Liberation War of Bangladesh: Actions, reactions and inactions of foreign powers – XV

by Nurul Kabir | Published: 00:05, Jul 24,2018 | Updated: 15:14, Aug 13,2018

 
 

While some 10 million foreign refugees could be a serious economic burden for any country on earth, Indian authorities had an additional concern about the issue, for the vast majority of the refugees were Hindus by faith. Srinath Raghavan, a noted Indian researcher on Bangladesh’s liberation war, writes that ‘82.3 per cent’ of the Bangladeshi refugees were ‘Hindus’.245 Some Bangladeshi authors, Dr Akhtar Ahmed, for instance, also note that ‘among the refugees only about five per cent were Muslims’, implying that the Hindus constituted most of the rest 95 per cent of the refugees.246 Again, the Indian authorities in Delhi discovered with a sense of political uneasiness that ‘among freedom fighters, the vast majority was Muslims’ while the ‘Hindus constituted only about five per cent of the fighting forces’.247 Dr Ahmed, an organiser of the makeshift Bangladesh Hospital for treating wounded freedom fighters, noted that the Indian military authorities had serious ‘concern about the poor representation of Hindus in the Liberation Forces’. Then he writes, “In order to minimise this disproportion we occasionally launched drives for recruitment from the refugee camps, but the response from the Hindu community was generally very poor.”248 Under the circumstance, Indian political authorities became concerned about a possibility that the vast majority of the Hindu refugees might resolve to stay back forever in the Hindu-majority India, or at least, as BZ Khasru writes, the Hindu refugees ‘would not return to East Pakistan unless the Awami League came to power, the party the Hindus overwhelmingly supported for its secular politics’249 — a concern that forced Delhi to proceed with a limited objective of creating a ‘base’ within East Bengal territory for an Awami League government to fight for the liberation of Bangladesh for whatever years necessary.
Indian establishments of the day had another reason to decide for the limited objective, which was the installation of a government of the Awami League on the soil of Bangladesh as soon as possible, for a natural birth of Bangladesh through prolonged guerrilla warfare of the Muktis would ultimately have brought the Left, in general, and the pro-Peking Left, in particular, at the centre stage of Bangladesh’s liberation war — the last thing that anti-Left political establishment in Delhi could appreciate. In order to resist the possibility of a Left takeover of Bangladesh’s liberation war process, Indian political and military establishments were, therefore, prepared to conduct a Caesarean section for expediting the birth of Bangladesh under their as well as Awami League’s political and ideological control.
Besides, the Indian military authorities considered it an impossible proposition to defeat the Pakistan forces completely in a definite period of time, for they had apprehension that ‘the UN Security Council and other influential bodies were bound to intervene’ before the war was decisively over in East Pakistan. Martial PC Lal admits: “The possibility that Pakistani forces in East Pakistan would collapse altogether, as they did, that Dacca would fall and that the whole country would be available to the leaders of the freedom movement in East Pakistan, was not considered something that was likely to happen.”250 He therefore ovserves that the fall of Dhaka on December 16 was ‘an unforeseen success’. He writes, “One could [now] rationalise this in retrospect and say that it was our objective, but it was not so. In fact, we had not expected to take Dhaka.”251
The thought that it would not be easy for the Indian military to capture Dhaka appears to have been the reason why the army headquarters in Delhi did not allot troops for Dhaka. They would have been happy with capturing a couple of major cities of East Bengal.
Major General JFR Jacob, then Chief of Staff of the Eastern Command of the Indian army, recollects that Major General KK Singh, director of military operations in Delhi, was for taking ‘as much territory as possible, with Khulna and Chittagong as prime objectives’. Jacob writes that ‘Dacca was not even mentioned’.252 General Jacob differed with the views of the army headquarters in Delhi and argued that ‘the geopolitical heart of East Pakistan was Dacca and that if we wanted to ensure control of East Pakistan it was imperative that we capture Dacca’. General Sam Manekshaw went by General KK Singh’s view and observed emphatically, “If we take Khulna and Chittagong, Dacca will automatically fall.”253 Evidently, for General Manekshaw Dhaka ‘was not a priority’ and, therefore, ‘no troops were being allotted for its capture’. General Jagjit Singh Aurora, the chief o the Eastern Command of Indian forces, ‘entirely’ agreed with the top boss.
However, the top Mukti Bahini commanders of the Bangladesh’s liberation war had no reason to remain satisfied with the limited Indian military objective of capturing ‘Khulna and Chittagong’, and leaving Dhaka and the rest of the country to be captured for an uncertain period of time. It is, after all, not for no reason that they had undertaken all out efforts since June to harass and sabotage the occupation forces of West Pakistan across the East including the Dhaka city with enormous courage and commitment, which even extracted the ‘reverence’ of a section of the enemy forces.
Siddiq Salik, the public relations officer of the Pakistan Army, writes that the ‘sabotage inventory’ of the Mukti Bahini ‘included damage to, or destruction of, 231 bridges, 122 railway lines and 90 electric installations’ while admitting that ‘they could not reach this figure without a high degree of motivation’. Providing an example of the patriotic ‘spirit’ even of the young Muktis, Salik writes: “A Bengali lad was arrested in Rohanpura area (Rajshahi District) in June 1971, for an attempted act of sabotage. He was brought to the company headquarter for interrogation but refused to divulge any information. When all other methods had failed, Major ‘R’ put his sten-gun on his chest and said, ‘This is the last chance for you. If you don’t cooperate, the bullets will pierce through your body’. He bowed down, kissed the ground, stood up and said, ‘I am ready to die, now. My blood will certainly hasten the liberation of my sacred land’.”254
Under such circumstances, the Pakistan Army started feeling pinch of the guerrilla attacks of the Muktis in an almost unknown land with an entirely hostile population and therefore launched under an Ordinance promulgated on June 1 the Razakar, a para-military auxiliary force of several thousand poor people from different local sources to help suppress Bengali rebellion by way of arresting and detaining the Mukti supporters on the one hand and safeguarding the strategic locations on the other.255
