Freedom Fighters

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“You remember us for only two or three days in a year. Rest of our time is spent on this floor — in turmoil and illness.” – A war veteran of the war of independence of Bangladesh

Mukti Bahini or Liberation Army, also termed as the “Freedom Fighters” was a guerrilla force which fought against the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh War of Independence in 1971.

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The earliest move towards forming the liberation army came from the reading of declaration of independence by major ziaur rahman of East Bengal Regiment on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He had defected after the 25th March crackdown of Pakistani Army on Bangladeshi Forces. In the declaration made from Kalurghat Betar Kendra (Chittagong) on 27 March 1971, Zia assumed the title of “provisional commander in chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army”.

Headed by Colonel Muhammad Ataul Gani Osmani, a retired Pakistani Army officer, this band was raised as Mujib’s action arm and security force before assuming the character of a conventional guerrilla force. After the declaration of independence, the Pakistani military sought to quell them, but increasing numbers of Bengali soldiers defected to the underground “Bangladesh army”. These Bengali units slowly merged into the Mukti Bahini and bolstered their weaponry.

On April 12, 1971 Colonel (later General) M A G Osmani assumed the command of armed forces at Teliapara (Sylhet) headquarters. Osmani was made the commander-in-chief of Bangladesh Armed Forces on April 17, 1971. Serious initiative for organising the Bangladesh liberation army was taken between 11-17 July. In a meeting of the sector commanders in Kolkata, four important resolutions were taken in consideration of strategic aspects of the war, existing problems and future course of resistance.

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Other than the organizations of Mukti Bahini who were generally trained and armed by the Indian Army, there were independent guerrilla groups led by individual leaders, either nationalists or leftists who were successfully controlling some areas.

Regular and irregular forces: The regular forces consisted of the three forces: Z-Force under the command of Major Ziaur Rahman, K-Force under Khaled Mosharraf and S-Force under KM Shafiullah. Most of the soldiers came from East Pakistan Rifles and East Bengal Regiment. Those members of the EPR, Police and Army who could not be accommodated in these battalions were divided into units and sub-units to fight in different sectors. The irregular forces were those who were trained for guerrilla warfare. In addition, there were also some independent forces that fought in various regions of Bangladesh and liberated many areas. These included mujib bahini, Kaderia Bahini, Afsar Battalion and Hemayet Bahini.

Bangladesh Navy: Bangladesh Navy was constituted in August 1971. Initially, there were two ships and 45 navy personnel. These ships carried out many successful raids on the Pakistani fleet. But both of these ships were mistakenly hit and destroyed by the Indian fighter planes on 10 December 1971, when they were about to launch a major attack on Mongla seaport.

Bangladesh Air Force: It started functioning on 28 September at Dimapur in Nagaland, under the command of Air Commodore AK Khondakar. Initially, it comprised of 17 officers, 50 technicians, 2 planes and 1 helicopter. The Air Force carried out more than twelve sorties against Pakistani targets and were quite successful during the initial stages of the Indian attack in early December.

Mukti Bahini in the final phase: The liberation forces started carrying out massive raids into enemy fronts from October 1971. After the signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty in August 1971, India began to demonstrate more interest in the Bangladesh war. And finally, India entered the war on 3 December 1971. In fact, the Indian soldiers were already participating in the war in different guises since November when the freedom fighters had launched the Belonia battle.

Statistics of the Freedom Fighters:

The total number of Freedom Fighters during Bangladesh War of Liberation was not recorded anywhere.

Maj. Gen. K.M. Shafiullah, the commander of Sector-3 and later commander of S-Force during the War of Liberation, and later the first Chief of Army Staff of Bangladesh Army gives as estimate in his book “Bangladesh in Liberation War” as follows:

Sector-1 5,000
Sector-2 20,000
Sector-3 15,000
Sector-4 5,000
Sector-5 5,000
Sector-6 5,000
Sector-7 5,000
Sector-8 9,000
Sector-9 4,000
Sector-11 7,000

Total 80,000

The above is the number of Freedom Fighters under of the Bangladesh government in exile. The estimate for other smaller forces are as follows:

Mujib Bahini 10,000
Kader Bahini 5,000
Hemeyet Bahini 1,500
Others 10,000
Sub-total 25,500

Grand Total:105,000

The East Pakistan Army, East Pakistan Rifles and Police joined the war for freedom:

  • The East Bengal Regiment of Pakistan Army (click for details)
  • “The Pakistani government committed a blunder which made the defection 100 percent. Otherwise, it might have been a fraction, like some people defecting at one time and others later at different stages. But Pakistan government asked Bangalees in the army, the EPR and the police, I mean military and paramilitary, to surrender saying they have been disbanded. A trained person with arms does not surrender to anybody on a radio announcement; it never happened in history. A detailed preparation was necessary to make it successful, which they did not have. They just made a radio announcement that all Bangladeshis have been disbanded and they should surrender their arms. So, those in the army and the EPR had to defect, and that is why the army defection and the EPI defection was 100 percent.

