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


The ecstasy of victory

Nurul Islam Anu

The nation again celebrates its day of emancipation, marking the victory of an armed struggle to freedom from more than two decades of political and economic subjugation. The background of the struggle is too well-known and its defined or undefined goals have been analysed for the umpteenth time to bear any repetition. Glowing tributes have been paid to heroes for sacrificing lives or the significant contributions they made. The philosophical basis of the struggle and its victory has been eulogised, and derailments, if any, lamented. This is how it has been and will continue to be. Happily, a grateful nation celebrates the most glorious saga of its history written in blood, remembering it to restrengthen a nationhood, so fondly dreamt of, and finally achieved.

This column is a humble attempt at recreating some of the flavour of those moments of victory -- immediately preceding or following 16th December, 1971. It recalls incidents -- significant or small -- that form very much a part of an unwritten history. This endeavour is partly inspired by a streak of fate which placed me, as a small bureaucrat, close to the center-stage where this great drama was being enacted and partly by my abiding interest in the events as something of a discerning observer. Both combined to create a compelling urge in me to narrate, to write -- as a part of my individual tribute to the glory of the Day.

Days immediately preceding 16th December were painfully agonising with information on the war front trickling scantily down -- disturbing rumours floating all around. Information regarding near and dear ones being missing or traceless were depressing. Broadcasts from Shadhin Bangla Betar Kendra were available to only those who had access to them. Radio Pakistan or Dhaka Television was abhorred. Recapitulating personal experiences, in that context, become impelling.

Myself abandoning my official residence at 67 Circuit House with my paralysed father and my old mother -- at moment's notice on the basis of ominous tips -- with the entire house left unlocked -- and trying to flee to my ancestral home in Munshiganj just before the curfew started -- were harrowing experiences. The visit undertaken from Showa-righat in a boat was aborted by the indiscriminate firing by Pakistan Army which resulted in my father being abandoned at the ancestral house of Gazi Bhai and Mrs Fatima Malik (Gazi Bhai is the present Chairman of Eastern Bank Ltd) at Nolgola.

We rushed back to our house to collect the bare minimum and with the curfew dawning, we had to seek refuge in the house of our friend Shamsul Alam at Shantinagar because there was not enough time for us to go to Nolgola. We lost communication with Nolgola since there was no telephone at that place. We spent days gossiping about our fate and the fate of the war itself. Indian jets flying over, diving and bombing Dhaka were the only solacing experience of those agonising hours. We heard that Airport and Bangabhaban were bombed which was strategically designed to break the morale of the Pakistan Army.

Amidst those desperate hours of waiting and being totally confined, the final hour arrived as the news of Pakistan Army Surrender broke. Crowds in thousands thronged the streets in jubilation, welcoming columns of Indian Tanks and Muktibahini entering Dhaka.

Thousands encircled Hotel Intercontinental where Governor Malik and the top brass of Pakistan Army were billeted under the care of International Red Cross. Beyond all the jubilation one could feel a deep sense of patriotism and pride emanating from the look of every Bengali -- sincere and spontaneous -- welcoming a free sovereign nation. Huge newspaper coverage of war heroes -- Bangabir Kader Siddiqui with his beard, long hair and combat outfit, host of other heroes like Col Shafiullah, Col Khaled Mosharraf, Col Ziaur Rahman and other not-too-celebrated heroes kept on pouring inspiring those feelings of the moment to newer heights. Pictures of the surrender of General Niazi started appearing to finally nail the expectation of those who were still living in an elusive dream for intervention by the Seventh Fleet of Nixon -- Kissinger to resurrect Pakistan.

Subsequent events -- small and big -- victory receptions, seminars, experiential narratives of the preceeding nine months were all dominated by a pervasive and strong message of idealism dedicated to the dream of building the new nation up. It was a message of immeasurable strength, resonating everywhere in every one's voice, in all writings -- all pervasive.

