"Bir Srestho" honour
The Bir Srestho (The Most Valiant Hero) is Bangladesh's highest military award. It was awarded posthumously on 15 December 1973 by the Government of Bangladesh to 7 freedom fighters who showed utmost bravery and died in action for their nation. They are considered shaheed (martyrs). Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir is one of them.
His action in the battle of Chapai was at great personal risk, over and above the call of duty and in the face of the enemy.
Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir is the only Army Officer who was awarded the highest gallantry award for his courageous and heroic acts in liberating Chapai Nawabganj district, which remained under the Pakistan occupation force throughout the War of Liberation.
Memorial built at killing spot
On 14 December 2011, exactly four decades after Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir was killed, a memorial was built and inaugurated at Rehaichar Moholla to commemorate the war hero.
The memorial was opened by Brigadier General Enamul Haque, the then State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources.
Earlier in 1999, District Muktijoddha Sangshad and Enamul Haque, then Principal of Bir Srestho Jahangir College, took the initiative to construct a monument. Captain Jahangir’s father Abdul Motaleb Howladar came to the town from Barisal and laid the foundation stone at the place of martyrdom. However, construction stopped midway due to lack of funds. Funds were raised from local people to construct the memorial but it was too inadequate and so, the construction work came to a halt.
There has been an attempt to raise funds from local people to construct a memorial for the great martyr. A fund is kept with the deputy commissioner of Chapai Nawabganj but it is too inadequate to construct a memorial.
Alauddin Ali, convener of district unit of Muktijuddha Sangsad (2009)
Golam Rabbani, commander of local Muktijuddha Sangshad, Chapai Nawabganj, and Manzur Hossain, brother of Bir Srestho Jahangir said they were happy to see the long-cherished dream of the people fulfilled after a long time.
Earlier, Chapai Nawabganj Muktijuddha Sangshad arranged Qur'ankhwani, dua mahfil and discussion on Sona masjid premises on the occasion of 40th death anniversary of Bir Srestho Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. They also paid tribute to the martyr after placing wreaths at his graveyard there.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
"Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter's Tale" book by A. Qayyum Khan
Former Second Lieutenant A. Qayyum Khan who had played a prominent role in liberating Bangladesh wrote a memoir recalling the days preceding, during, and post 1971. The 300 pages long memoir entitled "Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter’s Tale" is split into 7 chapters containing personal recollections, key historical events and commentary.
The book was first showcased in the Hay Festival Dhaka in November 2013. A month later, on 15 December 2013 - exactly 42 years after Chapai Nawabganj was freed from Pakistani occupation – the book was officially launched at a ceremony held at Abdul Karim Shahityabisharad Milonayatan at the Bangla Academy, Dhaka. Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Ziauddin, Bir Uttam and Commander of 1 East Bengal Regiment (EBR) during the 1971 Muktijuddho, was the chief guest whilst Indian High Commissioner Pankaj Saran was a special guest.
Afsan Chowdhury, who compiled 15 volumes of "Bangladesher Swadhinata Juddho: Dolil Potro" along with Hasan Hafizur Rahman and Dr. Sukumar Biswas, till date the only official collection of documents on the Liberation War, conducted a discussion on the book. Professor Syed Manzoorul Islam, former ambassador Mahboob Alam and Professor Kaiser Haq, were also present at the event.
It is an attempt to analyse the war, not just glorify the heroic aspects of it.
Personal account of East-West Pakistan discrepancies
The book begins with a brief introduction to A. Qayyum Khan’s family background and recalls the tumultuous years under West Pakistani leadership prior to 1971.
One wishes that Khan had portrayed more of himself throughout the book. The reader is easily engaged in these opening pages by the portrait of the freedom fighter as an adolescent and a young man in the years preceding the liberation war, caught up in the steadily escalating movement for freedom. Frankly and endearingly, he reveals how his youthful exuberance led him to cast his vote once in his own neighborhood in new Dhaka's Testuri Bazar and then again in Lalbagh in the old city, since he had somehow managed to make himself a voter in both constituencies!
Again and again in the narrative, such moments make his telling refreshingly candid and compelling as well as representative of what many others in his generation felt or saw at that time. Khan recollects, for example, his first sight of the first version of the "red, green, and yellow Bangladeshi flag" being fluttered by Bengali men in the mob which had invaded the stadium grounds during a test match to protest the Pakistani military government's postponement of the national assembly meet in 1971. As he remembers it, what he felt "was pride but also fear".
Dr. Fakrul Alam, Translator and Professor at the Department of English of Dhaka University
Detailed account of 1971
In 1971 A. Qayyum Khan had just got into the undergraduate programme of Dhaka University when the momentous events unfolded and the Bengali nation braced for a long fight for freedom. The crackdown on the Bengalis gave Qayyum Khan no other option but to join the war. He recounts how he and his family coped with the Pakistan army’s brutality.
He [A. Qayyum Khan] recollects the horrors perpetrated by the marauding and blood-thirsty Pakistani army in Dhaka and the dangers of moving around in a battered and besieged city for Bengali youths like him.
On one occasion, he manages to extricate himself from the clutches of the Pakistani soldiers by proving that he was a Khan and a non-Bengali Bihari by displaying his fake identity card. Stuck afterwards in his house and listening to the reports, on the one hand, "of atrocities, mass killings and mass rapes", and on the other, of the mobilizing Mukti Bahini, he opted soon to join the war.
