Mukti Bahini provide guerrilla force

Sangram Parishad + Mukti Fauj = Mukti Bahini

In early March 1971 - in anticipation of Pakistani onslaught - student and youth leaders from cities and villages formed the Sangram Parishad (War Union) to protect the country. These Sangram Parishads combined with Mukti Fauj (Freedom Army), made up of defect members of East Pakistan armed forces, para military forces and police, formed the Mukti Bahini. Though it's not clear when and how the Mukti Fauj was created nor when they adopted the name Mukti Bahini, it is certain that the names originated from the people who joined the liberation struggle.

Members of the Mukti Bahini, and other forces who were striving towards an independent Bangladesh were known as 'Mukti Juddhas' (Freedom Fighters) - or 'Muktis' for short, as used mainly by the Pakistani army.

When I took over as Eastern Army commander in August 1974 I asked to see the records (of the creation of Mukti Bahini). I was told that they have been shredded.

Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob, Chief of Staff of Indian Army's eastern command refuses to discuss who ordered the destruction of the records

The earliest move towards forming a liberation army officially came from the declaration of independence made by Major Ziaur Rahman of East Bengal Regiment on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In the declaration made from Kalurghat Betar Kendra (Chittagong) on 27 March 1971, Major Zia assumed the title of "provisional commander in chief of the Bangladesh Liberation Army", though his area of operation remained confined to Chittagong and Noakhali areas. Major Ziaur Rahman's declaration on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman marked a break with Pakistan by the Bengali units of the army. When Colonel Osmani took over as Commander-in-Chief of Bangladesh Armed Forces on 17 April 1971, the Mukti Bahini came under his command and leadership.

Recruitment

In the first week of April, political high-ups of both India and Bangladesh came to an understanding that 5,000 freedom fighters would be trained each month and they'd later join the fight inside Bangladesh. Colonel MAG Osmani was in command of the Mukti Bahini - estimated to be around 100,000. The increasing terror tactics of the Pakistani Army gave the Mukti Bahini more recruits then they could absorb. Thousands of Bengalis, old and young, including boys of tender age, volunteered for recruitment to fight the Pakistani Army. Husbands separated from their wives and children, sons from their parents, brothers from their sisters, joined the Mukti Bahini. In order to cover the entire area of Bangladesh, Mukti Juddhas were recruited from all parts and trained in camps, located close to their areas.

My 15-year-old son Daud joined the guerrillas. We told him not to but he went, and when I asked him 'Aren't you afraid?' he said, 'No, my gun will speak for me'.

A father of muktijuddha recalls his teenage son's bravery

The Mukti Bahini was manufactured overnight by the Pakistan Army. If the Pakistanis had only limited their action against selected politicians, Bengalis in the army and the police might have stayed neutral. It was only when information got around that the Pakistani army was out to kill the Bengali intellectuals and servicemen as well that they revolted to a man.

Colonel Osmani

Tagore sang lovingly about a Bengal that suffered partition; but in 1971, fervent choruses of "Joy Bangla" and "Amar Sonar Bangla" rang out together to evoke the beauty and strength of another Bengal, a new Bengal, which Tagore never knew, whose people fought for freedom from Pakistan.

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Political affliation, a selection criteria initially

Those who wished to join the Mukti Bahini were asked, among other things, about their political affiliations. Around 24 - 25 Youth Camps were established to recruit young freedom fighters. Elected representatives of the camp were entrusted with the responsibility of these fighters. Initially many of the fighters they recruited were Awami League supporters. Many suitable youths were rejected just because they did not belong to that party. However, during the course of the conflict, especially the last five months, other mukti juddhas who were not consciously or directly Awami League supporters also joined the struggle as the national movement turned into a movement for liberation.

With all the benefits of this process there were also some difficulties. First, political consideration took precedence over physical stamina and political consciousness of the young people. Secondly, as all of the recruited members were member of Awami League, youth followers of other parties got very upset over this recruitment policy.

Deputy Chief of Staff of the Bangladesh Armed Forces (later Air Vice Marshal) A. K. Khandker who led the training programmes

The nation had to pay the price for the low performance of those who were initially recruited.

