Tell it as it was -- Afsan Chowdhury


Bir Farid: The only son of a mother - Shamsul Hossain


Journey to victory - Major Genral Shafiullah spoke to Kaushik Sankar Das

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - An interview with 'Weekly Bichitra'

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - Arnold Zeitlin


A terrifying victory day -- Shamsher Chowdhury


'Our past has become unpredicatable' - Major General Moin-ul Hussain Choudhury speaks


Streets of Dhaka on 16 December - Nilufar Begum


The ecstasy of victory -- Nurul Islam Anu


Through the eyes
of a diplomat - MM Rezaul Karim


A boy's memory of the war - Ekram Kabir


Fall of 'Dacca'- Siddiq Salik


Towards nation's prosperity -- Ashraf
Al Deen


The story of six brothers -- Akbar Hossain


As I look back -- A
M M Shawkat Ali


on Kalachara -- Lieutenant
General M Harun-Ar-Rashid, BP


assemblages -- Major
Qamrul Hassan Bhuiyan


memories -- Mustafa Zaman


of the tortured


Fearless Female Fighters -- Manisha


Following the path of freedom -- Fayza Huq


Passion for independence -- Novera Deepita


Depicting the actual massacre -- Afsar Ahmed


Missing links of history- Brigadier General M. Sakhawat Hussain


Looking the past in the eye - Habibul Haque Khondker


Journey to victory

Major General AKM Shafiullah was the Second in Command of Seceond East Bengal Regiment that revolted on the night of March 25, 1971. He talks about the days of December 1971 just before Pakistan Army surrendered.

Sometime around end Sept-ember/early October, we began to feel that we were gaining ground in Bangladesh. The Freedom Fighters we sent inside Bangladesh were making their presence felt inside the country -- although they did not occupy any territory.

IThere was tremendous response from the people who came in thousands to participate in the War. They were so enthusiastic that they needed only 2-3 weeks training before induction in the operation zone.

We decided, in the context of the changed situation, to go for capture and occupation of territory, by launching classical offensive to enter Bangladesh and capture territory from early November. This commenced with the capture of territories along the border. My sector troops were deployed in an area extending from Sylhet/Karimganj, Akhaura, Brahmanbaria, Narshingdi, Raipura right upto Bhaluka. We had our links and informers based on whose information we used to infiltrate our troops inside Bangladesh through the gaps.

The Pakistan army had not begun to withdraw till then, but only after we had started hitting them in certain places. One of the major offensives in our sector was to capture Akhaura. On December 3, when we were fighting almost hand-to-hand with the enemy, Pakistan declared war on India. By then we had entered into collaboration with India. It was called Joint Command Force. I was then commanding a force called the 'S" Force, S' stood for the first letter of my name. Akhaura was captured on Dec 4. The Banglaees were rejoicing and came out on the streets in droves and welcomed us with relief. It is difficult to describe the feelings of the local people at that time.

After the capture of Akhaura our plan was to proceed to Dhaka. The route we decided to take was Bhairab-Ashuganj across the Meghna to Narshingdi and on to Dhaka. This was the easiest way to get to Dhaka. We started from Akhaura on December 6, all on foot since we had no transport.

When we started for Dhaka there were enemy troops in Sylhet and we did not know their exact dispositions. As I was moving along Sylhet, our rear was exposed and we risked being attacked by the enemy. In fact we were not attacked but encountered them as they were running away from Sylhet. While moving towards Brahmanbaria when I reached Paikpara, my leading battalion, under Major Nasim, had placed a blocking position on the road at our back to prevent any one approaching from our rear from Sylhet. On the 6th of December, India recognised Bangladesh. We were rejoicing the event.

On our way, we found the villages to be deserted, whoever were still there had terrified looks. I ma not sure if they had any idea that their country was going to be independent soon, but they seemed worried. That is because at the initial stage of the war when we are resisting the Pakistan Army, but had to fall back, these people were subjected to severe oppression by the Pak army. So, when we entered again they were not sure whether we would be successful this time. They were very guarded in their reaction.

As we were proceeding we found a vehicle approaching from our rear, which looked like one belonging to Nasim's battalion. We thought perhaps Teliapara axis was clear and the vehicle belonged to these elements. We waived at it to stop but found that it was full of Pak troops. They were fleeing Sylhet. We asked them to put their hands up. But they suddenly started firing and the person sitting on the front of the truck got out and grabbed me. We started jostling. Neither of us could bring out our weapon. My runner was holding my sten gun while his own rifle was slung on his shoulder. He was trying to get the Pak JCO with the sten gun. But due to the jostling at one time I came in front of my runner's sten gun and at another time the Pakistani.

