In defence of Bangladesh independence history

Dr. Rashid Askari
Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Bangladesh was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She was born of a nine-month long bloody battle, a concrete and substantive armed combat with the occupation forces of Pakistan in 1971. She has earned her independence by fierce fighting, not by compromise solutions or peace negotiations. All these are the facts of recorded history.  But some of our people, who have no sense of history, or who want to make mischief again after ‘71, try to twist the facts of the Independence War to promote vested interests. They tend to look askance even at the hard facts of the war, put an entirely different construction on its motives, call the undisputed things into question, and make a mountain out of a molehill.


The first thing they cast aspersions on is who really were involved in the Liberation War of 1971. They hold this assumed idea that it was fought between Pakistan and India, and Bangladesh was made a scapegoat for the long-borne rivalry between these two belligerent countries of the subcontinent. They argue that India came to help Bangladesh as a snake in the grass, and profited more than Bangladesh by fighting and winning the war. What Bangladesh gained was not worth the candle. They shed crocodile tears for Bangladesh, and keep smelling a rat in India’s relations with Bangladesh.


It is, however, not a spur-of-the-moment idea. It’s rather the part of a deliberate propaganda campaign. The exponents of this queer theory must have a far-reaching cause at the back of their mind. They are trying to give currency to this grotesque idea at such a time when the war criminals are standing trial, and the whole nation is supporting it except for a few of their blind followers and staunchest allies.


So, while the whole gamut of the fundamentalist politics in Bangladesh is going through a sticky patch, and the marked war criminals are languishing in prison, their hired hands are trying to clutch at straws by manufacturing weird ideas with a view to fishing in the troubled waters. Their motive is to pass the buck to others, and prove the accused innocent. They try to establish that there was no war between Bangladesh and Pakistan, and there should be no question of the existence of war criminals in Bangladesh. They point their accusing finger at the Pakistani occupation army, and ask to try the 195 captured Pakistani soldiers who were acquitted as per the conditions of the Simla Treaty drawn up on July 2, 1972. But that was virtually impossible at the moment.


There were obvious reasons for that. 400,000 Bangladeshis stranded in West Pakistan during the Liberation War were held hostage by the Pakistan government, who used them as a bargaining chip to free the Pakistani war criminals captured in Bangladesh. Besides, 16,000 Bangladeshi civil servants were dismissed from job and barred from leaving Pakistan.  Many of the army officers were put in concentration camps. So, while Bangladesh made an attempt to try those 195 POWs (prisoners of war) keeping them out of the repatriation process negotiated for the release of most of the stranded Bengalis and Pakistanis, Bhutto furiously refused and threatened that if Bangladesh carried out the trial, Pakistan too would hold similar tribunals against the Bangladeshis detained in Pakistan. The  Pakistan Government also rejected Bangladesh’s right to try the prisoners of war on criminal charges and quickly seized 203 Bengalis as “virtual hostages” for the 195 soldiers. They however expressed their willingness to constitute a judicial tribunal and try them after the fashion of similar international tribunals. Bangladesh, being apprehensive about the fate of 400,000 Bengalis trapped in Pakistan and to gain access to the United Nations beating China’s veto, called a halt to its attempt at trying the Pakistanis in Dhaka with the hope that Pakistan would keep her promise and hold the trial of the accused 195 Pakistani soldiers. Upon this formal understanding, the last group of 203 detained Bangladeshis were repatriated to Bangladesh on March 24, 1974. But it is clear that the 195 Pakistanis were not freed without charges.  The trial of the local collaborators however was being carried out until the killing of Mujib.


To make the current trial process conditional upon the trial of those 195 accused Pakistani soldiers, as many are making, is nothing but a legal sleight of hand to save the local war criminals facing the trial. It is also an indirect denial of the strong popular demand raised in favour of the trial. The Grand Alliance Government is trying to try the local criminals who were involved in killing, plunder, arson attacks, rape, molestation, and all other crimes against humanity perpetrated against the people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War with the backing of the Pakistani occupation army. They are, too, war criminals for aiding and abetting the war criminals, and in one sense more criminal than their Pakistani masters. The occupation army could not have perpetrated the massacre by themselves, if these local collaborators had not assisted them.


Some of the Independence detractors want to belittle the achievements of Bangladesh in the Liberation War. They prefer calling it a war between India and Pakistan. They are also on the wrong track. To ignore the active role of Bangladesh in the Liberation War is to reject the glorious gallantry of the people. It was a well organized and corporate combat shared by peoples of Bangladesh from all walks of life. The military and civil forces stood hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder, and went on fighting until the last enemy bit the dust. The war took place in two phases. The first phase was the war of resistance, which began just after the Operation Searchlight was unleashed (25 March, 1971). The moment the marauding Pakistani forces waged the unprovoked crackdown on the sleeping people at dead of night, some of our patriotic armed forces started fighting back almost instantaneously. Charged by Mujib with the responsibility of making every house a fort and remaining prepared to fight the enemies with whatever they have—the freedom-mad people of Bangladesh did not hesitate to immediately jump into counter-attacks. This war of resistance continued until the Mujibnagar Government was formed on 17 April, 1971.