1971 left an indelible impression on all Bengalis as indiscriminate massacre, destruction and personal experiences intertwined inextricably.
United Press Limited publisher
Naturally, the core of the book deals with the dramatic events of 1971. Qayyum Khan gives first-hand elaborate description of the early days of the Mukti Bahini, its trials and tribulations and how ordinary civilians were turned into guerrilla fighters in a matter of weeks. The book also provides a fairly comprehensive account of the events in Sector 7 during the last three months of the war which led to the tragic death of many gallant freedom fighters, including Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir.
The dramatic accounts of engagements by the combatants of Sector 7 make the battlefield come alive. The book highlights the exceptional role played by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad, an unsung hero of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence. There are other points that the author makes including the ease with which freedom fighters of the Gono Bahini were cast aside.
Disillusionment in post-liberation Bangladesh
The memoir ends with the difficulties faced by the new nation. Like many of his generation, A. Qayyum Khan shares his frustration and disillusionment at the way Bangladesh has developed post-liberation. His litany of grievances focus on mal-administration of the country, selfishness and nepotism of inept politicians and officers and the marginalisation of muktijuddhas who had made great personal sacrifices to free Bangladesh. Such actions, Qayyum Khan concludes, has led to distortion of the ‘real’ liberation history in favour of one that is beneficial to the political party in power.
If I knew that the end product of the liberation war would be a rotational monarchy where members of two families will run the country according to their sweet will with no regard to laws and their cronies shall always be above the law even when they commit crimes like murder, kidnappings, drug-dealing and hold us hostages to their needs, would I have fought the liberation war? Would my poor rural comrades who bore the brunt of Pakistan Army's brutality would they have fought? The answer is not hard to fathom.
We entered Chapai Nawabganj on the morning of December 16th. People rushed out, they brought flowers, hugged us, put food in our mouths. To me, it represented the end of a nightmare. We didn’t realise that there could be more nightmares ahead.
Qayyum Khan's account of his experience in the Bangladesh liberation war is very aptly titled: this heartfelt and thought-provoking narrative of his role in the movement that led to his country's freedom is driven not only by nostalgia about the sweet taste of victory but also the bitterness he felt afterwards at what he perceives to be the betrayal of the ideals that made him participate in that war. The man who has written the book more than 40 years after the event is obviously a disillusioned one. For him the sweetness of victory had been replaced in the post-war years by considerable disenchantment.
Lucidly, Khan blends in this book the story of his involvement in the war with his afterthoughts on it, suggesting in the process that many of the problems prevalent in contemporary Bangladesh could be traced to political fissures that had begun to appear in 1971 and that became more and more visible in the years that followed.
...He notes the real problems that the country had to tackle because of the brutal war that had battered its infrastructure but indicates that the bad situation had been made worse by poor decision-making and governance or "inertia" in addition to widespread corruption and partisanship. What was worse, Khan suggests, is "the culture of impunity for the anointed [that] was getting entrenched in Bangladesh". Opting for an almost apocalyptic ending to his book, Khan brings his narrative to an end in the tragic mode sometime in 1974. The country was then on the brink of the famine that would devastate it soon. In Khan's words, "The euphoria and aspirations engendered by victory and the liberation of Bangladesh had turned into despair".
The true history of our liberation war was indeed written collectively by the people – the combatants, victims and sufferers – event by event, incident by event. Yet, barely a decade after the war, controversies began to appear. And in course of the next three decades, attempts were made to distort our liberation history beyond redemption. What the powers that be did with our history is nothing but a collective shame.
Yet the history that has been created by the people cannot be erased by the dictates of power. Khan's Bittersweet Victory reminds us of that. The book is a refreshing attempt to reconstruct a part of that collective history. In the process it raises many questions, but instead of pointing fingers, places these questions in the larger historical and political perspective of the time, so that his readers can find the answers themselves. Was there adequate preparation for the war? What role did the politicians play during the war? Why was it that immediately after the war, there was looting and plunder when the country needed to pull all its resources together to build a new nation? These are but some of the questions that emerge from his 'bitter' experience during the war and immediately after it. The instances of high handedness, incompetence and lack of commitment that he saw among many of those who mattered frustrated Khan, at times disillusioned him, yet he shows no acrimony towards anyone. His bitterness has roots in his idealism, and his wish to see everyone pursuing a common goal with dedicated and selfless devotion. It is to his credit that he did not allow bitterness to affect the sweetness that he felt when freedom was finally achieved.
Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter’s Tale has received widespread accolade in Bangladesh from critics for its great insight, honesty and being bold enough to ask many pertinent questions and delve into topics which many other such books have feared to do previously.
Writing about a war one had fought as a young man more than forty years ago is never easy, as memory begins to play tricks and conflicting emotions threaten to cloud judgement. And if the war happens to be one that was fought to free one's motherland, these emotions can be pretty strong, disrupting narrative coherence, and transforming many of the facts and realities into myths. It is difficult for combatant-chroniclers to maintain strict objectivity or manage the tightrope walk between impersonal and private feelings or between historical documentation and insertion of personal accounts. A Qayyum Khan has, admirably, achieved that feat.
I am reminded of the famous Yeatsian paradox of a 'terrible beauty' being born when an armed uprising for a country's freedom begins as I look at the title of Khan's account of our liberation war, "Bittersweet Victory: A Freedom Fighter's Tale".
