BANGLADESH LIBERATION WAR’71

Operation Searchlight: Location of Pakistani and Bengali units on 25th March 1971. Some unit locations are not shown.

Col. (ret.) Osmani and Maj. Gen. (ret.) Majid formed part of the team that advised the Awami League leadership on military issues during 1971. As the political crisis deepened in March, many serving Bengali officers of the Pakistan Armed Forces began looking to Bengali politicians for guidance, and Col. Osmani was selected as the coordinator of these clandestine meetings.

Possible Bengali Preemptive Strike?

In the days prior to the crackdown student and youth wings of Awami League had set up training camps countrywide and trained volunteers with the aid of Bengali Ansars/Mujahids and student cadets. Talk of “independence” was in full flow, despite the fact that Awami League leadership had refrained from declaring independence on March 7, 1971. Bengali ex-servicemen of Pakistan Armed forces had also held rallies to declare their support for Awami League. Serving Bengali officers and troops also kept in touch with the politicians, seeking advice and guidance during 1971 when the political situation was becoming uncertain and confrontational. Maj. Gen (ret.) S.I. Majid and Col (ret.) M.A.G Osmani allegedly designed a military plan of action, which broadly was :

  • Capture Dhaka Airport and Chittagong Seaport to seal off the province.
  • EPR and Police to capture Dhaka city aided by Awami League volunteers.
  • Cantonments were to be neutralized by Bengali soldiers.

Bengali officers had advised the sabotage of fuel dumps at Narayanganj and Chittagong to ground Pakistani airpower and cripple armed force mobility.

Awami League leadership opted to try for the political solution and did not endorse any action or preparation for conflict by Bengali soldiers prior to the start of the crackdown. Warnings by Bengali officers that the Pakistan army was preparing to strike were ignored, junior Bengali officers were told by their seniors not to act rashly and keep out of political issues.

Despite all the political filibustering, public fanfare and alleged preparation for armed struggle, Pakistani army caught the Bengali political leadership and Bengali soldiers flatfooted in the night of March 25. The resistance Pakistanis encountered country wide once Operation Searchlight was launched was spontaneous and disorganized, not a preplanned coordinated military response under a central command structure. In most cases Bengali soldiers were unaware of the situation around the country, many units continued to perform routine duties as late as March 31 and rebelled only after they came under Pakistani attack. Some Pakistani generals suggested declaring a general amnesty for Bengali troops upon observing the situation as early as March 31 (it was ignored). Although warned of the departure of Yahia Khan and the movement of Pakistani troops, the declaration of independence by Sk.Mujibur Rahman on March 26 was given after the attack had commenced and was largely unnoticed (ironically Pakistanis picked it up). No countrywide communication reached Bengali soldiers to start the uprising, Bengali troops and officers took the initiative to rebel upon being attacked or hearing the news of the Pakistani attack.

Role of Gen. Osmani in Bangladesh Liberation War

Col. Osmani was present at the house of Sheikh Mujib when Bengali officers informed Awami League leaders of the departure of Yahia Khan and army movement. After failing to persuade Sheikh Mujib to go into hiding, Osmani himself hid in Dhaka until March 29, shaved off his famous mustache (he was often called the man attached to a mustache) then made for the Indian border and reached the area under 2nd EBR control in Sylhet on April 4, 1971. A conference between senior Bengali officers and BSF representatives were held at Teliapara on the same day. On April 10, Bengali senior leaders (Government) in Exile at Agartola appointed Col. Osmani Commander of Bangladesh Forces. Osmani appointed 4 sector commanders: Maj. Ziaur Rahman (Chittagong area), Maj. Khaled Musharraf (Comilla), Maj. K M Shafiullah (Sylhet) and Maj. Abu Osman Chowdhury (Kushtia-Jessore). The following day 3 more sector commanders were chosen: Maj. Nazmul Huq (Rajshahi-Pabna), Captain Nawajish (Rangpur-Dinajpur) and Captain Jalil (Barisal).

Pakistan Army appointed Lt. Gen. A.A.K Niazi GOC East Pakistan on the same day. With the formation of Bangladesh government on April 17, 1971, retired Colonel Osmani was reinstated to active duty under the authority of Bangladesh government and appointed as Commander-in-Chief (CIC) of all Bangladesh Forces. He was later promoted to the rank of full General during the 11-17th of July Bangladesh Sector Commanders Conference 1971.

Initial Activities as CIC

Operation Searchlight: Pakistan army operation April 10 – June 19. Not to exact scale and some troop movements/location are indicative only.

