Londoni

Mujib Bahini (aka Bangladesh Liberation Force)

Colonel Osmani allegedly gives written consent for student leaders to recruit fighters

Many young able-bodied men were required to fight the mighty Pakistan Army and its supporters. The Bengali youth leaders informed the Mujibnagar Shorkar that they could recruit such men from inside Bangladesh and the youth camps. This proposal was approved on 18 April 1971 and the Mujibnagar Shorkar entrusted this task to four youth leaders including Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni (Sheikh Mujib’s baghna, or nephew from sister’s side) and Tofael Ahmed. Since nobody within the cabinet or outside had any reservations about this decision, Commander-in-Chief Colonel Osmani is alleged to have given his written consent by issuing a letter to Tofael Ahmed giving him full authority to recruit.

I first heard about the Mujib Bahini probably in June from one of Colonel Osmani’s many visitors that a special unit called the C-in-C’s special force was to be formed. When I raised this matter with Colonel Osmani, he didn’t answer directly but I gathered from his comments that such a force would indeed be established, with his approval.

Wing Commander and Deputy Commander-in-Chief A. A. Khandaker

Student leaders take a delegation to meet Indira Gandhi and request formation of separate force

Student leaders Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni, Sirajul Alam Khan, Abdur Razzak, and Tofael Ahmed – later the four founding leaders of Mujib Bahini - were very vocal in their displeasure of appointing Tajuddin Ahmad as Prime Minister. They were ‘tacitly’ supported by section of the central leadership and many elected members. Other young leaders who criticised the ‘hurried decision’ was A. S. M. Rab, Shahjahan Siraj, Nur-e-Alam Siddiqui and Abdul Quddus Makhan, men who had led the early March student campaign.

They were openly criticizing Tajuddin as a power hungry usurper. They virtually refused to accept his leadership and were organizing against him. They were given support by the prominent leaders such as Abdur Rab Serniabat, Sheikh Abdul Aziz, Mansur Ali, Nazrul Islam among others.

Major Dalim, freedom fighter and one of the rebel officers who killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975

  • Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni (1939 - 1975) Bangladeshi politician. Nephew of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and one of the founder of Mujib Bahini.
  • Tofael Ahmed (Born 1943) Member of the Jatiyo Sangshad (Parliament of Bangladesh). Political secretary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (1970). Served as Minister of Industries of Sheikh Hasina's cabinet (1996 - 2001). Famously gave Sheikh Mujib the honorary title of 'Bangabandhu' (Friend of Bengal). Born in Bhola, Barisal division.
  • Abdur Razzak (1942 - 2011) Bangladeshi politician and member of the Awami League Advisory Council. Minister for Water Resources of Bangladesh (1996 - 2001). Passed Higher School Certificate examination from Dhaka College (1960), B.A. (Honors, 1964) M.A. (Postgraduate) in Political Science from University of Dhaka. Later he passed LLB and enrolled as a lawyer in 1973. Secretary of Fazlul Haq Hall Students Union, Dhaka University (1963). Secretary of BAKSAL (1975). Born in village of South Damudya under Damudya Upazila of Shariatpur District, Dhaka Division. Died from kidney and liver damage in 23 December 2011 in London

The main reason for the animosity against Tajuddin Ahmad is the perceived loss of power. The Bangladesh government had established its own military command structure which controlled the reorganisation of the regular army units and the recruitment and training of freedom fighters for guerrilla operations inside Bangladesh. The military reported to the Prime Minister-cum-Minister of Defence Tajuddin Ahmed who was responsible to the cabinet. Tajuddin Ahmad was also in charge of Information, Broadcasting and Communications. In the absence of Sheikh Mujib, the student leaders and their backers felt that Tajuddin Ahmad would exert his power and this was unacceptable to them.

If Mujib was there, than these leaders could easily maintain their sway the flow of events. But after Tajuddin had became the Prime Minister he was trying to curb their influence. He refused to be a pawn in their hands and refused to give them a freehand to do things, as they liked. It was alleged that he was also undermining their contribution. He is virtually ignoring these leaders in running the provisional government. He was simply audacious that is what those leaders thought. If he was in power then their comfort, privilege and power would wither away very soon. He was also not giving due importance to Sheikh Mujib’s relations and close associates. Betraying them tantamounts to betraying Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He has to be reduced to size. These leaders in connivance with the others started a power struggle.