...He begins by showing how the war was forced on us, that it was bound to happen given the scale of arrogance and colonial highhandedness the Pakistanis showed. It is important to locate his combatant self in the history of protest and resistance that was a part of the Bengali psyche from well before the 1947 partition. Once Khan took up the formal role of a military combatant, he didn't allow the conscientious objector in him to sleep. He critiqued misguided policies, personalized histories and abuse of authority both during the war and after. One may not agree with all his observations or opinions, but one has to appreciate his frustration since petty power plays and misguided ambition of a few contrasted so sharply with the self-effacing patriotism of the fighters on the ground. Similarly, his account of MAG Osmany's activities during the war may not go well with many who grew an admiration for him but one has to admit the fact that Khan's concern was purely of a fighter who wanted nothing short of efficient coordination and mobilisation of resources by top leaders.
Bittersweet Victory is thus an uneasy read if one takes Khan's often pointed critique of the mismanagement and lapses that he saw in certain pockets of leadership – both civil and military, and the general deterioration of the law and order situation after the war. But the book is inspiring in its account of the wisdom and dedication of most other leaders, and the courage and resolve shown by every freedom fighter and the countrymen in general. Khan has the highest of praise and respect for Bangabandhu, and admiration for the pragmatic leadership of Tajuddin Ahmed. He never allows his frustration to affect his judgement, neither does he claim that his views are the only authentic ones. The readers thus find an ample scope to maintain a dialogue with him, all the while enjoying his crisp and elegant narrative. In the end, Bittersweet Victory is a satisfying read.
Bittersweet Victory is clearly the work of a freedom fighter whose passion for his country and the war he fought to liberate it is still intensely alive in him. Clearly, too, he has written the book not too glorify himself but to remind readers that the road taken by the country's leaders had brought it to a precipice. There can be little doubt that he thought long and hard before writing the book and it is important to note that he has chosen to write/publish it at a time when Bangladesh's leaders have brought it to another precipitous corner from which it must now extricate itself. Indeed, one is reminded by reading the book at this moment of our history of Marx's famous observation: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." The events of 1974 and 1975 were in the tragic mode, but now all around us events arise that make us think that we are going through the most farcical moments of our political history.
Qayyum Khan's book is without a doubt an invaluable addition to the ever-growing library of books about Bangladesh's war of liberation. Not only has he written the book after reflecting intensely about it over a period of time, he seems to have taken great care to write a work that is very readable, fast-paced and instructive for anyone interested in the future of Bangladesh. The publisher, too, appears to have taken considerable care in producing a book that looks attractive and is a pleasure to read.
Nevertheless, one can't help pointing out that the book could have been more carefully copy-edited. Also, since the book quotes again and again from other published books on the liberation war, one can't help thinking that the book could have benefited from the adoption of conventions that are considered to be standard as far as documentation is concerned. This is a particularly important point since on quite a few occasions Khan makes assertions that are quite contentious by quoting others; for sure, such quotes need to be properly contextualized and correctly documented.
But the last words on Qayyum Khan's Bittersweet Victory must be devoted to praising him unreservedly for publishing a very important work. If we are to extricate our nation from the quagmire that our leaders have now led it to, and if we are to avoid more tragic or farcical moments in the future, we need to learn from the history of our independence movement and embrace its ideals once again. This is where the book can become indispensable for all thinking Bangladeshis.
"Jahangir Bhaban" academic block of Feni Girls Cadet College (FGCC)
Feni Girls Cadet College (FGCC) is a military high school for girls, located in Feni Zilla (District) of Bangladesh, a small southeastern district bordering Tripura in India, Chittagong district, the Bay of Bengal, Noakhali district and Comilla district. The college is located at the Old Airport Area just beside Feni town. The Feni-Chagolnaiya highway passes through the college dividing the campus in two parts.
The college opened on 15 April 2006 and was formally inaugurated on 7 June 2006 by the then Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia through a grand ceremony.
The college is spread over an area of about 47.59 acres (192,595 sq metres). It has an academic block called the "Jahangir Bhaban" (House of Jahangir) named in honour of Bir Srestho Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. It's a modern 3-storied building which is the hub of the academic curriculum. The building houses the class rooms, art gallery, computer lab, physics, chemistry and biology labs, language lab, departments, Vice Principal's Office and Staff Lounge.
FGCC also has other buildings named after various other Bir Sresthos. This include a cadet mess called "Bir Srestho Matiur Dining Hall" named after Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman, an auditorium called "Mostafa Auditorium" named after Sepoy Mostafa Kamal, a college hospital called "Bir Srestho Nur Muhammad Hospital" named after Lance Naik Nur Muhammad Sheikh, and a college library called "Bir Srestho Rouf Library" named after Lance Naik Munshi Abdur Rouf.
FGCC also has three boarding houses called "Khadijah House", "Ayesha House" and "Fatema House" in honour of female members of Prophet Muhammad's family. Each of the three hostels are capable of accommodating 100 cadets.
What others say about him...
He was truly a son of the soil. As Bangladesh burns in political and fratricidal violence, I cannot stop and wonder what Jahangir is thinking as he looks down on us from the heavens.
Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir was extremely dedicated to the cause of our great movement of independence. He could very well ignore the call for joining the war of liberation and continue to serve the Pakistan Army. But he willingly accepted all the risks and against tremendous odds successfully defected the Pakistan Army to participate in the freedom fight.
