A week before Bangladesh-Pakistan war officially broke out, an incident took place which highlighted the growing tense relationship between eastern and western personnel.
On 19 March 1971, the 2nd East Bengal Regiment (EBR) of the Pakistan army based in Joydebpur (sometime spelt 'Joydevpur') was preparing to receive its brigade commander, Brigadier (later Lieutenant General) Jehanzeb Arbab, a West Pakistani, for lunch.
The 2nd EBR, part of 57 Brigade but comprising mostly Bengali troops and officers - thus fondly nicknamed 'Junior Tigers - was located 20 miles north of Dhaka at the 'rajbari' (royal palace) at Joydebpur. The Commanding Officer (CO) of the regiment was Lieutenant Colonel Masudul Hossain Khan, a Bengali. The real purpose behind Brig. Arbab's liaison visit had been subject to question, and resulted in the first Bengali resistance to Pakistani forces in the year of Swadhinata Juddho.
It was a foretaste of things to come.
According to the Bengali version of the incident, at 10 am (on 19 March 1971) the unit at Joydebpur was told that the brigade commander was coming to lunch on the pretext of seeing the EBR's conditions and problems and also to visit the Gazipur Ordnance Factory nearby which produced arms, ammunitions and explosives. The commander's visit was widely seen as a move by the soldiers toward preparing for eventual action against the civil disobedience movement.
Meanwhile, the Bengali officers were hugely depleted. Out of a total of 900 troops of the regiment, only 250 were in Joydebpur. Of the four companies, one had been sent to protect the Gazipur Ordnance Factory, two were in Mymensingh on the excuse of 'Indian aggression', leaving only the headquarters company at the rajbari.
For days rumours were bound that there was a plot by West Pakistani officers to disarm the Bengali soldiers and a group were arriving soon to execute the order. This view was also shared by the general public. Thus, on 17 March 1971, two days before the brigade commander's arrival, the local people had erected 50 barricades all the way from Tongi to Joydebpur in the hope of preventing the Pakistani troop from entering it. However, in addition to hindering the West Pakistani troops these barricades also blocked supplies for the Bengali officers and troops. As such Lt. Col. Masud and his second-in-command (2 IC), Major K. M. Shafiullah (another fellow Bengali), spoke with the people about removing the barricades but were unsuccessful. Any taken down by soldiers were put up again elsewhere.
The situation at Gazipur was also tense. Barricades were erected en route and the resident director of the ordnance factory, Brigadier Karimullah, a West Pakistani, was surrounded by the workers. One company of 2nd EBR was sent to Gazipur to collect Brig. Karimullah who had also been invited to attend the lunch at Joydebpur.
At 12 noon 2nd EBR received a message from Brigadier Arbab that he was clearing barricades as he came along, but that they should also clear the road from their side and use 'maximum force' if there was opposition. It took the brigadier quite a while to get to Joydebpur after removing the barricades. He arrived around 1.30 pm "full of pride" with a strong armed contingent consisting of Lt. Col. Zahed, Major Jafar Khan (who had recently replaced Bengali Major Khaled Musharraf as the brigade major), three Captains, and 8-10 vehicles of troops carrying 70 jawans (soldiers).
Lieutenant Colonel Zahed and one of the Captains were gunner officers. Major Jafar Khan was an armour man. Of the remaining two captains one was an infantry officer while the other was a commando. The jawans were armed with 7.62 mm Chinese light machine guns, though these were normal weapon carried by the troops at the time and even Bengali officers had the same weapon.
Sensing the 2nd EBR's readiness to face the prospect of disarmament, Brig. Arbab did not proceed further with their plan other than mere show of force.
Major Shafiullah admitted that he had his men at a high level of readiness with a view to rebelling at the correct moment. He wrote that Brigadier Arbab questioned him about the state of readiness and probably guessed his intentions.
The visiting group had their lunch at the rajbari as planned. During the meal news arrived that local people had barricaded the road by dragging a goods train bogie on to the railway level crossing. Brigadier Arbab ordered Lt. Col. Masud to remove the barrier, telling him to use 'maximum force' and shoot at people "be-parowa" (indiscriminately) if necessary. Major Moinul Hussain Chowdhury, a Bengali, was sent with his company to the barricade, while Major Shafiullah remained in the palace with the rest of the troops.
The railway crossing was surrounded by the Joydebpur bazaar and it was heaving with people as it was a 'haat' (market) day. Even so, thousands more people had gathered at the instigation of the local Awami League representative, Habibullah.
Major Moinul and his officers spent 40 - 45 minutes telling the 50,000 strong crowd that the Bengali troops had not been disarmed, but they listened neither to him nor to Habibullah (who tried to amend for his misunderstanding), and a labour leader who was also present at the spot. They requested the crowd to allow the troops to go through unhindered, but all in vain. The passionate crowd was determined to prevent the West Pakistani military commander and soldiers from returning to Dhaka and collecting arms and ammunitions from the nearby Gazipur Ordnance Factory. After Brig. Arbab arrived he ordered the barricades removed. The crowd became more violent then before. The Brigadier ordered Lt. Col. Masud to open fire, however, he was hesitant to shoot so Brig. Arbab ordered Major Moinul to shoot instead. He was told to take his company and remove the barricades and shoot at sight in the event of any resistance. However, Lt. Col. Masud told Major Moinul to shoot in such a way that the bullets would go 'over the heads or below the feet'. Also the Bengali part of Major Moinul would not allow him to undertake such drastic action against his own people. Thus the Major calmed the situation by joining the crowd and telling them that he was a Bengali just like them. Seeing this, rather than leave the Bengali officers to deal with the situation with tact and patience and avoid potential uprising, Brig. Arbab ordered his own West Pakistani troops to open fire indiscriminately. The Bengali civilians, in turn, responded with fire in self-defence.
As someone fell down after being hit, the crowd began to run away. Nevertheless, the captured Chinese sub-machine gun opened fire from behind the barricade from top of the mosque on Brigadier Arbab who luckily escaped death.
The clash continued for 20 - 30 minutes, after which the crowd dispersed.
