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.

Growing frustration of Bengali youth under Pakistani governance

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.

Table 1: Sub-sectors of Sector 7 (Rajshahi-Pabna) during 1971 Muktijuddho
Sub-sectorCommanded by
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
Hamzapur Captain Idris
Anginabad A freedom fighter
Sheikhpara Captain Rashid
Thokrabari Subedar Muazzam
Lalgola Captain Ghiyasuddin Chowdhury

Source: Banglapedia - War of Liberation and Wikipedia - List of sectors in Bangladesh Liberation War

  • 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.

A. Qayyum Khan on how Captain Jahangir almost single-handedly trained his men to fight the mighty Pak army

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.

Captain Jahangir’s word of wisdom for his troop

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.

A. Qayyum Khan

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".

Captain Jahangir driven in his pursuit of liberating Bangladesh

A. Qayyum Khan and others join and strengthen the team

In the second week of October 1971 A. Qayyum Khan joined Captain Jahangir following his commission from Murti in India. He was followed by three of his colleagues to "strengthen Jahangir's hand".

  • 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.

A. Qayyum Khan, then a student at Dhaka University, recalls the fear and uncertainty post the outbreak of war

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.

A. Qayyum Khan's unsuccessful attempt to meet up with friend Sheikh Kamal, Sheikh Mujib's eldest son

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.

A. Qayyum Khan on why he had no choice but to fight in the war

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.

Reality of war rapidly kicks in

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.

The complexities of war

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".

Life very hard for muktijuddhas, but camaraderie at all-time high

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.

A. Qayyum Khan

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.

Captain Jahangir admired by his seniors

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.

The Daily Star (Bangladesh) on the heroics of A. Qayyum Khan, Captain Jahangir and other freedom fighters of Sector 7