His very decision to escape from Pakistan bears testimony of the highest standard of courage. During the war of liberation he also displayed extreme sense of courage on numerous occasions. In the battle of Chapai Nawababganj he decided to assault on Pakistani defence despite the fact the Indian fire support was not forthcoming as it was planned.
Leadership in combat does not necessarily mean commanding a group of people only, but it is the motivation to undertake the hazards and risks associated with war fighting. Jahangir was a born leader. His philosophy of command was leading from the front. Although he was a sub-sector commander, he never missed any opportunity to plan and conduct the operation himself. Due to his outstanding leadership qualities all the groups of his sub-sector would want him with them in any operation.
Captain Jahangir was a very good organiser. During the war of liberation he had under him people of various background like ex East Pakistan Rifle personnel’s, police, teachers, students, farmers etc. It was indeed a very difficult task to bring all these people in the same footing, keep them happy and at the same time maintain discipline. He was so cool and composed that people used to wonder as to how a boy of 23-24 years of age with such innocent look could act like an iron man.
Battle of Chapai Nawabganj
Strategic importance of Chapai Nawabganj
The town of Chapai Nawabganj is located on the southern bank of the Mahananda Nodi (Bangla for river). The mighty Ganges River also enters Bangladesh at close proximity to the west and becomes the Padma Nodi. Thus due to its strategic location, the Pakistani 34 Infantry Brigade led by Brigadier M. A. Naeem was deployed along the Naogaon-Rajshahi and Chapai Nawabganj-Rajshahi axes to stop the advance of the recently formed Mitro Bahini (Allied Forces, an alliance of Bengali Mukti Bahini and Indian Army officers) and to guard against any allied riverine movement along the Padma Nodi into Bangladesh.
One company of 25 Punjab Regiment along with East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces (EPCAF) were deployed at Chapai Nawabganj on the home bank of the Mahananda Nodi. They prepared a series of trenches on the embankment with strong overhead protection. In addition, the home bank was higher than the surroundings and the Pakistani troops were well prepared in defiladed position (i.e. their forces were protected against enemy observation or gunfire).
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Qazi Nuruzzaman divided Sector 7 into three strategic groups: Major Giasuddin Ahmed Chaudhury was to lead the first group. He was tasked with cutting the communication of Nawabganj from Rajshahi by blocking the Chapai Nawabganj-Rajshahi highway connecting these two places. The second group was led by Second Lieutenants Bazlur Rashid and Rafiqul Islam and they were tasked with advancing along the Rohanpur-Nachole-Ammura axis and assisting in capturing Chapai Nawabganj by acting as cut off party. The third and arguably the most important group was to be led by Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir. They were vested with the main task of capturing Chapai Nawabganj by advancing through Sona Masjid-Shibganj axis.
Indian Brigadier Prem Singh was appointed the Commanding Officer of the Mitro Bahini in Sector 7. The Indian 165 Mountain Brigade, whose primary task was to protect Indian districts of Maldah and Balurghat, was ordered at this stage to advance towards Rajshahi.
According to the plan agreed with Brigadier Prem Singh, the Indian artillery would provide fire support to the muktijuddhas on 11 December 1971 in order to make the enemy weak and disorganised. Captain Jahangir and his troop would then go for assault.
Captain Jahangir took his task as a challenge and was determined to accomplish his task at all cost.
- Giasuddin Ahmed Chaudhury ()
- Bazlur Rashid ()
- Rafiqul Islam ()
- M. A. (Mir Abdul) Naeem ()
- Prem Singh ()
Indian artillery support does not come as agreed
They took up their position at Barogoria, located to the west of Nawabganj and next to the Mahananda Nodi, expecting the Indian artillery fire to come to their aid on 11th December. But when the 11th came there was no artillery shelling on to the enemy position at the predetermined time as agreed. Captain Jahangir tried his level best to make communication over wireless set with Indian Force on 12th and 13th December 1971. But he failed to establish any communication or liaison with Indian Force. Not one to be disheartened, Captain Jahangir was determined to carry on – with or without Indian help.
On 13 December 1971 evening Captain Jahangir and his troops crossed the Mahananda Nodi and joined the muktijuddhas at Tikrampur. Captain Jahangir decided to launch attack on the Pakistani positions at Rehaichar Moholla (Area) early following morning at 6 am.
Jahangir was not the man to fall back. He took decision at his own that he would go for attack without Indian artillery fire support.
- Karim ()
- Awal Chowdhury ()
14 December 1971
On 14 December 1971 the muktijuddhas led by Captain Jahangir launched a dawn attack on Chapai Nawabganj. It was a cold and foggy morning with visibility restricted to only a few meters. Around 6 am Captain Jahangir came on the radio set. It was learnt that his radio set got soaked in the canal water as the boat which was carrying the wireless operator sank during the crossing. The wireless set had to be cleaned and put into operation again. The listeners were finding it difficult to hear anything clearly as the voice of Captain Jahangir was fading.
The Mukti Bahini attacking force was about a 1,000 strong, with three columns. Second Lieutenant Awal Chowdhury and his company were holding the defensive line on the southern bank of the Mahananda Nodi. Second Lieutenants Bazlur Rashid and Rafiqul Islam were mounting a diversionary attack on the EPCAF lines on the eastern perimeter of the town with their companies. The main attacking force was of two company strength with Captain Jahangir commanding one company and Second Lieutenant A. Qayyum Khan commanding the other. They were attacking the town from the western side.