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The younger lots within Awami League did not like Tajuddin.

General Arora is alleged to have remarked

In a bid to maintain their status quo, it is alleged that Sheikh Moni and Sirajul Alam Khan led a delegation of youths and students – including Sheikh Mujib’s eldest son Sheikh Kamal - and travelled to Delhi to meet Indira Gandhi. They told her that they were 'the most trusted lieutenants of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman' and had suspected Tajuddin Ahmad of having 'a hand' in getting Sheikh Mujib arrested. Sheikh Mujib was apparently aware of this conspiracy and had advised them to seek Indian government's help and 'continue the struggle up to the end to fulfill his dream'.

Since Sheikh Mujib himself did not support the ‘over ambitious’ Tajuddin Ahmad, it was a mistake, they argued, to make Tajuddin as Prime Minister since ‘his loyalty was doubtful and he had no required support’. In their eyes, Tajuddin Ahmad had no right to be prime minister.

To strengthen their claims, the students and delegation handed over a letter written by Sheikh Mujib’s brother-in-law Abdur Rab Serniabat addressed to Indira Gandhi. They also produced Sheikh Kamal to add legitimacy to their allegations. They warned Indira Gandhi that if Tajuddin Ahmad continues as Prime Minister then India’s interest would also be ‘hampered’ since he’d be following ‘his own agenda and not implementing Sheikh Mujib’s or anyone else’s programme’. They urged Indira Gandhi to help them organise and train the Mujib loyalists under their supervision and joint leadership.

With this in mind the Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF) – more popularly known as Mujib Bahini – was formed with Indian assistance, much to the displeasure of Tajuddin Ahmad and Colonel Osmani.

They further said that only by raising such a force long term goals of Bangladesh and friendly country India could be ensured now and in post independent Bangladesh. Otherwise they cautioned that Awami League government will fall pray in the hands of anti-Indian forces in future. Mrs. Indira Gandhi noted their submission with concern and great interest. Considering long-term benefits the decision was taken to form Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF), later termed Mujib Bahini under the Indian blueprint. It was a classical manifestation of ‘divide and rule’ policy at the same time an attempt to create a second front for the future. This is how BLF or Mujib Bahini was formed.

We informed all these to Colonel Osmani and he in turn passed on to the Prime Minister Mr. Tajuddin in confidence. Later, Mr. Tajuddin raised this issue with the Indian authorities in Delhi with a note of resentment but people like Mr. Haksar, D.P. Dhar, Mr. Rama Nath Rao of RAW and General Uban Singh easily side tracked the issue and remained silent and unconcerned to Mr. Tajuddin’s grievance. Mr. Tajuddin returned from Delhi disappointed and unsuccessful. Colonel Osmani told us later that Mr. Tajuddin failed to change the Indian decision completely. They just gave a deaf hearing to his protest. However, at later stage Mr. Tajuddin and Colonel Osmani tried their utmost to bring this Special Bahini under the control of Mujibnagar government but failed to succeed. Finally both Colonel Osmani and Mr. Tajuddin had to concede to the Indian design.

Major Dalim

Formation

Around June-July 1971 the 'Bangladesh Liberation Force' (BLF), more popularly known as 'Mujib Bahini' (Mujib's Army) due to its die-hard loyalty to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was created. It was formed by student leaders Sheikh Fazlul Haq Moni, Tofael Ahmed, Abdur Razzak and Sirajul Alam Khan (who founded the Nucleus) and organised in India with the active assistance of Brigadier (later Major General) S. S. Uban of the Indian army, an expert on guerrilla warfare and a Military Cross holder and a legendary figure in the British India Army.

He [General Uban] was in charge of recruiting and training a special Mukti Bahini group known as the Mujib Bahini. The Mujib Bahini was an ideological force created to uphold the ideals of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

My visit with General Uban was a simply courtesy call. The members of the Mujib Bahini were trained at a camp far from Tura. I met General Uban near their camp. He was particularly interested in gauging the sincerity and loyalty of the Tangail Mukti Bahini to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

He also wanted to know how many freedom fighters in our group were from leftist political parties.

Nuran Nabi, freedom fighter with Kaderia Bahini

Major General Uban had previously raised a commando force called “Special Frontier Force” (SFF) from Tibetan rebels fleeing south-western Tibet to conduct guerrilla warfare in occupied Tibet following the Sino-Indian War of 1962. It is alleged that the US spy agency CIA funded, equipped and trained the SFF.

