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What did they feel while receiving the Gallantry Awards?

The Bengali military officers did what they were expected to do by the nation in the most critical time of its history by resisting the powerful Pakistani occupation forces and being victorious at the end, thus making Bangladesh an independent state. The nation remembers her valiant sons with a deep sense of gratitude. The gallantry awards were but tangible tokens of recognition by the nation. While receiving the awards, after two decades in 1994, these officers expressed deep satisfaction and stated the reasons for their joining the Liberation War. In this section, their reactions are noted.

Seven of the eight officers, who were interviewed, received gallantry award for their extraordinary bravery and crucial role in the war. Two of them were awarded Bir Uttam, the highest award for the surviving ones and the third and eighth Bir Bikram and the fifth and seventh Bir Pratik, the second and third highest award; while the fourth received Commendation Certificate from Commander-in Chief (C-in-C). When they were asked about their reaction while receiving the gallantry award, Mir Shawkat Ali has expressed deep satisfaction for national recognition of their heroic role in the war. On the question whether his decision to join the war was adequately justified, he has replied in the affirmative and said, “we won the election; the power was not given to us; rather they made an onslaught on our civilian population, onslaught on the army”. Thus they turned out to be our enemy and “as a soldier it was my job to destroy the enemy”.

K M Safiullah has expressed profound satisfaction for the gallantry award of Bir Uttam. A brigade was organized and named after him- S-Force – for conducting conventional warfare till the Victory Day. He has also given out that his decision to join the war was fully justified. He took up arms to save the honour of “my country and people” and the only satisfaction “I have that I have been able to take part in the war”.

Hafizuddin Ahmed, who was awarded Bir Bikram for gallantry, has said that “it was a great day for me to have been recognized by the nation”. He has further said that it gave him great satisfaction that he joined the war. Mohammad Ainuddin was awarded Bir Pratik for his bravery in the war field. He has expressed that were he not awarded; he would not fret or complain because he joined the war not for any prize or distinction but for the vindication of honour of his land and people. Syed Mohammed Ibrahim, who was also awarded Bir Pratik for his heroic command and courageous leadership in the war, has also been deeply touched for this national recognition. He said emphatically that his decision to join the war was fully justified. In his own words, “There is no second option, no second thought; we were waiting for it”.

Why did military officers take on political roles?

Captain Oli Ahmad along with Major Zia and other Bengali military officers revolted in the night between 25 and 26 March 1971, reorganized 8 East Bengal Regiment for fighting against the Pakistan Army for liberating East Pakistan and Major Zia declared independence of Bangladesh right then, which was broadcast on 27 March 1971 through Kalurghat radio. The Declaration of Independence for a state is an expressly political act, done normally by the recognized political leader, commanding widespread allegiance of different sections of population. The war of liberation or independence is also organized by political leadership, though fought by the soldiers and other armed personnel. In the case in question, these political decisions were taken by the military officers themselves, which were endorsed later on by the political leadership. How could they do it? Why did they do it? The responses furnished by the eight military officers provide intriguing answers.

Shaafat Jamil said that the political leaders of East Pakistan failed miserably to provide leadership at that point of time. Though Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his Ramna Race Course speech announced that “the struggle of this time is for our liberation, for our independence”, yet he knew very little of what was to follow. In his own words, “the political leaders of all shades and opinions in our country failed to fathom it. As a result there was no physical preparation whatsoever”. He further said that “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also failed to give proper leadership at that moment when the crackdown started”. Instead of giving porper leadership from within, “he courted arrest”. He has further said that “this was quite surprising to us because in every liberation struggle the number one man gives leadership”.

Ejaj Ahmed Chowdhury expressed that being in the cantonments the Bengali officers knew very well how the Pakistan Army became hostile to Bengali soldiers even fbfore 25 March 1971. They knew not only about the massacres perpetrated by the Pakistan Army on the night of 25 and 26 March, they also feared that at any moment they might be disarmed. Mohammad Abdul Halim has said: “I did not know what exactly happened on 25 March, but I could feel that the situation was quite volatile”. Though the East Pakistani leader5s were having negotiations with President Yahya Khan from 16 March, he said, “our politicians failed to understand that Pakistanis wanted only to buy some time for consolidating their position on the pretext of negotiations”.

General K M Safiullah has expressed similar views. He said that “in the guise of conflict with India” Pakistanis were “pouring in troops” to East Pakistan, but they, as military personnel, knew what they were trying to do. So all these measures “made us think about their dubious attitude”. Syed Mohammed Ibrahim has more or less similar views. Since the middle of March, he said, “we were mentally ready to get a call from the political leader (sic), but we did not get a call from the highest political leadership. The formal call for the War of Liberation actually was articulated by Major Ziaur Rahman from Chittagong.” Hafizuddin Ahmed said, “we knew, the Pakistanis (sic) are going to destroy us. They are going to annihilate the Bangladeshi nation”. He said that “Bangladeshi battalions in other places were also disarmed”. Having all these in view he said, “we thought this was the right time to take up arms against the (Pakistani) military junta”.

Md. Ainuddin reported that the political environment in East Pakistan was such that since 3 March “nothing short of independence was acceptable to the common mass of the people”, but Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at that time was in dialogue for regional autonomy with the Pakistani generals. So he said that “naturally it frustrated us.” Elaborating in detail General Shawkat Ali has said that the situation in East Pakistan in March 1971 was quite volatile. “In such a situation”, he said, “there were lot of talks going on between Yahya Khan, Bhutto and Mujib. They were the political side, but as a soldier what I found in Chittagong is (sic) an ominous environment in which everybody was suspecting everybody”, In the absence of any political direction, under such critical situations Major Zia and Capt. Oli took up a resolute stand and revolted. Then Major Zia said: “we will fight for independence of our country and we shall declare independence” and then he gave (sic) the executive military order for moving from Solashahar Market towards Kalurghat” in search of a safe base for better organization. Zia then administered “the oath of allegiance to Bangladesh and promised to fight till the liberation of the country”.

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