General Osmani did not assume personal command of the Bengali forces after April 17, 1971. The existing Bengali fighting formations were located far away from each other, and lacking a proper command staff and more importantly a fully integrated communication network (besides everything else), exercising real-time command over the widely spread formations was impossible. Osmani instead chose to allow the designated sector commanders to fight on as they saw fit, while he toured the designated sectors, and met with Indian officials in New Delhi and Kolkata to request all possible aid, inquired about Indian plans, outlined the situation in Bangladesh, helped organize the Bangladesh forces structure and sounded out the possibility of direct Indian intervention.

The Bengali resistance had put up an unexpected stiff resistance and had managed to derail the initial Pakistani estimate of pacifying East Pakistan by April 10. However, the initial successes were not sustainable as the Bengali forces began to suffer from lack of trained men, officers, coordination among scattered troops and the lack of central command structure, proper supplies (despite limited aid from BSF), although majority of the country was still outside Pakistani control. Pakistani army had airlifted the 9th and 16th infantry division to Bangladesh by April 10 and was poised to seize the initiative. Gen. Niazi, obtaining a brief from Gen. Raza (the departing GOC East Pakistan), implemented the following strategy:

  • Clear all the big cities of insurgents and secure Chittagong.
  • Take control and open all river, highway and rail communication network.
  • Drive the insurgents away from the interior of the country
  • Launch combing operations across Bangladesh to wipe out the insurgent network.

Against this strategy Bengali field commanders opted to go with holding as much area for as long as possible, The Bengali political leadership hoped to keep the Pakistanis confined into the cities, while the government in exile sought diplomatic recognition and the resistance prepared for guerrilla warfare and awaited the expected of Indian military intervention. Lacking everything except unskilled volunteers, Mukti Bahini fought a conventional battle against an enemy enjoying superiority in number of trained men, firepower, and complete air superiority and played to the strength of Pakistanis. Choosing to attack Bengali forces all over Bangladesh simultaneously, Gen. Niazi concentrated battalion and brigade size forces on company and battalion size defense positions repeatedly, used air strikes and artillery barrages disregarding civilian safety, employed Heli-borne troops to outflank positions and hammered through to reach chosen objectives. Pakistani troop convoys were repeatedly ambushed, but these only delayed the Pakistani advance temporarily. By mid May, Pakistani forces had regained control of most of the province, and by mid June, the battered remnants of the Bengali forces had been driven across the border into India.

India: Silent bystander or active partner?

The main reason General Forman and Yakub had opposed any military action against civilians in East Pakistan was the fear of an Indian attack, which the Pakistan army was woefully unprepared to meet in March 1971. After the crackdown, Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on April 3, 1971 and asked for all possible aid, by which time the Indian government had already opened East Pakistan border and the Indian Border Security Force was offering limited aid to the Bengali resistance. The issue of direct military intervention was discussed between the Indian military and political leadership in April 1971. The case for intervention was based on the following:

  • Until April 10, most of Bangladesh was outside Pakistani control, and the troops were bottled up in a few cities and was facing fierce resistance. It is likely the Indian army, with proper air support, could have quickly taken control of most of the province by aiding the Mukti Bahini.
  • Indian Eastern Naval contingent (1 aircraft carrier and several warships) could have imposed a blockade of the province and cut off supplies from the sea, as the Pakistan Naval arm in the east only contained 1 destroyer and 4 gunboats.
  • Pakistani forces were flying in crucial reinforcements from West Pakistan during March 26 – May 2 and were dependent of the supply depots located in Dhaka, Chittagong and Narayanganj for fuel and ammunition. Most Pakistani garrisons were cut off from each other and reliant on supplies through airlifts. The Indian Air Force, vastly outnumbering the Pakistan Air Force Eastern contingent, could have cutoff the air-links and destroyed the supply depots (as it did in December 1971).

Against this, the military leadership had to consider the following: Indian army did not have a suitable force available for action in April 1971, and had to assemble one from forces deployed in other areas for such an operation. Could an adequate force be put in place without jeopardizing the security of the northern and western borders of India in time to make a difference in East Pakistan?

  • Could a logistical network be established around East Pakistan to support the combat force before Pakistani army took over the province?
  • Should the Indians fail to gain a quick victory, was the army and the government ready (logistically and otherwise) for a long war, especially during the monsoon season in Bangladesh?
  • Intervening in East Pakistan would make India the aggressor in International circles. Was India ready to diplomatically meet the international reaction and had India ensured the cooperation of a superpower as a diplomatic ally and arms supplier, crucial for running a long war?

