Liberation War of Bangladesh

Liberation War of Bangladesh

Liberation War of Bangladesh

The nine-month long War of Liberation waged by the people of Bangladesh in 1971 will for ever remain recorded as one of the most glorious chapters in human history. The sovereign and independent People's Republic of Bangladesh, as it stands today, is the outcome of an arduous struggle of the people under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. 

The very nomenclature of the country, the declaration of independence, proclamation of the glorious War of Liberation, the national flag- the crimson sun on the canvas of green and the inspiring national anthem - all these we owe to his inspiring and unique vision and courage. He served to shape the history and aspirations of his people. He rejuvenated them with the indomitable and unbending spirit of Bengalee Nationalism, charged them with unprecedented courage, valour, resilience and granite-like unity and triggered off an armed struggle for freedom- the like of which the world rarely witnessed before. 

An entire people of 70 million, inspired by their great leader Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, rose in arms against the military junta of Pakistan when years of political persuasion failed to secure for the Bengalees a place of honour and justice in that country.

Initially the peace-loving unarmed Bengalees did not know how to respond to the sudden and savage crackdown by the well-equipped Pakistani military on the night of 25 March, 1971, especially when their beloved leader had been arrested and taken to West Pakistan. The military had perhaps reckoned that suppressing any attempt at resistance by the leaderless Bengalees would be child's play. But the events proved otherwise.

The people quickly woke up to the warnings their leader had sounded time and again about the evil designs of the Pakistani military and the directives he had issued about building up resistance with whatever they had. They soon turned their anger into determination to beat back the occupying military at their own game. That meant no immediate direct confrontation at the strategic positions of the enemy troops, but employment of guerrilla tactics to drag them out of their fortresses and force them to spread out into the country-side which was the freedom fighters' home ground.

Hundreds of turbulent rivers and canals, vast swamps, unending crop fields, thick jungles, incessant rains, awe-inspiring floods and frequent storms, combined with the hostility of the local people proved to be too daunting for the Pakistani soldiers. By attacking isolated enemy positions the freedom fighters started gathering arms and ammunition, and soon found themselves trained and equipped to attack and disrupt bigger enemy camps and establishments.

The Genesis

The Liberation War did not start overnight. It had been brewing for 23 years. Ever since the birth of Pakistan in August 1947, the Bengalees first felt ignored in the scheme of the country's governance and gradually found themselves deprived and exploited by the power elite dominated by the West Pakistani bureaucrats, the military and the big businesses.

Although they constituted the majority of the country's population, the Bengalees of the eastern wing had a very poor representation in the civil services and the armed forces and had almost no place in commerce and industry. At the political level, their voice was stifled in the name of security of the realm and the bogey of mighty Hindu India's constant threat to the existence of Islamic Pakistan which had its two wings separated by nearly 1200 miles of Indian Territory.

The Muslims of the eastern wing were regarded as inferior Muslims and no effort was spared to cleanse them and make them as 'good as the Muslims of West Pakistan. A constant source of political irritation was the existence in East Pakistan of a large Hindu minority population, whose well-being was of no little concern to India. In fact, Pakistan fought three wars with India and had forever been seeking security alliances with other countries.

Political and economic deprivation led the Bengalees to demand greater provincial autonomy and control over such natural resources as jute and tea which, because of the Korean War boom in the fifties, became the prime earners of foreign exchange for the then Pakistan. This called for constitutional changes.

The demand was viewed by the Pakistani rulers as a strategic move by the Bengalees to make way for secession. The demand for making Bangla one of the State Languages of Pakistan was also viewed with suspicion and this led to repression and bloodshed. Several students killed in Dhaka in 1952 while agitating for winning a place of honour for their mother tongue were honoured by the people as martyrs. The demand for provincial autonomy now assumed a new meaning and urgency and the disillusioned Bengalees would no longer settle for anything more than a thin constitutional link with Pakistan.

