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Pak Tea House » Anniversery, Army, Bangladesh, Elections, History, India, movements, Pakistan » Bangladesh’s Independence Day

Bangladesh’s Independence Day

For an ordinary student of History, it is puzzling to know that Bangladesh does not celebrate its Independence day on the day that it seceded from Pakistan i.e. 16th December and instead on 25th March.
This was the day when Operation Searchlight was started by Pakistan Army against its own citizens and Army’s proxies Al-Shams and Al-Badr played their own ugly part in it. Bengalis chose to commemorate the martyrs of Operation Searchlight and chose March 25th as the Independence Day.

Following is an excerpt from Owen Bennet-Jones’ excellent book, “Pakistan: Eye of the Storm” on the fateful day, 42 years ago.

The order went out at 11.30 p.m. on 25 March 1971. Operation SEARCHLIGHT was underway and all over the East Pakistani capital, Dhaka, Pakistani troops fanned out to secure key objectives. After months of talks, the junta in Pakistan had decided on military action to bring the East Pakistani leadership into line. Pakistan’s military planners realised from the outset that Operation SEARCHLIGHT could alienate Bengali personnel inside the police and armed forces and that many Bengalis would disobey orders to suppress their fellow people. Worse still, they could take their weapons and use them in a fight for an independent Bangladesh. Consequently, one of Operation SEARCHLIGHT’s first objectives was to disarm any Bengali soldiers or police officers. In many places, the plans went awry.

In Chittagong, home to the Eighth East Bengal Regiment, most of the soldiers were East Pakistani Bengalis but some of the officers came from West Pakistan. As soon as the disarming operation began the Bengalis resisted. Hundreds of Bengalis in the Chittagong cantonment were killed before Major Zia ur Rehman (who later became president of Bangladesh) took the initiative. When he found out what was happening he did not hesitate. ‘We mutiny!’ he said. At midnight he went with a group of Bengali soldiers to the house of his commanding officer, Lt. Colonel A. R. Janjua and called him to the door. ‘I am taking over and you are under arrest,’ he said. Within minutes, Janjua and six other officers from West Pakistan were locked in an office. The Bengali soldiers wanted blood. At half past midnight the arrested officers, all from Punjab, were shot dead in the office. Addressing Bengali soldiers shortly afterwards Major Zia proclaimed, ‘We have mutinied. From this moment on we are in independent Bangladesh. Pakistan is no more.’

At 8.00 p.m. on 26 March General Yahya addressed the rapidly disintegrating Pakistani nation. The political negotiations, he said, had failed. Denouncing Mujib as an obstinate, obdurate traitor, he declared that it was the duty of the armed forces to ensure the integrity, solidarity and security of the country. The party that had won the overwhelming backing of the East Pakistani people, the Awami League, was banned. ‘I should have taken action against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his collaborators weeks ago,’ declared Yahya. ‘He and his party have defied the lawful authority for over three weeks. They have insulted Pakistan’s flag and defiled the photograph of the Father of the Nation. They have tried to run a parallel government. They have created turmoil, terror and insecurity.’

By the time he spoke, the Pakistan army had already moved into action. After the final breakdown of the talks with Mujib, Yahya had left Dhaka by plane. Operation SEARCHLIGHT began the moment he reached West Pakistani airspace. For weeks, West Pakistani troops in Dhaka had been too afraid to leave their barracks. Even to be seen in public risked violent attack from Bengali activists – some soldiers had been killed in the city in broad daylight. The troops wanted revenge and, in the words of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission, ‘It was as if a ferocious animal having been kept chained and starved was suddenly let loose.’

At midnight, a commando unit raided Mujib’s house and, after a brief fight, arrested the Awami League leader. The Pakistan army’s next targets were any Bengalis with weapons.

While some soldiers from West Pakistan were trying to gather arms from their erstwhile colleagues, others headed for Dhaka University, long considered a hotbed of Bengali nationalism. At 2.00 a.m. soldiers arrived at two student hostels and met strong resistance but within a couple of hours the army had prevailed. It is impossible to say how many died – quite probably hundreds. By the morning, freshly-turned earth indicated that the West Pakistani troops had dug mass graves.


Dhaka was, more or less, under control but outside the city it was a different story. With their obstinate refusal to understand East Pakistani opinion, the senior officers in West Pakistan predicted that the general population would remain largely neutral. It did not. The Bengali population stood full square behind their arrested leader, Mujibur Rahman. The West Pakistani troops responded to this defiance with furious aggression, murdering and even massacring whole villages, women and children included. The man in charge of the campaign, General Tikka Khan, himself conceded that the West Pakistani troops killed as many as 30,000 people. Presumably, the true figure was far higher.

For all the difficulties it faced, though, the Pakistani army soon felt it was getting the upper hand. Even if they refused to acquiesce, the Bengalis suffered from a lack of arms and by May the army had managed to establish control of all the major towns. The countryside, however, remained a much more difficult proposition. And, as the Bengalis became better organised, the Pakistan army’s problems mounted: ‘From June onwards’, Major General Shaukat Riza recalled, ‘the Pakistan army was chasing ghosts. Every bush, every hut, every moving thing was suspect.’

