Mukti Bahini, the forgotten terrorists

19 Sep

 

By Farrukh Saleem

 

In the sub-continent, India laid the foundation of cross-border terrorism. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which was established on 21 September 1968, was preceded by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and back in 1968 IB operatives had already begun sowing cross-border seeds to what would later become the Mukti Bahini.

For the record, the Mukti Bahini was preceded by the Mukti Fauj which in return was preceded denominationally by the Sangram Parishad. Mukti Bahini guerillas-along with RAW operatives and regulars from the Indian Army-operated training camps in the Indian states of West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura.

By late 1970, the Mukti Bahini, armed and trained by India, had begun undertaking subversive activities targeting power plants, railways, industries, bridges, fuel depots, looting banks, raiding warehouses, mining ships and killing non-Bengalis. On 26 March 1971, Pakistan Army initiated Operation Searchlight-a law-and-order enforcement operation to safeguard the lives and properties of East Pakistanis and establish the writ of the state. As of March 1971, the total strength of Pakistan army troops posted in East Pakistan stood at 12,000 (armed only with small weapons).

By late-April 1971, Operation Searchlight had managed to throw the Mukti Bahini across the border back into India. Mukti Bahini’s ‘Monsoon offensive’ was also neutralized.

On 15 May 1971, Indian Army’s Eastern Command officially initiated ‘Operation Jackpot’ to reorganize the Mukti Bahini who were on the run. The Indians equipped the Mukti Bahini with Italian howitzers, Dakota DC-3 aircraft, Otter DHC-3 fighter planes and Allouette helicopters (Italian howitzers used by the Mukti Bahini are now preserved at the Bangladesh Military Museum in Dhaka).

Operation Jackpot began churning out up to 5,000 trained guerilla fighters every month. Mukti Bahini guerillas along with RAW operatives and Indian Army regulars would enter East Pakistan through forward bases that were set up in Tripura and West Bengal.

According to Archer Blood, an American career diplomat who served as the last American Consul General to Dhaka, “Indian soil was made available for training camps, hospitals and supply depots for the Mukti Bahini” and the Mukti Bahini had a “safe haven to which it could retire for rest, food, medical supplies and weapons….”

In Nagaland, the Indian Armed Forces established a jungle airstrip for the Mukti Bahini from where Indian Air Force trained pilots conducted sorties by Otter DHC-3 aircraft. India’s Eastern Command trained more than 400 naval commandos and frogmen to drown vessels in Chittagong, Chandpur and Narayanganj.

In Dehra Dun, Major-General Oban “selected the best personnel from the Mukti Bahini” and gave them political and military training. One Mukti Bahini Sector Commander, Quazi Nooruzzaman, writes: “Having received the training, political commandos found it embarrassing to identify themselves as products of the Indian authorities. So they gave themselves the name of Bangladesh Liberation Force.”

The Mukti Bahini killed anywhere from 100,000 Biharis (according to the ‘Chronology for Biharis in Bangladesh’) to 150,000 Biharis (according to the ‘Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict; page 64). Qutubuddin Aziz, in ‘Blood and Tears’, has documented 170 eye-witness accounts of the ‘atrocities committed on Biharis and other non-Bengalis’ across 55 towns, covering ‘110 places where the slaughter of the innocents took place’.

According to Lawrence Lifschultz, South Asia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Mukti Bahini leader, Abdul Kader Siddiqui, “personally bayoneted” non-Bengalis to death and the entire incident was filmed by foreign film crews whom Siddiqui had invited to witness the spectacle.

For the record, as per the 1951 census there were 671,000 Biharis in East Pakistan-and imagine up to 20 percent of the entire Bihari population was massacred by the Mukti Bahini. According to Yasmin Saikia’s ‘Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh’, thousands of Bihari women were raped and tortured by the Mukti Bahini (Duke University Press; page 41).

As of 16 December 1971, the total strength of the Pakistani army troops posted in East Pakistan stood at 34,000 (of which 23,000 were infantry). By December 1971, the total strength of Indian troops around East Pakistan stood at between 150,000 and 400,000 with an additional 100,000 Indian-trained Mukti Bahini. The Indian air force deployed four Hunter Squadrons, one Sukhoi Squadron, three Gnat Squadrons and three MiG-21 Squadrons.

The Indian navy deployed Aircraft Carrier Vikrant comprising 47 aircraft, eight destroyers, two submarines and three landing ship tanks. In December 1971, India’s 4 Infantry Division, 9 Infantry Division, 20 Mountain Division, 6 Mountain Division, 8 Mountain Division, 57 Mountain Division and 23 Division invaded East Pakistan.

The old saying is that “no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind”. The Mukti Bahini terrorists may have been forgotten but the terror that they unleashed on innocent Biharis and other non-Bengalis cannot be whipped off the history books.

 

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