The message sometimes lacked details, a little hazy, not too articulate -- but clear in its inner content of building a prosperous Bangladesh under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In my humble judgment, this outpouring of idealism -- honest, sincere and spontaneous -- was the most glorious and precious experience of post-liberation Bangladesh. This needed to be sustained and the relative failure or success of that endeavour will remain a puzzling question to any student of Bangladesh's political history.

I return to Bangabhaban, the potential seat of subsequent national dramas. The entire staff of Bangabhaban jubilantly welcoming me with a sigh of relief, I take command of the house because I was the only officer available to perform that historic act. I find the infrastructure in disarray, Indian bombing damaging a part of the building badly and the furniture all broken. My first act was to visit the deserted office of General Forman Ali at the ground floor, the nerve-centre of many sinister initiatives. I found the room littered with papers, shredded and burnt. After intensive search for a few hours, I recovered some documents of strategic and historic importance. I immediately called the then Home Secretary Mr Khaleq and sent all the papers to him with the discreet attention they deserved.

After trying to set the Bangabhaban in order, I was summoned on the afternoon of 20th December for a meeting at the Home Secretary's Office at the Secretariat. The meeting was attended by Late Mr Nurul Qader Khan, beloved Jhilu Bhai, Awami League leaders Late Mr Gazi Golam Mostafa and Mr Moizuddin.

I was told that the Mujib Nagar Cabinet was to arrive at 11 am next day and Bangabhaban must be made ready to accommodate the entire cabinet. I was perplexed, bewildered -- not knowing what to do on such a short notice. Mr A Hye, SDO, Dhaka Sadar South, a person of boundless energy came to my rescue. He suggested we might call Mr. Sattar, the owner of Purbani Hotel and seek his assistance. I did and Mr Sattar graciously responded.

With no money, not a penny, arrangements for lunch, dinner, breakfast, were made by the Staff for 200 people -- thanks to the cooperation of the entire Thataribazar establishment providing food and other items on credit -- gracefully and voluntarily extended for almost a month. The slogan in the Bazar was -- our government must be fed and supported at all cost. Small individuals inspired by the spirit of 16th December, each contributing his part only made this possible.

Meanwhile the overwhelming task of administering a new nation with policy level structures still located in Rawalpindi was a huge challenge. There was no central bank, no ministry of foreign affairs to attend to international obligations which were of critical importance, no agency to conduct economic relations with potential foreign donors -- all were conspicuously absent. The foreign minister's office was set up at one corner of my own office in Bangabhaban with a table fixed for Mr Abdus Samad Azad; the Central Bank Act was drafted, and a cabinet meeting would be held almost everyday with vital matters coming before it. In those difficult times, the contribution made by Mr Ruhul Quddus, Mr Khandaker Asaduzzaman, Mr Taufiq Imam should be remembered with gratitude.

The political scene was dominated by the absence of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the anxiety over his absence continuously providing a destabilising factor. Both Acting President Syed Nazrul Islam and Prime Minister Mr Tajuddin demonstrated admirable statesmanlike qualities and political acumen in handling what was an extr-emely difficult situation. While they provided the leadership, host of other government officials at every level and all professional groups worked tirelessly imbued with and inspired by the noble goals of building a new nation.

We have travelled a long way as a nation -- with triumphs and disappointments. The march is yet to be over; clearly and most certainly we need the spirit of the 16th to take us to greater glories.

Through the eyes
of a diplomat

M M Rezaul Karim

The boy came running, huffing and puffing, and placed some tabloid newspapers on my table. He looked up at me proudly, as if he had returned home after a victorious battle. It was, nevertheless, the Victory Day, the long-awaited 16 December,1971. The marauding Pakistani troops surrendered unconditionally at Dhaka, thereby heralding the birth of a new sovereign independent state of Bangladesh.

We were at 24 Notting Hill Gate, the seat of the unofficial Bangladesh Mission in London. This was set up formally on 27 August 1971 by the gracious courtesy of a kindly gentleman, Donald Chesworth of the War on Want, on his premises at a nominal rent. The British government closed its eyes to our activities about the liberation movement on condition that we did not permanently fly the flag of Bangladesh on the building till Her Majesty's government accorded recognition to Bangladesh as a sovereign, independent nation.

