Our Cruel Birth
In the cold winter morning of December 16, Dhaka cantonment was hot with rumours. The depressed and desperate Pakistani army officers were confused about their fate. Will the yellows from the north (Chinese army) and the whites (American 7th fleet) from the south arrive to rescue them?
However, a note from Indian Major General Nagra, to Pakistan Army General Amir Abullah Khan Niazi made the situation clear at 10 am. It said, “Dear Abdullah, I am at Mirpur Bridge. Send your representative.” The call had made the confused Pakistan Army top brass, huddled in Dhaka cantonment, to know that their game in Bangladesh was over. It was neither Chinese nor the American Army, but the Indian troops, aided by Mukti Bahini, who were awaiting them just on the outskirts of the city. After several hours of discussion, General Niazi signed the instrument of surrender at the then Dhaka Race Course--now Suhrawardi Uddyan--through a formal military ceremony.
But the war was far from over. Pakistani soldiers in different parts of the country were desperately fighting against the allied forces. As their communication with the HQ in Dhaka was shattered by the guerrilla attack of Mukti Bahini, they did not know about the fateful surrender. Even in some districts, Pakistani soldiers were defending with some formidable confidence. During this period, some atrocities were committed by the retreating Pakistan Army. With the help of the Biharis and local militias, the Pakistan Army started to adopt a ‘scorched earth’ policy destroying food, medical and supply storages in most of the districts. In some areas like Syedpur and Ishwardi, the fighting was so grisly that Pakistani soldiers gave up fighting as late as December 19, three days after the formal surrender. But by this time, a massive destruction of food and logistic supply along with the supply route, meant Bangladesh with her seven crore population was pushed to another disaster-- a fatal famine.
Pakistani soldiers surrendered and got the protection of the Indian Army according to the Geneva Convention. But their local accomplices did not. Retaliation began just after the war. Mukti Bahini started to hunt down members of the Bengali Razakar forces for their participation in the atrocities committed by Pakistani army. Many Razakars, along with their top leaders, fled to Pakistan and other countries. But Biharis did not lose their ground so easily. Biharis are the Muslims of North Eastern India evicted by the Indians during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965. They were pushed into the then East Pakistan and the then government allowed them to settle in this land. Culturally and linguistically different from Bengalis and more related to the West Pakistanis, these people collaborated with the Pakistan Army and many of them fought alongside the Pak forces.
After December 16, many of these Bihari settlements were still holding out against the Mukti Bahini. Most of these settlements such as Jalladkhana of Mirpur and Mohammadpur were the centres of torture and mass killing. After the liberation, the newly formed Bangladesh armed forces launched their first operation to liberate these settlements on January 25, 1972. During these operations Bangladeshis witnessed the sign of brutality committed by these Bihari settlers. Thousands of people including many intellectuals were killed in Jalladkhana settlement which was the last to be discovered. Currently these Bihari people, now regarded as stranded Pakistanis, were dumped into makeshift refugee camps where they are leading a miserable life till date.
But the ring leaders of the war criminals were safely deported to West Pakistan. A list of 200 Pakistani officers were made who were directly involved with the crimes committed during the liberation war. But paying no heed to the plea of Bangladeshi victims, they were transferred to their country in exchange of the freedom of Indian prisoners and the stranded Bangladeshi Army officers in West Pakistan. Even most of the local criminals, who were responsible for the killing of intellectuals and are the perpetrators of many such atrocities, could not be held and properly tried. Still the dilemma of trying the war criminals is affecting the stability of our nation.
Bangladesh's sovereignty seemed meaningless without freeing Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Being captured by Pakistan Army he had to spend the entire nine months of the Liberation War in a Pakistani prison. He was given the death sentence by a military tribunal for sedition. In his absence, severe infighting among the political leadership broke out. The leaders who led the nation during the war could do little to save Bangladesh from an impending disaster thanks to the war torn economy and the pressure of a huge mass of refugees and victims. War heroes like Kader Siddiqui declared that he and his 50,000 men would not surrender their arms till Bangabndhu's return. People with unauthorised guns and ammunition were lurking all over the country. Abuse of law and orders were common. In some places, personality clash between the sector commanders and Indian forces created a distance between them. It went extreme when the Indian Army arrested one of the sector commanders, Major Jalil (Sector 9), for his “misconduct” with the Indian Army. In his memoirs Major Jalil claimed that he had wanted to stop the Indians from plundering and therefore they had captured him and he became the first political prisoner in independent Bangladesh. It clearly shows the level of instability going on in this new nation in the absence of its father.
When Bangabandhu landed in Bangladesh on January 10, 1972 he was received by ordinary Bangladeshis with the warmest and the most cordial of ceremonies. But such emotional moments soon became memory when the curses of war became evident. Bangabandhu's tactful diplomatic move resulted in the prompt withdrawal of the Indian troops. Sovereignty was restored but not the destroyed economy and industry. The outcome was severe famine. Mismanagement and greed of the political leaders fuelled the famine to reach its extreme stage. More than a million people died of starvation, malnutrition and disease. Corruption and gluttony of political big shots made people resentful of the ruling party. Bangabandhu's popularity nosedived. After a glorious victory, a blanket of darkness again covered our nation.
But it was not the end of the story. Overcoming such turmoil and disasters people of this land always have shown their resilience. In the heap of ruins, the future of Bangladesh again got its foothold. Industries reinstalled, economy refurbished and Bangladesh started its journey towards progress. Bangladesh became one of the biggest exporters of RMG and its Army became the icon of peace across the world. Since its cruel birth, Bangladesh has never succumbed to any crisis. Very few nation of the world survived so many disasters just after its beginning as an independent country. From the history of our previous glories we can certainly hope that we shall overcome the ongoing turmoil. But surely the responsibility to find a way is ours.
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