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The Mukti Bahini (Bengali: মুক্তি বাহিনী meaning Liberation Army) is term which refers to all Bengali resistance forces which fought against the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The Pakistan Army launched military operations against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel after sundown on March 25, 1971. In response, Bangladesh declared independence and Bengali military and paramilitary personnel, as well as civilians, started spontaneous resistance against the aggression. This was the formation of the Mukti Bahini. Later in April, Bangladesh Armed Forces was formed formally with Col. M. A. G. Osmani as the commander-in-chief, Lt. Col. Abdur Rob as the chief-of-staff and Capt. A. K. Khandaker as the deputy chief-of-staff. The armed forces as well as the paramilitary and civilian forces who fought alongside them for the liberation of Bangladesh are referred to as the Mukti Bahini.
- 1 Background
- 2 Involvement in War
- 2.1 Formation
- 2.2 Organization
- 2.3 List of Sectors and Subsectors
- 3 Awards given to Mukti Bahini sepoys
- 4 Dissolution
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
In August 1947, the Partition of British India gave rise to two new states; the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan, the latter intended to be a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent. The Dominion of Pakistan comprised two geographically and culturally separate areas to the east and the west of India. The western zone was popularly (and for a period of time, also officially) termed West Pakistan and the eastern zone (now Bangladesh) was initially termed East Bengal and later, East Pakistan. Although the population of the two zones was close to equal, political power was concentrated in West Pakistan and it was widely perceived that East Pakistan was being exploited economically, leading to many grievances. Administration of two discontinuous territories was also seen as a challenge. On 25 March 1971, rising political discontent and cultural nationalism in East Pakistan was met by brutal suppressive force from the ruling elite of the West Pakistan establishment, in what came to be termed Operation Searchlight.
The events of the nine-month conflict of the Bangladesh Liberation War are widely viewed as genocide; the Pakistan Army and collaborators targeted Hindu communities, intellectuals and members of the political opposition for attacks. Historians have estimated that, during the conflict, between two hundred thousand and four hundred thousand women and children were raped leading to an estimated 25,000 war babies being born. Estimates of persons killed during the conflict range from between 269,000 to one to three million. An estimated ten million refugees entered India, a situation which contributed to its government’s decision to intervene militarily in the civil war. Thirty million people were displaced. Susan Brownmiller documented that girls from the age of eight to grandmothers of seventy-five suffered rapes during the war.
Involvement in War
Mukti Bahini fought against Pakistan army in various battlegrounds throughout the country and also performed guerrilla operations in different army camps and establishments. Most of them did not have any professional military training nor they had any time for it. They were trained during the war. Sector commanders directed the guerrilla attacks and also trained the Mukti Bahini. The training camps were mostly situated near border areas with the direct assistance of India.
The Mukti Bahini consisted of Bengali members of Pakistan armed forces and civilians from East Pakistan, in response to the Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971, a violent military operation carried out by the Pakistan Army to curb the Bengali nationalist movement through selective genocide of Bengali people.
Mukti Bahini used Guerrilla warfare tactics to fight against the Pakistan Army. India provided economic, military and diplomatic support to the Mukti Bahini, leading West Pakistan to launch Operation Chengiz Khan, a preemptive attack on the western border of India which started the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.The operation also precipitated the 1971 Bangladesh genocide and caused roughly 10 million refugees to flee to India. Essentially Bengali intelligentsia, academics and Hindus were targeted for the harshest treatment, with significant indiscriminate killing taking place. These systematic killings enraged the Bengalis, who declared independence from Pakistan, to achieve the new state of Bangladesh.
When the Pakistan Army started the military crackdown on the Bengali population, they did not expect a prolonged resistance. But a large number of Bengali members of the East Bengal Regiments (EBR), East Pakistan Rifles (EPR, later BDR, BGB), police, other paramilitary forces, students and other civilians started resistance against the Pakistan Army. With the formation of Bangladesh government on 17 April 1971, Colonel M. A. G. Osmani (later General) was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of all Bangladesh Forces. The members of EBR, EPR, police and other paramilitary forces were later called “regular force” or “niomito bahini”.
