-by Shamsul Arefeen Khan
The principal mastermind of horrendous 1971 genocide in the then East Pakistan ,Military butcher General Yahya Khan fled suddenly in the quite evening of 25th March .A special V VIP Boeing 707 flight of the national Airlines P I A landed at the Dhaka airport at 4 pm to rescue the President from ensuing turbulence. He presumably signed on the eve of his departure , as per earlier consensus of the Army top notches, death sentence of three million fighting folks from among the 75 million independence seeking Bengals of the majority held eastern region of Pakistan to thwart the hitherto pursued peaceful democratic process of their liberation under pragmatic leadership of the sagacious Hero of peoples emancipation and the emerging father of the Bengali Nation,Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. On March 25 the incumbent President had recalled a session of the newly elected National Parliament in limbo, to decide the fate of the federal country.His fruitless and failed negotiations since 10 March with the majority leader led the artificially glued integration of far apart country to jeopardy.
I caught a glimpse of his fleeing at 6 pm from the porch of Dhaka Sheraton Hotel.No security force back and forth,no protocol , no flag fluttering on the car stand , in the casual white bush shirt the five star general,escaped like a fugitive . In quick succession a caravan of the armed forces intruded into the boiling city with massive weapon of assault.
I drove into the scary tranquil,to reach the Soviet Embassy Press councilor Boris at his Gulshan residence to attend an evening party. My friend , Evening Post editor Habibul Bashar accompanied . The host was not home.His madam regretted and requested us to sit for the drinks set for us.She told Boris could be found at Sheraton. I felt no thirst.We took leave of her and rushed for Sheraton.There we found Press Councilor Boris with eminent journalist- communist leader Shahidullah Kaiser escorting visiting Assistant chief of the Izvestia Editorial Board at the head of a just arrived media team.Meanwhile,the Press notice board at Sheraton was updated with the scheduled civil disobedience program of the following days. Members of the local and foreign Press were baffled and bewildered.BBC correspondent Ataus Samad was sent to Bongobondhu for confirmation of the threatened emergency situation.He didn’t return. My work hub ENA office was already sealed by the army. I broke through road barricades up to Bangobondhu’s Dhanmondi residence and got his firm decision to stay home , come what may. His party leaders took his order to flee and reach a foreign shelter.I reached home at 11-30 pm .Right then sky shocking dynamite blast from the proximity of Bongobondhu House, 1km from mine,was heard.We were shattered by the incessant mortar shelling,grenade explosion and gun shots.
Designed to suppress Independence struggle by the of the 56% majority population of Eastern Region and eliminate intrepid freedom fighters,exterminate progressive Muslims and the whole of non Muslim Hindu, Budhist and Christian population, the ruthless genocide was committed by the Pakistan army since midnight of 25 March.It was one of the worst holocausts in world history.It devoured nearly three million lives. At the midnight of 25 March 1971,the undisputed leader of the “Bengali Nation”,Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman , then majority leader of the jeopardized Pakistan Parliament ,was seized and taken to military captivity.The event was preceded by the commencement of infamous “operation search light” that had unleashed heavily armed hordes,devils and wolves in uniform alike fascist German Nazis to have perpetrated the grotesque genocide in East Pakistan.10 million scared and terrified men women and kids were forced to flee their devastated home and hearth.
The Guinness Book of Records lists the Bangladesh Genocide as one of the top 5 genocides in the 20th century.According to New York Times (3/28/71) 10,000 people were killed; New York Times (3/29/71) 5,000-7,000 people were killed in Dhaka; The Sydney Morning Herald (3/29/71) 10,000 – 100,000 were killed; New York Times (4/1/71) 35,000 were killed in Dhaka during operation searchlight.
The mass killings in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 vie with the annihilation of the Soviet POWs, the holocaust against the Jews, and the genocide in Rwanda as the most concentrated act of genocide in the twentieth century.
The birth of a bloody nation honked at the zero hour of 26 th March 1971. Birds woke up. Sleeping Sun blinked.The Moon flashed . Dogs barked .Dynamite explosions shook heaven and earth.Canons roared.Kids screamed.Burning in the blazed houses, victims of wide spread arson, men women, old and young shouted for help and rescue.All cry for SOS went in vain. Bathed in a pool of blood Bangladesh ,the first “Bengali state” was born . A feeble radio broadcast from a 5 megawatt improvised clandestine transmission center at Boldha Garden reporedly installed by Mujib’s co-accused in the so called Agartala conspiracy case, Naval Commander Moazzem, Bangobondhu’s proclamation,- “ Bangladesh is independent”, was heard. It was o1 am on March 26. Mujib’s ardent follower Commander Moazzem , the leader of the clandestine “Free East Pakistan Army” was killed at the small hours of 26 march.He had allegedly ‘planned a massive assault in retaliation of the gruesome homicides against Dhaka Garrison HQ.’ I was told by his close aid Brig.General Dr. Khurshid Ahmed that he had conceived an utopia that spontaneous mass upsurge, like 19 march Joydevpur garrison event , would follow. It was leaked to the the Army .They went to gun down one hundred Fire Fighters then assembled at the Nilkhet fire fighting station and reportedly unloaded ten large tankers then filled with gasoline instead of water.The site was closed to Dhaka University SM Hall.Next morning when Curfew was relaxed and PID accredited journalists were asked to collect Curfew Pass,I made a haste to visit the spot and watched the evidences.
