Monthly Coupon

Monday, December 16, 2019

Bangladesh declared war against India on Dec 3

Photo: Courtesy Anwar Hossain Foundation
And how a dream became reality
After nearly nine months of a brutal war of independence was coming to an end in early December, the foot soldiers of Mukti Bahini liberated large swathes of occupied Bangladesh backed by the mighty Indian Army, while the ragtag Pakistan soldiers were on the backfoot, converging to the nearest military garrisons.
Pakistan, in desperation, declared “Operation Chengiz Khan” and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bombers began bombardment of six Indian military bases on December 3, 1971. The strike caused little damage.
The Indian armed forces in anticipation of air-strikes had kept their planes in bunkers.
A day before the Pakistan attack on Indian airfields, Indira Gandhi addressed her last public meeting in Kolkata after visiting the refugee camps in the city. Moments after the air-strikes in India’s western war theatre, few top military brasses briefed Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi regarding the PAF attacks on India.
Lieutenant General Sam Manekshaw, chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army, paused for a moment in silence and advised her (Indira) to delay the declaration of war against Pakistan.
She was told that a surprise was waiting at the eastern theatre. Soon, Indira informed her senior aides that India would not declare war against Pakistan. Instead, Bangladesh would strike Pakistan targets in the east. 
She explained to her aides that the imminent declaration of war would jeopardize the diplomatic efforts mustered around the Bangladesh cause -- the genocide and millions of refugee issues. On the eve of a formal war between India and Pakistan, telephones started to ring at the Mukti Bahini headquarters on December 2. The two-month-old Bangladesh Air Force was entrusted to strike targets deep inside occupied Bangladesh.
Earlier on September 28, 1971, Bangladesh Air Force was formed with three fighter pilots defected from PAF and six civil pilots from Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), and another 60 strong ground technical crew also from PAF.
The formation of the Bangladesh Air Force, dubbed “Kilo Flight,” began its journey with three vintage aircraft on October 8, 1971.
Indian civilian authorities and the Indian Air Force gave one American-made stubborn DC-3 Dakota (donated by the Maharaja of Jodhpur), one Canadian-built DHC-3 Otter plane, and one French Alouette III helicopter for the newborn “Kilo Flight.”
The pilots and ground crew gathered for a special mission on September 28 at Dimapur in Nagaland, where they took advantage of the lack of night-fighting capability of the PAF to launch hit-and-run attacks on sensitive targets inside occupied Bangladesh.
After months of intensive training, the formation was activated for combat.
The first sortie was scheduled to take place on November 28 but was postponed by Indian high commands to December 2, which invited frustration among the “Kilo Flight” crews, eagerly waiting to strike inside Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the three civilian aircraft were renovated, suitable for guerrilla warfare operations.
The Otter boasted seven rockets under each of its wings and could deliver 10 of the 25-pound bombs manually through a makeshift door in the bottom of the plane. The helicopter was rigged to fire 14 rockets from pylons attached to its side and had .303 Browning machine guns installed.
It was fitted with a one-inch (25mm) steel plate welded to its floor for extra strength.
The Dakota was also modified, but for technical reasons, it was used to ferry exiled government officials and supplies only.
The Otter took off from Kailashsahar with a two-member crew -- Flight Lt Shamsul Alam and co-pilot Akram Ahmed -- for a mission against targets in Chittagong, the vital seaport, to disrupt logistics and supplies of Pakistani troops.
The second unit -- a helicopter sortie from Teliamura base in adjoining Tripura state -- was piloted by Flight Lt Sultan Mahmood and Flight Lt Badrul Alam and made a deadly strike at Godnail fuel depot, Narayanganj. The smoke from the flames was seen from the capital Dhaka for days.
Two sorties on crucial targets on December 3 completely demoralized the Pakistan military.
Well, the Indians commenced air-strikes from December 4 in the eastern theatre and, by December 7, the lone airfield at Tejgaon airport was disabled and knocked out of operation.
The 13 days was the shortest war in military history, followed by a historic surrender ceremony, and in fact, the second surrender after WWII.
On December 16 in 1971, a dramatic push led to the fall of Dhaka. The jubilant Mukti Bahini chanting “Joy Bangla” and Indian troops riding battle tanks marched into the capital. Indira Gandhi at Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi. on December 12, 1971. said: “The Bangladesh of their dream has today become a reality.” 

First Published in the Dhaka Tribune 16 December 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, also recipient of Ashoka Fellow and Hellman-Hammett Award.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

The nation seeks official list of martyred intellectuals

Postal stamp in memory of martyred intellectuals. (From top left) Dr Harinath Dey, Dr Lt Col A F Z Rahman, Mamum Mahmud, Mohsin Ali Dewan; (from bottom left) Dr Lt Col N A M Jahangir, Shah Abdul Majid, Muhammad Akhter and Meherunnesa. PHOTO: COURTESY


To this day the nation does not have a list of intellectuals abducted and murdered by the marauding Pakistan army and their local henchmen who joined in the plunder, genocide, and rape during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Last week Faruq Faisel, son of martyred journalist Mohsin Ali Dewan approached Mohammad Jahangir Hossain, director general of Jatiya Muktijuddho Council (Jamuka) under the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs.

He described that his father was abducted by the Pakistan army accompanied by armed militia, the Razakars, from his home in Bogura on June 3, 1971. He was the editor of weekly Uttar Bongo Bulletin, published from Bogura and was first elected president of Bogura Press Club. He was also principal of Sherpur Degree College and also established Bogura Law College, Shah Sultan College, and Joypurhat College. His body was never found.

Faruq sought the Jamuka chief’s advice regarding formalities to enlist Mohsin Ali Dewan’s name in the official document of martyred intellectuals. He was surprised to hear that the government does not have any policy to list murdered intellectuals.