Historic Six-Points

By 1958, Pakistan went under military dictatorship blocking normal avenues for a political resolution of the constitutional issue. In September 1965, Field Marshal Ayub Khan fought his country's second costly war with India, exposing the military vulnerability of the eastern wing, and also made a costly experiment with democracy in getting himself elected as President through a ridiculously limited franchise of 80,000 'basic democrats' It was against this background that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman put forward in 1966 his historic six points which, in effect, structured the foundation for East Pakistan's future independence. The proposal suggested:

1.        Pakistan should be a federation of states with parliamentary system of government;

2.        Only defence and foreign affairs should remain with the federal government;

3.        There should either be separate currencies for the two wings or one currency for the whole country with its inter-wing flow to he regulated by the reserve banks of the two wings;

4.        Taxes to be levied only by the regional governments, but a specified portion will automatically go to the federal account;

5.        Separate accounts to be maintained for foreign currencies earned by each region; and

6.        A separate militia or a paramilitary force to be created for the eastern wing.

In January 1968, Sheikh Mujib and 34 Bengalee civil and military officials were arrested on charges of their involvement in the so-called Agartala conspiracy to declare independence of East Pakistan. Their trial proved that the charges were baseless and the case had to be withdrawn by February 1969 amidst angry protests by the Bengalees. Sheikh Mujib and the other co-accused were released on 22 February, 1969.

The design of President Ayub Khan and his military junta to make Sheikh Mujib unpopular was thoroughly defeated. In fact, he came out of the case as a persecuted hero and the leader of the Bengalees. Much to his chagrin, Ayub Khan was obliged to invite him to the round table conference of political leaders in Rawalpindi; but Sheikh Mujib withdrew from it as he found that his 6-points were not entertained by the West Pakistani leaders as the basis for constitutional talks.

Declaration of the War of Independence

On 25 March 1969, President Ayub was thrown out of power by his army chief General Yahya Khan. Once again Pakistan was put under Martial Law. But soon General Yahya had to take steps to hold General Elections and permit open political activities.

On 28 October 1970, Sheikh Mujib made a broadcast over radio and TV as part of his election campaign.Then in the elections held on 12 December, 1970, the Awami League came out as the largest party in Pakistan parliament winning 167 out of 313 seats. But the Awami League was not allowed to form the Government because of machinations of General Yahya in collusion with the West Pakistani Leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto whose Pakistan People's Party won 88 seats.

The inaugural session of the Parliament due to begin in Dhaka was abruptly postponed on the pretext of resolving differences between the political leaders of the two wings. The Bengalees saw this as one more conspiracy of the Pakistani military junta to deny them the power that they had won democratically through elections. In his historic speech at the March 7 public meeting at Suhrawardy Uddyan, Sheikh Mujib asked his people to continue the non-cooperation movement they had started at his behest and prepare for a decisive battle for independence. But to avoid a direct confrontation with Yahya Khan's blood-thirsty military, he kept the door open for political negotiations.

Despite stiff opposition from his followers, especially the vocal student community, Sheikh Mujib sat with General Yahya and his advisers to negotiate a constitutional settlement and when things appeared to be going well, the dialogue was snapped on March 25. A military crackdown was ordered and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib was arrested and taken away to West Pakistan. But just before he was arrested, he sent out a call for the Liberation War to begin. Known as the Declaration of the War of Independence, this hurriedly written Historic Document reads as follows:

Pak Army suddenly attacked EPR Base at Pilkhana, Rajarbagh Police line and killing citizens. Street battles are going on in every street of Dhaka, Chittagong. I appeal to the nations of the world for help. Our freedom fighters are gallantly fighting with the enemies to free the motherland. I appeal and order you all in the name of Almighty Allah to fight to the last drop of blood to liberate the country. Ask police, EPR, Bengal Regiment and Ansar to stand by you and to fight. No compromise, Victory is ours. Drive out the enemies from the holy soil of motherland. Convey this message to all Awami League leaders, workers and other-patriots and lovers of freedom. May Allah bless you. Joy Bangla.
-Sk Mujibur Rahman

History's worst Genocide

In utter frustration, the Pakistan military went for indiscriminate killing of innocent people, wide-scale destruction of villages, raping of women and looting and plunder. By playing up religious sentiments, they tried to instigate the simple-minded Bengalee Muslims to kill or drive out the Hindus who were painted as pro-Indian.