The Head of Mission was the late Justice Abu Sayeed Chowdhury, who had been designated as the Special Overseas Representative of Bangladesh by the Mujibnagar government and was authorised to lead and guide the liberation movement all over the world outside India. We already had full-fledged diplomatic Missions in India. Justice Chowdhury, whose Deputy I was, was then away to New York donning his other hat as the leader of the unofficial delegation to the United Nations. As a matter of fact, most part of the months of October, November and December he was away to New York lobbying hard at the UN and during his absence the responsibility of working as the Acting Head of our Mission in London was entrusted upon me.

Along with my colleagues and compatriots, we were waiting eagerly to learn about the details of the glory our valiant freedom fighters and comrade-in- arms from across the borders. We sent some volunteers to the Fleet Street, the media centre of London, to bring us copies of special supplements of newspapers even before those hit news stands. That explained the mark of the proud satisfaction with which the young man handed over the supplements to me. Before I could thank him adequately, everyone swooped on the publications. As they were reading, some loudly, their brown faces turned browner with happiness.

Some could not even prevent shedding tears of joy, unparalleled and unbounded joy. Meanwhile, streams of compatriots from all around the city of London came rushing into the Mission. Many of them brought sweets, many restaurateurs brought food, and all of them distributed those among themselves and consumed happily. People were laughing, hugging each other and were beside themselves with joy. Everyone had the unmixed pleasure and immense satisfaction at the end of the genocide on their people and raised hands in prayer to the Almighty in gratitude. It was an all- pervasive scene of happiness, an experience of one's lifetime and hard to describe in words.

After the formal entry of India into the war, we knew that our victory was assured. It was then merely a matter of time. But the time seemed long and all Bangladeshis living abroad started becoming impatient and apprehensive. Finally, the news of the surrender of Pakistani troops in Dhaka and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation on the map of the world came as an unprecedented bliss. We heaved a sigh of relief and were happy to realise that we now could go back home and be with our kith and kin and friends again.

The situation of Bangladeshi diplomats and officials in Pakistani Missions abroad was somewhat different from that of normal Bangladeshi expatriates living abroad. Whereas the latter could easily and unobtrusively join the Bangladesh movement and go to any length in anti- Pakistani propaganda without harming their vocation or employment, this was not so in case of Bangladeshi diplomats and officials living abroad. Strong surveillance used to be carried on them by the Pakistani authorities.

Their passports were taken away and names and addresses in Pakistan of their parents and close relations taken for possible future reprisal. Any indication of indulgence in anti-Pakistani activities would normally make the authorities send the suspected officials back to (West) Pakistan for dismissal or face dire consequences. Those of us who had severed all connections with the Pakistani regime and publicly expressed allegiance to the Mujibnagar government had to evade machinations of the Pakistan authorities to send us back to Pakistan.

We were then resigned to the fate of a political émigré or refugee and to remain prepared never to return home again. Over and above that, unlike other expatriates, it was not easy for a former diplomat to get a job to sustain himself.

A boy's memory of the war

Ekram Kabir

It's the memory of a time of which I'm not expected to remember. It's a tale of a time, I learnt much later in life, when Bangladesh was making lead headlines in the world media. It's a tale of a glory to be remembered for the generations to come. It's a tale of a failure when citizens got divided over the country's independence.

It was nineteen seventy-one and I was a five-year-old boy, just promoted to class one from the infant stage.

It was a late spring day and I saw my father going out, with a shovel in his hand, to prevent the enemy from advancing towards the little town of Jhenidah. Our family lived in the cadet-college campus one-and-a-half miles north of Jhenidah town since my father was a teacher there. The news came that Pakistani army were approaching from the eastern side of the college. I didn't know why. It was quite easy for them to attack from the south from Jessore cantonment.