At one time I hit the JCO on the groin and he loosened his grip. At this point I gave him a blow and knocked him over. I hit him once again with my runner's rifle. The JCO rolled over and ran behind my runner, used him as a shield and started firing with the sten at me. At this point I saw another truck approaching us. Thinking it to be belonging to the enemy I tried to fire with the rifle but it gave away. When I tried to use my pistol, I found that it was also damaged. What had happened was that two bullets from the sten that the Pak JCO had fired at me struck the pistol. As Providence would have it, only two of the bullets that he fired from the sten hit my pistol that was slung against my waist. It was a miraculous escape. When I found that I was left with no weapon, I jumped into a nearby ditch. There were Pak soldiers in that ruck, I saw them alighting and tried to shoot.

I saw from the ditch the Pak troops taking up positions. I was desperate. I got up from the ditch drenched in mud, and my dress being of olive green appeared to be khaki, the dress the Pakistanis were wearing. So I got up and proceeded in a manner as if I was a commander inspecting their deployment. I was carrying a small Holy Quran and praying to Allah for a weapon and beseeched Him that I should not be killed without a fight. I walked about 150 yards and entered the village nearby.

In the action of my troops 27 Pak soldiers were killed and 13 injured. I evacuated the wounded to a village nearby for treatment. Since I had no vehicle, I used the Pak vehicle which was still running to evacuate the wounded. Nasim was seriously wounded at that time.

We reached Ashuganj on the 8th. The Pakistani troops, who had withdrawn from Brahmanbaria, fell back on Ashuganj. The Indians and we launched an attack on the Pakistani forces on the 9th. The Pakistani destroyed the Bhairab Bridge on the Ashuganj side with explosives on 9th. On 11th morning they destroyed the Bhairab side of the span and withdrew to Bhairab. The Indians meanwhile sent a battalion to encircle the Pakistanis. We went down south to Lalpur, crossed the Meghna and reached Raipura on the 12th. On the 13th we reached Narshingdi, and crossed Demra on the evening of the 14th.

We did not know much of what was happening in Dhaka, but as we were approaching Dhaka we heard the call to the Pakistanis on the radio to surrender.

When we reached Demra we knew that it was all over. We faced no resistance along the way. We were just walking. As the area was familiar to me I crossed the river, went on the other side and started probe in to Demra from the north i.e. the west of the Sitalakhya and took surrender of one of the Pakistani battalions, whose Commanding Officer was Col Khilji.

I was ordered to be present at the airport to receive General Arora at the Race Course for the surrender ceremony. There could not have been a more exhilarating news for us. I planned to move but had no transport to go to Dhaka. As you can imagine, we were moving all this while on foot. I asked Col Khilji to reach me to the airport in his jeep. We had an Indian Brigadier Sabek Singh with us.

As I was moving towards Dhaka I had to move through the ranks of the Pakistani soldiers who had not surrendered till then and were fired upon even though we were traveling in a Pak jeep. We had to get Khilji to tell the Pakistanis not to fire. We reached the airport by 1530 and found Niazi and Rao Farman Ali. I knew Niazi when he was a Lt Colonel.

There was also Brig Baker Siddiqui, COS, Eastern Command. He was once commanding an East Bengal Regiment. And when I was doing my staff college he was my instructor. He said, "Hello Shafiullah, how are you? You fought well". And I replied, "It was all your teaching sir".

Niazi asked, "How are you Tiger?" I found him to be lacking a commander's charisma. He was heartbroken. We rushed to the Race Course from the airport. I was a member of Bangladesh delegation. But we were not sure what we were supposed to do. I was standing in front of the signing table. That's why I do not appear in any photographs. There was rejoicing all around. We put Niazi on a jeep and sent him away. That night I did not come across anyone.

Major Genral Shafiullah spoke to Kaushik Sankar Das.

'I would rather die than sign any false statement'

Sufia Kamal, one of the leading poets and pioneer in establishing women's rights in Bangladesh, was confined to her residence in Dhanmondi during the whole nine months of Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971.

When the news of the 'killings' of Sufia Kamal and Dr Nilima Ibrahim by Pak Army after the crack down on March 25, 1971 was broadcast on Akashbani, a radio station of the Indian state West Bengal, it drew criticism internationally and countries across the world put diplomatic pressure on the then Pakistani military government for clarification. The Pakistani government was forced to broadcast an interview of the poet on radio only to prove that Sufia Kamal was still alive.

In an interview with now defunct 'Weekly Bichitra' on December 7, 1991, Sufia Kamal recalled her memories of 1971. We publish excerpts of that interview taken by Selim Omrao Khan.

Bichitra:How did you pass the nine months of house arrest during liberation war?

Sufia Kamal: I was confined in my house during the whole liberation war. Nobody was able to come to my house on 26, 27, 28th March due to military presence in front of my house. One night Pakistani army came to the residence of Wing Commander Hamidullah, which was close to my house. Immediately after I heard that Pakistani army arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and seized the belongings of his house.

