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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-8)

It was about 10.30 PM; both of them were taken by surprise to see Col. Janjua and Major Shawkat entering the room. Capt. Oli became nervous vecause the colonel was not supposed to be there. Colonel Janjua said that Brigadier Ansari was waiting for Zia at the Chittagong Port and that Zia should immediately join Ansari. The colonel also ordered Lt. Azam to accompany Zia. He ordered Oli to be on duty the whole night and ordered Major Shawkat to go to the Officers’ Mess for rest. He did not give them any chance to talk further.

The colonel further instructed Oli to send Capt. Khaleque along with his Company (Delta Company) to the transit camp located opposite Chittagong Port. Capt. Oli ordered the Delta Company to get ready within half an hour and sent a messate to Capt. Khaleque to report for duty immediately. The colonel said that he had brought one truck from the navy with some naval troops and asked Zia to leave for the Chittagong Port on that truck.

At about 10.35 PM Col. Janjua, Maj. Zia, Maj. Shawkat and Capt. Oli were coming down the stairs. Lt. Azam was following them. Half way down Oli heard the telephone ringing and hurriedly went up to receive the call. He heard the voice of one of his close friends – Mr. abdul Kader, the Vice President of Standard Bank, Chittagong. He informed Oli that the Pakistan Army started shooting and killing the unarmed Bengali civilians in Dhaka. Oli asked him to obtain further information from Dhaka. Kader said that there was no communication with the city. He had been trying to contact Dhaka since 6 PM, but had failed. The telephone exchange and other modes of communication might have been taken over by the Pakistan Army. Kader received the news of the crack down from one of his relatives. His relative also informed him that the tanks and troops had been controlling and patrolling the streets of Dhaka since 1 PM. Lt. General A.A.K Naizi, in his book The Betrayal of East Pakistan described the brutality resorted to by the Pakistani troops on the 25th/36th March’ 1971 as follows:

On the night between 25and26th March 1971, General Tikka struck. Peaceful night was turned into a time of wailing, crying, and burning. General Tikka let loose everything at his disposal as if raiding an enemy, not dealing with his own misguided and misled people. The military action was a display of stark cruelty, more merciless than the massacres at Bukhara and Baghdad by Changez Khan and Halaku Khan, or at Jalianwala Bagh by the British General Dyer.

General Tikka, instead of carrying out the tasks given to him, i.e., to disarm armed Bengali units and persons and to take into custody the Bengali leaders, resorted to the killing of civilians and a scorched-earth policy. His orders to his troops were: ‘I want the land and not the people.’ These orders were carried out in letter and spirit by Major-General Farman Ali and Brigadier (later Lt. Gen.) Jahanzeb Arbab in Dhaka. Major-General Rao Farman Ali wrote in his table diary, ‘Green land of East Pakistan will be painted red.’ It was painted red by Bengali blood. This diary was found by the Bengalis when they occupied Government House on 14 December 1971….

…. On the night between 25and26th March 1971 Yahya sneaked out of Dhaka before the start of military action. He told Tikka before leaving Dhaka, ‘Sort them out.’ Bhutto had remained behind to see what Tikka did. Bhutto waw Dhaka burning material, the roar of tanks, the boom of guns and rockets, and the rattle of machine guns. (Niazi 1998: 45-46)

Farooq Aziz Khan also wrote in his book Spring 1971: “The Rajarbagh Police Lines, the Dhaka University students, residences and the EPR centre at Pilkhana were attacked by the army. They opened up with tanks and heavy equipment. While the police forces and the EPR soldiers returned fire and fought back with whatever weapons they had before they were forced out of the area suffering heavy casualties, the real massacre took place on the Dhaka University campus where unarmed students were killed in hundreds and buried in mass graves which the victims were forced to dig at gun point seconds before they were shot and killed and then pushed into the graves. I heard from a friend that when the Rajarbagh police lines were under attach, the police chief was relaxing in his Dhaka residence with friends. Shch was the state of preparedness on our side” (Khan 1993: 55).

Capt. Oli was disturbed to receive the news from Mr. Kader, but assured him that they would fight back. He rushed to the ground floor to inform Zia about the news, but found it extremely difficult, as he was surrounded by Colonel Janjua and Maj. Shawkat. Zia was looking anxious and worried. Capt. Oli could not figure out what to do. He needed to inform and warn Zia that he was about to be made captive or killed. However, he was unable to talk to Zia in the presence of other officers but signaled him of impending danger. The colonel wanted to make sure that Zia left for the Chittagong Port in his presence. Maj. Zia along with Lt. Azam moved to the Chittagong Port to report to Brig. Ansari. The colonel left in his jeep for his residence and took Maj. Shawkat along with him. Oli felt a sensation in him beyond any description. He was also very eager to save Zia’s life. He desperately tried to find someone to follow Zia and inform him about the incidents at Dhaka and the imminent danger that awaited him at the port.

It was about 10.45 PM then. Oli knew that Capt. Khaleq had not yet left for the transit camp. He came to Oli’s office at that time and Oli told him everything about the crackdown at Dhaka and asked him not to go to the transit camp, but to bring back Zia instead. They had to fight the Pakistan Army or else the Pakistanis planned to isolate and kill them. Capt. Khalequzzaman, along with a few soldiers from his company, rushed out to bring Zia badk. He had no risk because the transit camp was in the same direction towards the Chittagong port and his movements would not arouse any suspicion of the Pakistanis. Capt. Oli ordered Naib Subedar Abdul Hamid to open the armoury and issue weapons to all. In the meantime Oli arranged for the protection of the Officers’ Mess through Mess Havildar Abdul Aziz, because Maj. Shawkat, Capt. Sadeque and Capt. Ahmed Ali (a Punjabi officer) were sleeping there. Oli contacted Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury through telephone and asked him to assess the situation at the Chittagong Cantonment. He was on duty at the Baizid Bostami area closer to Chittagong Cantonment. He telephoned Oli at about 11 PM informing him that he could not get very close to the cantonment, because of the heavy barricades created by the civilians. He could, however, hear the sound of firing and tanks. Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury did not have the necessary weapons at his place of duty nor sufficient troops to attack the Chittagong Cantonment. Oli asked Lt. Mobin to come back to the headquarters along with his troops. Oli also told hime to contact Lt. Mahfuz on his way back and to ask him to report to the headquarters. Both of them reported to Oli, but could not bring all the troops back. The troops were dispersed at different places and they could not inform them all due to the shortage of time. Capt. Oli had total control of the situation and felt relatively at ease. Oli tried his best, in vain, to contact Col. M.R. Chowdhury and other Bengali officers at the Chittagong Cantonment. The Punjabi operators were placed on duty at the telephone exchange. Oli requested them to connect him to Col. M.R. Chowdhury and others. The operator replied that they were not available. Capt. Oli dispatched two small contingents to arrest Capt. Ahmad Ali from the Officers’ Mess and Lt. Humayun Khan on duty at the Sholasahar Railway crossing. Both of them were arrested and brought before him by 11.30 PM. Oli made them sit in a separate room in front of his office and kept them under armed guard. He kept Major Shawkat informed about all incidents. Shawkat was still staying in his room at the Officers’ Mess.

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