An hour later, he came back, his clothes wet. He said the Pak army were firing machine guns and his shovel was no match against that kind of weapons. Fighting a regular army with a shovel? "Go jump in the lake," said members of the Mukti Fauz who were actually resisting the army. My father literally did that. He hid himself under water of the canal that ran through the campus.

The next day, when the air raid began, he said we have to go to the college mosque because the planes would not bomb the mosque. When air raids stopped for a while, he sent my mother to the mosque with a group of his colleagues. He could have sent me and my three-year-old brother along with them. I don't why he didn't.

A little later, he started for the mosque holding our hands. It was a mile's walk. Halfway to the mosque, the planes came back but they didn't seem to have any intention to bomb on the campus. But every time a plane came overhead, our father ran to the roadside ditch and made us lie down like turtles.

I don't remember when and how we left the mosque. The next day or probably the day after we were back in our house, and I heard my dad's colleague, Ghulam Gilani Nazr Murshid, asking him to leave the campus.

But there was no way one could escape through the east, west or the south. For once, my father thought of heading towards Chuadanga where our village was located. He gave up the idea when he learnt we would have to pass by Jhenidah East Pakistan Rifles camp which, by then, was taken by the Pakistani army. He decided to head for Kushtia town where my maternal relations lived.

There was absolutely no transport on the road. Four of us got on a rickshaw with one suitcase and began our 28-mile journey towards Kushtia. There was another family who were going to Bheramara. I still wonder why these two rickshaw-pullers agreed to take us.

After traveling about eight miles, when we approached a place called Garaganj, we saw many army jeeps and trucks in the ditches. A little further, there was a big ditch. If I remember it properly, it was the size of half a cricket pitch. My father said it was actually a trap dug by the Mukti Bahini. This was how they stopped the Pak convoys going to Kushtia, my father described.

My father and his colleague along with two rickshaw-pullers carried the rickshaws over the ditch to the other side. Then, we started again.

I don't remember how long it took us to reach Kushtia. But when we arrived there, it was a ghost town. And when we got to the house where my mother grew up, it was an empty, burnt. For quite some time, my father didn't know what to do; where to go. In about twenty minutes while we were still wondering, my chhoto mama [youngest among maternal uncles], who had gone to war, arrived like a godsend. The next thing I knew that we were on a boat crossing the river Gorai going to Hatash Haripur the village adjacent to Shilaidah.

There they were the entire family of my Nana [maternal grandfather] at his village house. After coming through a ghost town, his house seemed like a haat [village market] to me.

I didn't understand much of war except for Mukti Bahini rushing for shelter, occasional arrival of the EPR personnel, and remote sounds of gunshots and bombing. But I remember my mother crying all the time when father had to flee the village when razakars started to hunt him down. There was also one occasion when we had to evacuate Nana's house and spend a night at place of man who was thief by profession.

Apart from that, as children, we were quite happy, since we were a big bunch with all the children gathered in one house. Most of the time, we played war games with wooden guns hand grenades. Our bigger cousins would be the sector commanders and Mukti Bahinis, making us either Pak army or the razakars. Sands and bushes by the bank of Garai were perfect battleground for us.

I, in fact everyone, got scared when the Indian army began air raid in early November. Everyone was also very happy to see the Indian air force in action. However, the elders started to run helter-skelter they were frantically looking for somebody who knew to draw the map of Bangladesh, for they wanted to hoist Bangladesh's flag so that Indian pilots don't bomb that place. The only person who knew how to draw the map was Nilu Apa daughter of my boro mama [eldest among my maternal uncles]. Nilu Apa drew the map on a yellow cloth and one of my aunties stitched the map as quickly as possible.

My Nana got the tallest bamboo from one of his gardens and lifted the flag on the roof of his two-story house. Surprisingly, this incident erased all marks of fear from the face of our elders who we saw very tense and terrified all through the war. And by then, father had come back and my Nana hid him inside a mosque for his safety. He also came out from his hideout when he understood that Bangladesh was winning the war.

There were many things during of war that I didn't understand. But one thing that was clear to me, as my elders were saying, that we were emerging as an independent country.

Copyright 2004 The Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.