Although some of the Bengali leadership hoped for and expected an Indian military operation at the earliest, a view also shared by some Indian officers, Indian army eastern command decided in the present condition such a move was inadvisable, and a full attack could only take place after November 15 at the earliest, after deliberate and extensive preparations, which was further elaborated to the Indian cabinet by Gen. Sam Manekshaw. Indian leadership decided not to directly intervene, but chose to get involved: Eastern command took over responsibility for East Pakistan operations on April 29, and on May 15 launched Operation Jackpot, a full fledged operations to provide arms, training, equipment supply and advice the Mukti Bahini fighters engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Pakistan armed forces. As an Indian diplomat commented to General Osmani, expecting direct Indian armed intervention in April was not practical.

Rebuilding the Bengali forces

***

During the period of April-June, General Osmani was busy with touring the various areas in an effort to boost morale and gather information, meeting with his Indian counterparts and setting up the Bangladesh forces command structure. The Indian army had taken over supplying the Mukti Bahini since May 15 and launched Operation Jackpot to equip, train, supply and advise Mukti Bahini. By mid June, Bengali fighters had been driven into India and was in the process of setting up infrastructure to run a sustained, coordinated guerrilla campaign. Bengali high command had begun to rebuilt and redeploy Mukti Bahini units since mid May, and now began to tackle the task in earnest. During June –July, Mukti Bahini activity slacked off and the quality and effect of the insurgency was timid and poor.

The task of planning and running the war was enormous, much more so because of the acute shortage of trained officers in the surviving Bengali forces. Of the 17,000 active duty Bengali soldiers (Army and EPR) who faced the Pakistani onslaught on March 25, 1971, about 4000 became prisoners, and casualties had reduced the number of available trained personnel even further. Retired servicemen and new trainees had boosted that ranks somewhat, but further training and recruiting was needed to achieve the maximum possible results. Having lost the initial conventional war, but having secured Indian support and set up an infrastructure to run the war, the next step for the Mukti Bahini commanders was to come up with a comprehensive strategy with clearly defined roles and goals – something that also involved creating a substantial guerrilla force from scratch.

The July 10-15 sector commanders conference was to provide much needed guidance in this regards. The conference was chaired by Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed and coordinated by Gen. Osmani, and took place at 8, Theater Road, HQ of the Bangladesh Government in exile.

The Conference: Osmani Resigns

Col. Osmani was not present during the first day of the conference -he had resigned as CIC Bangaldesh forces the previous day. A group of Bengali officers had discussed an idea about creating a War Council, with Maj. Ziaur Rahman as its head and all the sector commanders as members to run the war effort – Osmani was to be the Defence Minister. Presented by Major Q.N. Zaman and supported by Maj. Ziaur Rahman during a discussion session of all sector commanders, the officers feared that given the distance between sector headquarters and Kolkata and the poor state of communication, it might be better to have a separate operational wing to run the war effort to lessen the burden on Osmani. The facts were later probably misrepresented to Col. Osmani, who resigned as this proposal was not complementary to his leadership abilities or to his post as CIC. The following day Osmani resumed his post as CIC after all sector commanders requested him to resume his post. The meeting went on without a glitch and decisions on strategy and organization was taken – all of which were vital for the War. The major decisions were:

  • Designating the operational area, strength, command structure and role of the Mukti Bahini. General Osmani was to remain CIC, with Lt. Col. MA Rab (posted at Agartola with no combat duties) as the Chief of Staff and Army Chief, Group Captain A.K Khandker was made the Deputy Chief of Staff and Air Force Chief. Bangladesh was divided into 11 combat sectors, and individual sector commanders were selected or reconfirmed for each sector. Out of the 11 proposed sectors, 8 became organized and active by July, with sectors no 5 and 11 becoming active in August. Sector no 10 (encompassing all areas east of Teknaf and Khagrachari) was never activated. and the proposed area of operation for this sector was incorporated in sector no 1. Later the naval commando unit activities were designated as ‘Sector 10′ and commanded by Osmai himself.
  • Mukti Bahini personnel were divided into 2 broad subdivisions: Regular Forces, and Freedom Fighters.

Regular Forces: This contained the defecting Bengali soldiers and retired members of the Pakistan army and EPR troops. Organised into battalions, these later became known as Z Force, K Force and S Force brigades. Lack of trained regular troops meant majority of recruits were either ex EPR servicemen or newly trained recruits. Those trained men from regular army, EPR, police, Ansar/Mujahids not included in the regular formations were formed into sector troops – which were more lightly armed but operated as conventional force units. Army officers were in command of these detachments. Sector troops were not armed like the regular battalions, but received monthly salaries like their comrades. The regular force personnel initially operated in the border areas.

