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What motivated them to join the War?

Lieutenant General Mir Shawkat Ali, then a Major, replied curtly to this question. When the Commander of 8 Bengal Regiment, Ziaur Rahman revolted and took a stand for the Liberation War, he (i.e. Shawkat) joined it. In his own words, “there was a fight and I had to join the fight;… an officer is first of all loyal to his troops. I was in 8 Bengal. So I fought for Bangladesh.” Major General Ejaj Ahmed Chowdhury said in response that the reports of a brutal massacre by the Pakistan Army on the 25th and 26th March 1971 motivated him to join the war. In his own words, “Pakistan army ruled this part of the country as their colony” and the nefarious moves initiated in March 1971 were designed to perpetuate their rule over East Pakistan.

Colonel Shafaat Jamil however was more forthright when he said: “I got myself involved in the war to defend my land and my people to whom I belonged and also to liberate the people and land from the outsiders, who kept on ravaging this country.” In the similar vein, Major General Ainuddin, then a Captain, said: “It was my duty to rescue the people of Bangladesh, who were mentally prepared to get separated from Pakistan.” That is why, as a trained soldier of East Pakistan he felt constrained to join the war. Major General Mohammad Abdul Halim replied that it was “Bengali nationalism, love for the Bengalis” that motivated him to get involved in the war. Major Hafizuddin’s answer was also straightforward. He joined the war because he thought by doing this he joined “our people; people will support us and definitely this will be an act of patriotism”.

In sum, the Bengali military officers joined the war to liberate East Pakistan from the clutches of the Pakistan Army and make it an independent and sovereign state – where the Bengalis could live as free citizens and fashion their lives in accordance with their own culture and distinct social norms.

What was their overall goal?

The urge to liberate East Pakistan was not only the motivating factor, the independence of East Pakistan also became their overall goal in the Liberation War. When asked what their guiding spirit in the war was, Major General Ibrahim answered without mincing any words that “the only guiding spirit was independence, nothing short of it.” General Shawkat, in his usual way, responded that a soldier fights for his own country. In his own words, he fought because “my country was in trouble; so I have (sic) to fight to rescue (Bangladesh)”. Major General Ejaj felt that his guiding spirit in the War of Independence was to save “his country” and “its people from the unbelievable atrocities of Pakistani rulers”.

Colonel Shafaat Jamil, elaborating a little on this question, replied that “the guiding spirit was to gain independence for our (sic), from a colonial rule”. He also said that they (Pakistanis) had nothing in common with the Bengalis except the religious bond. To General Ainuddin, the independence of East Pakistan was a necessity because the ruling elite in Pakistan did not offer to the Bengalis their due share of the economy. In his own words, “The Pakistan military junta did not recognize the election result and they were not ready to hand over power to the Bengalis”. General Abdul Halim took it as an opportunity to stand by the people during their crucial hours. He stated that the guiding spirit was to have “a free country of their own, where our people can live with honour and dignity.” Major Hafizuddin’s guiding spirit in the war was “the love for my people” and the independence of East Pakistan. He felt that if Bangladesh could be liberated and made an independent state, they could have their Bengali cultural identity and that was the main guiding spirit.

The motivation of the Bengali military officers to join the Liberation War had another dimension, however. The political situation in East Pakistan, especially after I March 1971when President Yahya Khan postponed the session of the National Assembly of Pakistan for an indefinite period, became marked by a deep sense of distrust between the people of East and West Pakistan. Even the cantonments were infected with the pervading schism. The West Pakistani military officers, most of whom were in command even in East Pakistan, did not have the least trust in their colleagues from East Pakistan. One group began to treat the other group as their enemy. The situation became critical after 25 march when Capt. Oli Ahmad along with Major Zia revolted and the news of this rebellion spread to different cantonments. The conditions became quite uncertain and became epitomized in the statement of Major General Ibrahim when he said, “Either I follow their (i.e. the West Pakistanis) line or they will kill me.” Even General Shawkat said, “If we are caught then Pakistanis will kill us.” Thus, their patriotic feelings for East Pakistan and love for the people reinforced by the dire insecurity of their lives in the cantonments became the great motivating factor for the Bengali military officers to join the war and it continued to serve as their guiding spirit throughout the dark days of the War of Independence.

What do they feel about it now?

Do the Bengali military officers have any qualms about what they did during that period? The researcher posed a question – “Do you feel very gratified now?” – With a view to eliciting what they now think of their crucial decision taken three decades ago. In answer to this question Major General Ainuddin said: “I think the only good job I have done in my life is participating in Liberation War and liberating my country.” Major General Ibrahim feels gratified at the remembrance that he was one of the freedom fighters. He is proud to recollect that he belongs to that group of persons who took up arms for fighting in the war. He might have been dead, but so what! With pride he remembers that he had a role in the creation of independent Bangladesh. Major General K M Safiullah speaking in the same vein has given out that they were able to free this country through a stream of tears and blood. In his own words, “We could teach them (Pakistanis) a lesson that we cannot (sic) be taken for granted all the time. We feel gratified that we have been able to fight for and win our own rights.”

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