When killing Bengalis, the Pakistani soldiers used a euphemism: their victim, they used to say, ‘was being sent to Bangladesh’. The following quotations are from Pakistani officers who gave evidence to the Hamoodur Commission Report:

There was a general feeling of hatred against Bengalis amongst the soldiers and officers including Generals. There were verbal instructions to eliminate Hindus. In Salda Nadi area about 500 persons were killed. When the army moved to clear the rural areas and small towns, it moved in a ruthless manner; destroying, burning, killing.

—Lt. Col. Mansoorul Haq

Many junior and other officers took the law into their own hands to deal with so-called miscreants. There have been cases of interrogation of miscreants which were far more severe in character than normal and in some cases blatantly in front of the public. The discipline of the Pakistani army, as was generally understood, had broken down.

—Brigadier Mian Taskeenudin

General Niazi visited my unit at Thakurgaon and Bogra. He asked us how many Hindus we had killed. In May, there was an order in writing to kill Hindus.

—Lt. Col. Aziz Ahmed Khan.

 

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66 Responses to "Bangladesh’s Independence Day"

  1. zainulabideen United States Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    @mujtaba
    If pro-Mukti writers have highlighted only one aspect of the carnage, you seem to have advocated the opposite extreme. Violence breeds violence. If an innocent Bengali was harmed by a Jamaat-i-Islami activist, a similar response from the Bengali side should be taken as normal. In the heat of fighting, it’s not always “an eye for an eye”. Sometimes, it can be two eyes for an eye. You seem to be unhappy with the verdict issued against the JI terrorists. The point you need to understand is that the Jamaat-i-Islami, in 1971, emerged as a ruthless terrorist organization, targetting unarmed innocent Bengal civilians, under the banner of their version of Islam. The Jamaat-i-Islami in then East Pakistan, if anything contributed to the hatred towards the Army, in the hearts of ordinary Bengalis, and eventually to breaking up of Pakistan.
    .
    @parliament-certified muslim
    Hats off to Mujib who delivered the Bengali nation from an “Islam” that needs to be certified by the parliament or constitution. He achieved this by giving Bangladesh a truly secular constitution. By the way, no offence, but if being a parliament-certified Muslim in Pakistan, means being as stupid as you are, then I truly pity you people.

  2. parliament certified muslim United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    To all our Bengali Muslim brethren:
    In representation of all Parliament-certified Muslims of the Pakistan, I hereby invite you to accede to Pakistan. In return, we will grant you a Certificate-of-Islam, according to the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in lieu for the difficulties you may have faced during 1971. This Certificate-of-Islam will be duly issued by our Islamic Parliament and duly endorsed by Mumlikat al Saudia al Arabia al Islamia al Wahhabia al Salafia. Don’t lose this chance.

  3. Amin United Kingdom Safari iPad says:

    @ Parliament Certified Muslim: If Sheikh Mujib has been so successful at putting Bangladesh on the path of
    secularism, then why are millions of the Jaamat e Islami and the Hifazate Islami marching through the streets of Bangladesh demanding the promulgation of Blashphemy Laws and a curb on Ahmedi Muslims? Why doesn’t
    the Awami League Government have a Referendum on the issue as General Ershad has proposed?

  4. parliament certified muslim United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    @Amin
    Your question should be addressed to Zainulabideen, not to me. He is the one who was boasting Hats off to Mujib who delivered the Bengali nation from an “Islam” that needs to be certified by the parliament or constitution. He achieved this by giving Bangladesh a truly secular constitution. In contrast to his baseless claim, the sound & generous offer I am making is:

    To all our Bengali Muslim brethren:
    In representation of all Parliament-certified Muslims of the Pakistan, I hereby invite you to accede to Pakistan. In return, we will grant you a Certificate-of-Islam, according to the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in lieu for the difficulties you may have faced during 1971. This Certificate-of-Islam will be duly issued by our Islamic Parliament and duly endorsed by Mumlikat al Saudia al Arabia al Islamia al Wahhabia al Salafia. Don’t lose this chance.

    If you want to address me, talk about my offer, not about Zainulabideen’s analysis.

  5. Amin United Kingdom Safari iPad says:

    @ Zainul Abideen and @ Parliament Certified Muslim: Yes you are right. It should’ve been addressed to Zainul Abedin. Regarding your offer, if you convert to becoming Shiites then you are most welcome. We need to bolster
    the Shia population in Pakistan. Too many Salfist tupes ruling the roost . There has to be a counterweight .

