'1971 Bhitore Baire' book controversy


On Tuesday 2 September 2014 A. K. Khandker wrote his memoirs "1971 Bhitore Baire" (1971: Inside and Outside). The 232 pages long book was published by Prothoma Prokashan and priced at Tk 450 (approx. £4). It was launched at Bengal Shilpalay (Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts) in Dhanmondi area of Dhaka, organised by Prothoma. The programme was presided over by historian Sirajul Islam and attended by Dhaka University Emeritus Professor Anisuzzaman, Liberation War Museum trustee Sarwar Ali and Illinois State University Professor Ali Riaz.

The book provided a personal account of the Air Vice Marshal. He provided a holistic view of the planning, tactics and strategies which oversaw the throwing of a powerful army by ordinary people. By sharing his experiences and observations, the former planning minister intended to provide an 'authentic and fact-based' account of the birth of Bangladesh.

Formerly history was tainted to gain personal interests. True was replaced by false and this still goes on. This book is written with keeping this in mind.

A. K. Khandker said while addressing the launch of a self-authored book

Content of the book include claiming Sheikh Mujib historic speech ended with 'Joy Pakistan', questioning Bengali military preparedness, and accusing some Mujib Bahini members of looting

In the first chapter, while discussing the socio-political development in the country prior to the military crackdown of 26 March 1971, A. K. Khandker states on page 32 that though the fiery nationalistic speech delivered by Sheikh Mujib on 7 March 1971 was awe inspiring, it lacked clear guidance. He did however point out number of possible causes that may have prevented the leader from issuing a clear and open directive.

...if we could have waged war based on a clear set of directives issued by Bangabandhu then the lives of many thousands could have been saved....

Page 44

Khandker questioned if the Awami League leaders had the organisational, material, and other resources to conduct a successful military warfare based on the speech had the Pakistani military crackdown not occurred.

Khandker's concern for pre-emptive military preparedness simultaneously as a political one as sought by Sheikh Mujib is understandable. Especially since he's from that world. But Khandker himself does not mention who could've been the potential group of people to help Sheikh Mujib draft a full-fledged contingency plan for liberating the then East Pakistan. This is even more critical when, according to him, the strength of the line of communication between the Bengali officers of the Pakistan armed forces and the Awami League leadership was questionable.

Khandker concludes the first chapter with a short description of the post-crackdown days added with historical details.

The second chapter is dedicated to the declaration of independence and the formation of the interim government based on factual details. Khandker explores all the widespread concepts concerning the announcement and though the announcement was a necessity, he believes that people would've fought even if there was none.

...after the [Pakistani military] onslaught people really didn't care much for an official declaration [of Independence]...

Page 61

In the fifth chapter titled 'Mujib Bahini' Khandker claimed the Mujib force was created by India's RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) with questionable objectives and that the force had a negative impact on the freedom fighter's solidarity. He also accused some members of participating in looting post-independence. Looting was common practice during that time.

...after independence some of the members of Mujib force had conducted the majority of looting...

Page 145

The other chapters throughout the book detail different aspect of the war. This includes his contribution to the war where he gives intimate detail on the formation of the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) and the difficulties surrounding its formation and management, the courage of 8 Bengali naval crew turned commandos during 'Operation Jackpot', how the Bangladesh Air Force was built from scratch, and the surrender of Pakistan Army in Dhaka and his opinion on gallantry awards for freedom fighters.

In general the book is written in a semi-autobiographical manner that's enriched with chronicling of events, analysis and personal commentary. Considering the failures in political and military decision making a strong tone of grievance is felt while reading. The writer's political leanings have been carefully guarded too.

The reader may differ with Mr.Khandker's reading of characters and situations but cannot refute the pivotal role that he played as the war's deputy chief. If the book was meant to only record facts devoid of opinion and constructive criticism, then we would have surely missed the writer's personal reading of the war. Sometimes historical details are not chronologically arranged and placed rather sporadically. An extra chapter on Mujibnagar government's diplomatic initiatives would have added an extra value to the book. It's missing.

Additionally, it was a pleasure to have observed that despite having numerable opposing viewpoints with his superior and other wartime political leaders Indians included, the writer hasn't attacked any of them personally and, instead placed them in their deserved ranks.

A queer feeling after having read the book was that, it should have been written much earlier. Had it been written at least another two decades back would it have drawn the same response as it is drawing today? We will never know.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Speakers warn remarks may raise controversies

Speakers at the publication ceremony observed that some of the remarks made in the book could be potentially controversial.

Referring to 'Joy Pakistan' statement, Liberation War Museum trustee Sarwar Ali said neither the tape recorded by Abul Khair, member of the national assembly from Gopalganj, nor the copy of Swaraj published on 8 March 1971 had those words. Sarwar Ali told the launch that it's possible Khandker may have heard it from someone who did not know what the actual speech was.