The night was unexpectedly foggy and one could not see a person properly even from a distance of 5 yards. This lack of visibility slowed down our movement. Own force was to open fire with their weapons when they reach the small arms range of enemy and the expected time of which was 4.15 am. It was already 4.30 am and later it became 5 am. One of the task force i.e. Alpha and Bravo Companies (A and B Coys) under Captain Jahangir was supposed to come from behind the enemy. Other task force of two companies (C and B coys) was commanded by Lieutenant Qayyum.
The battle of Chapai Nawabganj was unique in that it was conducted entirely by Mukti Bahini troops without any participation by the Indian Army with the exception of a BSF field battery.
The battle of Chapai Nawababganj was one of the most daring operations undertaken by the freedom fighters a few days prior to the liberation of Bangladesh.
Passing & burial
The Mukti Bahini men did not have the weapons or training to attack the town or fight in a built up area. They were practically restricted to attacking the town with grenades only. They faced strong Pakistani resistance. However, after clearing bunkers and pill boxes on the western perimeter of the enemy's defence, they were fighting the enemy’s rooftop positions. A LMG (Light Machine Gun) from a rooftop was firing at Captain Jahangir’s men and preventing his company from advancing. Unable to break through the Pakistani defences, Captain Jahangir broke cover, crawled forward of the defence line, got close to the building and lobbed a hand grenade into the Pakistani trench in a brave attempt to neutralize the LMG. Suddenly a sniper from another building shot him through the left eye and pierced through his forehead. Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir died on the spot. He was 22 years old.
It was a tough fight. We laid siege to the town. On 14 December 1971, we flushed them out. But Jahangir was killed.
His dead body fell to the enemies’ trench. The death of Shaheed Captain Jahangir made the freedom fighters more aggressive. Other comrades of Shaheed Captain Jahangir crossed the river by swimming and gave the message of his death. A new attack was launched with more freedom fighters and by last light they could successfully capture Chapai Nawabagonj by destroying enemy.
At the first given opportunity his colleagues recovered his dead body. Finally, by 12 am on 15 December 1971 Chapai Nawabganj town had fallen into the hands of the Mukti Bahini and they clinched victory.
As the news spread, people from the adjacent areas came to the town and rejoiced freedom by chanting "Joi Bangla" (Victorious) slogans with the freedom fighters.
On 15 December 1971 the heroic sons of the soil hoisted flag of the independent Bangladesh in the district town after a 9 month fierce fighting with the Pakistan troops.
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
Two days after Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir was killed Bangladesh officially became victorious.
The capture of Chapai Nawabganj allowed the Mitro Bahini to advance towards Rajshahi city and bring it under Bengali control.
Buried at Chhoto Sona Masjid premise
On 15 December 1971, a day after he was killed, the dead body of Captain Jahangir was carried by muktijuddhas from the Reichar area and was taken for burial at the premises of the famous Chhoto Sona Masjid (Small Golden Mosque), an ancient mosque built over 450 years ago. He was laid to rest near the graveyard of another valiant freedom fighter, Major Nazmul Haque (Tulu), Commander of Sector 7 prior to Lt. Col. Nuruzzaman before his unfortunate death on 27 September 1971 following a jeep accident. Amongst those attending the janaza were Sector 7 Commander Lt. Col. Qazi Nuruzzaman, other muktijuddhas and local Awami League leaders.
22-year-old Sub-sector Commander in Sector 7 (Rajshahi-Pabna)
Bengalis experience first-hand West Pakistani subjugation
Like Captain Jahangir, young men barely past their teens were forced to fight against the Pakistani junta's atrocities after seeing their people being relegated to second-class citizens for over two decades. It was typical for the youth of the period to study school books which had ignored the contribution of the people and leaders of Bangladesh. There was increasing resentment among the educated section of Bengali society against the repression and exploitation going on in East Pakistan. Growing up Captain Jahangir and others had lived through the chaos that was engulfing the eastern wing of Pakistan due to West Pakistani nepotism.
By the time he [Second Lieutenant A. Qayyum Khan] was in his teens he had began to realise too that "the aspirations of the people of East Pakistan did not enter into any consideration" of Pakistan's future by its military and non-Bengali rulers.
Following the Pakistani attack in the evening of 25 March 1971, all young men's thoughts turned to war. For many youngsters, they didn't participate in the war due to any party ideology or professional considerations but the growing realisations that they'd be subjugated by a small but powerful group of their West Pakistani 'brethren'. Under this regime the future for the East Pakistanis was very bleak.