  6. parliament certified Muslims (PCM) United States Google Chrome Windows says:

    @Amin

    Regarding your offer, if you convert to becoming Shiites then you are most welcome. We need to bolster the Shia population in Pakistan. Too many Salfist tupes ruling the roost. There has to be a counterweight

    Instead of responding positively to my beneficial offer, you have made a useless counter-offer. Please note that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan has the unique honour of having defined the term “Muslim”. Only we can, therefore, issue Certificates of Islam. Moreover, the Certificates of Islam issued by Pakistan enjoy the Saudi support and validation. I had made an extremely genuine offer, while you are making fun of my offer. Bengali Muslims, since seceding from Pakistan, have become a “People’s Republic”. Bengali Muslims are therefore, no longer “Certified Muslims”. If they repent and accede to Pakistan, they can get their long-awaited Certificates of Islam duly issued by the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and become “Certified Muslims”. If you are a Bengali Muslim, don’t you want to become a “Certified Muslim”?

  7. zainulabideen United States Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @Amin (April 9, 2013 at 9:03 pm)

    If Sheikh Mujib has been so successful at putting Bangladesh on the path of secularism, then why are millions of the Jaamat e Islami and the Hifazate Islami marching through the streets of Bangladesh demanding the promulgation of Blashphemy Laws and a curb on Ahmedi Muslims? Why doesn’t the Awami League Government have a Referendum on the issue as General Ershad has proposed?

    Sheikh Mujib’s success should be gauged the secular constitution he gave to his nation. That is the first step. Taking militant clerics to task, is the next step, which needs to taken by the government, in light of the secular constitution.
    .
    @parliament certified muslim (April 9, 2013 at 6:34 pm)

    To all our Bengali Muslim brethren:
    In representation of all Parliament-certified Muslims of the Pakistan, I hereby invite you to accede to Pakistan. In return, we will grant you a Certificate-of-Islam, according to the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in lieu for the difficulties you may have faced during 1971. This Certificate-of-Islam will be duly issued by our Islamic Parliament and duly endorsed by Mumlikat al Saudia al Arabia al Islamia al Wahhabia al Salafia. Don’t lose this chance.

    Bengali Muslims are Muslims because they believe they are Muslims. A “Certificate of Islam” issued by a parliament is as meaningless as a Ph.D degree issued by a bus-ticket counter. If there’s a waste paper basket in your room, throw your offer over there and then please do let me know.
    .
    @parliament certified muslim (April 11, 2013 at 10:57 pm)

    Bengali Muslims, since seceding from Pakistan, have become a “People’s Republic”. Bengali Muslims are therefore, no longer “Certified Muslims”.

    Bangladesh belongs to the “People of Bangladesh”. That is why it is called the “People’s Republic of Bangladesh”. Pakistan, which has become a hostage to violent Mullahism, belongs neither to Islam nor to the people of Pakistan. If anything, it is an insult to Islam. Yet, you call it the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”.

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  9. Isthiak Ahsan Bangladesh Google Chrome Windows says:

    Most of the Pakistanis seem to have blamed the independence of Bangladesh on India. I’m a Bangladeshi and I swear the reality is totally different. We became independent because of the wrongdoings done to our people. Today they’re doing the same to the people of Beluchistan.

    Joy Bangla!

  10. Hasnain Canada Google Chrome Windows says:

    it is already well known (except apparently to indians and bangali nationalists) that the plan to divide pakistan was put into motion long before march 1971. it wasn’t “spontaneous” in the least. even his own daughter has admitted it. mujib was a traitor not only to pakistan but to islam as well due to his collaboration with the enemies of muslims.
    as for balochistan. keeps your delusions to yourself plz. most balochis don’t want independence. the only ones who do are brainwashed by the same sardars living lavisly abroad. the same ones who direct their terrorist groups to destroy schools. the same ones who have kept their ppl in ignorance and poverty due to their lust for power and greed for wealth.

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  12. Fuad Hossain Bangladesh Safari iPhone says:

    Bangladeshi here…reason why we celebrate 26th march as our Independence Day is because after what happened on the night of 25th march we believed in our hearts that we were free by our hearts. We had to be. 16th December for that reason is regarded as celebration day. We may have called ourselves independent under Pakistani rule..but to say that people of west Pakistan has to be just as east Pakistan despite the difference in culture by geographical location and heritage was quite rediculous at the least. Bangladeshis are a brave creed. So it was a matter of time before the already rediculous plan of one country devided by hundreds of miles would ever work, before problems would occur. Plus the countries being too culturally different meant it was a bad idea to begin with. That’s why geographically if the countries were togather this problem probably wouldn’t be there in the first place. I’m not saying centralized governments don’t work. But west Pakistani governing system was structured favoring them by the banking and judiciary system. I have nothing against Pakistanis. They are my brothers and sisters. My friends. And I have quite a few. But it was a handful of misled and quite frankly illiterate and barbaric army personnel and politicians who devised such strategic oppression for personal gain. I know when the “normal” population hear about what had to happen they would shed a few tears with us…by my great misfortune I have met a few Pakistanis who still fester hate. And I do feel sorry for their ignorance and lack of humanity…but I believe most Pakistanis are loving and caring human beings just like us.. We are a few hours away from the 16th of December. And I’d like to remember this day as one that corrected a mishap which we shouldn’t have let happen in the first place..

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