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The Role of the Military Officers in the War of Liberation (Part-9)

Major Zia could not move fast because of the barricades on the road. Capt. Kahaleque met him near the Dewanhat Railway crossing about 3 miles from battalion headquarters and gave him the warning message. Zia returned to the headquarters at about 11.45 PM and jumped out of his vehicle. He quickly snatched a sten-gun from a Bengali soldier on duty in front of the quarter guard and shouted at Lt. Azam and other seamen in the same truck saying, “You surrender your arms; you all are under arrest.” They were placed under arrest and kept in separate rooms on the first floor nest to Oli’s room. Lt. Shamsher and Lt. Mahfuz were given the responsibility of keeping an eye on the arrested persons.

Zia and Oli had a brief meeting and decided to carry out their plan without further delay. According to their earlier plan, Oli was supposed to go to the residence of Col. Janjua to arrest him. But at that moment he could not leave headquarters because no one except Oli had a clear idea of the latest situation. Therefore, he requested Zia to go personally to arrest Janjua and also to bring Major Shawkat from the Officers’ Mess on his way back. Janjua was arrested and brought to the headquarters, accompanied by Major Shawkat. Janjua was made to sit in his office room along with Capt. Ahmed Ali. Lt. Humayun Khan and Lt. Azam were placed in a separate room. All of them were under armed guard with a clear order to shoot if they tried to escape. Security arrangements were tightened around the head quarters under the command of Naib Subedar Abdul Malek.

At this fateful moment Lieutenant General Mir Shawkat Ali, one of the respondents in this study said, after seeing Major Zia arresting Colonel Janjua, the commander of 8 East Bengal Regiment and thus committing an act of open rebellion: “Zia told me, ‘This bastard (Colonel Janjua) was going to kill us. I have revolted. What do you say?’ So I said that ‘you are the commanding officer. As far as I am concerned I salute you.’ We shook hands and Zia told me to come over to the battalion.”

The Bengali Military officers did not want to lose any time and hurriedly organized a meeting between Zia, Shawkat and Oli. They decided to go out of the city immediately and take stock of the prevailing situation. They needed to assess their own strength in terms of troops, weapons, ammunition and weaknesses. They feared that the Pakistani Military Junta might carry out an air strike the following morning, followed by attack with tanks under the command of the 20th Baluch Regiment. They did not know what to do with the arrested officers and soldiers. Finally it was considered necessary to kill them. They were shot and the dead bodies were lying on the floor. They decided to kill the Pakistani officers and jawans for two reasons. First of all, they did not know where to go from the battalion headquarters after the revolt. Secondly, they had not yet made any arrangement for retaining the captured soldiers according to international law available for the purpose. Moreover, they were not sure of what would happen the next morning.

At about 0.30 AM Capt. Oli ordered Havilder Abdul Aziz, the Mess Havilder, who was responsible for guarding the Officers’ Mess, to arrest Mafor Abdul Hamid and Capt. Nazar, both Pakistani officers of the EPR from the EPR Officers’ Mess located just opposite to their Mess. The arrested officers were brought before Oli and he found out from them that they were given the responsibility to kill the officers of 8 East Bengal Regiment who were sleeping in their respective rooms. Both these officers were shot dead. In the meantime Brig. Ansari telephoned Oli to learn about the departure of Zia. Oli told him that he was on his way although Zia was sitting in front of him at that moment. At about I AM one havilder and two sepoys of the East Bengal Regimental Centre came to the 8 East Bengal Headquarters. They were weeping. They stated that the 20th Baluch Regiment, armed with tanks and heavy weapons, had attacked their family quarters and barracks, killing about 50 troops and officers. Col. M.R. Chowdhury was not available anywhere. Major Zia and Capt. Oli understood the gravity of the situation. Their troops were agitated; but they knew their strengths and limitations. They did not have enough arms and ammunition for lunching a counter attack at that time, their resistance was in “an embryonic stage”.

At 1.15 AM Capt. Oli ordered all JCOs and other ranks of the battalion to assemble in the open space inside their headquarters. They were all brought to attention and Oli handed over the parade to Major Zia. Troops were asked to get ready within one hour in uniform with all available weapons and ammunition. They were going to vacate this location for good. Zia addressed the troops and asked them to be ready for supreme sacrifices for Bangladesh. None was allowed to carry anything other than food and ammunition. At that time most of the Bengali soldiers, who were deployed to clear off road blocks in the streets and unloading of ship ‘Swat’ at Chittagong Port, did not come back. For their safety and security a rear party was arranged. They detailed the rear party under Naib Subedar Abdul Malek to give necessary directions to the soldiers who would return afterward. Major Shawkat was asked to go out in a jeep to contact the Awami League leaders and to tell them about the military decision to revolt. Shawkat came back at 2.45 AM, but had no instruction or information from the Awami League leaders. It looked like all were caught unaware. However most of them eventually joined the fight.

After the execution of commanding officer Janjua and his Pakistani associates when Major Zia delivered his first speech in the meeting of the officers and troops of the battalion organized by Capt. Oli, a description of the situation has been given by Lt. General Mir Shawkat Ali in the following words: “There Zia had to say something. There was no high place; there were an innovative couple of soldiers who rolled down at 45 gallon drum and brought it up there. Drum was erect. Zia stood on the drum and there he said that we have revolted and we will fight for the independence of our country and we declare independence and thus he gave toe executive military order of moving from Solashahar market toward Kalurghat.”

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