Captain Jahangir one of 8 sub-sector commanders leading 15,000 freedom fighters
Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir instantly joined the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) of the newly formed Bangladesh Army and was posted to Sector 7 (Rajshahi-Pabna) which was initially commanded by Major Nazmul Huq and later (around September 1971) by Major Qazi Nuruzzaman. The sector comprised of 15,000 freedom fighters - 2,500 regulars and 12,500 guerrillas. This sector was divided into 8 sub-sectors and Captain Jahangir, only 22 years old, was appointed the Sub-sector Commander in Mohidipur operating in Chapai Nawabganj sub-division. On assumption of command the first thing that he did was to shift his sub-sector Headquarters from India to the soil of Bangladesh.
|Malan||Initially some junior commanding officers and later Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir|
|Tapan||Major Nazmul Huq, later replaced by some junior commanding officers of the EPR|
|Mehdipur||Subedar Iliyas, later replaced by Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir|
|Anginabad||A freedom fighter|
|Lalgola||Captain Ghiyasuddin Chowdhury|
- Nazmul Huq ()
- Qazi Nuruzzaman ()
Recruitment of troops proved very easy. However, preparing them for guerrilla war proved much more complicated and difficult. As with all other freedom groups that were sprouting up to fight the Liberation War, the troops in the sub-sector were a “mishmash” of former army, EPR (East Pakistan Rifles), Mujahid and volunteers who were mostly from rural Bangladesh. As such there were fighters of different ability, age, mentality and background within the framework of military discipline. It took a lot of hard work, patience and dedication from Captain Jahangir and his quickly assembled team to train the freedom fighters for small-scale operation against an organised, professional and conventional army like the Pakistan Army.
The Mukti Bahini was a ragtag army with limited capabilities. There were glaring shortcomings in terms of deficiencies in weaponry, limited skills and inexperienced leadership. In spite of these shortages, he found the Mukti Bahini fighters motivated who were willing to take risks and make sacrifice but they lacked fighting skills, weaponry and firepower.
To fight the Pakistanis, we would have to train his troops further and at the same time keep on pressuring the Pakistanis so that they get no respite. This was an extremely difficult task. His problems were complicated further because he had no other officer to share these responsibilities with. Jahangir took up the challenge in all earnest – training his men, leading them in patrols, ambush and raid operations. Gradually ramping up the intensity of operations.
In September 1971 Captain Jahangir led his men in a pitched battle against the Pakistan Army and its supporters in Aragararhat. Unfortunately for them, the attack was not successful and Captain Jahangir was wounded in battle and had to be evacuated to an Indian Army hospital for treatment.
Led by example
Even though Captain Jahangir was a highly trained professional, he treated his fellow fighters with utmost respect and admiration. He dressed like his men – in traditional lungi (sarong) and gamcha (vest) – ate the same food as his men did, slept and rested in the same bunkers where his men rested. And though he was training his men to be warriors, he advised them to dress "like the masses" so the people considered the muktijuddhas to be one of them while simultaneously helping them to evade capture by allowing them to blend into the crowd.
You must look like the masses, so that people cannot distinguish you from the masses. Strike from nowhere and vanish into the crowds.
The men in his command soon found out about his steely determination and his single minded commitment to the liberation of Bangladesh. He also looked after his men as best as he could under the circumstances.
His transition from being an officer of the Pakistan Army to a Mukti Bahini Commander was seamless. Jahangir was instinctively a guerrilla. He firmly believed that a guerrilla was a fish in the sea of humanity. He took that literally.
Indeed, Captain Jahangir was a unique character. He used to spend his time by only thinking the task ahead of him. He was even dead against listening to any music in radio set. Once he broke one radio set and said, "the villages are being burnt, people are being killed, women are being tortured and you lazy shameless fighters are listening to music and getting pleasure".
A. Qayyum Khan and others join and strengthen the team
- A. Qayyum Khan ()
Early days of upheaval
Qayyum Khan was an university student. Following the bloody crackdown by Pakistani army A. Qayyum Khan was initially reluctant to follow his father's order to remove the Jatiyo Potaka (Bangladeshi flag) from their rooftop. However, he eventually compiled after he realised that "this was no time to get into an argument". He hid the potaka in their water tank and, amazingly, months after he had returned home from the war, he was able to retrieve the flag.
It was a gut-wrenching moment. We had to bring down the Bangladesh flag from the rooftop following instructions of the marauding army. We did not know what to do with it. We could not burn or throw it and keeping it was like inviting Pakistan army to kill us, who could knock at our door any moment. So, I put the flag in a plastic bag and hid it inside the water tank.
Maybe hell is like that. Gunshots and cries rent the air. The slums were set on fire and fleeing people were shot at. From the rooftop, we saw Dhaka skyline was lit. There was fire everywhere. It was an unending night.
On 27 March 1971 when curfew had been lifted for a few hours by the Pakistani military, Qayyum had gone with his father to see his uncle.
While I was there, I wanted to check on my friend Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Mujib's son. As I couldn't go to his house, I was walking around, asking friends. A Pakistani JCO considered this suspicious.
During the subsequent crackdown on Bengalis, Qayyum was almost hauled into a truck and sent away. But fortunately for him there was no space and he had to wait for the next truck. When the opportunity presented itself, he fled along with other students.
Then it dawned on me that I would get shot. I told him in Urdu that these Bengalis were bad. It didn't have the Bengali accent. He let me go.
We had no power over the Pakistani army. We could stay in Dhaka and get killed or fight and get killed. We chose the latter.
Endure hardship as freedom fighters
As "sheltered, middle-class boys" Qayyum and the others did not know how to join the freedom fighter groups. They eventually found a contact through a friend and crossed over to Agartala in the Indian state of Tripura and joined the Mukti Bahini camp.
Seven of us decided to leave. One of us wanted to blend in, so he wore a lungi and a vest. But he was reading an English newspaper!
We then realised this was serious business. There were not enough tents. You couldn't sleep, but there was so much adrenaline.
