PIA - Pakistan International Airlines was the government owned airline of Pakistan. Pakistanis used to put a lot of hindrance to the Bengalis who wanted to join PIA. But the negative attitude of the Pakistanis used to discourage them from joining PIA. Only a small percentage of Bengalis had the opportunity of joining the airlines, especially as a pilot. The appointments which were unimportant in nature and where West Pakistanis did not like to serve used to be allocated to the Bengalis. The Bengali pilots were kept under strict surveillance so that they could not organise themselves. They were also not posted in any sensitive appointments.
The Bengali pilots tried for many years to raise their demand against the discrimination through PIA Pilots Association. But as they were few in numbers and did not hold effective positions in the association, their demands were not accepted. Having no other alternative, the Bengali pilots decided to form their own association but kept it clandestine at the beginning. In early February 1971, Shahkur Ullah Durrani, the Managing Director of PIA came for a visit to Dhaka. A few Bengali pilots from the association met Durrani in Hotel Intercontinental where he was staying and discussed with him about the problems they were facing. Durrani listened to their grievances and advised them to submit their points in writing which was done immediately. No action was taken on the points after submission. But Durrani was able to identify the persons who were raising their voices for their demands which he was known to have passed on to the military authorities. Durrani, in his youth, served in the Pakistan Army for three years as an officer and maintained regular liaison with the defence forces. As such, he passed on the detailed information on the activities of the Bengali pilots especially about the association members which had helped the army to apprehend and eliminate the Bengali pilots and officials of PIA at a later date.
The Bengali pilots formed an association namely East Pakistan Airlines Pilot Association (EPALPA). The first few meetings were secretly held in the house of Captain Alamgir at 9/6 Iqbal Road, Block A, Mohammadpur, Dacca. But this was noticed by the intelligence agency of Pakistan namely ISI. Intelligence officials were seen watching the house when the meetings were held.
Steps were taken for immediate registration of EPALPA for giving it a legal coverage. A committee of 10 members were formed which included Captain W.R. Chowdhury, Captain Abdul Khaleque, Captain A T M Alamgir, Captain Alamgir Sattar, Captain Zahir, Captain Rafi, Captain Abu Salem, Captain Monowar, Captain Khondkar, Captain Shahabuddin Ahmed, Captain Zaman. The committee enjoyed the overwhelming support of all the Bengali pilots. Captain W.R. Chowdhury was elected as Chairman and Captain Alamgir as the General Secretary of EPALPA. The newly formed committee started functioning from a room in Awlad Hussain Market at Old Airport Road. A news bulletin namely Bihango Barta started being published which used to be edited by Captain Alamgir.
Captain Khaleque who was the Vice Chairman of the committee was posted to Karachi. In the first week of February 1971, he came from Karachi to Dacca and informed the committee that a build up of massive troops had started to be implemented and soldiers were being flown into Dacca Airport in civil dress in large numbers from Karachi. Also, troops were being flown into Dacca from Lahore and Rawalpindi by special PIA flights via China and Burma. He also informed that in his flight every passenger (other than him) appeared to be from the army. He even had to come sitting in the jump seat. Most of the flights were landing in Dacca in the dead of the night. He requested this information to be passed on to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Captain Sattar, who was assigned the task, went to Bangabandhu and briefed him about the activities related to the movement of troops. The arrival of troops started to be monitored by the EPALPA members and in the first week of March, Captain Shahab and Captain Sattar went to Bangabandhu's house and informed him on the details of the latest movement of troops. From 1 March, restriction was in place for all Bengali pilots and staff of PIA from entering the airport without specific clearance from the airport management. The routine activities in the airport were being conducted by West Pakistani and East Pakistani non-Bengali officers and staff. Protesting this order, EPALPA decided that no Bengali pilots will fly any aircraft. Few West Pakistani pilots were brought in but they failed to meet the flight schedule. In the backdrop of the situation, Bangabandhu delivered the historic 7 March speech to the nation. The association started making plan to resist the Pakistan army as per directive of Bangabandhu. EPALPA officials prepared a plan consisting of 44 pages for forming a new airline which was submitted to Bangabandhu on 22 March 1971. The Association planned to take away a few small aircrafts and keep them in abandoned runways in hiding so that they may be used by the resistance forces in near future.
On 25 March afternoon, around 4.30 p.m., some of the pilots saw Yahya Khan leaving Dacca Airport secretly. They informed all concerned about it. On the night of March 25, the Pakistan Army started Operation Search Light and simultaneously started raiding the houses of all important Bengalis including Bengali pilots. They were able to arrest Captain Sikander and immediately killed him. Later, from various locations in the city they were able to arrest Captain Amirul Islam, Captain Alamgir, Captain N S Haider and Deputy Managing Director (DMD) of PIA Fazlul Haq Chowdhury. These four pilots were most qualified instructor pilots out of total five Bengali instructor pilots. Only one instructor pilot Captain Nazrul, who was in his village, could save his life. Other than the pilots and DMD, 23 other Bengali officers and staff of PIA were killed by Pakistan Army. Among the members of EPALPA, Captain Khaleque joined the Liberation War and was awarded Bir Protik, Captain Alamgir Sattar awarded Bir Protik and Captain Sahab Bir Uttam.
The Pakistanis had made a detailed plan to kill the best and most talented Bengalis who could provide leadership to a new independent nation. These officials were arrested and no information reached their families who faced incomprehensive sufferings waiting for their dear ones to return which never happened. Pakistan Army killed the Bengali DMD and four best instructor pilots so that they could not train any more Bengali pilots. The savages and blood thirsty elements of Pakistan Army took away the defenceless captives and eliminated them. Their mortal remains were never found although much effort has been made by this writer of this article for many years, including the effort by conducting digging in the most likely places but in vain. These great sons of the soil never could see the wind of freedom and their souls till today could not feel the wind of justice.
The writer is a Freedom Fighter, recipient of Swadhinata Padak and researcher on the Liberation War.