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Friday, April 20, 2018

A general's in-depth A to Z study of 1971 Bangladesh military operation

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Nadeem Qadir journeys with the author Major General Md. Sarwar Hossain, who gives a detailed study of his exhaustive research on how the Bengali army officers planned, fought and won victory in the 1971 Independence War.

We have read books on military operations on the Bangladesh war written mostly by Indian and Pakistani generals, but very few Bengali army officers have ventured into writing books on the subject. The most talked about book is "A Tale of Millions" written by retired Major Rafiqul Islam, who was decorated with Bir Uttam medal and served the Awami League government as Home Minister.

As Major Rafiq's book was published soon after the independence of Bangladesh in 1974 and possibly the first English language publication on the subject at home, it drew widespread attention. It was also considered a book with authentic information without any partisan biases or motivated information.

On the other hand, Major General Md. Sarwar Hossain, who is currently the military secretary to the President, must have found writing the book very challenging holding a sensitive job. It was a long four-year journey of exhaustive research and then putting them together in a book form as most information are attributed to different books or articles published around the world. 

The book published by the prestigious Bangla Academy, was launched in January, 2018 by President Abdul Hamid in the grand Durbar Hall of the Bangabhaban presidential palace graced by personalities from different backgrounds. It has been dedicated to the memory of the freedom fighters and the members of the Indian Armed Forces who made "supreme sacrifices" in our Independence War.

The cover of the book, priced at 1,500 Taka or US $50, has been designed by Md. Azgarul Amin Russell and financed by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh. (ISBN 984-07-5707-5) The author was only a seven-year-old boy during the Independence War and the foreword by former army chief General Abdul Mubeen says, the author "succumbed to his deep inner cravings many years later to chronicle one of the defining events in the history of humanity."

General Mubeen writes "Major General Sarwar made a bold attempt to deal with this vast subject in a very comprehensive manner." I fully agree with the former army chief.The comments by President and Vice Chancellor of Western University of Canada, Amit Chakma, and India's Jadavpur University History Professor Chittabrata Palit brings an added dimension to the book.

Chakma writes "No history book is ever complete. And this is no exception. However, tyhe author managed to chronicle the heroic roles played by regular and non-regular members of the liberation forces very well."Praising the author's "objectivity," Professor Palit writes "It is both thoroughing and outstanding and is going to be the best reference on the subject."

I note that in line with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's position of recognising and honouring Indian soldiers for their contributions, the book has given due honour to those Indian heroes who fought shoulder-to-shoulder with freedom fighters at the fag end of the nine-month war. Giving true recognition to any good work is a sign of civility and gratitude. It is a quality not too common in Bangladesh.

Major General Sarwar writes in his preface that "Truth needs to be told and taught to the members of the future generation. History is neither for excuses or revenge." The general then sighted the example of how only after the Awami League government assumed power in 1996 after 21 years that "we could promote the history of our war."
I must thank the author for being so bold with his uniform still on and thank him to indicate how true history was suppressed between 1975 and 1996.

Referring to his stay in Pakistan for training in 1993, he found how his counterparts were "As far as 1971 war is concerned, Pakistan's narrative is one of complete denial." He says Pakistanis suffered from "historical amnesia."
My experience in Pakistan has been the same. The man-on-the-street have no idea about the genocide and their knowledge is fenced in a wrong description of the war --- "India broke away East Pakistan, but you are still our brother."

On the other hand, he graciously acknowledges the contribution of the IndianArmy as "very significant." But he notes Indian books on the subject "abounds more in their glories and exploits," while the role of Freedom Fighters were not projected in the right perspective.

The 450-page book is an asset for those who write, research or are just interested about the war.Divided into 10 chapters, which are again sub-divided, not only carries information on all the Bangladeshi districts during war and has graphical representations as well as relevant maps. The general has done an extensive research and must have taken couple of years to be ready for publication. At the end of the book, there are lists of abbreviations, symbols, figures and tables along with appendices.

Gen. Sarwar has referred to many publications in writing the book which are listed after each chapter. He has only analysed them at the end of the chapters apparently to stay above any controversy.However, the analysis by the author are also significant and I found them to be very articulate as well as helpful for the readers to understand in short what each chapter had tried to portray on the war.

On Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, he picked up the following for his book: "Mujib had spent nearly 14 years in Pakistan custody and was implicated in a case against the state. But he was not a revolutionary leader like Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh or Fidel Castro. He believed in constitutional politics and never thought of going underground."

Coming to the Declaration of Independence, which assassinated President Ziaur Rahman's followers shamelessly created a controversy, General Sarwar has thse words: "During those early days, the clandestine Radio Station set up at Kalurghat did a splendid job by broadcasting the Declaration of Independence articulated by Maj. Zia on behalf of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. This declaration spontaneously revived the spirit of the fighting elements and brought all under a common psychological framework for waging war."

A very important point raised by him is how the 1971 war has been wrongly attributed as India-Pakistan war, especially by the Indian writers."This has slandered the pride of thousands of Freedom Fighters. If we go by the timeline, it is seen that the Mukti Bahini fought for long nine months as opposed to a brief two weeks long Allied offensive starting 3 December 1971 to 16 December 1971. In the course of the war, it is clear that several battles were being fought, but the first war was fought between Pakistani and Bangladeshi forces," he writes calling the India-Pakistan war as a "by-product" of the Bangladesh-Pakistan war.

I must salute the author for bringing up this very important issue in his book and explaining it in very easy language. Anyone interested to delve deep into the issue, there are more chapters that clarifies General Sarwar's position.

In conclusion General Sarwar, himself a son of a retired air force officer, writes "finally, it is the story of an astounding Bengali victory and should serve as a stimulant not only for the Bengalis once long depressed with frustrations and disappointments, but also for those who all have and will be joining as the proud members of new generation Bengalis in the coming days."

I have no choice, but agree with his last words because many actors of the war and mentioned in the book are still alive. Thus there is no chance of resorting to any false information.


The reviewer is the Roving Editor,The Asian Age

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