The troops fired their machine guns - some people were killed, the rest ran away. Among the dead were two named Manu Miah and Khalifa. It is necessary to mention that the local people were also ready with shotguns, rifles and spears; but how long could these last in the face of heavy machine guns?
Matters were further complicated by the appearance of two Bengali soldiers, a driver and his helper, who informed the brigadier that they had been severely beaten by the crowd, and that 5 of them had been kidnapped and their arms and ammunition snatched. At Brigadier Arbab's order Major Moinul ordered his men to fire but added in Bengali 'fire below' for 'fire over their head'. Allegedly Brigadier Arbab demanded that they 'fire for effect'. The crowd also opened fire. According to Major Shafiullah (who was not present at the scene), 'The Brigadier became wild and shouted "I want one dead body for one bullet. If you cannot handle the situation I will employ my troops"'.
Major Jafar Khan, who served with Brigadier Arbab stated that the Brigadier "led from the front", whilst another West Pakistani officer - who did not serve with Brigadier Arbab in East Pakistan - described him as "merciless".
The hot exchanges resulted in the death of two Bengali civilians and three West Pakistani soldiers being badly wounded. A pro-Awami League newspaper claimed that 20 were killed in the firing.
The barricade was finally removed when the officers themselves physically removed the wagons from the level crossing and the West Pakistani soldiers were forced to retreat to the Dhaka Cantonment.
It was the first armed resistance by the Bengali, and an open rebellion by the Bengali soldiers, against West Pakistani soldiers. All over the country, people were blocking the supply of foods and other materials to the cantonment for the West Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani military authority issued a stern warning against such actions. However, the Bengalis ignored the warning.
Nūruna Nabī, authors of "Bullets Of '71: A Freedom Fighter's Story" ()
Following the clash, Brigadier Arbab left instructions to put the area under curfew, recover the missing weapons and report ammunition usage and casualty reports of dead and injured to him.
The next day, the curfew was extended to Gazipur.
To the great disappointment of the brigade commander, our report showed 2 dead and a few injured. The brigade commander was not happy. He asked, "Why 63 rounds were fired for only 2 dead?".
According to Pakistani version of the event, Brigadier Arbab had visited Joydebpur with a platoon of about 30 troops (not 70) on a routine visit to see his unit. They did not go there to disarm the unit since talks were on in Dhaka at the highest level for a negotiated settlement to the political impasse, with President Yahya himself in town. Had they intended to disarm as the Bengalis propagated then the units in the capital Dhaka would've been disarmed first. The West Pakistani troops would not have travelled 20 miles away from Dhaka to Joydebpur to capture that place first.
By the Bengali officers' own accounts, only one company of the battalion was at Joydebpur. It seems unlikely that a brigade commander would come 20 miles out of the capital to Joydebpur to disarm just this one unit when no other Bengali unit in the capital or elsewhere was being disarmed. Talks were going on at the time in Dhaka between Mujib and the President in the expectation of a political settlement. Lt. Col. Masud says he had 'only' 250 troops in Joydebpur, and that the brigadier came with a large party, heavily armed. But the visiting party had 30 soldiers according to Major Jafar and 70 according to Major Shafiullah, and carried their normal weapons, so either way, the Bengalis far outnumbered and outgunned the visitors. Indeed, Major Shaifullah claims that it was the state of readiness of his troops that made the Brigadier change his mind about disarming them after arriving at Joydebpur! The facts suggest that the brigadier came to inspect the situation and decided that the battalion needed changing after his experience at Joydebpur.
The Bengali crowds were already agitated post Sheikh Mujib's Ebarer Sangram speech on 7 March 1971. The next day, workers in Gazipur Ordnance Factory formed 'Sangram Parishads' (Action or Struggle Committees) - in similar vein to the famous Rashtrobhasha Sangram Parishad during Bhasha Andolon - to work on behalf of the Awami League.
On the morning of 18 March 1971 (i.e. the day before the Brigadier's arrival), nine bus-loads of Bengali workers and officers left for Joydebpur to attend a protest meeting after rumours were circulated by Sangram Parishads that Baluch or Punjabi regiments were going to disarm the Bengali battalion and take over the Gazipur Ordnance Factory. The protestors were going to stop them. They had intended to ask the Bengali CO, Lt. Col. Masud, not to lay down his arms and revolt.
However, later that evening, when Brigadier Karimullah, the resident director of the factory, spoke with Lt. Col. Masud on the wireless after his phone lines had been cut off he was re-assured by the Lieutenant that no such orders (to disarm) had been issued and it was all due to a misunderstanding. It seemed that the Battalion had the old 0.303 rifles and LMGs (Light Machine Guns) with them. They were issued with new Chinese weapons as replacement, and asked to return their old weapons. However, with telephone being tapped everywhere, the locals jumped to the conclusion that since it was a Bengali Battalion, it was being disarmed. Lieutenant Masud was also being dubbed as a Bengali traitor for seeming to agree to lay down the arms when called upon by West Pakistani 'Imperialists'.
To remove the misunderstanding, Lt. Col. Masud called upon local leaders, including Habibullah, to explain the situation and asked the civil police to dispel the rumour, but it was taking time to undo the harm.
On the day of the clash, thousands of provoked locals arrived at the bazaar with spears, bamboo sticks, and few with shotguns, 0.22 and other calibre rifles ready for action. The 'excited crowd' would not listen and obstructed their pathway by pushing a goods train across the level crossing. When the troops were pushing the wagon to one side, the 'mob opened fire' forcing the East Bengal Regiment to fire back in self-defence. Thus, according to the Pakistani version, it was the police who were the innocent party and the Bengali crowds were the agitators (and not vice-versa).
When the party got back to base in Dhaka there was much excitement, as for the first time the brigade commander had been attacked while visiting one of his own units.
That night Brigadier Karimullah slept with his M-16 rifle under his bed and a 0.25 pistol under his pillow.
Chittagong was the second most important city in East Pakistan after Dhaka. It housed the only oil refinery in East Pakistan, had a large fuel depot, was the largest seaport and MV Swat, with 9,000 tons of arms and ammunition was in port. Bengali units substantially outnumbered the West Pakistani Chittagong garrison, which was a cause of concern for Pakistani planners.