Professor of politics and governor at Illinois University, US, Ali Riaz, pointed out that Khandker was not a historian but a witness to the liberation war. This memoir expressed his own views.

Khandker had raised questions regarding Sheikh Mujib's announcement of independence on 26 March 1971, which Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman should be compared with all other existing claims on this matter to get to the bottom of the truth.

For his part, Abdul Karim Khandker maintained that he tried to speak the truth which he personally witnessed during the liberation war which many people might not like.

History professor Sirajul Islam praised the book for providing a 'balanced presentation of history'.

The book provided a balanced presentation of history and the outline of the war and the interest of different vested groups surrounding the war came up in it.

Historian Sirajul Islam praises '1971 Bhitore Baire' book

Accused of 'distorting historic facts' by prominent MPs and fellow sector commanders

Soon after 1971 Bhitore Baire was launched, some of the remarks within the book caused outrage, particularly among Awami League members and supporters.

Matters were taken up in Bangladesh's house of parliament, Jatiya Sangshad. An unscheduled discussion took place for nearly 2 hours on 4 September 2014, two days after the book's publication, where senior lawmakers and MPs from the ruling Awami League and opposition Jatiya Party criticised A. K. Khandker for 'distorting historic facts'. They also demanded ban on the book and bringing sedition charges against him.

Former information minister Abul Kalam Azad, who initiated the long unscheduled discussion denied Sheikh Mujib had ended his famous speech in such manner.

He [A. K. Khandker] is presenting new distorted information. I was there (during the speech). Bangabandhu did not say Joy Pakistan.

Abul Kalam Azad, former Information Minister

Fellow sector commander Bir Uttam Rafiqul Islam disagreed with Khandker that Sheikh Mujib had not provided the guidance and go-ahead for the war.

We fought the war. Khandker was in Kolkata headquarters. The war was carried out under Bangabandhu's leadership and political leadership, not military direction.

Bir Uttam Rafiqul Islam

Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu went one step further, questioning the boundary of acceptance of such accusation. If today Jathir Jonok (Father of the Nation) could be attacked, what could happen tomorrow?

If they can hit his image, they will be able to divert the nation's minds.

They are not just undermining Bangabandhu, they are undermining our nation, sovereignty and freedom.

Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu

The most damning voice was Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim MP and Tofail Ahmed MP. Sheikh Selim is Sheikh Mujib's baghna (nephew, sister's son). His brother Sheikh Moni and sister-in-law were two of the people who were assassinated on that fateful day of 15 August 1975.

Sheikh Selim claimed that A. K. Khandker may have been paid by "foreign agencies like Pakistan’s ISI" for writing the book. Supporting this view was Rafiqul Islam, then a member of the ruling Awami League party. He too claimed that Khandker may have written the book to serve the purpose of a vested quarter.

Sheikh Selim demanded that the government bring sedition charges against Khandker and try him.

Khandker took part in the war with advice from Pakistan. He wrote this book because he got a thick wad of money from some agency.

He did not stay in Bangladesh. He took benefits from Ershad government and from Sheikh Hasina. We need to be careful about these sorts of characters.

This book must be banned.

Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim MP suspects Khandker was financed by some 'agency' to write the book

Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, who was a close colleague of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman throughout his political career and had given Sheikh Mujib the honorary title of 'Bangabandhu' (Friend of Bengal), was present on podium during the 7 March 1971 speech. He said he did not hear Sheikh Mujib say 'Joy Pakistan'. He expressed dismay at Khandker's lack of evaluation and knowledge, and was angered by his accusation that the Awami League were not prepared for the war.

He [A. K. Khandker] is making up his own stories.

I know why he has written this book, I know why he picked this particular time. He is trying to hand weapons to others.

He wrote that Yahya's biggest mistake was not going to Bhola after the hurricane. So the genocide was not a mistake? Yaha in fact did go to Bhola. I was there. He doesn't know anything.

Many of us present here took training [for armed battle]. Did the country get liberated out of nothing?

Tofail Ahmed

Several other MPs took part in the passionate discussion including Kazi Firoz Rashid and JCD lawmaker Mainuddin Khan Badal.

The next day, speaking at the Workers' Party's district conference in Gazipur, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon accused the Air Vice Marshal of stooping to Tarique Rahman's level by telling lies about Sheikh Mujib's historic speech. Tarique, Ziaur Rahman and Khaleda Zia's eldest son, had been very vocal in slating Awami League's and Sheikh Mujib's contribution during the war.