During a conference of sector commanders held from 11 to 17 July 1971 held at Kolkata, the forces were further organized and the command was set up with Col. Osmany as the commander-in-chief (C-in-C) with the status of a cabinet minister, Lt. Col., Abdur Rabb as the Chief of Staff (COS), Group Captain A K Khandker as the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCOS) and Major A R Chowdhury as the Assistant Chief of Staff (ACOS). Bangladesh was divided into eleven sectors. Sector commanders were in charge of conducting guerrilla operations and training fighters. The 10th Sector was under the command of C-in-C Osmany and included the Naval Commandos and C-in-C’s special force.
During this conference some major initiatives were taken to organize the Mukti Bahini. This meeting was focused to discuss different problems and future course of action. In this conference Lt. Col. M A Rabb was appointed the Chief-of-staff and Group Captain A K Khandaker was appointed the Deputy Chief-of-staff. The important issues that were discussed during this conference are:
- Define the boundary of different sectors
- Organize guerrilla warfare by the following ways:
- A group of 5-10 trained fighters would be sent inside Bangladesh with specific instructions
- Guerrilla fighters will be classified as:
- Guerrilla base: each base would provide food, medicine and accommodation of the guerrilla fighters.
- Action group: members of this group would take part in frontal attacks, 50~100% of them would carry arms
- Intelligence: members of this group would gather enemy information, they would not take part in frontal attacks, 30% of them would carry arms
- The regular force would be immediately organized as battalion force and sector troops.
- Military attacks against the enemy would be carried out by the following ways:
- A large number of guerrilla fighters would be sent inside Bangladesh to carry out raid and ambush at every convenient places
- Industries would be shut down by disrupting electric supply
- Pakistanis would not be allowed to export any raw materials or manufactured goods and the warehouse would be destroyed
- The railways and boats used to carry enemy soldiers and enemy military instruments would be destroyed
- The war strategy should be to force the enemy to disperse
- After dispersing the enemy the smaller groups would be attacked by the guerrilla fighters
Besides the eleven sectors, the combatants were also divided and reorganized into several groups:
- Regular army battalion (“niomito bahini”, নিয়মিত বাহিনী)
- Sector troops
- Irregular force or freedom fighters (“oniomito bahini”, অনিয়মিত বাহিনী)
In addition, some independent forces fought in various regions of Bangladesh. These included the Mujib Bahini, organized by Major General Oban of the Indian Army and Student League leaders Serajul Alam Khan, Sheikh Fazlul Haque Mani, Kazi Arif Ahmed, Abdur Razzak, Tofael Ahmed, A. S. M. Abdur Rab, Shahjahan Siraj, Nur E Alam Siddiqi, and Abdul Quddus Makhon and the Kaderia Bahini under Kader Siddique of Tangail. Kaderia Bahini also created a volunteer group to help his Bahini. Some other groups of freedom fighters were controlled by the Leftist parties and groups including the NAP and Communist Parties. A strong guerrilla force led by Siraj Sikder fought several battles with the Pakistani soldiers in Payarabagan, Barisal. Three brigades were created by Ziaur Rahman, Khaled Mosharraf and K M Shafiullah by the name of Z-force, K-force and S-force. A young guerrilla group named “Crack Platoon” did some courageous guerrilla attacks in the Dhaka city that attracted several international media at that time.
List of Sectors and Subsectors
Map showing Bangladesh liberation war sectors of Mukti Bahini operation
During the Liberation war, Bangladesh was geographically divided into eleven areas known as sectors. Each sector had sector commander who coordinated the military operations through sub-sector commanders. The sector commanders were officers of Pakistan army who joined Mukti Bahini. Table below lists all the sectors and sector commanders with their sub-commanders and geographical locations.