A large contingent of US instructors provided direct training to the Tibetans at a special camp constructed by the CIA at Chakrata near Dehradun, where the Mujib Bahini was also trained. The CIA provided the SFF (Special Frontier Force) with modern weapons that even the Indian Army did not possess, and which later was seen in the hands of the Mujib Bahini. An aviation unit serving the SFF was probably based near Agra. We also received intermittent news that the Mujib Bahini leaders were transported to different places in chartered SFF aircraft.

On the other hand, an Indian army officer told me half in jest that the SFF was not able to create any disturbance in Tibet in any place at any time! Be that as it may, we heard that the Mujib Bahini was the second special force raised by Major General Uban. We wondered what he would be able to achieve with his second baby.

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  • Surjit Singh (SS) Uban ()

A 19-member central command was formed and Sheikh Moni acted as Commander-in-Chief of the Mujib Bahini. Bangladesh was geographically divided into four regions and each of the founding members were put in charge of a region.

Table : Central command of Mujib Bahini (aka Bangladesh Liberation Force or BLF)
Central Commander Region Headquarter (Indian state) Second-in-Command
Sheikh MoniEastern Region (encompassing Sylhet, Chittagong and Comilla districts)Agartala (Tripura)Initially Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury (Sheikh Moni's elder cousin) and later by Professor Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury
Abdur RazzakWestern Region (greater Mymensingh and Sirajganj)Dalu (Meghalaya)
Sirajul Alam KhanNorthern Region ()Balurghat (West Bengal)
Tofael AhmedSouthern Region (Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna, Barisal, Patuakhali, Pabna and Faridpur)Kolkata (West Bengal)

Source: Various

The first copy of Bangladesh was printed from Sona Mura. While I moved to Agartala, I found all other members connected with the paper also moved there. Besides editing the paper, I was asked by Moni Bhai to assist his second-in-command in Mujib Bahini. The second-in-command in the Eastern Front Mujib Bahini was Ilias Ahmed Chowdhury. All of us addressed him as Dada Bhai because he was a senior cousin to all including Sheikh Moni. Thus I got entangled with Mujib Bahini and was very happy. I turned down a proposal of Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury the regional administrator to go for teaching in Punjab University and continued with Mujib Bahini till the last day of the liberation war with a short break to go for training in Dehradun.

Professor Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury, former treasurer of Mujib Bahini and later Vice-Chancellor of World University of Bangladesh

Why student leaders were so influential and powerful

Mujib Bahini was established without Mujibnagar Shorkar's concurrence or permission. It was created as an independent organisation operating outside the Bangladesh chain of command. However, none of the senior leaders – including Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam or Colonel Osmani – dare criticise them publicly since its four founding leaders were very influential amongst the young Awami League cadres and were known to be close to, and enjoyed the confidence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Most of the MNAs and MPAs elected in the 1970 general elections were new Awami Leaguers who had the money to contest the elections. But they were also not person who would join the Liberation War. They had joined the AL to become MNAs and MPAs, not with any other motive. That they would have to wage war for independence did not figure in their calculations. Supporting the Six Points was as far as they were prepared to go.

When it became clear in March that the Pakistani junta was gearing up for a military response, then these vacillating MNAs and MPAs became fretful, not knowing what to do. Thus, in order to maintain party unity and discipline, the old student leaders came to the forefront and assumed a prominent role. After the military crackdown of 25 March 1971, a large number of the MNAs and MPAs did not cross the border or join the liberation war, but remained underground in East Pakistan. With the announcement of a general amnesty in September, some of them surrendered to the Pakistani authorities while the remainder continued to hide.

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Mukti Bahini vs Mujib Bahini

There was an inherent class distinction between the ordinary freedom fighters of the Mukti Bahini and those of the Mujib Bahini. Most, if not all, Mujib Bahini recruits came from middle-class families but not from poor, farming or working class backgrounds. In contrast, nearly 70% of the other muktijuddhas came from different classes, with a high proportion from peasant households.

Some point to this differential pattern of recruitment as further evidence that the Mujib Bahini was primarily created to prevent the leftists from taking over the Liberation War.