Same hour of the fateful night Supreme leader Mujib’s proclamation was relayed by 2 other service transmitters at Rajarbagh Police HQ and EPR militia HQ at Peelkhana. Army hordes clamped massive crackdown to exterminate the up-rise.
From Kalurghat Radio station at Chittagong ,Mujib’s proclamation was telecast on the following evening by the local Awami League leaders . Same night CIA in a secret message informed Washington that the revolution had taken place in East Pakistan. In USA , CBS television at 3-45 pm on 26 march went on air with the breaking news , “ Mujib declared independence of Bangladesh”. The news carried a Video clip of Mujib’s open air conference with the visiting Western Press team of 20,comprising Radio, TV, News Agency and print media men from US, Canada , Australia and England, at about 2pm on March 23 at his Dhaka residence.Earlier in the morning cheering leader Sheikh Mujib brandished the flag of Independent Bangladesh over a patriotic people’s March-past .As his “Press coordinator” I had the privilege of accompanying the leader at the historic Press meet and also the video image shown at CVS TV. Thus the world people knew about the birth of Bangladesh despite strict media censorship.Freedom loving Afro-Asian nations rejoiced. World leaders acclaimed the emergence of the Bengali Nation and strongly condemned the barbarous mass killing in the independent Bangladesh.
Following the indefinite postponement of the scheduled session of the National Assembly,Awami League chief Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, had ordered civil disobedience movement
all over the country. The government lost grip on the administration.
Pakistani forces surrounded Dhaka city with tanks and other military vehicles. Truck loads of army men spread out through the city streets for stamping out all civil resistance on 25 th night.
At midnight, the Dhaka University halls of residence and the staff quarters were attacked with tanks and armored vehicles. A large number of teachers, students and officials of the University were killed. A number of buildings including some newspaper offices in Dhaka were battered with mortar shells. Many people were burnt alive in the houses set on fire. Various parts of old Dhaka, including Hindu majority area such as Shankhari Patti and Tantibazar came under mortar shells.Hundreds of inmates were gunned down. It was estimated that more than 50,000 men, women and children were killed in Dhaka, Chittagong, Jessore, Mymensingh, Kushtia and other cities within the first three days of the genocide beginning from 25 March 1971.Some observers claimed 50,000 fatalities in Dhaka city alone on the fateful 25th night.
Soon the Pakistan army spread out into the remotest parts of the country. In retaliation the Bengali nationalists began to put up resistance with effect from 26 March following the declaration of Bangladesh Independence by Bongobondhu Mujib. This further intensified the massacre by thr occupation army.
A Pakistani POW in a confession statement said, “we were asked to kill the Hindus and Kafirs (non-believer in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time.”
In view of Awami League’s overwhelming victory in December 07 national polls across Bengali territory, the hawkish Generals in West Pakistan took a decision on Feb 22, to crush the Awami League and its supporters. It was recognized from the beginning that a campaign of genocide would be necessary to eradicate the threat: “Kill three million of them,” said President Yahya Khan at the February conference, “and the rest will eat out of our hands.” (Robert Payne, Massacre , p. 50.) On March 25 the planned genocide was launched. The University in Dacca (Dhaka) was attacked and students exterminated in their hundreds. Death squads roamed the streets of Dacca, killing some 7,000 people in a single night. It was only the beginning. “Within a week, half the population of Dacca had fled. Chittagong, too, had lost half its population. All over East Pakistan people were taking flight, and it was estimated that in April some thirty million people [!] were wandering helplessly across East Pakistan to escape the grasp of the military.” (Payne, Massacre, p. 48.) Ten million refugees fled to India, overwhelming that country’s resources and spurring the eventual Indian military intervention. (The population of Bangladesh/East Pakistan at the outbreak of the genocide was about 75 million.)
The war against the Bengali population proceeded in classic genocidal fashion. According to Anthony Mascarenhas:
There is no doubt whatsoever about the targets of the genocide. They were: (1) The Bengali militarymen of the East Bengal Regiment, the East Pakistan Rifles, police and para-military Ansars and Mujahids. (2) The Hindus — “We are only killing the men; the women and children go free. We are soldiers not cowards to kill them …” I was to hear in Comilla [site of a major military base] [Comments R.J. Rummel: “One would think that murdering an unarmed man was a heroic act” (Death By Government, p. 323)] (3) The Awami Leaguers — all office bearers and volunteers down to the lowest link in the chain of command. (4) The students — college and university boys and some of the more militant girls. (5) Bengali intellectuals such as professors and teachers whenever damned by the army as “militant.” (Anthony Mascarenhas, The Rape of Bangla Desh[Delhi: Vikas Publications, 1972(?)], pp. 116-17.)
In containing the freedom fighters the Pakistan government had raised paramilitary forces with the designations of Razakar, Al-badr and Al-shams. These armed forces joined the army in killing and terrorizing the people. Many people, including intellectuals of the country were lifted by them from their residence for interrogation and only a few of them returned home. They were tortured and brutally killed mostly by bayonet charges and gun-shots at the genocide camps. All these savageries were resorted to for exterminating the Mukti Bahini and their supporters. No international action was taken against the perpetrators of this most barbarous genocide according to UNO convention on genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The genocide continued till the surrender of the occupation army,