Faruq Faisel, presently the regional director for Bangladesh and South Asia of international media rights organisation Article 19, was shocked to learn this from the DG of Jamuka. The government has not published a gazette notification regarding the documentation and compilation of a list of intellectuals who were singled out by the Pakistan army and killed.

Earlier, in a statement in the parliament on February 6, 2014, Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Huq informed that a complete list would be published by June 2014. The list has not seen the light of the day.

The intellectuals were abducted, tortured and killed by Pakistan army and their henchmen Al Badr, the secret death squad who were recruited from among the hardcore members of Islami Chhatra Sangha. The student outfit was rechristened as Islami Chhatra Shibir in 1977, with a similar ideology of Islami Chhatra Sangha.

Most of the senior level Al Badr commanders were indicted for crimes against humanity and tried at the International Crimes Tribunal. The tribunal handed down the death penalty to the leaders of Islami Chhatra Sangha held responsible for the death of intellectuals.

Thousands of intellectuals mostly university, college and school teachers, academics, politicians, filmmakers, physicians, poets, writers, journalists, engineers, sportsmen, lawyers, lyricists, singers, eminent personalities who had been deemed threats by the Pakistan army were abducted, tortured and executed.

The Bangladesh Post Office has issued dozens of commemorative stamps valued at Taka 2 in the memory of the martyred intellectuals.

It is widely speculated that the killings of intellectuals were orchestrated by Major General Rao Farman Ali. After the liberation of Bangladesh, a list of Bengali intellectuals (most of whom were executed on December 14) were found in pages of his diary, left behind at the Governor’s House (now Bangabhaban).

Various names of martyrs often appear in the media quoting different sources including Banglapedia, which listed 1,111 martyred intellectuals. Filmmaker Zahir Raihan, after going through General Ali’s diary, documents, and daily newspapers, claimed to have found 20,000 names. Unfortunately, he was abducted and went missing without a trace since January 1972.

The killing of the intellectuals virtually began following the army crackdown in Dhaka on the night of March 25. The Pakistan army during Operation Searchlight targeted victims and killed them systematically.

An initiative was undertaken by the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs to prepare a countrywide list of the Razakars, Al Badrs, Al Shams and other henchmen of Pakistan military, which we highly appreciate.

Besides preparing a complete list of the collaborators of the Pakistan army for crimes against humanity during the birth of Bangladesh, the concerned authorities should have also taken the initiative to document the names of our martyred intellectuals as a national priority.

First published in The Daily Star, 14 December 2019

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

India Citizenship Bill challenges Bangladesh secular polity

Why did the Indian defense minister so grossly mischaracterize Bangladesh?

Bangladesh’s government was assured time and again that the controversial Indian National Register of Citizens (NRC), specially made for identification of illegal Muslims from Bangladesh residing in Assam state, would not jeopardize bilateral relations between the two neighboring countries.
The race to table and pass the Non-Muslim Citizenship Bill or Citizenship Amendment Bill by the Indian parliament, allegedly to make a demographic shift, seems to migration experts to be an issue for Bangladesh to be embarrassed about.
The bill seeks to grant Indian citizenship to non-Muslim refugees -- Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis -- from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan if they have fled their respective country due to religious persecution.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi pioneered this bill as one of its priorities upon assuming power in 2014.
In an interview broadcast on India Today TV and Aajtak TV, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh stated that the three countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) are “theocratic Islamic states” and “minorities are facing harassment.” Their “state religion is Islam.”
Rajnath Singh told Rahul Kanwal, news director, India Today and Aajtak on December 9, that the bill is for the people of Indian origin living in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, where Muslims are not persecuted.
TV interviewer Rahul Kanwal argued with Rajnath Singh that the Baloch and the Ahmadiyya Muslims are also persecuted in Pakistan, why are they left out? 
He nonchalantly responded that they (Baloch and Ahmadiyya) are Muslims and India has no role to play.
The TV journalist did not hesitate to snap that the ruling party is following the footsteps of Jinnah’s infamous two-nation theory dividing united India into Hindu and Muslim states, which plunged the nation in chaos and crisis.
The influential BJP leader contradicted himself and said: “BJP respects the Indian constitution. It doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion.”
“There is no contradiction in this bill, India is a secular state. We are not looking at it through a religious lens.” He reiterated that the bill is for the people who are of Indian origin, living in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and are facing persecution.
The shocking remark was made in December when the nation finally established a secular, democratic, and pluralist society after the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
Such an outrageous remark was unexpected from a senior leader like Rajnath Singh who had made an official visit to Bangladesh on July 14, 2018, and had an audience with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka.
The top official of the Indian government must have understood that the state constitution is still secular.
Since 2009, Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League and her government strictly believes in a secular polity.
Therefore, it should have been difficult for Rajnath Singh to misread Sheikh Hasina’s government’s pluralist polity.
We are not denying that the Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Adivasis (indigenous people), and also Ahmadiyya Muslims are sporadically attacked by religious zealots, who often slam the minorities for blasphemy. 
The AL government promptly took action against the perpetrators. The law enforcement agencies, local leaders, and civil society remained vigilant against such religious bigots to resist the vandalism of religious minorities’ properties and desecration of temples.
Simultaneously interfaith, secularism, and conflict resolving dialogues are held in vulnerable regions of the country. 
Also, PM Hasina has urged the imams and religious leaders to carry the message of tolerance and peace enshrined in the religion of Islam.
Still, now there is no official reaction to the statement of India’s top official. Such a prompt reaction is not expected from the political leaders of Bangladesh, nor the authorities.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 11 December 2019

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Email: