Independence Day 2020
Independence : Role of Bengali Defence personnel
Mohammad Ali Miah :
With the very emergence of Pakistan in 1947, the sole and foremost expectations of the Bengalis were to preserve their cultural heritage.
But Pakistan's Founding leader's dominant policy resulted in strong Bengali Language Movement of 1952 that consequently led to the demand of Freedom in all the spheres of the state and national life of the people of East Pakistan. Relevantly, though language English was mandatory for all the activities of PAF, they were characteristically in the habit of speaking in their native language ignoring the PAF standing rules. But that seriously mattered in our case. So this clearly pointed to their language dominance over us.
Defence being the top priority sector of the country, Bengali Defence personnel were essentially concerned in this context.
As I joined the Pakistan Air Force on 9th October, 1967 I practically experienced how awfully they created differences in dealing with us, surprisingly also in Defence. In my batch we were only 15 as against 70 Pakistani trainees. Bengali's representation in Defence Forces was very poor and frustrating. They (West Pakistanis) apparently supposed that Bengalis were not a warrior nation and on this excuse they treated us differently.
Then comes the inequality in setting up strategically important Military Establishments. Most modern PAF training center was situated in PAF Base Korangi Creek in Karachi where foreign elite forces were also trained. Besides fully equipped sophisticated operational PAF Bases were located in West Pakistan only.
On the contrary, they kept some old US Air Force aircrafts type F-86 Series in Eastern region, which were abandoned long ago. As a result, during 17 days lndo-Pak war in 1965, Air Defence system of East Pakistan remained fragile and Militarily unprotected. At that time India could attack and comfortably take over East Pakistan. No Military power in the province could avert that attack. The war taught the people of East Pakistan a useful lesson. They realized how weak the overall Defence System of the country was and in what a vulnerable position the country was in the wake of an outside aggression. We were just left on the mercy of others. After the war, China supplied Pakistan with most sophisticated war planes which were supposed to be, as per treaty, deployed in East Pakistan for strategic importance. But Pakistani authority discriminately based them in their part West Pakistan. Instead they deployed some USAF-abandoned old model F-86 series Sabre Jets in East Pakistan utterly neglecting our strategic interests. Such deceitful act of Pakistani rulers resented violently the Bengali Air Force Personnel. During training I sat for a competitive test for a branch change over. There was a question to write briefly about Military President Ayub Khan's so-called Decade of Reforms (1958-1968). I answered that no virtual reforms were found anywhere in East Pakistan. So I was sorry to write anything which was inaccurate. I sensed that such an un awaited answer disappointed the exam Board. As a result, I was dropped. That was how awfully we were treated by Pakistan authority.
Ayub Khan's biographic book titled 'Friend not Master' did not reflect in its true sense the political and national views of the charismatic Bengali leaders of the country. It was widely contradictory and farcical in this context, nothing but a bid to woo the public.
Bangabandhu's co-fighter valiant martyr Sgt. Zahurul Haque possessed exceptional patriotic and revolutionary spirit among the Bengalis personnel in Pakistan Air Force. He was the strictest instructor in the Air Base and used to conduct our General Service Training. It was difficult for us to understand his patriotism from outside. But his comments helped us consequently to hold him as a true lover of Bengali nation that coincided with the noble deeds of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. So-called 'Agartala Conspiracy Case' allegedly involved both of them, reflects their identical views undoubtedly. His Martyrdom vigorously incited the ongoing mass upsurge in 1969 where ex-service personnel directly joined the movement and we, the Bengali Air Force personnel were highly inspired to be actively engaged for a struggle for our Freedom, for a struggle for our Independence.
In service life, we were confronted with multidimensional discriminatory policy adopted by Pakistani ruling class. In respect of inter bases postings, job distribution, promotions, wage differences, holding of key posts were the areas where broad hidden irregularities by the Pakistanis were detected.
It needs to be mentioned that Bangabandhu's trusted comrade, great journalist Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia shared views and ideas with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in all respect. He was vocal for the rights of the Bengali nation and thus contributed greatly towards our Freedom with his popular Daily 'Ittefaq'. Our nation owes much to him.
General Election in 1970 under Legal Framework Order (LFO) of General Yahya Khan was an important factor. 'Landslide Victory' for Awami League was the Headings of all the Pakistani Dailies like The Dawn, The Morning News etc. The great news overjoyed us immensely thinking that finally Bengali leadership was going to rule Pakistan. The vibrant message was purely indigestible for the Pakistan ruling class and their vested interests. The power greedy military rulers, in the name of political dialogue with the victorious party Awami League, was conspiring mischievously behind the screen to materialize their evil-designs. Nothing came out of this farcical dialogue. People of Bangladesh realized well that Pakistani rulers were in no case in intention to hand over power to the Bengali leadership. They continued their movement more intensively and decisively under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Finding no other way General Yahya Khan opted for military solution ignoring the people's verdict.