Nevertheless, the Mukti guerrillas, particularly those belonging to the famous Crack Platoon operated under Sector-2 of the Liberation War, had successfully started generating panic among the Pakistani troops in and around the Dhaka city since mid-June while the frequent guerrilla operations in the heart of the city in the next couple of months immensely affected the ‘fighting spirit’ of the Pakistan Army. The diary entry of Jahanara Imam, popularly known as Shaheed Janani, mother of the martyred, on June 16 shows that ‘the guerrillas are frequently entering the Dhaka city and conducting operations’.256 Her another entry on July 22 reads that the Muktis, while vigorously combating the [West] Pakistan army in the bordering districts, ‘are conducting guerrilla operations in the Dhaka city every day, both in the broad day light and in the darkness of night’, making Yahya’s military junta ‘visibly nervous’.257
In order ‘to inform the world that the situation in East Pakistan was no longer normal as the Yahya’s military junta had been falsely projecting, rather it was now the battle field for Bangladesh’s national independence’, the Mukti ‘guerrillas lobbed ‘three live grenades in the porch of the Hotel Inter continental’, a five-star hotel in the Dhaka city ‘where was residing the visiting United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Refugees Affairs, Prince Sadruddin [Aga Khan], on June 13’.258
The Mukti-operations continued to get geared up in the next month. The Indian Air Chief of the time, Marshal P C Lal, would later recognise, “At the outset, the Mukti Bahini only had some nuisance value as far as the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan were concerned. Gradually, however, with its strength increased, training improved, and more experience gained, the pressure it exerted began to tell on the Pakistani forces. By the end of July 1971, the Mukti Bahini had begun to fray Pakistani nerves.”259
The guerrilla groups of the Mukti Bahini conducted many a terribly courageous operation in the heart of the Dhaka city in August, which included blowing up of West Pakistani military check post at the Farmgate triangle on August 8,260 exploding part of the Hotel Intercontinental, which was then a favourite rendezvous of the Pakistani military officers in the evenings, on August 11,261 et cetera. The operations generated a tremendous amount of panic among the troops of the Pakistan army. Moreover, the number of casualties on the side of the Pakistani troops started soaring so much between July and August that the Pakistani military authorities in Dhaka stopped sending the ‘body bags’ of the soldiers back to the relatives in West Pakistan for the ‘fear of creating an unnecessary scare’ there.262
Meanwhile, in order to give the world a false impression that everything was all right in Dhaka, the Tikka Khan’s military administration of the East resolved to ‘celebrate’ Pakistan’s independence day on August 14 ‘in a befitting manner’ although, as Syed Alamdar Raza, West Pakistani Divisional Commissioner of Dhaka at the time, recollects, ‘[f]ear was lurking everywhere and it was doubtful if there would be a respectable attendance’ in the official ceremony.263 However, the authorities decided that the civilian Divisional Commissioner of Dhaka would ‘take the salute at the parade’ in the morning and ‘all the officers and staff serving in the various departments’ of the provincial government were ‘requested to attend the function’ while ‘care was taken to ensure’ that they attended. Besides, arrangements were made to hold a mushaira, recital of poems, in the evening.
The function in the morning, which was primarily of military nature, apparently went undisturbed although the ‘elders’ looked attending the function ‘more as an unpleasant duty than as matter of pride and pleasure’.264 However, as General Tikka’s administration was making arrangements to hold their mushaira to celebrate Pakistan’s day of independence in the evening, the Mukti guerrillas released in the Dhaka sky, obviously to the enormous joy of the city-dwellers, some 300 Bangladesh flags, each attached to a couple of balloons, in the late afternoon. Utterly frustrated by the scene of Bangladesh flags fluttering in the clear sky of the Dhaka city, the West Pakistan army shot them down.265
As regards the mushaira, Raza Alamdar writes, ‘Mukti Bahini had announced that they were going to disrupt it’ and subsequently ‘very elaborate security arrangements’ were made, under which ‘the Hall where mushaira was being held was full of army commandos with their smart turn out and red barrettes holding automatic rifles in their hands’. Nevertheless, ‘during the mushaira, somebody told me firing was going on outside the Hall’ and later ‘a jeep had driven past’ his house, ‘spraying bullets from an automatic rifle’ on the ‘concrete cover erected for the duty guard to stand in safety’.266 These were the acts of the Mukti guerillas. No wander that General Ayub Khan, Yahya’s predecessor in power, wrote in his diary on the same day, “East Pakistan is on the point of breaking off.”267
Meanwhile, the naval commandos of the Mukti Bahini launched a series of highly successful simultaneous attacks, code-named Operation Jackpot, after the midnight of August 15, drowning as many as 26 ships and barges, some of them carrying huge amount of Pakistani arms and ammunition, anchored in different riverine and seaports of East Pakistan. The well-coordinated series of attacks were carried out at the same time in Chittagong, Mongla, Khulna, Barisal, Chandpur, Daudkandi, Narayanganj, Ashuganj, Nagarbari, Goalanda, Fulcharighat and Aricha ports.268
The two most successful operations, in terms of volume of the damage done to the Pakistan Army, were carried out in the Chittagong seaport. A total of 31 naval commandos, divided in 10 groups, successfully hit 10 targets on the river of Karnaphuli in the darkness of the moonless rainy night, destroying and drowning more than half a dozen ships, including MV Harmuz loaded with 9,910 tons of foods and military equipment and a couple of barges including Orient-6 containing 276 tons of arms and ammunition of the West Pakistan Army and a few gunboats.269 Subsequently, the Chittagong port was blocked by sunken ships, sending out a clear message to the world outside that Islamabad’s propaganda that everything was under control in East Pakistan was false.
In the Mongla port operation, the Bengali naval commandos drowned in the sea as many as six Pakistani ships by mines and that too while Pakistan Navy’s gunboats were patrolling the sea and army troops were guarding the decks of the ships. The commandos destroyed part of a huge Somali ship, SS Lightning, which was loaded with weapons and foods for the Pakistan Army.270 The series of simultaneous naval operations unfailingly communicated to the world that the West Pakistan forces were not safe from the Mukti attacks even on the waters of the East, which found clear expressions in the media reports across the world in the next week.
The Muktis in the rural areas also made substantial progress during the same period. Kamruddin Ahamad notes, “By the third week of August, Muktibahini liberated large areas of Bangladesh. Bangladesh flags were hoisted in rural areas. In cities and towns the Muktibahini adopted the age-old tactics of ‘hit and run’, but in the rural areas there were organized guerrilla warfare.”271
To be continued.

Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

Notes and References
245 Ibid, p 206
246 Major (Retd) Dr Akhtar Ahmed, Advance to Contact: A Soldier’s Account of Bangladesh Liberation War, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2000, p 121
247 Ibid
248 Ibid
249 BZ Khasru, Myths and Facts: Bangladesh Liberation War: How India, U.S., China, and the U.S.S.R. Shaped the Outcome, pp 130–131
250 Marshal PC Lal, My Years with the IAF, p 172
251 Ibid, p 178
252 Lt Gen JFR Jacob, Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, Third Impression, The University Press Limited, Dhaka, 2004 [1997], p 66
253 Ibid, p 67)
254 Siddiq Salik, Witness to Surrender, University Press Limited, Dhaka, 1997 [1977], p 104
255 Trained and weaponed by the Pakistan Army, the Razakars, primarily comprising members of Jamaat-e-Islami, non-Bengali Biharis and poor Bengali youths, had two branches – Al-Badar and Al-Shams. The Al-Badr was assigned with ‘specialised operations’ against the Freedom Fighters and their active sympathisers while the Al-Shams was tasked with protection of important strategic locations. For more details see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Razakar_(Pakistan
256 Jahanara Imam, Ekattarer Dinguli, Seventh Print, Sandhani Prakashani, Dhaka, 1990, pp 143–144
257 Ibid, p 177
258 Ibid, p 139
259 Marshal PC Lal, My Years with the IAF, pp 153–154
260 For some details of the operation, see Habibul Alam, Bir Pratik, Brave of Heart, Academic Press and Publishers Library, Dhaka, 2006, pp 145–156
261 Ibid, pp 157–165
262 Siddiq Salik, Witness to Surrender, p 106
263 Syed Alamdar Raza, Dacca’s Debacle, Jang Publishers, Lahore, 1993, p 73
264 Ibid, p 74
265 Habibul Alam, Bir Pratik, Brave of Heart, p 169
266 Syed Alamdar Raza, Dacca’s Debacle, pp 74–75
267 Ayub Khan, Diaries of Field Martial Mohammad Ayub Khan: 1966–1972, Craig Baxter (ed), Second impression, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2007, p 491
268 Commando Mohammad Khalilur Rahman, Muktijuddhe Nau-Abhijan, Second Print, Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka, 2008 [2006], pp 69–70
269 Ibid, pp 79, 80
270 Mohammad Khalilur Rahman, “Mangla Samudrabandar Abhijan” in Matiur Rahman (ed) Sammukh Juddha 1971: Muktijuddhader Kalame, Prothama Prokashan, Dhaka, 2015, p 159
271 Kamruddin Ahmad, A Socio Political History of Bengal and the Birth of Bangladesh, Fourth Edition, Inside Library, Dacca, 1975, p 351

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