Naïvely but enthusiastically, he and his friends head for Tripura, the Indian state closest to Dhaka, with a couple of them wearing lungis and Hawaii shirts to escape detection while talking from time to time in English!
But they learn quickly, inspired by sights such as the one of the Bengali soldiers across the border, preparing to fight, "tall and strong, armed and ready", or "uninitiated and uninformed volunteers mostly from rural and agrarian backgrounds...bravest sons of the soil".
The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
At first the Mukti Bahini was intent on mostly harassing the Pakistanis. Qayyum Khan's first "assignment" took him back to Dhaka where he had to make contact and then bring back the family of one of the Mukti Bahini commanders. During the assignment he met his father briefly in Dhaka who starts wailing at the sight of his son, making him feel "guilty for causing him so much pain".
Back in the Tripura camp later, one of his friends is "devastated" at having to bayonet Pakistan prisoners at "the 'persuasion'" of some Bengali non-commissioned soldiers.
Soon after he had returned to his camp in Tripura, Qayyum and a few friends decided to go to Kolkata, the headquarter of the Mujibnagar Government. Here they successfully passed the recruitment test so that they could join the Bangladesh army as regular officers. Their training took place in Murti in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, a place located in the foothills of the Himalayas to north of Rangpur city in Bangladesh. By now the Mukti Bahini was transformed into a guerrilla army under the leadership of Colonel (later General) Muhammad Ataul Ghani Osmani.
Freedom fighters in Murti camp - and other training camps in India and inside Bangladesh - led a spartan life, devoid of any comfort and living on basic necessities. They underwent phsyically and mentally challenging rigorous training in preparation of their assault on Pakistan Army and its collaborators.
Despite these challenges, they seemed to have been full of high spirits for the narrative of their training is punctuated by the pranks they play to discomfit each other momentarily. True, they had to "shed a lot of sweat and tear, and the diet was never adequate" but these things didn't matter since "there was terrific camaraderie, everybody was jovial, and spirits were always high" and since "everyone wanted to go to the battlefield and fight the Pakistanis".
Eventually, A. Qayyum Khan joined Sector 7 as a Second Lieutenant under Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir.
He [Capt. Mohiuddin Jahangir] was nothing like an army officer - he had a beard and wore lungi and tennis shoes. He was very dedicated.
Successful capture of various areas
During the last two months of the war Captain Jahangir and his troop undertook several offensive operations in the Mohidipur sub-sector. They successfully captured Shahpur, Chowdhala, Gomastapur and even Argararhat where Captain Jahangir was previously wounded.
These successes were not without setbacks and whenever a setback occurred, Jahangir’s conduct was always exceptional – taking great personal risk to evacuate the wounded and leading his men to safety.
Throughout the liberation war he was seen to wear only a simple lungi and a torn shirt. He, however, used to plan and lead all the operation by himself. Lieutenant Colonel Nuruzzaman, the sector Commander of sector 7 and immediate boss of Captain Jahangir, liked him very much. Jahangir was his all-time partner whenever he went to any meeting with the Indian Generals. The Indian Generals also had very high impression on Jahangir.
Not surprisingly, as far as his personal narrative is concerned, the climactic chapter of 'Bittersweet Victory' is the account of the three months Khan spent fighting the Pakistani army as a young officer in Sector Seven, commanded by someone he admires, Lieutenant Colonel Qazi Nuruzzaman. Although he is modest here as elsewhere in talking about himself, it is obvious that he and his troops fought fearlessly and heroically. About his first raid on enemy fortifications, for example, he lets the reader infer his part in it from these cryptic lines: "A brand new second lieutenant had been sent with a bunch of mostly rookies...to raid an enemy defense at night. We had accomplished that and returned safely, a bit winded, but largely unscathed". However, Khan is bloodied on one occasion and the chapter includes brief accounts of the deaths of valiant young officers and their men.
His is easily one of the most gripping narratives of the liberation war and the heroics of individual soldiers who entered the battlefield with relatively little training and limited weaponry against a formidable and ferocious enemy. Many of the Bangladeshi officers Khan writes about were clearly exceptional fighters but the man who stands out in the chapter is the valiant and selfless Captain Jahangir, who was unfortunately martyred a couple of days before victory on 16 December 1971.
Mohiuddin Jahangir was the eldest son of Maulana Abdul Motalib Hawladar and Safia Khatun. His dad was an influential local figure. His grandfather, Abdur Rahim Hawladar was a zamindar (landowner) and contributed a great deal to the improvement of the area. For this reason the local people honoured him by naming the village after his name – "Rahimganj".
Sent to mama's place at early age
Jahangir’s family struggled to make ends meet. However, unlike his siblings, Jahangir was brought up well under the care of his parents. But his father could foresee that Jahangir’s initial build up would be hampered in Rahimganj since there was no good local educational institution. Thus, at the age of 4 years and 6 months, Jahangir was sent to the house of his mama (maternal uncle) Fazlur Rahman, who was an Engineer working in Muladi Thana.
The son of a Baul from a remote village in Barisal, Jahangir displayed strength of character from an early age. The family never had enough and he had to leave his father’s house and move in with his maternal uncle to attend high school.
