ordering him to be the duty officer of the day and Lt. Azam (a Punjabi Officer) to be the assistant duty officer. In fact there no practice of having an assistant duty officer in the army. Oli realized that Lt. Azam’s task was to keep an eye on him. In the meantime Major Shawkat, Capt. Ahmed Ali, Capt. Khalequzzaman and Capt. Sadeque were asked to stay in their rooms until further orders.

Capt. Oli left for the battalion headquarters accordingly. On arrival at the Battalion Headquarters in the duty officers’ room he found that Lt. Azam was already sitting there. He seemed to be extra alert. He wanted to listen to all the telephone calls in Oli’s presence, which was not a common practice in the army. His activities confirmed Oli’s suspicions and prompted him to organize a revolt. Capt. Oli alerted his trusted Naib Subedar Abdul Hamid to remain ready with a platoon on the roof of the building, fully armed to meet any situation. He kept four armed guards slightly away from his room to keep a close watch on Lt. Azam. There were only about ten to twelve non-Bengali officers and troops in the battalion. The main source of worry was from the 20th Baluch Regiment and from an air strike. At about 4.30 PM Col. Janjua, along with his adjutant Major Mir Shawkat Ali, arrived in the office. The Charlie Company, which was commanded by Major Shawkat in addition to his duties, was ordered to get ready. Col. Janjua and Major Shawkat along with the Charlie Company left without any arms for Chittagong Port to unload arms and ammunition from the ship ‘Swat’. Gradually troops were dispersed and with every contingent one or two Punjabi officers were placed alongside the Bengali officers.

At 8 PM Capt. Oli tried several times to contact Capt. Rafique (Adjutant of EPR) over the telephone, but he was not available. It was necessary to brief him about the latest situation. The night was getting dark and Oli sensed an impending danger. Around 8.15 PM he decided to meet Major Zia at the Bayzid Bostami area – who was given the responsibility to clear the road towards the Chittagong Cantonment – to tell him about his feelings. Oli took a small truck from the battalion and told the assistant duty officer that he needed to carry food for the troops on duty clearing the barricades. He started for the destination along with a few soldiers and some foodstuffs for the on-duty personnel. Oli was surprised to see that all barricades ware replaced on the roads and people were guarding them. He met Major Zia on the premises of the K. Rahman Coca-Cola Factory. He explained to Zia the latest situation and his apprehension about the possible crack down by the Pakistan Army. Zia was of the same opinion. They lost contact with Lt. Col. M.R. Chowdhury and Captain Rafique. Zia came back with Oli to the Battalion Headquarters on the pretext of having food in his residence. Lt. Mahfuz, Lt. Shamsher and Lt. Humayun were on duty on the same road at different places. Major Zia left for his residence at about 9 PM and Oli went to the duty officers’ room. Oli thought if anything should happen, it would happen by one o’clock. Oli wanted to remain awake and near the telephone until that time. He wanted Lt. Azam to sleep during this period and remain away from telephone so that he might not hear any conversation of the Bengali officers. Therefore, Oli proposed that Lt Azam should perform his duties from 2 to 7 AM and Oli should continue until 2 AM. Lt. Azam agreed to Oli’s proposal and went to sleep in a nearby room. Major Zia came to the office after dinner and asked Oli if there was any message from the colonel; Oli replied in the negative. Zia informed him that the colonel had telephoned his wife and she in turn telephoned Major Zia’s wife to pass on the messaged that Zia should report to the Chittagong Port immediately for duty. This news perplexed them. They failed to understand, firstly, why the colonel should ring up his wife instead of the duty officef; and secondly, how could the colonel know that Zia would come to his residence at that time. Zia was supposed to be with his troops at Baizid Bostami area at that time. They discussed the pros and cons of the matter and decided that Zia should go to the Chittagong Port, since they had not received any information or instruction from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or his political associates in Chittagong. Moreover they had the Charlie Company already operating at that particular place.

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