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    If the Pakistan government had not done this announcement, maybe five percent would have defected at first, then 20, 30 or 50 percent would have defected. The rest 50 percent would have continued in their jobs. There would have been a question of doubt as to how many would take part in the Liberation War and how many would remain with Pakistan Army.” – Condemned Bangabandhu killer Khandaker Abdur Rashid

    Sectors of the War of Liberation

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    In the War of Liberation in 1971 the whole geographical area of the then East Pakistan was strategically divided into eleven sectors with a sector commander for each of them. For better efficiency in military operations each of the sectors were divided into a number of sub-sectors under a commander.

  • List of Sectors and Sub-sectors
  • History of the Sector Commanders
  • Bangladesh Boy Scout Association volunteered to carry the mail from the Bangladesh Mukti Fouz (Liberation Army) field post offices.

    Image courtesy: Scouts on Stamps society international

    Profiles of Freedom Fighters:

    Major General Khaled Mosharraf (1938-1975)

    Khaled Mosharraf was put in charge of the Fourth Bengal Regiment in Comilla cantonment on 24 March 1971. He organised and consolidated his army in Brahmanbaria and joined the War of Liberation on 27 March.

    After successfully resisting the Pakistan army till mid-April he retreated in the face of repeated air attacks of the enemy forces, and took position with his army in the kingdom of Tripura at the end of April. He was appointed sector commander of Sector 2 by the mujibnagar government. Mosharraf was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the War of Liberation. In an encounter with the enemy he was wounded by a bullet shot on his head (23 October), and recovered after a long treatment in the Lukhnow military hospital.

    Colonel Abu Taher (1938-1976)

    As a military officer he was participating in the Senior Tactical Course at Quetta Staff College in 1970, and left the college in protest against genocide in Bangladesh by Pakistan army from 25 March 1971. In July 1971, he along with Major muhammad abul manzoor, Major Ziauddin, and Captain Patwary crossed the border from Abotabad, and joined the War of Liberation. He was appointed the sector commander of Sector 11 comprising Mymensingh and part of Rangpur districts. He was seriously wounded on 14 November 1971 while launching an attack on enemy camp at Kamalpur, known as the gateway to Dhaka. His left leg was blown off from above the knee.

    Website of Colonel Taher (in Bangla)

    W.A.S. Ouderland, Bir Pratik

    Mr W A S Ouderland was born in December 1917 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

    He was posted as the CEO of Bata operation in the then East Pakistan on the eve of our War of Liberation. Brutal repression and occupation of unarmed Bangladeshis by the Pakistani occupation army reminded him of the similar brutalities perpetrated by the Nazis in occupied Europe. He fully appreciated the legitimacy of Bangladeshi resistance against the brute forces of occupation.

    He felt the acute need to make the world aware of the extent of genocide. As he was able to move freely as a foreigner, he took photographs of the atrocities committed by Pakistanis and their agents. He then passed these photographs to the world press.

    As the War progressed, he secretly began to train and assist local youths around the Tongi area in the art of guerilla resistance. He sent his family away from occupied Bangladesh so that he could turn his residence into a safe haven for our freedom fighters and their weapons.

    Full profile and pictures

    Martyrs with little recognition

    There are a lot of freedom fighters who got little recognition. We will try to highlight them here.

    Here is a report from January 15, 1972 published in Dainik Bangla.

    * Mahbub Ali Sachchu from Narayanganj.

    Articles:

    * The Debt we forgot to pay – Anika Tabassum

    * The great escape: Major Dalim, Lt. Moti , 2 Lt. Nur were the first three officers’ to escape from west Pakistan and joined the Liberation war

    Images:

    * From children to farmers all were freedom fighters

    * Freedom fighters in action

    Resources

    * Bangladesh Navy in Liberation war

    Credit: Wikipedia, BanglaPedia, bd71.com, Shahzaman Mazumder Bir Protik