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Political Consciousness And the Motivations of Key Military Officers

Introduction

This chapter explains the level of political consciousness and motivations of eight key Bengali military officers who played important roles in the Liberation War of 1971. Among the questions asked is why did they discard their professional code of conduct which was instilled in them through rigorous military training for years and join the war?

When the Liberation War began on 26 March 1971, fifty officers along with some four thousand of their troops from five cantonments in East Pakistan joined the war (Ahmed, 1995. 30, 178). Of them, 6 officers are still in the defense services of Bangladesh and so not available for comment; 12 of them have gone abroad and settled there; 16 of them have died; the rest have not been available for the purpose. A few of them have not been able to give time because of pressing preoccupations in their own business enterprises; in fact, two them agreed, but when the researcher and his team reached the fixed destinations, they were not available. Four of them have answered in the negative, pointing out that they would have to remain outside the country for a few months. The researcher has been able to collect relevant information from eight of them. All of these officers have retired from service. Three of them are involved at present in political activities as party activists; two are in commercial enterprises, and the rest are living peaceful retired lives.

All of these eighty officers were actively involved in field operations and two of them were awarded BIR UTTAM (Great Hero), the second highest gallantry award, and two were awarded BIR BIKRAM (Notable Hero) the third highest award and two BIR PRATIK (Hero) for extraordinary heroism in the Liberation War, while another officer was awarded the Commendation Certificate of the Commander-in Chief. They were young and idealistic. All of them were recruited as members of the Pakistan Officers’ Corp. All of them had to undergo rigorous military training in the Pakistan Military Academy. All of them had to take the oath to work for the preservation of territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. When zero hour came, they did not hesitate even for a moment to think of their oath and decided to get involved in liberating East Pakistan from the Pakistani forces and making it independent Bangladesh. So the key question is – Why?

The relevant data on the level of their political consciousness and motivation, the sources of their inspiration and the spontaneous urge for their joining the war were collected through the administration of a structured questionnaire designed to generate information on broad issues (see Appendix – 9) and then focused through discussion with them. For the latter purpose, an interview schedule was already prepared.

The process of interview was a painstaking one. A prior appointment was made with each respondent. The timing and venue were such that they could speak in relaxed mood for quite some time and they were able to look at prepared notes, if necessary. The researcher along with two personal assistants was present with tape recorders so that the points of view and assertions of the respondents could be recorded in full and without any editing due to transcription. The interview of each officer lasted for more than three hours, and they were forewarned about all the requirements.

When the researcher began the interview, he had a lot of apprehensions in his mind. Since this study is an objective account of the Liberation War of 1971, this demands a value free explanation of the motivation of key actors for shedding light on this particular phase of national history. Some of the key actors have however remained emotionally involved about their roles in the war, and treated their participation as the most precious achievement in their lives. Would they be able to provide an objective account of what they thought and did during those days? Could they be free from their emotional biases while responding to the queries? These are some of the questions that agitated the mind of the researcher.

The researcher has found, after the completion of the interview, that these inhibitions were not entirely ill-founded. He has found out that at least three of the respondents disagreed quite a bit from the focal point of inquiry and began talking how he thought about the independence of Bangladesh since childhood. The statements of most of them were very lengthy; at least two of them concentrated mainly on the contextual aspects of the issue. This has made the task of the researcher a bit difficult. He had to remain silent most of the time during interviews; he had to edit quite considerably the statements made by the respondents, which were quite often lengthy, occasionally irrelevant, especially on the background of the issue. He also had to edit many points on date and time.

What motivated them to join the War?

The political leaders, who were militant on the autonomy issue and uncompromising about the Six-Point Programme, still faltered and remained indecisive during those critical days of the last week of March 1971. When the Pakistan Army decided to strike on the midnight of 25 March 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the recognized leader of the Bengalis, was arrested and taken to West Pakistan. Most of his followers and the top ranking leaders made their moves towards the Indian borders in the west, north and east, quietly, unnoticed by hostile elements and incognito. Some of them absconded and went into hiding. The military officers however revolted and decided to join the war.

When asked what motivated them to get involved in the war, Major General Ibrahim, then only a second lieutenant, said that he took it as “a golden opportunity” to free East Pakistan, which was to him “almost a colony of Pakistan”, so that the Bengalis would not have to continue as “second class citizens”, and the officers as “second class officers”. Major General Safiullah, who retired as the Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh in 1975, replied that he joined the war to make East Pakistan an independent state. Referring to the historical role East Pakistan played in the creation of Pakistan in 1947, he said in detail how the people of East Pakistan were deprived economically in united Pakistan during the previous 23 years and how they were made to suffer politically and culturally by the ruling elite in Pakistani politicians and generals declined to hand over power to Awami League, which emerged as the majority party in Pakistan, simply because it was East Pakistan-based, the intentions of the ruling elite became clear and it was nothing but retaining it as a colony.

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