I spoke to quite a number of Mujib Bahini cadres and found them to be educated, well-behaved and coming from good families. I had no knowledge nor was I informed of the areas from which the Mujib Bahini recruited its youths. Although I was the Director-General of the Youth Camps, even then I was told nothing nor was I associated with the recruitment process. The potential recruits were identified even before the youths were registered in the youth reception centres. The MNAs and MPAs visited and often stayed at the youth camps and refugee reception centres. But none of them ever mentioned that they screened the young men for induction into the MB, I learnt about this much later, when the MB had finished their training and were being sent inside Bangladesh through the various sectors without informing the commanders. It was only then that we started receiving information about their activities.

SRM,

For the freedom fighters of Mukti Bahini the creation of Mujib Bahini was seen as a ‘big mistake’. There was only one liberation war being fought, then what is the logic in creating a separate force? They also foresaw trouble in future between all the parties with conflicting self-interest.

With the bulk of the muktijuddhas coming from working class or peasant background, it was natural for the political decision in post-independent Bangladesh to sway in their favour. Therefore, they believed that the Mujib Bahini was created to prevent such a scenario from happening. For the freedom fighters the Mujib Bahini represented a right-wing reactionary armed group which was being used if required to counteract and suppress other guerrilla entities after independence.

Around end July-early August 1971, two trained guerrilla fighters - one called Montu, the other probably Khusro - visited me in my office. They explained they were MB members trained at a secret location in India. I responded: "I don’t know anything about your organization. But you must be, or will be, under the sector commands".

They laughed but didn’t say anything.

Shortly thereafter, Colonel Osmani started receiving complaints from various sector commanders that some youth leaders were trying to lure their trained guerrilla fighters to join their organization. The commanders had disagreements - even clashes - with these youth leaders about the process and programmes for infiltrating their sector guerrillas inside Bangladesh. The commanders enquired from headquarters who were these youth leaders, what authority they had and pointed out that it would be difficult to conduct war if this situation continued.

Following these complaints, Colonel Osmani became extremely angry when he realized that the Mujib Bahini would not be under his command. He informed Prime Minister Tajuddin about this matter over which heated cabinet discussions took place when the ministers were assured that this force should remain under the Bangladesh government’s unified control.

However, my impression is that not all of them agreed on this point; some of them had doubts or suspicions about this force; a few were already aware of its existence. I cannot document these impressions that I gathered from listening to the ministerial deliberations.

Based on the commanders’ reports, other sources and my own experience made it clear to me that the Mujib Bahini was much more interested, eager and active in creating conditions for it to play a major political and military role in an independent Bangladesh than in fighting during the Liberation War. But I did not know then what were their post-war aims or objectives, or whether they were to be given certain specific responsibilities. But I understood this much that the wartime leadership would use the services of the Mujib Bahini to implement certain tasks as warranted by circumstances.

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Mujib Bahini had a dream of liberating Bangladesh by their own efforts. That created a number of conflicting situations with the Mujibnagar Government. To Mujib Bahini, joint command was unacceptable and the traditional warfare was not also welcome. We did not only discourage frontal fight but also prohibited open fight in collaboration with other forces in the field. One of our groups in Burichong thana violated this instruction, went along with EPR in frontal encounter and lost almost all of their arms and ammunition. Some members of the group were summoned for court Marshall on a day when Mujib Bahini brought almost a motion of no confidence against the Mujibnagar Government for its over-enthusiasm to form joint command. One of the members of disobliged group was my nephew. He was pardoned on my request but scarified his life at Charagach of Kosba on 12 September 1971.

The effort of Mujib Bahini to disassociate with the joint command met with the disapproval of some corners. One day, I received a radio message which I passed over to Moni Bhai without having a look at it. He came down to me after reading that message and directed me to shave my wildly grown beard. Then he proposed me to go to Agartala to have heavy dinner, watch movie and buy new cloths. At that time, we were fighting half-fed and half-clad and senior leaders were getting prepared to occupy the hill track districts of Chittagong to bring back our government there in order to gain world recognition. Therefore, I refused to go to Agartala. Then he asked me whether I read the message. On my negative answer, he explained to me that it was a message to make us feeds for vultures for refusing to join the joint command. To counter this horrified experience, Moni Bhai decided to pursue that odd courses of action.

However, we were later convinced that a joint command should be formed in order to conclude the war at the earliest possible time, contain the anticipated riots or disturbances in the refugee camps and save our people within the country from drifting away and keep up the waning support of intelligentsias and world bodies. Thus, our dream of fighting a Vietnam-type prolonged war came to end.