When an individual writes anything about an historic event it should be objective. Maintaining objectivity is more important in such cases like Bangabandhu's speech. AK Khandaker writes other's remarks instead of his own. He should have examined before writing it. However, people will not be confused by his writings, because every word of Bangabandhu's 7th March speech clearly called for independence of Bangladesh.

We're fortunate that participants in the War of Liberation are still alive. So, nothing will yield whatever people like Tarique Rahman utter.

Rashed Khan Menon, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister, said political leadership, instead of military leadership, had played main role in organising the War of Liberation in 1971

For their part, the BNP, Awami League's main opposition party, supported the book by declaring it was a true document against Awami League's long-drawn false campaign in distorting Bangladesh's history.

Second edition

On 5 September 2014, a day after he came under fire in parliament, A. K. Khandker said a second edition of the book was getting published soon. In it there are few amendments.

In the preface A. K. Khandker expanded his 'Joy Pakistan' conclusion by writing that actually "the last words of the speech were 'Joy Bangla, Joy Pakistan'" and not just 'Joy Pakistan' as he originally mentioned.

Khandaker also thanked Prof Anisuzzaman for identifying another mistake. "I mistakenly mentioned 'MLA' instead of 'MPA', " he wrote welcoming more suggestions from the readers.

A. M. A. Muhith: Don't ban book, instead write another to refute it

One of the first people to call for Khandker's book not to be banned was the then Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul (A. M. A.) Muhith. On 5 September 2014 Muhith recommended that the critics should instead write another book in reply to the 'objectionable parts' of the book. Muhith said banning the book was no solution.

I strongly reject the demand raised [by other MPs] in Parliament. No books, no matter how disgraceful they are, should be banned.

Many people write their opinions differently. You, too, have a weapon. Why don't you protest against it through your writings?

A. M. A. Muhith said while opening the 'Mahnagar Boi Utsab-2014' book festival in Dhaka

Of all the voices that have been raised in these past few days about Khandker's infractions, if one might put it this way, only one has demonstrated the decency and civility which come in a refurbishing of intellectual debate. Finance Minister AMA Muhith has done the good thing of telling people that the only way of fighting the contents of a book is through writing another book and clarifying matters.

Muhith's words are a sign of wisdom which comes with age. It is wisdom which everyone - and that includes politicians too - must learn from.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Sector Commander Forum (SCF) stunned by the 'misleading' statements

On 6 September 2014, four days after the book was published, Sector Commanders Forum (SCF) released a statement expressing shock and rejecting some of the claims that A. K. Khandker made. They termed these unwarranted and unacceptable to all those who participated in the war.

In his book Deputy Chief of Staff in the war of liberation A. K. Khandaker has presented misleading statement of the historic independence speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered on 26 March 1971 long 43 years after Bangladesh's independence, which we think as utterly unfortunate and beyond objectivity. We believe that Bangabandhu's independence speech is an established historic truth, which is preserved round the world.

In the book, what the author has claimed about the historic March 7 speech of the Liberation War's living-sprit Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was beyond reality and such a misleading statement 43 years after independence has stunned us.

The war of liberation of Bangladesh was the culmination of long arduous political struggle of the nation and people's sacrifices against exploitation and atrocities of the Pakistani military dictators which was principally led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. But, in his book, A. K. Khandakar while passing remarks on the glorious events of the nation, unfortunately, raised questions on the competence and farsightedness of the successful leadership of the Liberation War, which has also made us speechless.

Observer Bangladesh

The statement included signatures of 21 SCF leaders including Major General K. M. Shafiullah, Major General C. R. Datta, Lt. Col. Abu Osman Chowdhury, Col. Shamsul Alam, M. Hamid, Major General Shahjahan, Major Ziauddin Ahmed, Md Nurul Alam and Anwarul Alam Shaheed.

SCF feared that the book could be used as a tool for local and foreign conspirators engaged in distorting the history of independence of Bangladesh. It was dangerous for people who have little knowledge of the history of Bangladesh. They requested A. K. Khandker to correct and rectify the information.

Book burning and human chains

On 7 September 2014, Slogan-71, a cultural organization at the University of Dhaka, burnt copy of the book published five days earlier. Members of the cultural organization formed a human chain at the altar of the anti-terrorist Raju sculpture in front of the Teachers- Students Centre (TSC) of the University in the afternoon. The speakers at the human chain termed the book 'untruthful presentation of Bangladesh's Liberation War history' and demanded an exemplary punishment to the writer of the book and urged the government to ban it immediately.

Few days after Slogan-71's protest, on 11 September 2014 Bangladesh Muktijuddha Sangsad, the organisation representing Bengali freedom fighters, formed a human chain in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka demanding the book be banned.