The second phase of our Liberation War started formally under the auspices of the Mujibnagar Government in an organized way. The whole country was divided into eleven sectors under the command of eleven highly efficient army officers. Apart from this, many civil commanders formed different guerilla forces to fight the enemies. The valiant military and the civil freedom fighters of Bangladesh forged ahead so indomitably that the highly trained Pakistani armed forces were kept at bay. They had no choice but to surrender.


Although the war lasted only nine months, it took a heavy toll of human life and honour. It wreaked havoc on the entire country. As many as three million people were killed, and two hundred thousand women were raped and molested. Numberless houses, buildings, mills, factories, bridges, culverts, roads, highways, and railways were destroyed. If all these do not amount to a war against Bangladesh, and fought back by the people of Bangladesh, then what else was it?


The critics of our Independence tend to consider the Liberation War as a ‘civil war’ waged against the solidarity of Pakistan at the instigation of India. They regard the war-hero, Mujib as ‘India’s agent’ who agitated for breaking their ‘holy’ Pakistan. This was basically the view of the Pakistani rulers, and was shared by some of the fundamentalist political parties in Bangladesh who sided with them in the war. But victory was in favour of the mass people. The collaborators could not put up with their defeat, nor could they stomach people’s victory in the war. So, they tried and are still trying to avenge upon the pro-liberation peoples and their ideals by way of manufacturing strange stories. That India joined the Bangladesh Liberation War just a few days before the final victory might have prompted their fertile imagination to call it an ‘Indo-Pak War’. If this wild imagination is not kept in fetters, they will go on to spin more yarns about it. And you never can tell, one fine morning they would come up with another queer theory that the 1971 War was a ‘US-Soviet’ war, because in the same war, America sided with Pakistan and Soviet Russia with Bangladesh giving huge military support and diplomatic assurances. When America sent a nuclear-armed aircraft carrier of their Pacific Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to support Pakistan, Russia sent their Fleet to the Andaman Sea to support Bangladesh and India. But the war ended before any such assistance could be rendered. However, the inventive Independence critics can have ample chances of calling the war a ‘US-Soviet’ War. If they can justify a claim like this, the list of the war criminals would be lengthened, and the ongoing trial of the Bangladeshi war criminals may be shelved for another four decades.


The history of the declaration of independence has undergone huge distortion at the hands of the vested quarters and political parties. The politically partisan intellectuals held repeated postmortems of history to use it in their respective favour. This tug of war with our history has caused serious harm to our national integrity. The impressionable young generation has been the worst victim of this. They are confused by the frequent changes in the historical accounts, which are in a state of flux in keeping with the change of the governments. This long-drawn-out hostility between the two major rival parties, Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), revolves around their two political idols — Mujib and Zia. And the bone of contention is primarily centered on the declaration of Independence.


The nagging controversy with regard to the declaration of Independence is no longer unimpeachable. Mujib- Zia dichotomy regarding this should come to an end. In the eye of history, nobody was worthy of the declaration of our Independence except for Mujib. What Zia did was just read out a declaration note on behalf of Mujib. This is based on hard facts, and the reading out of the declaration note of March 27 could not be considered as the formal declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh, which was actually made on March 26, 1971.There is as such no room for fabrication in these two distinct facts.


It is Mujib who, for the first time, formally made the declaration of the Independence of Bangladesh on March 26, 1971. S. A. Karim in his book Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy writes that the wife of M.R. Siddiqi was given an urgent message over telephone from Bangabandhu received through the wireless operators of Chittagong. The message reads as follows: “Message to the people of Bangladesh and the people of the world. Rajarbagh police camp and Peelkhana EPR suddenly attacked by Pak Army at 2400

hours. Thousands of people killed. Fierce fighting going on. Appeal to the world for help in freedom struggle. Resist by all means. May Allah be with you. Joy Bangla.” This message from Bangabandhu was then taken as the declaration of independence, which was read out by M.A. Hannan, general secretary of district (Chittagong) Awami League at 2:30 p.m. On this basis, March 26 was declared Independence Day.


The declaration of independence made by Major Zia took place on the following day (March 27, 1971). As a matter of fact, Zia made two speeches. In the first speech, he claimed himself as the president of Bangladesh, and urged upon the people to fight the Pakistan army. When this unauthorized speech created confusion among the people, the Awami League leaders asked Zia to read out a text prepared by A. K. Khan to nullify the effect of the speech he had previously made. Zia followed the suggestion, and made a second speech, where he categorically mentioned that he was speaking on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the great national leader.


