Muhammad Abdur Rab, popularly known as M. A. Rab, was born to the parent of Muhammad Manwar Husain and Rashida Begum at the end of the First World War.
M. A. Rab passed his Matriculation examination from Habiganj Government High School in 1935 and Intermediate (IA) from M. C. College, Sylhet, in 1937. He graduated from the same college and, as was the norm for many students from affluent Indian Muslim families, he travelled to Aligarh in the state of Uttar Pradesh (in present-day India) to study for his Masters in the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. In 1942 M. A. Rab passed his Masters degree in Geography and then embarked in a military career.
M.A. Rab never married. He lived as a bachelor throughout his life and had no offspring who exist today.
Fight against Japanese for British Army in Burma and other places
Having completed his masters degree, Rab joined the British Indian Army and started his career as a commissioned officer in 1944. At that time the world was engrossed in the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Britain was tasked with stopping the advances of the Japanese Army. M. A. Rab fought against the Japanese in Burma front where a certain Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani (later the Supreme Commander of the muktijuddhas during 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War) was leading the sector as a Commander of the British Army. Later, M. A. Rab also fought gallantly in the frontiers of Malaya (covering present day Malaysia and Singapore), Sumatra and Java (in Indonesia), and Kashmir (in India).
Join Pakistan Army after 1947 Partition
In 1947, after the partition of British India into India and newly formed Pakistan, Rab chose to join the Pakistan Army and was appointed as Adjutant in Rawalpindi. He had a glittering career in which he was promoted to the post of Staff Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Quarter Master.
While working as an embarkation Commander in Chittagong Cantonment in 1970 M. A. Rab retired from the army.
First Chief of Army Staff (COAS) during 1971 Muktijuddho
During this period of internal conflict, whilst C. R. Dutta was residing in Habiganj he heard the thunderous speech of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman that he delivered in Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, on 7 March 1971 – "Ebarer sangram amader muktir sangram, ebarer sangram swadhinatar sangram".
That’s it. C. R. Dutta had made up his mind. He had mentally prepared himself for a possible war.
On 26 March 1971, after the Pakistan occupation army had launched their campaign of mass genocide starting with ‘Operation Searchlight’, Major Dutta received a meeting request from retired Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Abdur Rab and Manik Chowdhury. They sent few students to inform Major Dutta to attend a meeting at the house of Major-General M. A. Rab to outline their plan of action.
Having received the news, C. R. Dutta left instantly. When he reached General Rab’s house he saw that few student volunteers and members of Ansar Bahini were already there. Armed with little ammunition, they were ready to revolt against the (Pakistani) attack. General Rab gave Major Dutta the orders to conduct a war. He accepted it with a smile and was ready to do his duty.
By then the Mujibnagar Government was not formed. There was nobody or nothing to direct the Bengali people. Each of the muktijuddhas (freedom fighters) bravely fought against the enemy in small groups throughout the whole country. Once such brave group was being led by Major C. R. Dutta.
Habiganj had a rare combination of a lucky trio: MNA Malik Chowdhury, MNA Lieutenant Colonel Abdur Rab (retired) and Major C. R. Dutta. They raised a resistance force with 200 Ansars. They were armed with rifles and 6,000 rounds of 303 ammunition. Soon more EPR troops joined.
On 4 April 1971 Major Dutta was one of the 27 members at a key meeting of senior officers and Bengalis in his locality of Teliapara Tea Garden in Madhabpur upazila of Habiganj district. The historic meeting was led by ‘Papa Tiger’ himself, Colonel (later General) Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani and included Colonel M. A. Rab and Manik Chowdhury amongst the attendees. The defecting Bengali army officers pledged to liberate the country and chalked out strategies in the meeting.
Following the formation of the Mujibnagar Shorkar on 10 April 1971 and the appointment of Colonel Osmani as the Supreme Commander of the Bangladesh Liberation Forces two days later, Bangladesh was divided into 11 sectors geographically. A commander was assigned to direct the war in each of the sector. 44-year-old Major C. R. Dutta was appointed the Commander of Sector 4, which covered the whole of the present Sylhet Division and some of adjoining areas.
The sector comprised of the areas between Sylhet police station in the north and Kanaighat thana in the south. The border area extended 100 mile along the Indo-Bangladesh border from excluding Churaman Kati upto including Karimganj-Zakiganj. Initially, the Sector headquarters was at Karimganj, Sylhet (bordering India) but later it was shifted to Masimpur in Assam, India.
Sector 4 was further divided into six sub-sectors with its own commanding officer. These sub-sectors were Jalalpur (commanded by Masudur Rab Saidi), Barapunji (Captain A. Rab), Amlasid (Lieutenant Zahir), Kukital (Flight Lieutenant Kader, later replaced by Captain Shariful Haq), Kailas Shahar (Lieutenant Wakiuzzaman), and Kamalpur (commanded by Captain Enam). Captain A. Rab also replaced Major Chitta Ranjan Dutta as the Commander of Sector 4 later in the war.
Member of National Assembly (MNA) Dewan Farid Ghazi was appointed as Civil Affairs Adviser. He also held the same position for Sector 5 (Durgapur-Danki).
During the nine month Pakistani vicious campaign, approximately 9,000 muktijuddhas (mainly student volunteers) and 4,000 regular members of the Bangladesh armed forces (mainly East Pakistan Rifles troop) fought heroically in this sector.
In 1972 M. A. Rab was promoted to the post of Major General by the Government of Bangladesh. But he ended his military career once again. The 53-year-old left office on 7 April 1972 – exactly a year after holding the COAS role. Major General K. M. Shafiullah, a Sector Commander during the Liberation War, took over as the new COAS.
Return to politics
Just like the last time he retired, Major General Rab entered politics once again. In 1973 he was elected as lawmaker of the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly of Bangladesh) from Sylhet constituency comprising the Baniachang and Ajmiriganj thanas (subdistricts, also known as upazilas) in his local Habiganj District.
Bir Uttam award
On 16 December 1973 the Government of Bangladesh awarded M. A. Rab with honorary ‘Bir Uttam’ title, the country’s second highest award, at the inaugural ceremony. The title was conferred to all other leading officers – except General Osmani – who showed valour and achievement during the Liberation War.
Founder of 'Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust'
After retirement from the Bangladesh Army, Major General Rab formed the Muktijuddha Kalyan Trust to provide support to all the gallant freedom fighters and their families who sacrificed to free Bangladesh from Pakistani oppression. Major General Rab was selected as the first honorary Managing Director of the Trust and ran it successfully for many years.
This sincere and extraordinary man just after the country's independence gave a laudable service in organising the Muktijuddha Kalyan Trust and running it successfully for years. He ran the organisation successfully for years at the very beginning.
Passing & burial
On 14 November 1975, aged only 56, Major General Mohammad Abdur Rab passed away at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka. He had been suffering from different ailments, including anemia.
His dead body was taken back to his village in Habiganj and he was laid to rest at Umednagar on the banks of Khowai River.
Unfortunately, like many aspect of the Muktijuddho, the history and contribution of this brave son of the soil is being neglected and lost. Until today, very little has been done to record accurate and comprehensive biography of M. A. Rab and his great contribution to the history of Bangladesh. Sadly, he too is becoming another forgotten hero.
The name of this man, who served as the Chief of Staff in the war is fast erasing from the people's memory.
Looking at the very simple grave of General Abdur Rab, no one could guess that lying there was the first Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Army and the closest aide of General M. A. G. Osmani during the liberation war.
His younger brother Abdur Rahim said, no step had yet been taken for giving any allowance to any of his family member while no measure was also taken for keeping the memory of the great warrior to the new generation. The man's grave remains a simple one at the district headquarters of Habiganj. Other than some local freedom fighters, nobody even bothers to go visit the site, even on the national days.
Swadhinata Purushkar (2000)
In 2000, 25 years after his death, the Government of Bangladesh awarded M. A. Rab the prestigious Swadhinata Purushkar (Independence Day Award, also known as Swadhinata Padak), Bangladesh’s highest civilian award, in recognition of his gallant contribution.
"Bir Uttam M. A. Rab Sarak" in Dhaka
A road (known in Bangla as 'sarak' or 'sadak') in Dhaka city has been named after M. A. Rab. The "Bir Uttam M. A. Rab Sarak" is located in the Dhanmondi area of Dhaka.