At the beginning of April, I heard liberation war had started. I tried to gather news about the war in many ways. Pakistani army kept strong watch on my house by setting up a permanent camp in front of it. Everybody used to visit my house through the back door. Pakistani army started arresting people from the month of April. An unknown silence gripped the whole Dhaka city. Borhan Uddin Khan Jahangir, now a professor of Dhaka University, came to my house through back door. He told me, "They (army) are torturing the women. Where can we keep them?" Though I couldn't go out but we tried to make arrangements to keep some girls in a safer place.

In May, Shahadat Chowdhuy, now editor of the 'Weekly Bichitra', Jewel and Rumi came to my house. Rumi used to call me mother. He hugged me and said, "Ma, I will go to the war." I told Rumi's mother Jahanara Imam that his son wanted to join the war. She replied, "Since he wants to, let him go."

In the month of May, many families around my house left Dhaka in search of a safer place. They gave me their ration cards and I collected food from shops with those cards. Prof. Giasuddin and Shahidullah Kaiser would come to my house through the back door and take those food for the freedom fighters.

Pakistani army continued their atrocities in the month of June. I made an arrangement to send Lulu and Tulu, my two daughters, to Agartola. I was not getting any information about them. One evening, a rickshaw puller came to my house and gave me a small letter. It said, "They have safely crossed the border". I was relieved.

I started going out from July. I would go to the hospital with food and medicine for the injured people. At that time there was an acute crisis of food and medicine in the hospital. I used to give those food and medicine to certain rickshaw pullers at Science Laboratory. They would take the food and medicine to the freedom fighters.

I was able to establish closer contact with the freedom fighters in August. As Pakistani army kept their strong watch on me, I would try to help the freedom fighters in different ways ignoring the risks.

Many freedom fighters were caught in the hand of Pakistani army in August. They arrested Shaheed Altaf Mahmud and some of his relative and artist Abul Barak Alvi. Shafi Imam Rumi, Masud Sadek Chullu and Jwel were also arrested. After four days Alvi was released from concentration camp and came to my house. He had marks of atrocious tortures all over his body. I became emotional and hugged Alvi tightly. But Altaf Mahmud, Jewel and Rumi never came back.

The rest of the three months I heard only the news of freedom fighters taking control of many parts. I spent the whole October in anxiety.

In the month of November We came to know that Al-Badar and Razakars were killing many people. Pakistani army increased their vigilant on my house. On November 15, I heard a sad news from Chittagong that Pakistani army killed Kahar Chowdhury, my son-in-law. They killed him because they were very angry with me.

At the beginning of December, I heard that many parts of the country were freed from the grip of Pakistani army. After hearing these news, I had mixed feelings. I was excited and at the same time filled with sorrow. We were getting freedom at the cost of blood shed by so many people. On December 13, freedom fighters began to gather at my resident.

On December 15 Pakistani forces fled from many parts of the city and took shelter inside the cantonment. Pakistani army encircled the house of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman till the morning of December 16.

On December 16, Dr. Dora was shot dead while passing a house of Dhanmondi where Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana and Mujib's wife Fazilatunnesa were kept under house arrest for the nine months. I rushed to her house after hearing the news. After few hours we received information that Pakistani occupation forces would surrender at the then Racecourse Maidan at 3 pm. I was filled with emotions. Thousands of people took to the streets after hearing the news. Freedom fighters shot blank shots in the sky to celebrate the freedom.

What was the most memorable event in those months?
Sufia Kamal: On December 7, Shahidullah Kaiser came to my house. I asked him to leave immediately because there were rumours that Pakistani military was killing the intellectuals in Dhaka. They had prepared a list of intellectuals and other important persons. Shahidullah Kaiser said, "I would not leave Dhaka. If I leave Dhaka then who would work?" At that time Dr. Fazle Rabbi told me over the phone, "I heard that the Pakistani army will kill us and your name is also that list. Why are you not leaving Dhaka?" At that time Dhaka was a city of rumours. After few days I heard that many of my acquaintances were missing. I heard that Pakistani army and their collaborators picked up many noted persons including Shahidullah Kaiser, Munir Chowdhury and Dr. Fazle Rabbi from their houses. They cautioned me to leave Dhaka but they themselves did not leave and got caught. They proved their patriotism to their motherland by sacrificing their lives. All of them helped the freedom fighters during the liberation war in different ways by taking risks. And that's why they became the target of Pakistani army.

Bichitra: "In 1971 no massacre took place in Bangladesh." Some intellectuals in Dhaka signed a statement of the then Iaheya government which contained the above title. How did you refrain from signing the statement?

Sufia Kamal: I could never sign a statement which was not true. Zillur Rahman, the then regional director of Radio East Pakistan, came to my house and forwarded a paper to me to sign. I got angry after reading the paper. I refused to sign it because it said that the Pakistani army committed no crime in the then East Pakistan. I got furious with Zillur Rahman and asked him how I could he expect me to sign something which was a lie. Zillur Rahman became angry too and said, "If you don't give your signature then it might create a problem both for you and your son-in-law Kahar Chowdhury." I told him that I didn't care for my life. I said, "I would rather die than put my signature on the a false statement."

Translated by Akbar Hussain

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