Freedom Fighters: Also known as Gonobahini, the newly trained guerrillas were part of this organization. They were lightly armed, received no monthly pay and were deployed mostly inside Bangladesh upon completion of training.

  • Political and civil organization for each sector as well as war objectives were also discussed and decided upon. Use of Guerrillas to hit the Pakistani armed forces, their collaborators, economic and logistical infrastructure was given priority.

Osmani as CIC: Leadership style

General Osmani was not a micro-manager who liked to run the day by day operations and delve on details of every plan being hatched by the sector commanders. He delegated much to the sector commanders, which gave them broad freedom of action but also increased their workload – often stretching their shorthanded sector staff beyond their limits. On the other hand, given the distance between Kolkata and the sector HQ’s and the absence of any direct links (communications had to be channeled through Indian army comm. system), General Osmani had little choice but to delegate. However, the absence of an integrated command structure made it impossible to implement a full fledged strategy timely -which was a weakness that remain unsolved.

  • General Osmani was not a micro manager obsessed with detail and control. He preferred the sector commanders to implement the broadly agreed on strategy as they saw fit. This gave them freedom of action but sometimes the lack of guidance from Bangladesh forces HQ, especially for resolving differences of opinion with the Indian sector officers, created unwanted tensions and delays.
  • A thoroughly professional soldier, Osmani lived a Spartan life, wore simple clothes, ate normal food and used camp furniture despite living in Kolkata during the war, setting up an example for his subordinates. A man of refined culinary tastes, he appreciated the meals served by Indian officers during their meetings but ever the gentleman, never insisted on this. His style of living was exemplary for his subordinates in this regard. He did insist on maintain proper protocol while dealing with his Indian counterparts. As CIC Bangladesh Forces his position was equivalent to that of  Gen. Sam Manekshaw, and his dealings with Lt. Gen. Jacob and Lt. Gen Aurora was according to this view and combined with his stubborn nature, made him a hard man to work with in Indian eyes. Osmani was pragmatic enough to not to allow his insistence on protocol impede the war effort. He did not view Indians working through Group Captain A.K. Khandker, the deputy Chief-of-Staff (whom the Indians as a pragmatic, polished, officer with a practical approach and clear grasp of strategy), as circumventing his authority.
  • Having a brusque manner and a volatile temper, he was not above dressing down his subordinates in public – something that was resented by his subordinates. He also had a habit of discussing the legal frame of the future Bangladesh army or other issues not related to the war while touring the front – much to the bemusement and irritation of his fellow officers.
  • He was against politicizing the Bangladesh forces and in this he had the full support of Tajuddin Ahmed, the prime minister. He appointed officers on merit and not political affiliation. Although for security reasons only Awami league members were recruited initially for the Mukti Bahini, Osmani opened up the recruitment to all willing to fight for Bangladesh in September with the Prime Ministers approval and support. Sector commanders had recruited non Awami league member prior to this, and Osmani had turned a blind eye despite some of the commanders being branded as leftists and insubordinate by some political leaders.
  • Osmani was aware of his image and place in the Bangladesh forces and used it to his advantage. His ability and scope to solve the problems was limited by the extent of Indian support and Bangladesh government in exiles agenda. When confronted with a deadlock, he would often threaten to resign, which would almost always result in the others giving in – another reason some of his subordinates took exception to his leadership style. Only once was his bluff called – when he threatened to resign over placing Bangladesh forces under the Joint Command headed by Lt. Gen. J.S. Aurora, Tajuddin Ahmed agreed to accept if a written resignation was submitted. Gen. Osmani dropped the issue.

Strategy for the Campaign :

General Osmani decided on the strategy for Bangladesh forces to follow and liaison with the Indian brass to keep them appraised of such decisions during July – December of 1971, and was not destined to organize an operation like the Test Offensive or lead in a battle similar to Dien Bien Phu during his sting as CIC of Bangladesh forces. His leadership and strategy was a product of his professional career and the demands of the situation on the ground, which also influenced his leadership style to a large extent.

His differences with the Indian brass was to start with the selection of his initial battle strategy. Bangladesh government had hoped to raise a regular force of 30,000 soldiers and 100,000 guerrillas during 1971 – something which the Indians thought unrealistic. There were also issues concerning the training, deployment and objectives of these forces where opinions between Bangladeshi and Indian leadership differed.