Sedition case

On 10 September 2014, eight days after the publication of the book, former freedom fighter M. A. Ishaq Bhuiyan, who was the chief of Mujib Bahini in the Brahmanbaria region and later joint secretary of the Bangladesh Government, filed a defamatory case against 84-year-old Air Vice Marshal Khandker with the Court of Senior Judicial Magistrate in Brahmanbaria for accusing the special force of looting post-war.

Referring to the publication of the book in instalments by Bangla daily Bangladesh Protidin, the complainant said the claim of looting by Mujib Bahini is defamatory towards the freedom fighters. Judicial Magistrate Sanjida Afrin took the case and fixed 15 September 2014 for hearing.

On 23 March 2015 the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate summoned Khandker to appear before the Brahmanbaria court on 25 June 2015 in connection with the case. But three days before the date, on 22 June 2015, the High Court granted a 6-week bail to Khandker in response to a bail petition submitted by him. Khandker and his lawyer Subrata Chowdhury were present at the courtroom to hear this verdict.

On 29 July 2015 a High Court bench of Justice Quamrul Islam Siddique and Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore dropped the petition from its hearing list as they 'felt embarrassed to hear a petition filed by former planning minister' after going through the case statements.

On 4 August 2015 another HC bench of Justice Md Nizamul Huq and Justice Khizir Ahmed Choudhury stayed the proceedings and also issued a rule asking the government to explain why the proceedings of the case should not be quashed. The HC passed the order on Subrata Chowdhury's arguments that there was no defamatory statement in that book, and the book also did not say anything about M. A. Ishaq Bhuiyan, who filed the case.

On the last paragraph of page 145, a sentence reads that 'after independence some of the members of Mujib force had conducted the majority of looting...' what's confusing is how could a statement that mention no names and talks about looting raids carried out by a fraction after the Liberation War, be misinterpreted by some as 'defamatory for freedom fighters'? The sentence itself clearly points at no one and is that of a non-specified accusation.

Some have suggested that many of personal suppositions are carefully crafted more as an attempt to create a dialogue between him and his reader as oppose to 'creating trouble and misunderstanding' as some critics have suggested.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

Resignation as Chairman of SCF

On 17 September 2014 Abdul Karim Khandker resigned from his role as as chairman of the Sector Commanders Forum, citing personal reasons. He also gave up his membership.

His resignation came in the wake of widespread criticism for his book and eleven days after the Forum publicly expressed their disappointment. Khandker sent a resignation letter to the acting SCF secretary general Haroon Habib where he mentioned he was unable to continue as chairman due to his old age and requested the SCF to appoint a physically sound person. Three days later, SCF appointed 80-year-old retired Major General K. M. Shafiullah, only four years younger than A. K. Khandker.

Despite calls from the forum leaders, Khandker did not feel the necessity to rectify the flaws in the information given in the book. He has already submitted his resignation letter where he did not mention anything about his book.

Sector Commander Forum criticises chairman A. K. Khandker's '1971: Bhitore Baire' book

Concluding thoughts

A number of readers may think it to be self-conflicting in nature but, as far the message goes: it's the writer's personal understanding of a speech that's tagged with opinions.

However, even on the second edition he clearly mentions (it comes with a correction note in the second edition) that Sheikh Mujib had uttered 'Joy Pakistan' after he had said 'Joy Bangla'. The understanding about the statement is clear, even though it's not unanimously confirmed if the leader had actually said it or not. In general, if he hadn't uttered 'Joy Pakistan' then the room for Yahiya was open to declare him as a secessionist. Officially and legally - the People's Republic of Bangladesh was very much East Pakistan on 7 March, 1971.So if Sheikh Mujib had said 'joy Pakistan' then it wasn't confusing and of course not a political faux pas. What's seemed baffling is what took 43 years for this 'joy Pakistan' to resurface and why has it turn to be the book's apple of discord. Similarly, if Mr.Khandker is wrong then it's up to his opponents and historians to prove by submitting substantive evidence. If they fail to do so then the writer is correct. And if we are unconvinced then we have failed to preserve the undistorted version of that revolutionary speech.

It's not surprising, that being an officer he could gauge the fait accompli of a military crackdown a lot earlier than many and it's perhaps this reason why he emphasised more on a military solution than a political one.

One should be free to comment on what a leader should or shouldn't have done. Given the conditions that the remark is not abusive, strongly justified and properly explained.

...It's also sad to see, the book being used as a political weapon and if the damaging trend continues, then I fear few would dare to pick the pen to write on history unbiased.

...The bottom-line is: it's a recommended read, if you desire to be let-known of the personal interpretation and experiences of A.K. Khandker's appraisal of Bangladesh's Liberation War.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)