• Thursday, July 31, 2014

March 25, 1971

Pakistan army turns killer

Syed Badrul Ahsan

Dr Kamal Hossain and other leaders of the Awami League waited all day on March 25, 1971, for the telephone call General SGMM Peerzada had promised to make regarding a fresh round of talks between the party and the regime. The call did not come, of course, even though the AL had not quite given up hope about a proclamation being issued by President Yahya Khan on the modalities of a transfer of power.
Things were quite different in the military establishment. Having received the green signal from Yahya Khan, General Tikka Khan phoned General Khadem Husain Raja and told him: "It is tonight." That was the first sign of an impending military assault on Bangalees. All afternoon and evening, Pakistani army officers helicoptered across the province, to spread the word among the various army formations that they should be on standby for military operations to begin. A number of West Pakistani political leaders visited Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to bid him farewell.
Sometime after dusk, General Yahya Khan, in secretive manner, boarded a Pakistan International Airlines flight to Karachi. The orders were that the military assault, codenamed Operation Searchlight, would not begin until his aircraft had safely landed in Karachi. By 10:00pm, it had become clear to Bangabandhu that an armed assault on citizens was on the way. He exhorted the senior leaders of his party to move to safety. Even so, when Kamal Hossain met him around 10:00pm, he asked him if there had been any phone call from the regime. Kamal Hossain replied in the negative before leaving Bangabandhu's residence.
Rumours of an imminent strike by the army led students of Dhaka University and citizens in general into putting up barricades in different parts of the city to thwart movements of the soldiers. No one, at that point, could visualise the scale of the ferocity with which the army planned to strike.
The Pakistan army pounced on the people of Bangladesh between 11:00pm and 11:30pm. Different units of the army fanned out in various directions. Tanks, armoured cars and trucks loaded with soldiers headed for Dhaka University, the Central Shaheed Minar, the Race Course (where the Kali Mandir was situated), Bangabandhu's residence on Road 32 Dhanmondi, Hotel Intercontinental and Old Dhaka.
Tracer fire lit up the night sky, with guns roaring all across town. The army moved to remove all foreign journalists from the Intercontinental and put them on flights out of the province. And then began the long night of killing -- of academics, students, Bangalee police personnel as well as members of the East Pakistan Rifles, rickshaw pullers and citizens in general.
The Shaheed Minar, long the symbol of Bangalee nationalism, was reduced to rubble. The Kali Mandir suffered a similar fate. At Jagannath Hall and other halls of Dhaka University, soldiers stormed into the rooms and murdered hundreds of students. They killed Prof Gobinda Chandra Dev of the department of philosophy and Prof Rafiqul Islam of mathematics. They grievously wounded Prof Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta of the department of English. Guhathakurta was to die of his wounds a few days later. Hundreds of students were murdered and buried in mass graves on the DU campus.


An academic, Prof Nurul Ula, spent an entire night recording, from within the safe confines of his quarters in the university area, the shooting of students by the soldiers. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, watched Dhaka burn from his suite in the Intercontinental Hotel.
Senior leaders of the AL, including Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, M Mansoor Ali and AHM Quamruzzaman made their way out of Dhaka in line with Bangabandhu's instructions. For his part, as the hour struck midnight, Bangabandhu made a declaration of Bangladesh's independence, which message was passed on to Chittagong Awami League leader MA Hannan.
Soon after he had declared Bangladesh as a free nation, Bangabandhu was taken into custody by the Pakistan army. Over the next few days, he would be kept at Adamjee Cantonment College before being flown to West Pakistan.
Throughout the night between March 25 and 26, the Pakistan army killed Bangalees. All day on March 26, the killings went on.

Published: 12:00 am Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Last modified: 12:09 pm Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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