The Chittagong cantonment is located to the north of the city, while the Naval base was near the airport on the south end of the city. The port facilities are positioned between the airport and the naval base.
During March 1971, 20th Baluch regiment, commanded by West Pakistani Lt. Col. Fatemi, minus its advance party, was the only army unit present in the cantonment besides a company from the 31st Punjab and elements from the 3rd Commando battalion. These were supported by a section of 6 M24 Chaffee tanks from the 29 Cavalry. 20th Baluch had 400 troops, 29th Cavalry had 100 soldiers, while another 100 troops were attached with various service units. Also, some commandos were operating in civilian clothing in the city.
The East Bengal Regimental Center (EBRC) which provided training to new recruits, was located next to the Chittagong Cantonment. It was Commanded by West Pakistani Lt. Col. Shigri and housed 2,000 Bengali troops, including the newly raised 9th EBR.
The 8th East Bengal Regiment (EBR) was located at Sholashahar, the heart of the city. It was Commanded by Lieutenanat Colonel Abdur Rashid Janjua, a Punjabi.
The East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) was in Halishahar, south-west of the cantonment, and commanded by Pakistani officer Lt. Col. Abdul Aziz Sheikh. EPR contained three wings: 11th (with 5 companies), 14th (4 companies) and 17th (4 companies) commanded by Major Muhammad Iqbal (West Pakistani), Major Shamsuddin Ahmed (Bengali) and Major Peer Mohammad (West Pakistani). A company from each of the three wings were located in the Halishahar headquarter which also housed 600 Bengali and 300 Pakistani troops. Other wing companies were deployed throughout the Chittagong division, for example, in Ramgarh, Taindong and Sajek (14th Wing), Kaptai and Rangamati (17th Wing), Cox's Bazar, Teknaf, Barkal and Maislong (11th Wing).
An EPR platoon, composed mainly of Bengalis, were also present at the Chittagong Airport (now called Shah Amanat International Airport) located to the south most of the city. The platoon was tasked with guarding the airport.
The port area around the southern border of the city was commanded by Brigadier Mohammad Hussain Ansari, a West Pakistani. A company of Bengali troops were deployed to unload ammunitions from MV Swat. In addition, Pakistani navy ship PNS Jahangir, a destroyer, and the gunboat PNS Rajshahi and PNS Balaghat was also present in Chittagong.
There were only a few Bengali officers at the Embarkation Headquarters in Lal Khan Bazaar which was commanded by a Bengali officer Captain Muslim Uddin.
The Army Transit Camp in Double Mooring was under the command of a non-Bengali officer, although the majority of soldiers in the camp were Bengalis.
On 23 March 1971, Bengali Major (later Brigadier General) Shamsuddin Ahmed, commanding officer of 14 Wing of EPR - the only Bengali officer to command a troop in EPR - was ordered by Lt. Col. Aziz to visit his border troops at Ramgarh as he had "not done so for the last two months". So like a true professional Major Shamsuddin left early next morning by jeep accompanied by his wife and small kids. Unknown to him, as he was "aloof from politics as I am today", this was only an excuse to remove him and pave away for other hidden agenda which became apparent the next day.
On 23 March 1971 there was a lunch at EBRC Officers Mess in honor of [Pakistani] General Hamid who had come to visit Chittagong to warn the non-Bengali elements of the armed forces in the area of the impending storm gathering at the horizon and threatening to strike at midnight of 25 March 1971 which I could guess much later only after the storm had stuck. Being a truly professional and loyal army officer for a Bengali was being stupid as I understood it later. As it is, for me it was just a formal lunch like many a such lunch and dinner I had attended before. At one stage of the lunch, my sector commander [Pakistani] Colonel Aziz called me aside and asked me to leave the following morning for the border area of my command ostensibly to visit my troops which he reminded me I had not done for the last two months because of IS duty preoccupation at the Headquarters in the city. As I guessed later I was perhaps sent to the border as part of a plan to disarm and kill all Bengali troops of EPR at the Headquarters at Halishahar which the Sector Commander possibly thought would be easier in my absence. Well they could kill me without sending me to the border. May be Providence had desired something else.
In the afternoon of 25 March 1971, Dr. Zafar, a prominent Awami League leader and ophthalmologist (eye specialist) in Chittagong, met Captain Rafiqul Islam, the EPR Sector Adjutant. They discussed possible strategies to put up a resistance in the city in the event of a Pakistani onslaught. They met again in the evening after Dr. Zafar was informed from Dhaka that President Yahya had sneaked away and Pakistani troops were about to stage a crackdown on innocent civilians in the capital.
They had a closed-door meeting in the house of M. R. Siddiqui, President of Chittagong District Awami League and Member of National Assembly, which was attended by other leading party members. Captain Rafiq phoned one of his confidantes in the EPR headquarter in Halishahar and asked him to pass on the message to all 300 Bengali soldiers and officers - most of whom were Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) and Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) - to revolt and capture the Pakistani soldiers dead or alive. Captain Rafiq also requested Dr. Zafar to get in touch with Lt. Col. M. R. Chowdhury and Major Ziaur Rahman to ensure that all Bengali soldiers and officers in the East Bengal Regimental Centre and in Sholoshahar revolted and joined the resistance.
I told Dr. Zafar, I along with my troops of EPR will fight the Pakistan Army to save our people and to free them. Move to Sholashahar and the Cantonment and tell all Bengali soldiers to join us. Meet me at my tactical HQ on the Railway Hill. Immediately, I dialled Halishahar EPR HQ where the Bengali JCOs were waiting my orders.
Captain Rafiq arrived in the Halishahar EPR headquarters at about 10 pm and found that all three arms depots were under the control of Bengali soldiers. Few Bengali were killed, including Major Amirul Islam, the Sector medical officer. Afterward Bengali soldiers belonging to the EPR left behind their border-posts and began to move towards Chittagong before the night was over.