The initial Strategy (July – September 1971)

General Osmani was a conventional soldier with orthodox views and his initial strategy reflects his background. The uncertainty over the timing, scope and scale of direct Indian military intervention was another factor that influenced his decision. Osmani decided to raise a conventional force of regular battalions and use them to free an area around Sylhet, while organizing countrywide guerrilla activity as the secondary effort. Bangladesh government in exile requested Osmani to make use of the one resource available in abundance manpower, and he did not object to the plan of sending thousands of guerrillas into Bangladesh with minimal training. It was hoped that some of the guerrillas would attain the level of expertise needed through experience.

Two ways to skin a cat

The Indian planners were concerned with the quality and effectiveness of a force raised in haste. They were concerned that such a force would lack the trained junior leaders needed to run an effective campaign. They had envisioned a force of perhaps 8,000 personnel with at least 3/4 months training (leaders receiving longer training), led by the surviving officer/men of the EBR/EPR to commence operations in small cells inside Bangladesh by August 1971. The raising of additional battalions only drained away potential leadership candidates away from the guerrilla forces -undesirable for the Indian outlook.

General Osmani was stubbornly insistent, and his stubbornness did not sit well with the Indians – who thought deputy chief of staff A.K Khandkar was easier to work with. However, Indians provided support in raising 3 additional battalions and 3 artillery batteries, but also insisted that the raising guerrillas be given due attention, to which Osmani raised no objection. Indians and Osmani differed on the location of the Free area – Indians suggested Mymensingh, but Osmani opted for Sylhet. General Osmani got his way again. Thus while the EBR battalions made ready, Mukti Bahini began sending 2,000 – 5,000 guerrillas inside Bangladesh each month from July onwards. Mukti Bahini commanders had agreed to the following objectives for the guerrillas during the sector commanders meeting: Increase Pakistani casualties through raids and ambushed by sending the maximum possible number of guerrillas in the minimum possible time inside Bangladesh.

  • Cripple economic activity by destroying power stations, railway lines, storage depots and communication systems.
  • Destroy Pakistani force mobility by blowing up bridges/culverts, fuel depots, trains and river crafts.
  • The objective is to make the Pakistanis to spread their forces inside the province, so attacks can be made on isolated Pakistani detachments.

General Osmani, however, supported the Indian initiative for training naval commandos, who were an elite unit trained as per the Indian doctrine, and achieved spectacular results during 1971, demonstrating that he was pragmatic enough to accept Indian suggestions. He took exception to the creation of Bangladesh Liberation Force (BLF) the other name Mujib Bahini, a stance supported by sector commanders and the Bangladesh government in exile.

Issues regarding Mujib Bahini

General Osmani was Commander in Chief of all Bangladesh forces, but a number of units were outside the control of Bangladesh forces HQ. Bengali fighters had raised several bands to fight the Pakistani opposition in various areas of Bangladesh (Kaderia Bahini, led by Tiger Siqqiqi of Tangail is the most famous), and these operated independently of Bangladesh HQ. Osmani spared little thought on them, but the so call Mujib Bahini became a major cause of concern for the Bangladesh government in exile establishment. The Leaders of the Mujib Bahini were initially given permission by General Osmani to recruit student and youth volunteers for the war, but in fact had become leaders of a fully organized, well armed and trained force, who’s allegiance was firstly to Sheikh Mujib and then to their own commanders, not to the Bangladesh Government in exile.

No one doubted the skill of the Mujib Bahini or commitment of its members to Bangladesh or their patriotism. Trained by General Uban, an insurgency expert, this force operated under the direction of RAW outside the Bangladesh Forces chain of command and the knowledge of Bangladesh Government. Mujib Bahini members were better trained and better armed than their Mukti Bahini counterparts. Bangladeshi government and military leadership were concerned because:

  • Most of recruits of Mujib Bahini had been identified as potential future guerrilla leaders of Mukti Bahini, who had suddenly disappeared from the camps – which was first noticed by Mukti Bahini command in June 1971. Their recruitmnt into a separate force meant the loss of leadership potential for the Mukti Bahini. Operating outside the command structure and knowledge of Bangladesh leadership, their activities, successful or otherwise, often hindered Mukti Bahini operations. They would often strike in areas without Mukti Bahini knowledge, bringing in unexpected Pakistani retaliation and unhinging Mukti Bahini plans for the area.
  • Some of the activities of Mujib Bahini was creating misunderstanding and distrust in the field. Some of their members had tried to influence Mukti Bahini members to switch their allegiance, in cases had tried to disarm the guerrillas and some clashes had taken place between Mukti Bahini and Mujib Bahini members, and in some areas Mukti Bahini sector commanders arrested known Mujib Bahini members. The Indian Army and other organizations involved in supporting the Bengali resistance were also dissatisfied with the activities of this independent organization which was operating outside the existing chain of command. Bangladesh Government in exile took various diplomatic initiatives, including approaching RAW director Ramnath Kao to bring this organization under the control of the government or under General Osmani without success. By August it was clear the independent activities of Mujib Bahini was detrimental for the war effort and Gen Osmani threatened to resign unless they were brought within the command structure of Bangladesh forces. A meeting with D.P Dhar on August 29 produced an assurance that Mujib Bahini would inform of their activities beforehand to the sector commander prior to commencing their operations. Another meeting with Ramnath Kao on September 18 produced nothing about RAW relinquishing their control over Mujib Bahini.