In the meantime, Moni Bhai on advice from General Uban mobilised a column of fighters both Bengalis and Tibetan. At the Singarbi in airport, he refused to pick me up for the suicidal expedition. I tried my best for going to Chittagong expedition. Moni Bhai used all his weapons to dissuade me from joining this expedition. He even offered me to act as the Chief of Eastern Command in his absence. I remained equally unconvinced. Then he used the last shot. He hit my tender part by raising the sacrifice of my widowed mother in upbringing me which forced me to stay back. Thus he deprived me of a rare opportunity of joining the Chittagong expedition. In fact, he often compelled me to remain within limit. Moni Bhai left Agartala with his contingent of fighters for Mizoram to facilitate reaching in Chittagong hill tracks.

Prof. Dr. Abdul Mannan Choudhury,

Accusation of killing leftist politicians or their sympathisers inside Bangladesh were also common amongst the Mukti Bahini circle. The involvement of Major Uban, a counter-insurgency and guerrilla warfare expert who specialised in the management and control of dissidents and/or rebel soldiers from countries, ‘whether friendly to India or otherwise’, heightened the suspicion.

I first heard about the Mujib Bahini when our military headquarters started receiving accusations against them from the sector commanders. They wanted to know its background, why its members had come to their sectors, the commands were busy waging war using regulars and freedom fighters. In that case, what was the role of the Mujib Bahini? Its activities must be stopped. A number of unfortunate incidents had taken place involving the Mujib Bahini. A sub-sector commander, Captain Najmul Huda mentioned that one night, when a band of Mujib Bahini fighters was traversing through his area to enter Bangladesh, it was stopped by the India BSF and spent the whole night in captivity. Numerous such incidents had occurred.

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Many people did not know about the Mujib Bahini since it was established under great secrecy and its presence was kept a tight secret. It’s my belief that a considerable number of the Mujib Bahini’s ordinary members did not know the reasons or the aims behind its formation, although they did the brunt of the fighting. I had the opportunity to meet many of the rank and file who had been wounded in combat. Only the Mujib Bahini’s top echelon leadership had a clear idea of its purpose and goals. I can state with certainty that we had limited information or data at that time about the Mujib Bahini because of the secrecy surrounding its activities.

Deputy Commander-in-Chief A. A. Khandaker

Smear campaign, especially against Tajuddin Ahmad

Approximately from mid-August, more complaints started coming in about the Mujib Bahini from different quarters. One was that the Mujib Bahini was using arms to force ordinary guerrillas to join it, resulting in clashes in some instances.

Simultaneously its leaders mounted a smear campaign against Tajuddin. They declared that the Mujib Bahini was the 'real' freedom fighters nominated by Sheikh Mujib and accused Tajuddin Ahmad of usurping power through conspiracy. The leaders believed that Tajuddin Ahmad had ‘manoeuvred’ to set up a government-in-exile which would provide the Pakistani junta with the perfect pretext to condemn Sheikh Mujib as a traitor and kill him. They also blamed Tajuddin for ‘creating so much confusion’ amongst the cabinet, Commander-in-Chief, regular soldiers and freedom fighters that the Indian government would never support or recognise the Bangladesh liberation movement. According to them, the prospects of returning to Bangladesh under the leadership of the present government-in-exile were getting increasingly uncertain, and the only practical path open to budding freedom fighters was to join the Mujib Bahini.

Needless to say, these accusations received very little attention at the time. There were already internal conflicts within the Bangladesh government and military set up. However, for the time being, the greater war of liberating Bangladesh from the Pakistani junta would put all these internal conflicts in the shadows.

To be quite candid, at that time I did not attach much importance to the Mujib Bahini as I was unfamiliar about the depth and divisive impact of its activities. For I had also witnessed considerable factionalism within the Awami League, with each faction busy promoting its own narrow interests. The leader of each faction had his own separate office, plenty of funds, and considered himself to be the only person endowed with all the qualities to be the prime minister! Under the circumstances, should the Mujib Bahini leaders act or behave in a similar manner, then that was nothing to be surprised about.

MH,

These accusations nevertheless had their biggest impact in post-independent Bangladesh. And Tajuddin Ahmad, the prime target of the student leaders, would be its greatest victim.