Accounts of the occupation force members too bear out how Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and its paramilitary wings styled Razakar, Al Badr, and Al Shams Bahini worked fervently against the country’s war of independence.
For instance, Siddiq Salik, who was serving the Pakistan army as a major in Bangladesh in 1971, in his book ‘Witness to Surrender’ recounts the anti-liberation role of Jamaat, Muslim League and Nizam-i-Islam.
He observed that Jamaat leaders collaborated with them [Pakistan army] not only to advance their ideals of Pakistan as an Islamic state, but also to wreak vengeance on people they were at enmity with.
Referring to the drives against Bangalee freedom fighters, he wrote, “These operations were only a partial success because the West Pakistani troops neither knew the faces of the suspects nor could they read the lane numbers (in Bengali).
They had to depend on the cooperation of the local people. The Bengalis, by and large, still cherished the hope of Mujib’s return and assumed an attitude of passive indifference.”
He continued, “The only people who came forward were ‘the rightists like Khwaza Khairuddin of the Council Muslim League, Fazlul Qader Chaudhry of the Convention Muslim League, Khan Sobur A Khan of the Qayyum Muslim League, Professor Ghulam Azam of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulvi Farid Ahmed of the Nizam-i-Islam Party.”
Describing his experience working with the Bangladeshi collaborators, the book reads, “They had all been defeated by the Awami League in the 1970 elections and carried little appeal for the Bengalis. The people generally felt that they were outdated coins being given currency by the Army once again.
“But the Army, out of sheer necessity, valued their presence and followed their advice. I suggested in one of the meetings that instead of propagating the statements of this ‘outdated coins,’ it would be better to seek the cooperation of teachers, lawyers, artists and intellectuals who command respect in their respective fields.”
Salik began his career as a lecturer after graduating in English literature and international affairs from Punjab University. He had been in journalism before joining the army as a public relations officer.
He came to Bangladesh in January 1970 on a tour of duty that ended with the defeat of Pakistan on December 16, 1971. He was taken as a prisoner of war (POW) in India and was released after two years. He was in the army until his death in 1988.
Published by University Press Limited, Salik’s book is the detailed professional account of the war. It deals mainly with his days during the war and as a POW in India.
Talking about how some members of the Pakistan army conducted themselves during the war, he said, “During these operations, some troops, to the shame of all, indulged in looting, killing and rape. Nine cases of rape were officially reported and the culprits were severely punished, but the damage had been done. How many cases there were in all, I do not know….
“The stories of these atrocities naturally alienated the Bengali population. They were not very fond of us before, but now they hated us bitterly. No serious effort was made to arrest this trend or diminish the hatred. Hence there was no question of mass co-operation by the Bengalis. Only those people joined hands with us who, in the name of Islam and Pakistan, were prepared to risk everything.”
On the collaboration groups, Salik said, “These patriotic elements were organised into two groups. The elderly and prominent among them formed Peace Committees, while the young and able-bodied were recruited as Razakars (volunteers). The committees were formed in Dacca as well as in the rural areas and they served as a useful link between the Army and the local people.
“Razakars were raised to augment the strength of the West Pakistani troops and to give a sense of participation to the local population. Their manpower rose to nearly 50,000 as against a target of 100,000.”
The chapter named ‘Insurgency’ reads, “In September a political delegation from west Pakistan complained to General Niazi that he had raised an Army of Jamaat-e-Islami nominees. The general called me to office and said, ‘From now on, you will call the Razakars, Al-Badr and Al Shams to give the impression that they do not belong to one single party.”
Referring to the ‘dedication’ displayed by the collaborators, it adds, “The Al Badr and Al Shams groups were a dedicated lot, keen to help the army. They worked hard and suffered hard. About 5,000 of them or their dependent suffered at the hands of the Mukti Bahini for the crime of co-operation. Some of them displayed a sense of sacrifice comparable to the best troops in the world.”
In the chapter titled ‘An Opportunity Lost’, Salik wrote, “Some of them were genuinely interested in the integrity of Pakistan and they risked their own lives to cooperate with the Army, but a few of them also used their links with the Army to settle old score with pro-AL people.”
He continued, “For instance, a rightist politician arrived one day in Martial law headquarters with a teen aged boy. He met me by chance on the Veranda and whispered in confidence that he had some vital information to impart about the rebels.
“I took him to the appropriate authority where he said that the boy, a nephew of his, had managed to escape from a rebels’ concentration in Keraniganj across the Burhi Ganga river. The boy added that the rebels not only harassed the locals but also planned to attack Dacca city at night.
“A ‘cleaning operation was’ immediately ordered. The commander of troops was briefed. The field guns, mortars and recoilless rifles were readied to ‘soften’ the target in a pre-dawn bombardment. The troops were to make a pincer move to capture it at day-break.
“I watched the progress of the action in the operations room where the gunfire was clearly audible. Soon some automatic weapons also joined the battle. Many people feared that the attacking battalion might not be able to bag all the 5,000 rebels reported in the locality. The operation was over after sunrise. It was confirmed that the target had been neutralised without any casualties to our troops.”
To stress the point once again that the Bangladeshi collaborators had purposes other than pursuing the ideology of an Islamic state, Salik recollects, “In the evening I met the officer who carried out the attack. What he said was enough to chill my blood. He confided. ‘There were no rebels, and no weapons. Only poor country-folk, mostly women and old men got roasted in the barrage of fire. It is a pity that the operation was launched without proper intelligence. I will carry this burden on my conscience for the rest of my life’.”
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