Air Vice Marshal A. K. Khandker criticises the faults in the planning stage of the war

29 April 1971: Indian EASTCOM aid Mukti Bahini

On 29 April 1971 Indian Army Eastern Command (EASTCOM) was officially given the responsibility of assisting Bangladesh Sena Bahini. EASTCOM, co-located with its headquarters raised a separate establishment for the purpose. Lt. General Jagjit Singh Aurora - who would later famously sign the Instrument of Surrender - was the Eastern Army Commander who was given the overall responsibility to assist the Mukti Bahini. Major General Onkar Singh was deputed by General Sam Manekshaw to work Lt Gen. Aurora. However, Onkar Singh was replaced by Major General B. N. Sarcar barely two months later in August.

Six Indian sectors - commonly known as 'Jackpot Sectors' - were set up with the primary responsibility of providing assistance to Mukti Bahini sectors in the form of logistics. Subsequently the support extended to providing assistance on almost everything, such as supplying arms, ammunition, ration, clothing, wireless sets, transports, tentage, etc. The only thing they didn't do (yet) was to fight the battles.

The Indian sector commanders in many cases also involved themselves in planning and supporting Mukti Bahini operations. This was more so in areas where there were shortage of Bangladeshi officers to organise, command and conduct operations and in places where there were no officers of the rank of majors or equivalent (areas as Mymensingh, Rangpur, Dinajpur and Sylhet). An Indian Jackpot sector supervised one or more Bangladeshi sectors.

A serving Bengali officer of the Indian army, Brigadier Gupta, was posted as Liaison Officer to Colonel MAG Osmani, C-in-C, Bangladesh Forces. Routine matters and decisions on comparatively smaller matters were dealt through Brigadier Gupta verbally. Subjects of operational importance and policy matters in writing were addressed to EASTCOM were also channeled through the Liaison Officer.

Major Qamrul Hassan Bhuiyan

Training

After the end of April 1971, the Mukti Fauj operations abated considerably - and the next phase started, the long process for the recruitment, organisation, training and equipping of what eventually came to be called the Mukti Bahini.

Freedom fighters sought sanctuaries along the Indo-Bangla border. They established camps, recruited large numbers of educated youth - mainly Muslim but included many Hindus - who escaped from the campaign of "elitocide" let loose on 25 March 1971. They were organised, trained and armed at these camps, and given operational experience. It was really difficult to train a force properly within such a short period.

Mukti Bahini were trained in approximately 100 reception centres in West Bengal, Bihar, Tripura, and Meghalaya (all regions in India, surrounding Bangladesh from every side) and were given training on tactics and the use of arms and explosives and bolstered by weaponry supplied from India. Their initial activities were engaged with skirmishes and continual hit-and-run clashes with the mighty Pakistani Army who were armed with heavy, advanced machinery.

Youths were the main target of Pakistani Junta's atrocity because they realised that the youths were the driving force behind the Liberation War and without nabbing these fighters they would not able to suppress the freedom struggle. So repression on young people continued on an increasing scale inside the country and thousands of young people crossed the border into India to save themselves. To accommodate this huge inflow of youths we opened around 100 reception centres along the border.

Air Vice Marshal A. K. Khandker

Since most of the recruits were educated youths from schools and colleges, they were easy to train. The normal recruit's training period could be considerably shortened. Every six weeks 2,000 guerrillas were being turned out for operational duty. The Mukti Bahini is in fact one of the most highly educated armed forces ever.

Indian Major General D. K. Palit

At the beginning the guerrillas were armed mainly with rifles and submachine guns. As their operations intensified - and they began to score successes against isolated garrisons and patrols of the enemy - their armour also expanded.

By the end of September [1971], many guerrilla groups had acquired light machine guns, hand grenades and even mortars. Clandestine factories were set up in the sanctuary areas for the manufacture of such items as anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, booby trap explosives and grenades - albeit of crude and cumbersome design. But they were effective: they began to take their toll of Pakistani lives. Bridges could be blown up, vehicle columns destroyed and, occasionally, even the tracks of enemy tanks damaged.

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