Captain Rafiqul Islam's presence in the headquarters inspired the Bengali officers to capture all non-Bengali soldiers of the East Pakistan Rifles. Captain Rafiq's actions on the day and evening of 25 March 1971 are a good example of civil-military relationship. The valiant army officer did not act unilaterally; rather, he had discussed all possible ways of facing the enemy with the political leaders. The Captain could understand that without organizing the Bengali soldiers and officers of the EPR and EBR, it would not be possible to stop the atrocities of the invading Pakistani military, and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives would be lost.
Captain Rafiq had also met Major Ziaur Rahman who used to live in the Nasirabad Housing Society in Sholashahar area. He asked the senior officer to join him and the other soldiers of EPR and EBRC to revolt against the Pakistani oppression. Major Zia gave no firm answer.
Major Ziaur Rahman gave no commitment to Captain Rafiq who repeatedly insisted that if troops of the 8th East Bengal regiment could be sent to the cantonment lives of many Bengali soldiers, officers and their family members would be saved. Later a few young officers of the 8th Bengal Regiment disclosed that it would have been suicidal on their part to attack the Chittagong cantonment with only 200 men armed with 303 rifles.
However, almost simultaneously, the events at East Bengal Regiment were also about to take a dramatic turn.
On 28 March 1971, Pakistani Brigadier Iqbal Shafi, commander of 53 Infantry Brigade, arrived with a column composed of 24 Frontier Force and 88 Mortar battery from Comilla to relieve pressure on 20 Baluch. The EPR led by Captain Rafiqul Islam ambushed them at Kumira, 15 miles north of Chittagong. This was the first direct action against the enemy in the Bangladesh Liberation War.
During Muktijuddho, Captain Rafiqul Islam was promoted to Major and became commander of Sector 1 (Chittagong) in June 1971 replacing Ziaur Rahman who left to command Sector 11 (Mymensingh-Tangail).
EPR troops in Chittagong under Major Rafiqul Islam mounted pre-emptive attacks on key points across the city, thwarting Pakistani efforts to take control of East Bengal's main port. But their success was mixed and brief. Soon battle ensued as Pakistani forces began hunting for Zia and his men. 8th EBR and EPR units would fight several engagements, losing men and material, and be forced steadily to move towards the Indian border, setting a pattern.
During March 1971 Bengali Major (later Colonel) Mir Shawkat Ali was the Adjutant of 8 East Bengal Regiment camped in Sholoshahar. Fellow Bengalis Major Ziaur Rahman was the Second-in-Command (2 IC), Captain Oli Ahmed was the quartermaster, Lt. Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury had the responsibilities of an under study adjutant, Lt. Mahfuzur Rahman was working as the company officer of HQ Company, and Captain (later Major and Brigadier General) Chowdhury Khalequzzaman was the Military Transport Officer.
The political and social tension that had engulfed the eastern wing were also felt by officers, Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) and soldiers of the 8th EBR. Like other major cities and towns in East Pakistan, protest marching, public outcry, barricade of roads, shops closing, and group meeting were common features of daily life in Chittagong. To ease the restlessness, on the morning of 25 March 1971, Lt. Col. Janjua arranged inter-company sports competition. However, many Bengali officers suspected this as a ploy to keep them distracted whilst West Pakistani military operation were underway.
The inter-company basketball competition was taking place on the morning of 25 March. I myself, a Captain then, was playing for one of the basketball teams. Major Ziaur Rahman was the referee of the match. I was then acting as the sports officer of the 8 East Bengal Regiment. It was an extra duty. After the match I went back to my room, changed into military uniform and came to the office at around 9 A.M. The political situation of the country was restive and we were anxious to know what was going on. There was no peace in our minds.
In the morning, Major Mir Shawkat was assigned 'C' (or Charlie) Company with 150 soldiers and ordered by Lt. Col. Janjua to maintain security of the MV Swat ship during the unloading of weapons in the Chittagong Port. Brigadier Ansari, who served as Station Commander Chittagong, was also present at the port. Having spent most of the day at the port, both Major Mir Shawkat and Lt. Col. Janjua returned after sunset and left the 'C' Company under the supervision of Bengali Subedar Abdur Rauf.
At around 11 am, people barricaded the level crossing in front of the EBR unit, located on Bayezid Bostamy Road, with a compartment of a goods train in the hope of hampering the movement of the army vehicles and thereby stopping the communication between Dhaka and the Chittagong cantonment.
Captain Khalequzzaman was tasked with restoring the train line and removing the barricade. He arrived at the scene with 10 soldiers, but deeming it impossible to clear the barricade, he instructed his officers to keep an eye on the train and returned back to the barrack. This had irritated Lt. Col. Janjua who feared that the barricade would prevent 22nd Baluch (based in Dhaka) from rushing to help in case of an emergency. Subsequently he sent Major Mir Shawkat to complete the task two hours after Captain Khalequzzaman was sent. Major Mir Shawket and his team of 10 soldiers dislodged the brake of the train, moving it from the east side to the west, and once again opened up the road for public use.
Our armed guards were present there but they did not try to restore train line in its normal condition. They were unconcerned because they were silently supportive of what the people were doing. They did not try to either remove the barricade or go against people's will. I was sent to remove the barricade. I was not interested in doing it.
There were a very few people there. Some were watching from a distance. At that time people crowded around to see wherever the army assembled, especially when it was the East Bengal Regiment. They kept a distance when the soldiers were non-Bengali, Panjabi, Baluch etc. They considered the East Bengal Regiment as their own and came forward to see them with a good feeling.
The local public had encouraged Major Mir Shawkat to leave the barricade and questioned his alliance.
Some of the young students standing at a distance asked Major Mir Shawkat "Are not you in our group?". They probably expected East Bengal Regiment to join the public then and there, Major (now Col) Shawkat gave a little smile and replied, "Let the time come you will see".
With the restriction on media by the central government, it was difficult for the Bengali officers to get accurate information on the latest development in the country.
We could not contact the political leaders during daytime; not even via telephone; time passed in this manner...
After coming back [from removing the train barricade], we kept ourselves busy listening to the radio, reading newspapers and trying to get information by telephoning people. I went to see Major Zia. He was working in the office sombrely. I asked, "Sir, what is going to happen?" He was very careful and talked little. He was under stern surveillance. The atmosphere was grave. He just said, "Wait and see".