On October 21, Bangaldesh Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed met with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and she ordered D.P Dhar to solve the issue, who in turn informed Lt. Gen. B.N. Sarkar to meet with Mujib Bahini leaders and take necessary steps. Mujib Bahini leaders failed to show up, but sensing which way the wind was blowing, agreed to stop their disruptive activities although they continued their Guerrilla activities in side the country. I one instant  Mujib Bahini, along with the Special Frontier Force under the command of Gen.Uban, went on to liberate Rangamati in December and helped the Indians dismantle the Mizo insurgent network.

Action and Reaction: June – September 1971

Pakistan army, after expelling the Mukti Bahini from Bangladesh, had enjoyed a relatively peaceful time between June and July 1971. Mukti Bahini activities had slacked off during the months of preparation, and although the Indian army had begun shelling border outposts (about 50% of the existing 370 were destroyed by the end of July) to ensure easier infiltration into occupied territories. Bengali regular forces were not ready for operation until mid July. With the conflict largely polarized around the India-East Pakistan border region, Pakistan Eastern command began reorganizing their forces to consolidate their control of the province. The following strategic and tactical steps were taken:

  • Pakistan Army deployed the 9th Division (CO Maj. Gen. Shaukat Riza, HQ Jessore, containing the 57th and 107th brigades, which were part of the 14th division prior to March 25) to operate in the area south of the Padma and West of the Meghna Rivers. The 16th Division (CO Maj. Gen. Nazar Hussain Shah, containing the 23rd (formally of the 14th division), 34th and 205th brigades) was responsible for the area north of the Padma and west the Jamuna rivers. The 14th Division (CO: Maj. Gen. Rahim. Khan, HQ: Dacca, containing the 27th, 303rd and 117th brigades, formally of the 9th division, and the 53rd brigade) looked after the rest of the province.
  • The E.P.C.A.F (East Pakistan Civil Armed Force – 23,000 troops with 17 operational wings was raised from West Pakistani and Bihari volunteers. Razakars (50,000), Al-Badr and Al Shams (5,000 members from each unit) were organized from collaborating Bengali people. Many of the imprisoned EPR and Army troops were screened and absorbed into the Razakar organization.
  • Shanti Committies were formed rally public support and provide leadership to Bengalis collaborating with the Pakistani authorities. The police force was reorganized, 5000 police was flown in from West Pakistan and several civilian bureaucrats were posted to run the civil administration.

This vast organization was employed to control the province with an iron fist. Pakistani authorities decided to continue the terror campaign, and rejected all call for political compromise and general amnesty, and did nothing to assuage the feeling of the Bengali population suffering under the army occupation. Strategically, the army deployed in all the sensitive towns, while the other para military units were deployed around the country. The EPCAF took over the duties of the defunct EPR – border and internal security. Pakistani forces occupied 90 Border Out Posts (BOPs) that were deemed crucial, out of 390, half of which had been destroyed by Indian shellfire by July end. Often ad hoc units were created by mixing EPCAF and Razakars around a skeleton army formation for deployment in forward areas. Pakistan army probably enjoyed their most peaceful period during the occupation of Bangladesh in 1971 between late May and mid July, when Mukti Bahini was reorganizing and the Indian army was implementing Operation Jackpot in their support. From their bases the army conducted sweep and clearing operations in the neighboring areas to root out insurgents and their supporters. In absence of a fully fledged logistical system, the troops were ordered to live off the land – abuse of which led to widespread looting and arson. With the insurgency in it’s infancy – Pakistani army was most active during the months of April to June.

Mukti Bahini Response: The Monsoon Offensive

Mukti Bahini commanders had agreed to the following objectives during the sector commanders meeting : Increase Pakistani casualties through raids and ambushed by sending the maximum possible number of guerrillas in the minimum possible time inside Bangladesh.

  • Cripple economic activity by hitting power stations, railway lines, storage depots and communication systems.
  • Destroy Pakistani mobility by blowing up bridges/culverts, fuel depots, trains and river crafts.
  • The objective is to make the Pakistanis to spread their forces inside the province, so attacks can be made on isolated Pakistani detachments.