|Sectors of Bangladesh Liberation War|
|Sector||Area||Sector Commander||Sub Sectors (Commanders)|
|1||Chittagong District, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and the entire eastern area of the Noakhali District on the banks of the river Muhuri. The headquarters of the sector was at Harina.||• Major Ziaur Rahman (April 10, 1971 – June 25, 1971)
• Captain Rafiqul Islam (June 28, 1971 – February 14, 1972)
|2||Districts of Dhaka, Comilla, and Faridpur, and part of Noakhali District.||• Major Khaled Mosharraf (April 10, 1971 – September 22, 1971)
• Major ATM Haider (Sector Commander September 22, 1971 – February 14, 1972)
|3||Area between Churaman Kathi (near Sreemangal) and Sylhet in the north and Singerbil of Brahmanbaria in the south.||• Major K. M. Shafiullah (April 10, 1971 – July 21, 1971)
• Captain ANM Nuruzzaman (July 23, 1971 – February 14, 1972)
|4||Area from Habiganj District on the north to Kanaighat Police Station on the south along the 100 mile long border with India. The headquarters of the sector was initially at Karimganj and later at Masimpur.||• Major Chittarajan Datta (April 10, 1971 – February 14, 1972)
• Captain A Rab
|5||Area from Durgapur to Dawki (Tamabil) of Sylhet District and the entire area up to the eastern borders of the district. The headquarters of the sector was at Banshtala.||• Major Mir Shawkat Ali (April 10, 1971 – February 14, 1972)||
|6||Rangpur District and part of Dinajpur District. The headquarters of the sector was at Burimari near Patgram.||• Wing Commander M Khademul Bashar (April 1971 – February 14, 1972)||
|7′||Rajshahi, Pabna, Bogra and part of Dinajpur District. The headquarters of the sector was at Taranngapur.||• Major Nazmul Huq (April 10 – August 20, 1971)
• Major Quazi nooruzzaman (August 21 – February 14, 1972)
• Subedar Major A Rab
|8||In April 1971, the operational area of the sector comprised the districts of Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna, Barisal, Faridpur and Patuakhali. At the end of May the sector was reconstituted and comprised the districts of Kuhstia, Jessore, Khulna, Satkhira and the northern part of Faridpur district. The headquarters of the sector was at Benapole.||• Major Abu Osman Chowdhury (April 10 – July 17, 1971)
• Major Abul Manzoor (August 14, 1971 – February 14, 1972)
|9||Barisal, Patuakhali, and parts of the district of Khulna and Faridpur.||• Major M A Jalil (July 17 – December 24, 1971)
• Major MA Manzur
• Major Joynal Abedin
|10||This sector was constituted with the naval commandos.||• Commander HQ BD Forces (December 3–16, 1971)||None.|
|11||Mymensingh and Tangail along with parts of Rangpur – Gaibandha, Ulipur, Kamalpur and Chilmari. The headquarters of the sector was at Teldhala until October 10, then transferred to Mahendraganj.||• Major Ziaur Rahman (June 26, 1971 – October 10, 1971;
• Major Abu Taher (October 10, 1971 – November 2, 1971;
• Squadron Leader M. Hamidullah Khan) (November 2, 1971 – February 14, 1972)From October 10 until November 2, 1971, Major Abu Taher was temporarily appointed to this Sector as Major Zia was abruptly ordered to move with his Brigade to Sylhet Region. Due to accidental injury he suffered in his leg, he was transferred to Pune, India for treatment)
Awards given to Mukti Bahini sepoys
The Bir Sreshtho (Bengali: বীরশ্রেষ্ঠ) (The Most Valiant Hero), is the highest award given to those who show utmost bravery and die in action for their nation. It was awarded to seven Mukti Bahini fighters. They were:
- Ruhul Amin
- Mohiuddin Jahangir
- Mostafa Kamal
- Hamidur Rahman
- Munshi Abdur Rouf
- Nur Mohammad Sheikh
- Matiur Rahman
The other three gallantry awards are, in decreasing order of importance, Bir Uttom, Bir Bikrom and Bir Protik. All of these awards were introduced immediately after the Liberation War in 1971.
On 16 December 1971, the allied forces of the Mukti Bahini and the Indian army defeated the Pakistan Army deployed in the East. The resulting surrender was the largest in number of prisoners of war since World War II. Mukti Bahini was succeeded by the Bangladesh Armed Forces.