Around 8 pm Capt. Khalequzzaman was informed by Col. Janjua to go to the Chittagong Port and report to new Area Commander Brigadier Ansari. A navy truck would come and take him to the port, so Captain Khalequzzaman ordered Senior JCO, Subedar Mahbubur Rahman, who was transferred from 4th EBR to 8th EBR, to prepare a platoon from the 'Delta' company to accompany him to the port. In a surprise move, Colonel Janjua also ordered Major Ziaur Rahman to go to Chittagong Port and asked him to go first, with Capt. Khalequzzaman to follow him shortly thereafter.
Subedar Mahbub prepared a platoon in front of the quarter guard of the unit. A truck from Navy came soon. There was a driver and two navy personnel were there with an SMG [submachine gun] and a rifle. Subedar Enamul Majid was ready to go as a JCO platoon commander with me. He boarded the truck with 30 soldiers. I was next. I saw that commanding officer Colonel Janjua was standing there, not to see me off but to make sure that I left on time. Major Zia, Major Shawkat, Capt. Oli were present too. I asked Subadar Majid, if everything was all right and if he had taken weapons, ammunition, ration etc. He said, "Sir, we didn't take any ammunition." I was angry because the commanding officer was standing there and I was getting late. I stood up in the truck and said angrily, "How can we go without ammunition?" Everyone was listening. Suddenly Colnel Janjua said, "Don't worry Khaleque, you go and we'll send ammunition. Brigadier Ansari is waiting." I said, "Thank you very much, sir, but no, the troops would not move without arms and ammunition".
Colonel Janjua realised that I would not go without ammunition and said, "Bravo and hurry up, send Subadar Majid to get the ammunition quickly". When Majid came back with ammunition Colonel Janjua changed his mind and said, "Zia, I think you should go first. Khaleque will follow you." We were all standing.
I was surprised because ordinarily the Second in command does not go for such duties and I was all prepared.
Major Ziaur Rahman had a talk with Col. Janjua and sat on the front seat of the truck, beside the driver, where Capt. Khalequzzaman was originally supposed to sit. Two West Pakistani officers, Second Lieutenant Humayun Khan and Second Lieutenant Azam were ordered by Col. Janjua to accompany Major Zia whilst Capt. Khalequzzaman was to travel alone.
I went near his seat to shake hands with him and see him off. He said in an anxious voice, "If you hear anything let me know. Khuda Hafiz". They started the journey.
Captain Oli and Major Mir Shawkat were present when these new developments were taking place. Once Major Ziaur Rahman set off, Captain Oli returned to his duty room on the first floor whilst Col. Janjua dropped Major Mir Shawkat off in the officers' mess on his way to his bungalow at 'Al Hamra' at Nasirabad Housing Society.
Around 10 pm a relative of Capt. Khalequzzaman, Abdul Kader, rang him and informed him and Captain Oli that there was firing in Dhaka and East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) soldiers were being attacked. A shell-shocked Khalequzzaman asked Subedar Mahbubur Rahman to keep a transport ready and consulted with Captain Oli about bring Major Zia back from Chittagong Port.
Except for Oli and I, everyone was a junior officer. I said, "Let me go and get our boss. Let's see what happens after I bring Major Zia back. "Oli agreed with enthusiasm".
I didn't know whom to talk to, whom to call. But I realised that something grave was going to happen, we were angry and aggrieved because something unjust was going to happen to us. The age had its own virtue or vices. We knew we had to do something to stop anything disastrous from happening. Firing had started in Dhaka on the Police and EPR in the headquarters. Nobody can take out a vehicle without my instructions [as he was the Military Transport Officer]. I ordered for a pickup to come and rushed for Chittagong port with a driver, a Lance Corporal and two soldiers to bring Major Zia back. Before starting I said to the guard commander, Lance Corporal Shafi. "Stay alert. The duty officer is upstairs and the situation is not good." I ordered the driver to drive fast towards Agrabad.
Fortunately for Capt. Khalequzzaman there were barricades at various points in the city which were put up by the locals (such as one at Dampara, one on the west of Chittagong club, etc). One such strong barricade near Agrabad Railway over the bridge had forced the truck carrying Ziaur Rahman to the Chittagong Port to a halt. Soldiers were trying their best to remove the barricade and Major Zia was walking beside the truck. Captain Khalequzzaman took Ziaur Rahman to one side and informed him about the grave development in the capital Dhaka meted out to the Bengalis by West Pakistani military.
I stopped the pickup and hurriedly went to him. I put a hand on his shoulder to take him beside for talking. I said, "Sir, you should not go to the Port tonight. Pakistani forces are already shooting in Dhaka. They have attacked EPR camp at Rajarbagh Police line. I strongly feel that you should not go to the port".
Major Ziaur Rahman contemplated for a moment what to do.
Zia thought for a while and said, "What should we do?" He did not want an answer from me, he was talking to himself. I said, "You know better". Major Zia then punched the left fist with the right and said, "In that case we will revolt and show our allegiance to the government of Bangladesh".
Afterward Major Zia advised Capt. Khalequzzaman to leave, which he duly obliged. Capt. Khalequzzaman then joined up with the unit and briefed the guard commander, Lance Corporal Shafi, to carry out his duty as normal as not to arise any suspicion.
Shafi was a spirited and courageous soldier who always carried a rifle. He took part in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.
Meanwhile, Major Zia went to Second Lieutenant Humayun and Azam and tricked them by saying that the commanding officer had sent Capt. Khalequzzaman to take them back. As they approached the unit, Major Zia signalled to Capt. Khalequzzaman to arrest the two officers. And with that, Ziaur Rahman evaded the trap set by his commanding officer to liquidate him.
I asked the two officers to come with me. They were loyal soldiers of the Pakistan army and did not react to this. I took them to the quarter guard. Quarter guard is where the regiment keeps its money and it has an armed guard 24 hours a day. There was a table, a chair and a box of keys and a cell.
The soldiers in the truck were very excited although they could not understand what was going on. Some of them were yelling, "Joi Bangla." We signalled them to stop and not to tell these to anybody because nothing had happened yet and we could get in trouble if the incident was discovered.