As Bengali guerrillas began to increase their numbers and activities inside Bangladesh from June onwards, sending 2000 – 5000 guerrillas across the border and began to become more active in the border areas, Pakistani army also began to adapt to the situation. Razakars and EPCAF were employed to deal with the internal security matters. Pakistan forces, unable to match the Indians shell for shell, declined to take up the challenge, relying on sudden barrages at selected areas. Choosing not to defend all the border outposts, Pakistani forces occupied and fortified 90 strategically located BOPs, while over half of 390 BOPs were eventually destroyed by Indian shellfire by July end to make Mukti Bahini infiltration easier. Pakistanis also build up an intelligence networks to collect information on Mukti Bahini activity and sent informers across the border to give early warning of Mukti Bahini activity. Denied permission to launch cross border preemptive strikes, ambushes were laid for Mukti Bahini infiltrators and artillery was used to interdict movement whenever possible. Time consuming efforts were made to defuse mines, a favorite Mukti Bahini weapon. The Mukti Bahini activity was viewed as timid and the main achievements were blowing up of culverts, mining abandoned railway tracks, and harassment of Pakistani collaborators. Bengali regular forces had attacked BOPs in Mymensingh, Comilla and Sylhet, but the results were mixed. Pakistani authorities concluded that they had successfully contained the Monsoon Offensive, and they were not far from the truth.

Silver Linings among dark clouds

The sector commanders reviewed the results of the Mukti Bahini activities during June – August 1971, and General Osmani also conducted an overall assessment in September 1971. The findings were not encouraging; Mukti Bahini had failed to meet the expectations. The reasons for this were numerous and had to be properly handled to get the war effort on course. The main reasons identified were:

  • The guerrilla network was being built and had not taken firm root in Bangladesh. Guerrillas, with only 3/4 weeks of training, lacked the experience and numbers to compensate their lack of skills. In many cases, they drifted back towards the border after a few days of operations or when under pressure from Pakistani forces. Razakar and Shanti Committees were effective in countering the Mukti Bahini activity. About 22,000 better armed Razakars had become such a threat that in some areas Mukti Bahini ceased operating, and in other areas they were forced to operate against the Razakars, which suited the Pakistanis as it kept their forces from harm.
  • Uncertainty over re-supply and maintenance had caused many of the Guerrillas cautious, they were unwilling to use up their scanty ammunition, which also hampered operations.
  • Until the ‘’Crack Platoon’’ members hit targets in Dhaka and the naval commandos simultaneously mined ships in Chittagong, Chandpur, Narayanganj and Mongla on August 15, the slow pace of operations inside Bangladesh was demoralizing for all involved – the Bangladesh issue was losing ground in the international arena
  • Bengali regular troops had attacked the BOPs with spirit, but more training, better communication and coordination with Indian army support elements were needed for launching a successful conventional campaign. The attack on Kamalpur by 1st EBR was a bloody repulse, 3rd EBR attack on Bahadurabad was a success. Likewise, attacks by 2nd, 11th 4th EBR yielded mixed results that only confirmed the conclusion.
  • Coordination between Indian forces and Bangladesh forces were poor, there were several incident of misunderstanding and the supply situation needed major improvement. In some areas relationship between Bengali and Indian commanders had degraded to the point of finger pointing and in many cases conflicting messages had come to Indian and Bengali formations regarding the same operation. These issues had further eroded the combat capacity of the Bengali forces on The ground during June – August 1971.

  

  The one two punch

 

Partial representation of Pakistani forces and Mukti Bahini operational setup in November 1971. Some of the location are indicative because of lack of primary data.

The failure of the so called monsoon offensive caused Bangladesh forces high command to rethink their strategy. Since the Bengali regular brigades (Z, K and S forces) were not ready to liberate and hold a lodgment area on their own, and there were several issues with the ongoing guerrilla campaign, it was clear a long struggle awaited the Bangladeshi resistance which could be cut short with a direct Indian military intervention – which was still uncertain. Several factors changed prior to Bangladesh High Command implementing the next strategy.