A. Qayyum Khan, a muktijuddha (freedom fighter) and Second Lieutenant in Sector 7 fighting alongside Captain Jahangir during 1971
Jahangir began his primary education under the guidance and care of his mama. In 1959 he successfully passed Class V (5) obtaining scholarship in the talentpool from Patarchar Government Primary School. He was then admitted to the Muladi Mahmudjan High School where in 1962 Jahangir passed Class VIII (8) obtaining scholarship again in the talentpool. Two years later he passed his SSC (Secondary School Certificate) in First Division from science group obtaining multiple letter marks in Mathematics from the same school.
He was a good student and was awarded government scholarships for his academic results during his secondary school years. He impressed everyone with his mathematical abilities during a school inspector’s visit.
Attended Dhaka University for few months
After passing SSC Jahangir was admitted to B.M College in Barisal where he earned a reputation for being a good sportsman. Jahangir also had a passion for reading. He was an ardent reader of the literature of Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guavera and other revolutionary writers. Their ideas had shaped Jahangir’s thoughts and helped him grow a consciousness about the right of suppressed people and the proletariats.
In 1966 he passed HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) in 2nd Division from science group obtaining letter marks in Mathematics. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints Jahangir was unable to take admission in engineering and had to temporarily forego his childhood dream of becoming an engineer.
In 1967 Jahangir earned a place in the prestigious and demanding Dhaka University where he enrolled in Statistics honours degree. He supported himself and also contributed to his family’s needs during his university days by tutoring students in mathematics. However, Jahangir did not stay at the university for long. Within a few months of joining he decided to join the Pakistan Army.
Become an engineer within Pakistan Army and learn bomb disposal skill amongst other things
On 5 October 1967 Mohiuddin Jahangir joined the Pakistan Military Academy in the then West Pakistan and enrolled with the War Course – 15. The following year, on 2 June 1968 he was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers and posted to 173 Engineer Battalion in Mellshi Cantonment of Multan. After showing excellent performance in basic course-29 in the school of Military Engineering located in Resalpur, Jahangir attended a bomb disposal course in the same institution.
Switching allegiance to Bangladesh movement
Shocked by news of Bengali massacre whilst working in Pakistan
During the eventful month of March 1971 whilst East Pakistan was preparing itself for an armed struggle against West Pakistani oppression, Captain Jahangir was posted in the Gilgit area, the northernmost territory of West Pakistan (near Azad Kashmir). He was working as a demolition expert in the Karakoram Highway Construction Project. Unknown to him and the general public of West Pakistan, the military junta led by President Yahya Khan had unleashed violent attack on unarmed civilians of East Pakistan in the evening of 25 March 1971 under the military campaign "Operation Searchlight". The first point of attack was the Bengali students and intelligentsia of the Dhaka University.
Captain Jahangir only came to know about these atrocities from fellow Bengali army officers who had returned to the western wing after witnessing the brutality first hand. The news had turned his world upside down. It was only less than 4 years ago that he was studying in Dhaka University. Captain Jahangir’s became imbued with the highest sense of patriotism and decided to join the Swadhinata Juddho (Independence War). He held secret meeting with other fellow young Bengali officers and they began planning ways to escape from Pakistan to their motherland.
Before joining the army, Jahangir was a student of Statistics Department in Dhaka University. He was horrified and outraged to learn about the brutal crackdown of the Pakistan Army on 25 March 1971. Jahangir never understood how a national army could commit genocide on its own population. The Bengalis hadn’t done anything wrong by supporting the Awami League’s election manifesto. They wanted provincial autonomy and they exercised their democratic right through the ballot box. After the postponement of the national assembly session by the Yahya regime, the people of East Pakistan actively supported Bangabandhu’s non-cooperation movement. This may have caused the Pakistan Army hardship but it could under no circumstances be a justification for unleashing the inhuman repression of unarmed Bengali civilians by the army.
The details of the genocide disturbed him a great deal and he anguished about wearing the uniform of the Pakistan Army whom he considered as the butchers of Bengal. He made up his mind to join the Liberation War and stand by his brethren at this time of grave crisis. Jahangir lost interest on everything around him and devoted all his energies in planning his escape from Pakistan. He spoke to some Bengali colleagues about escaping to join the Liberation War but the response was feeble. But he did not give up and kept on trying to find similar minded Bengali military officers. In the meantime, he prepared himself to fight a guerrilla war. He secretly read up on guerrilla warfare studying Mao, Guevara and Giap.
Great escape to India
Finally he made contact with Captain Khairul Anam, Captain Salauddin Mumtaz and Captain Sultan Shariar Rashid Khan through one of his friends. He had never met these three officers before. On 8 July 1971 they wore grey ‘Awami’ attire similar to the ones worn by the militia in Punjab and, pretending to visit a religious shrine in Sialkot, headed for the Indo-Pak border. The weather was very rough but thankfully for the four young brave Bengalis this worked to their advantage. They were able to avoid capture by the border rangers and crossed over to neighbouring India without any difficulty.
Captain Jahangir and his companions went straightaway to the nearest Indian Border Security Force (BSF) camp. From there, they were sent to Delhi and onward to Kolkata, the headquarter of the Mujibnagar Shorkar, the Provisional Government of Bangladesh.
The news of their great escape inspired lakhs of freedom fighters. General M. A. G. Osmani, the great leader of our liberation war, went to Calcutta just to welcome these heroes personally.
- Khairul Anam ()
- Salauddin Mumtaz ()
- Shariar Rashid Khan ()