The truck was parked and the drivers were arrested. We thought they were Pakistanis as they spoke in Urdu, but they were from Chittagong and Jessore. Azam and Humayun had personal weapons, which they handed over to me on order. I deposited the arms in the quarter guard.
Now back once again at the cantonment, Major Zia boarded the jeep which had dropped Col. Janjua and headed towards 'Al-Hamra', Col. Janjua's official residence.
Janjua was a very clever person but he had nothing to do. He knew that something big was going to happen but did not take any self-precautions.
Upon his arrival, Major Zia rang the calling bell. Out came Lt. Col. Janjua wearing white pajama-panjabi and sandals. He was surprised as if he had seen a ghost when he saw Major Zia and asked, "What's wrong, Zia?" Zia said, "Sir, I need to talk to you".
Janjua was wondering how Zia came back when he had sent him to the port to report to Brigadier Ansari. He could not grasp what had happened in the port. He said in Urdu, "Come Zia, sit. "Major Zia said, "No sir, we have something to talk about". He said, "All right, let's discuss it here." Zia said, "Sir, we should go to unit line, Captain Khalequzzaman and Captain Oli is there. They would like to discuss something with you". Janjua agreed.
Lieutenant Col. Janjua sat in the jeep with two soldiers sitting on the rear seats. Major Zia drove away and stopped in front of the quarter guard where Capt. Khalequzzaman, Lance Corporal Shafi and sepoy Rabiul Anam were standing. Major Zia snatched the rifle from Rabiul Anam, pointed it to Janjua and said, "Sir, you are under arrest. Don't try to take leadership".
A stunned Janjua did not utter a word.
Major Zia asked Capt. Khalequzzaman to take Col. Janjua to the quarter guard where he was later reacquainted with his wife.
I made Janjua sit on a chair in the quarter guard. He said softly, "Khaleque, my family should know where I am." I realised that he was very nervous and afraid. We had left Colonel Janjua's wife at his home. I said, "Sir, surely she will come to know where you are". Later she was respectfully taken to the cantonment. There were Azam and Humayun with Col. Janjua; and Shafi was standing as guard. Major Zia said, "Hold them and keep an eye on them".
Major Zia went upstairs to contact the political leaders and others.
Captain Khalequzzaman sent messages to Capt. Sadeq, Lt. Mahfuz, and Lt. Shamsher to bring back all those officers who were on duty in the Bayazid Bostami Road and elsewhere with a view to providing protection now that they were officially revolting.
I sent word to the senior J.C.O. Subedar Mahbubur Rahman to fetch the Pathan officer Captain Ahammaduddin from the officers' mess. He too was arrested and put in the quarter guard. They did not create any trouble. We finished the work with courage and speed.
Two Pakistani officers used to stay in the EPR mess to the south of the 8 East Bengal officers' mess. One of them was Captain Nazar with whom I once prepared for the Captain to Major examination. I asked my batman Nurul Amin to go and tell the Bengalis to get out of there. He knew where each officer stayed. When he went there at 12-30 A.M., Captain Nazar threatened him with a gun. Nurul shot him down at once.
Major Mir Shawkat arrived some time later. He had been woken up by Major Zia when he went to arrest Col. Janjua. Major Zia asked him if he was loyal to the Bengali rebellion, to which Major Mir Shawkat confirmed to the affirmative.
Major Zia said to him in front of the quarter guard, "Shawkat, I hope you are with us." He said it to ensure if Shawkat was with us in the rebellion. I don't know if the two of them had talked about it earlier.
MajOR Shawkat said, "Zia Bhai, of course I'm with you." Major Zia replied, "Shawkat, it is good to settle everything before we go for a serious game".
Major Zia brought Col. Janjua upstairs 'with respect' and asked him to sit on the chair of the commanding officer. The other officers remained in the quarter guard. Major Zia then gave the rifle that he had taken from the standing guard nearby to Capt. Khalequzzaman and asked him to be cautious. He then went upstairs accompanied by Major Mir Shawkat to carry on contacting prominent people via telephone.
Whilst under custody, Lt. Col. Janjua was branded a traitor and killed for his betrayal.
The two navy men were there as well. I pushed one of them and said, "udhar jao". He said, "Sir, I'm Bengali" "where are you from?" "I'm from Jessore" and the other said that he was from Chittagong.
The keys to arms and ammunition were still in the 'key box.' When I said that to Major Zia, he broke the glass door of the box with the butt of the rifle, extricated the keys and gave them to me. I could break the key box myself but according to the military rule I had to inform someone who was in charge. I said to the two Bengali soldiers that we had arrested them by mistake, "Why are you sitting here like fools?"
Later when we went to Potia the following day one of them slaughtered a cow to feed us. Allah saved two lives; otherwise they would have died with the others. I went upstairs and told Major Zia that the soldiers downstairs were scattered and that we should gather them all in the hall.
Meanwhile, it took about an hour for all the scattered Bengali troops, including a company of soldiers from the Chittagong Port and Captain Sadeq, Lt. Shamsher, and Lt. Mahfuz, to gather at the camp. Once assembled, Capt. Khalequzzaman ordered the senior most JCO, Subadar Major Muhammad Ali, to assemble the battalion in the centre of unit line. Major Zia and Major Mir Shawkat then came downstairs.
At that moment nobody wanted to come forward to say anything. It was really a great moment of anxiety. But we could not go back now.
Captain Khalequzzaman asked Major Mir Shawkat to inform the officers that the Second-in-Command (i.e. Ziaur Rahman) had taken control of the unit. Major Mir Shawkat obliged and told the officers that Ziaur Rahman had something to say regarding the new development. Major Zia gave an emotional speech - his first announcement of Liberation - explaining the overall situation and the West Pakistani officers effort to crush the Bengali force.
They wanted to send Captain Khalequzzaman to the Chittagong Port, they had already sent me to the port. They planned to kill us and arrest everyone in the 8th East Bengal Regiment.
...We express loyalty to Bangladesh. Now we are an independent country. We declare war in the name of our motherland Bangladesh
Tigers, Pakistanis have started killing Bengalis en mass they have already disarmed some of the E Bengal battalions, they have decided to kill all of us. They already trapped me but luckily I was saved. We will have to organize quickly and face them at any cost to save the country, are you all ready to do that with me?
Major Zia asked everyone for their approval to continue with the revolt. The soldiers yelled "Joi Bangla" and "Bangladesh Zindabad" in agreement and promised by the name of Allah to fight for the Bangladesh cause. The slogans echoed so loudly that the inhabitants of Nasirabad Housing Society woke up from sleep and peeped through their windows. Thus with 6 officers and 200 men of the battalion, Ziaur Rahman took control.
It was about 3 or 4 am. After the speech, Major Zia gave a jeep to Major Mir Shawkat and asked him to contact the Awami League leaders in Chittagong and inform them of their decision. Major Mir Shawkat met with Abdul Hannan, Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury, and M. R. Siddiqui amongst others and told them about the officer's rising.
Major Zia also telephoned the Deputy Commissioner, Superintendent of Police and other officers in Chittagong and informed them regarding the revolt.
I hope you are with us. Otherwise we shall not spare you.
It was now Fajr time. People could be heard shouting slogans. Major Mir Shawkat had also returned from his visits. It was decided that all the arms and ammunition would be taken to a new, safer place by truck since they were only 3 miles away from the cantonment and could not resist any Pakistani mortar or shell fire attack. The damage to their embryonic rebellion, not to mention civilian lives, would be fatal. Major Zia decided to shift the team to Gumdandi on the other side of the Karnaphuli River, and planned to get hold of the radio station. Captain Khalequzzaman was given the responsibility of protecting the Chittagong Radio Station and the east bank of the Karnaphuli River. They quickly loaded the ammunition onto three trucks and two pickups and left the unit line for Kalurghat area on the east bank of the river. The time was now 6 am in the morning.
We carried all the small arms and ammunition boxes. Major Shawkat brought his personal belongings but others could not bring theirs. Major Zia too came only with the uniform on. Begum Zia was still in the rented house at Nasirabad Housing Society. When I went to bring Major Zia, firing started in Dhaka. By the time we came back to the unit line, there were shootings in the Chittagong cantonment as well.
The officers walked through Sholoshor, Chawkbazar, Bohoddar Hat, the radio station, and Chandgao to the east bank of the Karnaphuli River. From the hills they could now overlook the base of their colleague-cum-enemy. They reorganised the next morning and took up strategic position ready for combat. Lieutenant Mahfuz was positioned north of Capt. Khalequzzaman, with Lt. Shamsher with his 'A' Company to their left. A company of the EPR, led by a JCO, was deployed on the West Bank of the river as screen, whilst the 8 EBR took position of resistance on the Karnaphuli-Cox's Bazar axis. Major Mir Shawkat Ali took position on the west bank of the river at the Ispahani Colony at Kalurghat temporarily. Major Zia, now appointed the commanding officer, and Captain Oli, his Staff Officer, took position in the Village of Gudmandi near Patiya where the temporary headquarters of the 8 East Bengal Regiment was established.
Two days later, on 27 March 1971, Major Zia occupied the Kalurghat Radio Station and was able to broadcast his landmark Declaration of Independence and message to the people to take up arms against the Pakistanis.
Although he subsequently lost control of the Radio Staion on 30 March 1971, he continued to offer resistance in the Chittagong area till mid-April, after which he took his group northwards to the India-Mymensingh border.
Meanwhile, his wife Khaleda Zia - who later became the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh - and his two infant sons were arrested by the military and kept in confinement until the end of war nine months later.
Whilst the dramatic event was unfolding in the army camp, things took a fatalistic turn in the port.
The 'C' (or Charlie) Company who were assigned the task of loading and unloading the arms and ammunition from the ship were attacked by their West Pakistani colleagues. Shocked and caught unaware, Bengali soldiers had to jump in the Karnaphuli river to save their lives. Some were brutally murdered whilst others who were fortunate to escape the barbarous massacre swam across the river and joined the 8 EBR the following morning.
The East Bengal Regimental Centre (EBRC) - also known as the 'Tiger's Den' - was the training centre for the soldiers in the eastern Province. The EBRC was the brainchild of Captain (later Major) M. A. Gani, a Bengali, who suggested creating an infantry regiment solely composed of Bengali Muslims just after the 1947 Partition. To accommodate this, on 1 June 1950 the EBRC was established as a place to recruit and train future soldiers. It was originally located in Kurmitola Cantonment in Dhaka but was shifted to Chittagong Cantonment (6 miles outside Chittagong town centre) in 1953.
The East Bengal Regimental Centre is located on a sprawling 200 acre plus landscape interspaced by hillocks and ravines in the picturesque setting of Chittagong Cantonment. No wonder, it remains to be the most imposing feature of Chittagong Cantonment and also the most prominent landmark amongst all the cantonments of the country.
In 1971, EBRC was commanded by Brigadier M. R. Mazumdar and Lt. Col. M. R. Chowdhury was the Chief Inspector. Both men were Bengali. They were the senior most Bengali officers in the army during that time.
There were about 2,500 soldiers of various rank and file, including the newly raised 9 Battalion. Around 1,000 of these were Bengali and included Captain Subed Ali Bhuiyan, Captain Amin Ahmed Chowdhury, Captain Mohsin, Captain Abdul Aziz and Captain Enamul Haque. Some of them lived at the Shershah colony with their families and the bachelor officers stayed in the EBRC officers' mess.
Whilst attempt were being made to secretly kill Ziaur Rahman, 20 Baluch, the West Pakistan battalion in the Chittagong cantonment, struck at EBRC personnel. The Bengali soldiers, consisting mostly of new recruits, gave a stiff fight, which resulted in heavy casualities. It is alleged over 300 recruits were killed in their sleep. Many were arrested including Lt. Col. M. R. Chowdhury. However, he was later killed ruthlessly. Other trained personnel, consisting of permanent staff, managed to get away.