  • The uncertainty over Indian involvement changed – after a meeting between Indian and Bangladesh Prime ministers in October it became clear India was likely to intervene sometime between December 1971 and April 1972.
  • The Indian –Soviet Friendship pact assures India of superpower support – and enhanced Indian capability to supply the Mukti Bahini as Russia began to send their WWII vintage surplus weapons to India.
  • The Indian Army Eastern Command began to improve their logistical network from July 1971, which also enabled getting supplies to the Mukti Bahini easier. Major General B.N. Sarkar of Indian army began coordinating the war objectives for Mukti Bahini after consulting with Indian and Bengali officers on the ground and Bangladesh Forces HQ, and distribute the same set of objectives monthly to all concerned. This eliminated the misunderstandings and coordination problems between the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army to a large degree.
  • At the beginning of the war Indian authorities officially endorsed only Awami League affiliated volunteer training, after the Soviet-Indian friendship pact for security reasons as India had security issues with some of their domestic left parties activities. After the Soviet-Indian pact, Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmed opened up recruitment to all comers.

Initially, General Osmani thought about dismantling the regular battalions operating under Z, K and S forces and sending platoons from these forces to aid the guerrillas. His associates advised against this and he ultimately let them be, but deployed the Z force battalions separately to aid guerrilla actions around Sylhet. It was decided to sent at least 20,000 trained guerrillas into Bangladesh from September onwards. If even 1/3 of the force succeeded in it’ objective, the effect on the Pakistani forces would be devastating.

Effectiveness and importance

From August onwards the quality, number and effectiveness of Mukti Banhini operations showed a marked improvement. Army convoys were ambushed, police stations attacked, vital installations were destroyed. From October onwards Mukti Bahin became active bat on the border and inside Bangladesh to such degree that Pakistani resources were stretched and morale diminished to counter them. Despite the limitations and challenges rising from the state of the Indian transport system (training camps were located inside India), remoteness of the guerrilla bases, unavailability and inadequacy of proper supplies, and the decision of Bangladesh High Command to put the maximum number of guerrillas into battle in the minimum time possible (often after 4 to 6 weeks of training, sometimes resulting in only 50% of the personnel receiving firearms initially), the 30,000 regular soldiers (8 infantry battalions, and sector troops) and 100,000 guerrillas that Bangladesh eventually fielded in 1971 managed to destroy or damage at least 231 bridges, 122 railway lines and 90 power stations, while killing 237 officers, 136 JCOs/NCOs and 3,559 soldiers, of the Pakistan army and an unspecified number of EPCAF and police and an estimated 5,000 Razakar personnel during the period of April-November 1971, the majority of which occurred after September. The Mukti Bahini efforts also demoralised the Pakistani Army to the extent that, by November, they left their bases only if the need arose. The Naval commandos had managed to sink or damage 15 Pakistani ships, 11 coasters, 7 gunboats, 11 barges, 2 tankers and 19 river craft. Logistics was becoming a serious problem, of the minimum 600 tons needed by the Pakistan army daily, Mukti Bahini activity was hampering a substantial portion from going through. Against this move the Pakistani high command decided not to yield any territory and deploy their forces along the whole border. The grouping and regrouping of forces to secure the border and deal with the Mukti Bahini inside Bangladesh led to a loss of cohesion among Pakistani units, especially among the infantry, artillery and mortar regiments. The loss of maneuverability exposed them to a one dimensional battle. This stretched them thin without any effective reserves, and they became vulnerable to selective Indian and Bengali strikes when the Undeclared War started from mid November. The prolonged exposure and steady casualties also sapped morale and reduced the effectiveness of the troops considerably.

Foot Note :

The total BDF in War of ’71 (Army, BDR, Police) : 25505

Died in War                                  :   3,731

Civilian FF in War of ’71 (short trained and guerilla) : 210581

Indian soldiers died                    : 8,772

Post-independence activities Of Gen. Osmai

General Osmani held the title of Commander-in-Chief until his retirement in April 1972, when the Bangladesh Forces officially dissolved during the final Sector Commanders Conference into three independent regular forces, the Bangladesh Army, the Bangladesh Navy, the Bangladesh Air Force and the creation of Bangladesh Rifles. After the country’s independence, Osmani retired from service 7 April 1972. He was then included in the cabinet of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as Minister of Shipping, Inland Water Transport and Aviation. Osmani was elected a member of the national parliament in 1973, and was included in the new cabinet with charge of the ministries of Post, Telegraph and Telephone, Communication, Shipping, Inland Water Transport and Aviation.

He resigned from the cabinet in May 1974 after the introduction of a one-party system of government through the Fourth Amendment to the constitution. Along with Barrister Mainul Hosein, both elected MPs resigned from the Awami League, protesting at the abolition of democracy in Bangladesh by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

M.A.G. Osmani was appointed an Adviser to the President in charge of Defense Affairs by Khondaker Mostaq Ahmed (then President and Law Minister currently) on 29 August 1975, but he resigned immediately after the killing of four national leaders inside the Dhaka Central Jail on  November 03, 1975.

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