During the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, training of two courses of officers of the Mukti Bahini was conducted in Murtee Camp Officers Training Wing (OTW). The First War Course commenced in July 1971. There were 61 officer trainees, addressed as Gentleman Cadet (GCs), in the course. Sheikh Kamal was one of them. I was associated with him for 16 weeks during the darkest and yet, the most challengingly valorous period of Bangladesh's history. I have lasting memories of my association with Shaheed Kamal, which I will cherish throughout my life.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested in the early hours of March 26, 1971, and his family was put under house arrest. But Sheikh Kamal and his younger brother Sheikh Jamal had managed to escape to India. Jamal was trained with the Special Forces, which also came to be known as the Mujib Bahini, in the Himalayan Hills near Dehradun in the Indian State of Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttrakhand). Sheikh Kamal received his training in Murtee Camp, located in the Himalayan foothills of the northern corner of West Bengal. KamaI was a tall, handsome young man who carried himself with dignity and possessed remarkable leadership traits.
The facilities provided to the GCs in Murtee Camp were sparse. Bamboo 'tarza' barracks with tin roofs, bamboo cots with no electricity, plenty of mosquitoes and leeches, and the sultry heat of North Bengal made the living conditions unbearable. The training was tough and prolonged, spanning over days and nights. And to top it all, Kamal was burdened by the thought of his family being under house arrest and his father being in Pakistani jail. The Indian Army instructors were advised to engage him in conversation during the off hours, so that he could be distracted from these worries. I used to meet Sheikh Kamal after training hours. During our conversations, he told me how since Kamal's childhood, his father had spent most of his time in jail. He narrated the harrowing experience of the Agartala Conspiracy Case trial when it appeared that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be sentenced to death. He narrated how his mother, in the absence of his father, had looked after him and his brothers and sisters, and also ran the party amid grave worries and tensions. She faced all the hardships with tremendous courage and great composure. She also indirectly provided the leadership and necessary directives to Awami League cadres in the absence of Sheikh Mujib. She even motivated Sheikh Mujibur Rahman before he made his historic speech at the then Race Course ground in the city on March 7 in 1971. Sheikh Kamal recalled the important role played by his mother in the country's politics by offering constructive advice to Bangabandhu throughout his political life, especially during his 14 years of imprisonment.
Almost all the GCs listened to radio broadcasts of BBC, All India Radio and Swadhin Bangladesh Betar Kendra regularly on their transistors. On August 4, 1971 the news of Yahya Khan's interview (of August 3) with Pakistan Television Corporation, announcing the trial of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was broadcasted by various radio stations. On August 5, this made headlines in all the Indian newspapers. Yahya Khan in his interview had said that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had committed “acts of treason, and acts of open war.” Sheikh Kamal understood the meaning of “acts of treason and acts of open war,” because his father had faced similar charges in 1968 as well. The memories of the Agartala Conspiracy Case trial were still fresh in his mind. Such chilling news would have sent shivers down the spine of any human being, but Kamal displayed great composure after getting this news. On August 9, 1971, Yahya Khan announced that Bangabandhu would be tried by a 'Special Military Court' for “waging war against Pakistan.” The trial was to commence on August 11.
I met Sheikh Kamal that evening to express my sympathy and to encourage him to face the crisis. He appeared to be quite normal and composed, but was very apprehensive. The reason was that there was a sea change in the political scenario of Pakistani politics since the Agartala conspiracy case. In the 1968 trial, Sheikh Mujib was implicated in a false case, but this time, a war for liberation was in full swing. From this moment onwards until October 9, 1971, when the First War Course graduated, newspapers and radio broadcasts carried news on Sheikh Mujib's trial almost every day. These either concerned the proceedings of the trial or appeals by various world leaders, governments or organisations to Yahya Khan to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, or rejection of such appeals by the Pakistan Government. It was a trying time for Sheikh Kamal. He was also worried that this time around, the Pakistani military junta may cause harm to his mother and other family members who were under house arrest. However, he displayed tremendous courage and equanimity.
The Acting President of Bangladesh, Nazrul Islam, took the salute of the graduating parade of the First War Course on October 9, 1971. Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad and his entire cabinet ministers, C-in-C of Bangladesh Forces, Col MAG Osmani and other Bangladeshi dignitaries were also present. The Indian Army instructors of the Mukti Bahini Officers' Wing were introduced to the President, the Prime Minister and the C-in-C after the parade. Prime Minister Tajuddin spoke to each instructor, and thanked him for training the GCs.
Sheikh Kamal was posted as an ADC to C-in-C, Colonel Osmani. We parted ways, wishing well to each other, as the clouds of war were visible on the horizon. He invited me to visit Dhaka after liberation to meet Bangabandhu and his family members. Somehow, I did not get the chance to meet him. On August 16, 1975, I heard the news of the assassination of Bangabandhu and most of his family members, including Sheikh Kamal, the previous day. I was astonished to hear of the death of a budding future leader.
During my interaction with Kamal, he would often fondly mention his elder sister Sheikh Hasina. I met her on December 15, 2011, at her office in Dhaka, when I presented some rare photographs of Sheikh Kamal taken at Murtee camp. I narrated to her my memories of Kamal and how he had coped with the trying circumstances. She betrayed her emotions the same way as Kamal used to do in 1971. I noticed that the siblings shared the rare leadership trait of sharing their joy with others and keeping their sorrows to themselves.
Kamal's martyrdom was a great loss to us all.
The writer is a retired Brigadier General of the Indian Army. He participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.