Plain-clothes Pakistani soldiers entered the houses of non-Bengalis at Nasirabad Housing Society. Our officers' mess and the house of Major Zia were near the park. But they could not attack because they were not well organised. But it is true that they had taken position in plain-clothes in the houses of the non-Bengalis at Nasirabad Housing Society, Shershah colony, Bayezid Bostami Colony etc.
Those Bengali officers who lived in the mess, such as Captain Subed Ali Bhuiyan and Mohsin had already joined the EBR revolt. Captain Amin Ahmed Chowdhury went to Agartala, Tripura via Ramgarh all by himself but was arrested by the Indian soldiers who thought he was a 'Nakshal'. Captain Enamul Haq joined the EPR.
On the night of 25 March 1971, Major Zia contacted captain Rafiqul Islam. Captain Rafiq sent message by wireless that the EPR had revolted. Captain Harun Ahmed Chowdhury came from Kaptai to Kalurghat to join the EBR in the morning of the 26th March. He had left all the Pakistani officers at Kaptai arrested.
Captain Harun Ahmed arrested Major Dost Muhammed and locked him in the room when he was still asleep. He arrested all the others and came here with three Bengali EPR men. Harun grabbed me and hugged me saying "Joi Bangla" on the east side of the Kalurghat bridge where we had already reached.
The Bengali elements of EPR, EBRC and EBR combined together and attacked 20 Baluch, which was firmly entrenched in the EBRC lines, with much success. Later, they occupied the whole of Chittagong town, causing damage in its non-Bengali colonies.
They destroyed textile mills set up by some of West Pakistan's 22 ruling families to exploit the protected markets of East Pakistan.
But in their enthusiasm they lost their sense of priorities. The naval base was untouched. With the help of newly arrived reinforcements, the naval establishment managed to secure Tiger Pass, connecting the town with the port, and that kept the base out of reach of the rebels. Later, a relief column from Comilla led by Brigadier Iqbal Shafi, as well as the efforts of the beleaguered 20 Baluch, cleared the town by 31 March 1971 and took control of the Chittagong Radio Station two days later. Ziaur Rahman made his way along with his comrades towards India. On his way, he occupied the Belonia bulge till ousted by a heavy Pakistani punitive attack mounted on the arrival of reinforcements.
The EBRC remained closed during the War of Liberation till it was re-established at Dhaka Cantonment on 11 January 1974 under the supervision of Major Enamul Haque Chowdhury. Later that year, in September 1974, the centre again moved to its original location at Chittagong Cantonment.
In March 1971, Major Khaled Mosharraf was promoted to the rank of a Brigade Major and attached to 57 Brigade in Dhaka. But he was suddenly replaced by Pakistani Major Jafar Khan who arrived in the first week of March to take over as Brigade Major. Major Khaled Mosharraf was transferred to Comilla cantonment on 24 March 1971 on a filmsy pretext and put in charge of the 4th EBR as the Second-in-Command. This aroused his suspicion as he had already witnessed the political and military movement going on in Dhaka from 1 March till 22 March 1971. In anticipation of the Pakistani crackdown, Major Khaled Mosharraf began to form a small group around him.
The 4th EBR had three companies at Brahmanbaria, Shamsher Nagar and Jonghi. Major Khaled Mosharraf was initially based in Shamsher Nagar.
When the Pakistani genocide campaign started the very next day, he took over as commanding officer of 4th EBR and confined all the non-Bengali officers of the Regiment. He outwitted the instructions to surrender automatic weapons and formed a plan for guerrilla operations. He rushed to Brahmanbaria from Shamsher Nagar with his troops and sent a telephonic message to Major K. M. Shafiullah who had retreated to Kishoreganj with Bengali members of his troop from Joydebpur. Major Khaled Mosharraf requested Major K. Ml. Shafiullah to meet him at Brahmanbaria and to cancel their planned action on Dhaka. Accordingly, on the night of 31 March 1971 Major K. M. Shafiullah left for Brahmanbaria.
Major Khaled Mosharraf had also decided to transfer the headquarters of his army northwards from Brahmanbaria to Teliapara tea garden in Sylhet district bordering India.
Major Khaled Mosharraf and his group was able to escape northwards from Brahmanbaria towards Sylhet and thereafter carried out effective sabotage operations - one of the few instances of pre-planned and systematic blowing of bridges and destruction of roads and railways. It was mainly because of the efforts of this group that Sylhet remained isolated from Comilla and Dhaka for a long period, thus greatly helping Major K. M. Shafiullah, the leader of the freedom fighters in Sylhet, whose guerrillas almost succeeded in capturing the Sylhet airfield.
After successfully resisting the Pakistan army till mid-April Major Khaled Mosharraf retreated in the face of repeated air attacks of the enemy forces, and took position with his army in the Indian province of Tripura at the end of April. He was appointed sector commander of Sector 2 by the Mujibnagar Government and also commanded K-Force, which was named after him. Major Khaled Mosharraf was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the War of Liberation. In an encounter with the enemy on 23 October 1971 he was wounded by a bullet shot on his head and recovered after a long treatment in the Lukhnow military hospital.
After Bangladesh was liberated, Lt. Col. Khaled Mosharraf was appointed Staff Officer at the army headquarters in Dhaka. Later he was elevated to the post of Chief of General Staff of Bangladesh Army.
As the War of Liberation rolled on in 1971, Khaled Musharraf perfected the art of guerrilla warfare against the occupation Pakistan army. He was a hands-on soldier, in that conventional sense of the meaning, and yet he had quickly proved adept in planning and employing all those hit and run tactics that have historically laid traditional armies low all across the globe.
Anyone who came across Khaled Musharraf in 1971 understood, swiftly and with a tinge of pleasant surprise, the impeccable quality that defined his performance.
He was ruthless in his view that the war was all, that the enemy needed to be destroyed, that the friends of the enemy needed to be hunted down and weeded out. In that broad respect, he was far ahead of many of his colleagues in the Mukti Bahini. He was articulate; and in his dealings with the foreign media that made their way to liberated zones in Bangladesh, he easily put the message across that the country of the future which Bengalis were struggling to construct in their present was to be a land defined by democracy and liberalism.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Londoni © 2014