On successful completion of the 3 years and 3 months long course, I was awarded the "Best-All-Round" trophy by Pakistan Air Force that was widely covered by the Pakistan national media. My brilliant result irritated my jealous Pakistani fellows very much and caused them heart-burning as it was a big slap on their face from a Bengali. I was highly motivated as the event was a step forward for a foreseeable struggle.
I was posted to PAF Base Dirgh Road, Karachi. On 25th March, 1971 in the evening I was watching Tv as President Yahya Khan addressing to the nation, egoistic and revengeful unilaterally held Bangabandu responsible for the existing volatile situation in Pakistan. He uttered arrogantly "This crime cannot go unpunished'. We understood what we had to understand. In the same 'Black Night' he let his Army loose to brutally slaughter the innocent unarmed Bengalis in East Pakistan in the name of 'Operation Search Light' which meant virtually 'Bengali Ethnic Cleansing Operation' for us.
We witnessed the PAF cargo plane C-130 being loaded with Pak Army and arms ammunitions for flying to East Pakistan. Next morning we were disarmed and separated from Pakistani service personnel. Since then we were confined in the Air Base, our movement strictly restricted and watched by Defence Forces Intelligence (DFI). Subsequent "Declaration of Independence" by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman cheered us profoundly as well as signaled us for greater sacrifices at this crucial juncture of our motherland.
I thought over various plans to desert Pakistan Air Force at the earliest possible chance. To escape from a strictly restricted Pak Military area was highly risky. PAF Set up a "Screening board" to scrutinize the Bangali Air Force personnel. I passed through and had no objection. By this time some airmen went on leave but did not return and some other Pakistani minded Razakar type airmen returned to the Air Base. At this crucial juncture I tackled all the upcoming obstacles with strong will power and utmost courage and finally managed to reach East Pakistan. I took stock of the situation. I got a guide from my village and without delay started for neighboring friendly India to be actively engaged with the Liberation Forces. On the way some students, non-students young men joined me. On our journey, Freedom loving people entertained us warmly. While crossing the border Pakistani occupation Army on patrol duty sensed our movement and started firing recklessly. I consoled the civilian young men and crawled a distance. It was rainy season, so we took a shallow country boat and finally crossed the border to reach Agartala in Tripura state of India via Madhabpur.
'Joy Bangla Bhaban' was the reception center of the would-be Freedom Fighters. There we met DUCSU V.P ASM Abdur Rab. He directed me to the Military Holding Camp in Surjamani Nagar near Agartala where only Military Personnel were accommodated. There I met some more Air Force Personnel whom I knew from before.
Initially we had no professional equipments. But we were trained to fight with Land Force. So, with the expertise acquired from Pakistan Air Force I joined in land battle. Time to time I used to train the civilian new comers. Together with the newly trained Freedom Fighters we carried out several operations. Initially war was going on scattered way but non-stop. We adopted traditional 'Hit and Run' tactics of Guerilla Warfare against the Pakistani enemy position. First I fought in Sector No. 2 under Sector Commander Major Khaled Musharrof, coverage area part of Comilla and Dhaka City and later in Sector No. 3 under Sector Commander Major K.M. Shafiullah, coverage area part of Comilla district.
Since then war continued in organized way. In most operations we had minimum causalities except one where we lost our young brave Freedom Fighter Bakul from my neighboring village Rupshi. I was personally deeply shocked at my neighbour's tragic death. By this time Friendly Forces and Freedom Fighters launched and combined our attacks against the enemy forces in all the 11 Sectors of the war zone. Intensive and decisive war was going on in full swing in all the fronts.
From September, 1971 our PAF trained Pilots with 4 old repaired Fighter planes started Air Attacks on enemy installations successfully from India's Dimapur Air Base. In addition most sophisticated Fighter jets Mig-19 of Allied Force launched intensive air attacks on enemy positions. The war was obviously taking a new turn. Regularly some new areas were being freed by the Liberation Forces.
Parallel to that we targeted some Pakistani collaborators like Rezakars, Al-Badars inside Bangladesh. We hardly spent any bullet to punish them. Local people used their own methods to smash them. Because of rainy season Liberation Forces were in advantageous position since the Pakistani soldiers did not know how to swim. In most of the cases we drowned them.
