Join Awami League and campaign for greater autonomy in East Pakistan
After his retirement, Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani entered politics of East Pakistan. On 7 July 1970 Osmani joined the Sheikh Mujib-led Awami League which was campaigning for greater autonomy of the eastern wing after decades of negligence by the West Pakistan-dominated government.
A legend among Bengali servicemen for his willingness to stand up against higher command for legitimate concerns, Osmani’s name carried honour and prestige. Naturally, he was welcomed into politics with open arm by Sheikh Mujib and the other members. His experience and military background was invaluable in providing an insight into the mind of the West Pakistani military junta who worked in conjunction with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to make sure the main power remained in the hands of the West Pakistani elite.
At the invitation of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Osmani formally joined Awami League on 7 July 1970. He had no ambition of becoming a politician, but after his experience during the course of his military service, and seeing the disparity, the discrimination, the treatment of Bengalis as second class citizens and the rule over East Pakistan like a client state - Osmani could not remain a silent spectator. The tiger roared. He roared before for Bengal regiment, once again he roared for the Bengalis.
- Sheikh Mujibur Rahman ()
- Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ()
Wins constituency and general election prior to Pakistan Army attack
As a candidate, Osmani contested the election from a big constituency formed by Biswanath, Balaganj, Golopganj and Fenchuganj thanas (areas) in Sylhet and was elected as a MNA (Member of the National Assembly) of the country after winning handsomely in the General Election held in December. However, Osmani was not destined to serve as MNA in the Pakistan assembly. Awami League's landslide victory was not enough for the West Pakistan elite to transfer the power to their East Pakistani brethren and in early March 1971 Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, who attended Command and Staff College in Quetta with General Osmani, was sent to take over as the Martial Law Administrator. But by now the civil administration in the then East Pakistan was completely paralysed and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the de facto ruler of the Bengali people.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani intelligence organisation deliberately spread rumours in the west wing that the Government of Awami League will shift the military headquarter to Dhaka if they were given power. And, they propagated, Colonel Osmani, the devoted Bengali officer, will become Defence Minister and as a result the monopoly power of Pakistani military establishment and political wing which had hitherto till now been dominated by West Pakistan will be undermined. Consequently massive airlift of additional military units continued and contingency battle plans were ordered into effect. On the night of 25 March 1971 Pakistan Army launched 'Operation Searchlight', a vicious attack on the Bengalis to suppress their legitimate demands. This gave birth to Bangladesh the very next day and the Muktijuddho (Bangladesh Liberation War) was launched.
The man remains larger than life, despite his slight appearance and a propensity to stay in the background. Having suffered through his years in the Pakistan army, a phase that saw him repeatedly being passed over for promotion, Osmani nevertheless did not yield. It was the spirit which mattered in him. It can fairly be suggested that there was much that was indomitable about him, that he was not willing to kowtow before men like Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan in order to come by promotions in the army. And having left the army through retirement, of course, Osmani simply made his way into politics at a time when Bengali nationalism first began to manifest itself in the mid 1960s.
His political instincts were sharp to the point of telling him that it was Bengali rights which needed to be addressed. There was, for him as there was for others like him, only one way in which those rights could be ensured. And that was through a restoration of democracy in Pakistan. He saw in the Six Point plan of the Awami League a surefire way that would guide all of Pakistan toward a democratic era.
Syed Badrul Ahsan, Journalist
Commander-in-Chief during 1971 Muktijuddho
On 25 March 1971, hours before the Pakistan Army onslaught, during a frantic meeting at Sheikh Mujib’s Dhanmondi residence, Osmani and others failed to convince Sheikh Mujib to escape the terrible plight that awaited him and to declare independence of Bangladesh through mass media and move to a secure location.
Shave off trademark moustache and makes tense escape from 'Operation Searchlight'
Having failed to convince Sheikh Mujib of escaping from Pakistani arrest - even murder - Osmani and others left him and went underground. Subsequently Sheikh Mujib was arrested and eventually taken to a jail in Pakistan. Meantime, as one of the most seniormost, patriotic and decorated Bengali officer, Osmani became the main target of the Pakistan Army. A commando company attacked the house of his brother located at Banani area of Dhaka and shot and bayoneted his two dogs but did not find him. They also searched for Osmani at his Dhanmondi residence. However, Colonel Osmani had hid himself in a vacant house at New Eskaton and remained there for the next four days. The Pakistan army searched that area but did not bother to enter the vacant house where Colonel Osmani was hiding. Finally, after days of agonising and panic-stricken waiting, on the night of 29 March 1971 Colonel Osmani had escaped from New Eskaton. He had famously shaved off his trademark moustache to avoid detection and blend into the crowd more easily whilst trying to reach the Indian border.
Osmani first went to Jinjira, then to Daudkandi in Comilla district via boat. He was detained by local people in Daudkandi, who were suspicious of him, before the brother of the local member of parliament helped him to get free. He then walked, took boat and crossed the Gomoti River with the help of another Bengali officer who was with Army Signal Corps to reach India by 2 April 1971.
Two days later he travelled to Telipara Tea Garden in Sylhet where at a gathering of the Bengali military officers and supporters they began to formulate the blueprint to free Bangladesh from Pakistani oppression. Few days later on 17 April 1971 with the formation of the Mujibnagar Shorkar (Mujibnagar Government) 52-year-old Colonel Osmani was appointed as Commander-in-Chief of the Bangladesh Armed Forces and the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Forces).
The devastating nine month war would ultimately change Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani from a military hero to a Bengali legend. The Bangabir (Brave Bengali).
The life of Osmani is an example to follow for those who want to work for the country selflessly.
Foreign Affairs Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury says General Osmani was an inseparable part of the War of Liberation and a true patriot
So long as the spirit of our liberation war remains vibrant, so long the history of our war for freedom is remembered, one name will always be an integral part of it: General Osmani.
Mujahedul Islam Selim, political leader