Zia’s speech, however, had an electrifying effect among the fighting men and the civil population. But it was more to the credit of an ex-officio person than to the credit of Zia, the very person. In other words, it was an on the spot demand which Zia happened to meet. Had there been some other army officials, say, a major or a colonel or the like, the effect would have been the same. Moreover, March 27 was not declared ‘Independence Day’ on the basis of Zia’s declaration.


So, Zia should not be said to have declared independence of Bangladesh. He only read out the message of declaration on behalf of Mujib, which, too, has an historic significance and that was duly recognized by the Mujib Nagar Government. But that should not be manipulated into usurping Mujib’s position in the declaration. Besides Zia never claimed himself the declarer of independence during his lifetime, and it is said that once he vehemently opposed a proposal made by one of his henchmen to establish him as that. In his article ‘The Birth of a Nation’ published in the Weekly Bichittra on 26 March 1974, regarding Mujib as the Father of the Nation, Zia overtly admitted that  Mujib’s 7 March speech was for him the ‘green signal’ of the Liberation War.


The Constitution, which was accepted as the “Declaration of Independence” on April 10, 1971, by 403 elected MPAs and MNAs also bears the testimony to the declaration of independence by Mujib. Under that constitution was formed the first government of independent Bangladesh (Mujib Nagar Government) with Mujib as the first president. The constitution of 1972 was later written in the light of that constitution. As it is put in the sixth section of that constitution (Declaration of Independence): “Whereas in the facts and circumstances of such treacherous conduct Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the undisputed leader of 75 million people of Bangladesh, in due fulfillment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh duly made a declaration of independence at Dacca on March 26, 1971 …” Again, in Section 10 of that constitution, Mujib’s declaration of independence is confirmed: “We the elected representatives of the people of Bangladesh … thereby confirm the Declaration of Independence already made by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman” That Mujib declared independence is an historical truth, which is properly substantiated by the Declaration of Independence of April 10, 1971, which can be considered as the precursor to the constitution of 1972.


Mujib is regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation’ for his contribution to the birth of a nation. Although this is a much bigger thing than being the claimant for a declaration, nevertheless, facts cannot be reduced to fantasies. That Mujib proclaimed the Independence has got very little to do with his being the founding ‘Father of the Nation’. Even then, all these arguments can be ignored willy-nilly, but the course of history cannot be changed. This is what history is. We can hold it down, or repress it for the time being. But we cannot stop it.


The independence critics also find fault with the Pakistani armed forces’ surrender to the Indian commander Lieutenant-General Jagjit Singh Arora.  But this was done as per military hierarchy. He was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian and Bangladeshi forces in the Eastern Theatre. This does not necessarily mean that it was a war between India and Pakistan. It is rather the norm of the war. In fact, India joined the war after Pakistan attacked eight air fields in northwest India, otherwise India might have not participated in the war. The guerilla force called Muktibahini and the newly formed Bangladesh Army had already been fighting the Pakistani forces for about eight months prior to the arrival of the Indian army. So, there is no reason as to why it can be called an Indo-Pak war!


But the denouncers love to dub it as that. It is no wonder that they will try to twist the actual facts of our Liberation War. Even four decades after the Liberation War, they have not changed their conservative mindset, although they have intentionally changed their appearance and taken on a pro-liberation veneer especially in their speech. Now, they do not overtly take the anti-liberation stance. Instead, they try to twist facts in order to justify their means. This is more dangerous, because known enemies are easier to fight against than the unknown enemies. The unknown enemies are harping on their propaganda with the Goebbelian (Paul Joseph Goebbels was the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945) hope that some day people would believe them. But this is a sheer impossibility. They are, perhaps, ignorant of the fact that all people can be fooled for some time or some people for all time, but all people cannot be fooled for all the time.


These bizarre stories about our independence are no laughing matter. They should not go unchallenged. Law should not be broken with impunity especially with regard to the independence issues. The detractors of our independence are enjoying all the facilities the state can offer, but refusing to recognize the truths about its independence. They are really the limit. There is no scope for evasion of their responsibility. The High Court, too, was in line with it. An honourable judge had once expressed deep resentment against the distortion of the history of independence at the hands of some disgruntled varsity dons, and regarded it as a treasonable offence. The youngsters of the ‘Projonmo Chattar’ have also come up with the demand of passing a law to protect our Independence history from distortion. Fair enough, but our hard-earned independence needs to be protected from all ills and fostered in all possible avenues—individual, social, political, cultural, and legal. It is the responsibility of the People’s Republic to put this popular demand into effect. The supreme sacrifice of three million people should not go unheeded anyway.


Dr. Rashid Askari writes fiction and columns and teaches English literature at Kushtia Islamic University. E-mail:

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