It needs to be mentioned that our Bengali cultural groups through their patriotic programme inspired the Freedom Fighters greatly. Prominent and talented journalist, litterateur, oratory artist brave Freedom Fighter M.R. Akhter Mukul through his most popular and unforgettable 'Charam Patra' (Ultimate Letter), programme from 'Shwadhin Bangla Betar' (Independent Bengal Radio) so highly inspired the guerillas in battle field that we with renewed energy and enthusiasm counter attacked the enemy forces again and again, so that we used to forget our so much war sufferings.
Besides, psychological warfare played a vital role in our Freedom Struggle. Highly intellectual personalities functioned effectively upholding the strong motivation of the Freedom Fighters, public opinion and above all drawing world attention as well. Simultaneously vigorous diplomatic efforts were being mobilized by war time 'Mujib Nagar Government' under the Awami League leadership to face the political front of the war.
Except our main friend India, Soviet Union was the single super power who came forward in our hour of need and extended extensive military and financial assistance for our Great Liberation War. Apart from that Soviet Union guarded International Conspiracy against our Freedom Struggle. Our Liberation Struggle gained ground and momentum. On this Great Day of 26 March, we remember and highly recognize with heart-felt gratitude the great contribution of our tested friends in need.
In December, 1971 at the last phase of the War, the three pronged attack with superior and sophisticated weapons by the mighty Allied Forces drove the enemies into corner. Their departing bell started ringing. To them remained no other option except to concede their imminent defeat. Anticipating troubles, the enemy forces were busy making preparations beforehand to retreat.
On 16th of December, 1971 around 4 pm we along with Major KM Shafiullah and Colonel PC Showhany of Allied Army advanced towards Dhaka City over the Shitalakkha and Dhaka-Demra Road. Freedom Fighters had scattered street clash with the retreating Pakistani Army as they forced the soldiers to say 'Joy Bangla'. Our 'Victory March' to Suhrawardy Udyan was time to time hampered by the over joyous Freedom Fighters and newly liberated people. We however, managed to reach the 'Surrender Venue' like a Victorious Army amid unprecedented enthusiasm of the masses. Plainly decorated 'Surrender Venue' was ready for 'Surrender Ceremony'.
Lt. General Jagjit Singh Arora, on behalf of the Joint Command of the Allied and Liberation Forces and General A.A.K Niazi of Pakistan Army signed the 'Surrender Document' amid pin-drop silence. General Niazi's eyes were tearful and hand trembled while signing the Document. With that General Niazi along with his so-called powerful 94 thousand soldiers including para-militia surrendered unconditionally and disgracefully bowing their heads to the plain but undaunted Freedom Fighters and were driven out of the sacred soil of Independent Bangladesh forever. I was proud to be present on this historic occasion as a Bangladesh Air Force Freedom Fighter.
Immediately after Victory I went back to my Air Force life. We got Liberation War promotion in Bangladesh Air Force. On Bangabandhu's home coming day on 10 January 1972 we BAF contingent were on security duty in the old Dhaka Airport. As the British Royal Air Force plane 'Comet', decorated with British and Bangladesh Flags carrying the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman smoothly touched down the ground, we cordoned off the Aircraft. It was a rare moment as Bangabandhu stepped in the free soil of his beloved Bangladesh. However on the clarion call of Bangabandhu we laid down our arms. On his first visit to our BAF Base we received him warmly presenting Guard of Honor. He went round the war ravaged installation and asked us to be professionally skilled to build strong Air Force for sovereign Bangladesh.
Bangabandhu's assassination along with almost his entire family was an irreparable loss for the nation in general and a major direct blow for the Freedom Fighters in particular. After the world's most heinous, brutal and hateful killing of the Supreme Commander of the Freedom Fighters, bitter hatred for the evil-doers compelled me to leave the country for a long time. I resented to accept the Freedom Fighter Certificate in protest. I travelled through Germany, Norway, Greece and experienced how highly the world people including some statesmen esteemed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Great Leader of Bangladesh. When the Freedom Fighters' friendly Government headed by Bangabandhu's daughter PM Sheikh Hasina has been running the country, I returned here.
Bangabandhu gave us cherished Freedom. We are now in the struggle of cherished economic Freedom and emancipation of the people. As Freedom Fighter, we are determined to uphold the ideology of the Great Architect of Independence, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On this Great Independence Day we remember with heart-felt gratitude those Frecom Fighters who laid down their lives for our motherland. Independence has been achieved through bloodshed of millions.
Bangabandhu declared 'Independence' on this Great Day; we solemnly declare to safeguard it.
(The writer is Ex-Corporal, Bangladesh Air Force and Freedom Fighter.)