By playing on similar sentiments, they created some auxiliary forces such as the Al-Badr, Al-Shams and Razakars to collaborate with the military in identifying and eliminating all those who sympathized with the War of Liberation. The Freedom Fighters, who were operating behind the enemy lines, were to be hunted down and delivered to the military for torture and killing. So-called Peace Committees composed of collaborators were set up at different places to show that normalcy prevailed.

The repression grew in scale and intensity as the Pakistani military junta watched the freedom fighters grow in strength and achieve one success after another. To hoodwink the international community, it launched a worldwide campaign to paint that the Liberation War was a rebellion against the sovereignty of Pakistan and that their arch enemy India was behind all this.

The fact that about 10 million Bengalees had fled to India to escape the military repression was depicted as India's own game to draw international sympathy. However, the truth about the character of the liberation war and the atrocities committed by the military became known to the wider world through independent reports by the foreign journalists and despatches sent home by the diplomatic community in Dhaka.

About the crackdown of March 25, Simon Dring's report to the Daily Telegraph of London, smuggled out of Dhaka and published on March 30, was one of many such reports. It said: "An estimated three battalions of troops were used in the attack on Dhaka - one of armoured, one of artillery and one of infantry. They started leaving their barracks shortly before 10 p.m. By 11 p.m. firing had broken out and the people who started to erect makeshift barricades-overturned cars, tree stumps, furniture, concrete piping-became early casualties. Sheikh Mujibur was warned by telephone that something was happening, but he refused to leave his house." "If I go into hiding they will burn the whole of Dhaka to find me," he told an aide who escaped arrest.

The students were also warned, but those who were still around later said that most of them thought they would only be arrested. Led by M-24 World War II tanks, one column of troops sped to Dhaka University shortly after midnight. Troops took over the British Council Library and used it as fire-base from which to shell nearby dormitory areas.

Caught completely by surprise, some 200 students were killed in Iqbal Hall headquarters of the militantly anti-government students' union, I was told. Two days later, bodies were still smoldering in burnt-out rooms; others were scattered outside, more floated in a near-by lake, an art student lay sprawled across his easel. The military removed many of the bodies, but the 30 bodies still there could never have accounted for all the blood in the corridors of Iqbal Hall."

The road to freedom for the people of Bangladesh was arduous and tortuous, smeared with blood, toil and sacrifices. In the contemporary history, perhaps no nation paid so dearly as the Bengalees did for their emancipation. During the nine months of the War, the Pakistan military killed an estimated three million people and inflicted brutalities on millions more before their ignominious defeat and the surrender of nearly a hundred thousand troops on 16 December 1971.

Thousands of their well-armed troops were killed by the freedom fighters. The War of Liberation was literally fought in the name of Bangabandhu and under the leadership of the government which his party formed during those trying and eventful days.

That, briefly, was the genesis of the Liberation War. The Liberation War was not, however, fought on the battlefield alone. Thousands of unarmed people including women and children provided support to the freedom fighters-in running errands, hiding or transporting arms and ammunition, providing shelter and food, nursing the sick and the wounded and in myriad other ways.

In consonance with Bangabandhu's Declaration of Independence, a provisional revolutionary government was formed in exile on April 17,1971 in Mujibnagar with Bangabandhu as the President in absentia, In his absence, the Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam with Tajuddin Ahmed as Prime Minister coordinated the war operations, arranged funds and carried on negotiations with foreign governments.

The radio station calling itself 'Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra' kept on transmitting patriotic programmes throughout the war to inspire the Freedom Fighters as well as the people behind the Pak army line, A recurrent theme of these programmes was Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Declaration of Independence and his 7th March speech at Suhrawardy Uddyan.

Several hundred civil servants took grave risks, left their posts and joined the Government-in-exile. Scores of Bengalee diplomats defected from Pakistani Missions abroad and worked to mould international opinion in favour of Bangladesh.

Thousands of Bengalee expatriates joined hands with their foreign friends and sympathizers in raising funds and building public opinion for the cause of liberation. The contributions and efforts of all combined to take the war to its glorious end in such a short time. That is how Bangabandhu's dream of an independent state of Bangladesh finally materialized