Armed forces called again in aid of civil power to recover illegal arms and to restore law and order
In the month of April 1973 at a very delicate and desperate situation, direction less government was once again compelled to call the armed forces in aid of civil power to recover illegal arms and to restore law and order in the country. The entire civil administration was on the verge of collapse.
Col. Nazmul Huda was, then the Brigade Commander at Comilla. Col. Huda was also an accused of Agartala Conspiracy Case. He was blind towards Sheikh Mujib. But he also suffered within himself from a contradiction between his personal loyalty and his conscience and political awareness. We became very close to each other during the liberation war. We became so close that we used to discuss politics openly and frankly. We also discussed on various national issues with out any reservations. At times Col. Huda used to get scared at my straight talks, and used to say,
"Look Dalim, take it as an advice from a brother. You must be very careful in your conversations with others. Your straight forwardness may land you in trouble some day."
I used to respect his sincerity. One day after we received the operational order I reminded Col. Huda about the bitter experiences of 1972. Of course he was also aware of that sad episode. It was decided that COAS would be requested to come and brief the officers on the up coming operation. Thus we would get a chance to know from him about the real intention of the government and that of the Prime Minister. Did the Prime Minister at last decided to shun the bunch of boot lickers and wanted to take the side of the people? Was he seeking our help for such a purpose? We wanted to clarify such questions from the COAS.
Col. Huda invited Maj. Gen. Shafiullah to visit Comilla. Gen. Shafiullah came. He was asked in the conference, would the army face similar humiliating fate like that of 1972? In reply the Cief of Army Staff said,
"This time Bangabandhu means business. Even if his dead father was found implicated in any crime then his corpse could be exhumed for trail, no exception this time. That is what he told me personally and I have no doubt to disbelieve him."
Well and good, at long last Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has come to know the real character of his government and the party. He wanted to redress the injustice that has been done to the people. Discarding those lickers he wanted to be the leader of the people and that was why he had asked help from the patriotic armed forces. If this was the case than we would make this operation a success at any cost we promised to Maj. Gen. Shafiullah that day in the conference. The Chief left Comilla with a happy note. Col. Huda was made the commander of the operations in Comilla, Sylhet and Noakhali. I was made the operation incharge at Comilla. Sylhet and Noakali were placed under Maj. Hyder and Maj. Rashid respectively. The operation commenced. From the reports of the intelligence agencies it revealed that most of the illegal arms were with the leaders of Awami League and its front organizations. The arm operators were under their direct protection, So what? This time Sheikh Mujib was not ready to spare even his dead father. We started our operations full heartedly in our respective areas. Whereever we had gone we found the most notorious people, culprits, murderers, looters, miscreants, illegal gun runners were the leaders of the ruling party and its affiliated organizations or the influential people connected with the state power. The local leaders of the ruling party and its associates also provided us with lists of so called miscreants. But after investigation most of them turned out to be the most respectable and honest people of the localities. But most of them some how were either activists or supporters of the opposition political parties. Our task was to get hold of real miscreants. We had no prejudice against anyone or any party. Everyone was equal to us. We remained absolutely fair and impartial in our operations. We started arresting the culprits jointly with the civil administration and other law enforcing agencies. Most of them were big fries. Starting from Mumtaz Begum MP upto Zahirul Qayyum no one was spared. In Sylhet, Noakhali and the other parts of the country many big fishes like Sheikh Naser, Hasnat and many of their associates, political leaders, corrupt businessmen, influential touts were targeted by the army. The story was same every where. Most of the miscreants at every place turned out to be the people connected with the ruling party or the government. Through this operation the members of the armed forces got directly involved in conflict with the ruling elites. The whole nation got electrified with the success sorties of the military operation. At last Sheikh Saheb had decided to punish his Chatar Dal that was what the common people thought. They came out with enthusiastic help and support to make our operation successful. The anarchy subsided drastically and a marked improvement in law and order situation could be seen all over the country. The people regained their hopes. The nation, which had become apathetic due to misrule got back into life. The people were arrested strictly on merits and they all were subjected to the laws of the land. No discrimination was made whatsoever. Although we were receiving lots of pressure from different quarters even from the Prime Ministers secretariat, we remained firm, no preferential treatment to anyone. Law is equal for all. Suddenly Maj. Gen. Shafiullah sent a directive to the Brigade Commander to release some of the arrested offenders. Col. Huda sent back a tough reply. It was not possible for him to release anyone, because it was the law, which could decide about their fates, as they had already been charge sheeted. He did not have the right to take the law into his own hands. The Cief of Army staff conveyed his reply to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister called Col. Huda. Col. Huda humbly requested the Prime Minister to dispatch Mr. Tofayel Ahmed, his political secretary along with the Chief for carrying out on the spot investigation. He also told the Prime Minister that through investigation, if it was established that the army had over acted or violated the law then Prime Minister was free to take him to task in whatever manner he deemed it appropriate. And he as the operation commander would be ready to accept any punishment. That day his strength of character and sincerity of purpose charmed me. I just could not imagine that Col. Huda could talk in such a way to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader to whom he was so blindly loyal. The Prime Minister agreed to send someone for the investigation. The same day Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman the Deputy Chief of Staff arrived Comilla by helicopter. Mr. Tofayel Ahmed could not be convinced to accompany Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman. That was quite expected. Because Mr. Tofayel knew it well that if he came he had to return after accepting the fact that every action taken against the accused persons was correct and lawful. After Maj. Gen. Zia arrived all the Awami League leaders of Comilla and other districts were invited to the Comilla cantonment for a meeting. At the meeting the area commanders briefed in details about each arrested person under his jurisdiction, explaining the allegations, charges, and the circumstances under which they had been arrested alongwith documentary evidences. None of the leaders who were present could not refute any single case nor they could say that the army had done any high handedness or excess. Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahaman suggested that Col. Huda and I should accompany him to Dhaka to brief the Prime Minister about the details of the operations. We came to Dhaka in the same helicopter. From the army headquarters Maj. Gen. Shafiullah joined us. Arrangements had already been made for the meeting with the Prime Minister at his residence at Road No. 32. On our arrival we found the Prime Minister and his political secretary Mr. Tofayel Ahmed were impatiently waiting for us. The moment we entered Sheikh Mujibur Rahman saw Col. Huda and me and roared,
"What do you think you are? There are no other miscreants in the country other than the Awami Leaguers? Dont you see JSD or Sharbahara party people?"
We were quite surprised. What the Prime Minister was talking about? Col. Huda replied,
"Sir, we have gone into this operation on your order to get hold of the real culprits and the miscreants. We are impartial. Everyone is equal to us. On the basis of the information supplied by the intelligence agencies and having them verified we arrested each individual on specific charges. If all of them happen to be the Awami Leaguers then what could we do Sir?"
Mr. Tofayl read out a few names and demanded that they should be released immediately. Echoing his demand Sheikh Mujibur Rahman pointed toward me and said,
"Well whatever may be the case, now arrange for their immediate release".
"Sir, we are no one to catch or release any person. We have just acted on the orders, which came to us through the proper channel. It is you who ordered the operation and perhaps it is you who could release the arrested ones as the head of the government. Should you consider such release legal than issue your orders to the respective law enforcing agencies for their release. How could any one of us or I for that matter release them from legal custody? The matter is not in our hands any more. They are under the law of the land. We had already handed them over to the legal authorities". I replied.
The Prime Minister was dumfounded for a while. Then he said pointing towards Maj. Gen. Shafiullah,
"Bazan please do something or Awami League will be finished." As the Prime Minister addressed him as Bazan, he rose from his seat and very humbly said,
"Banga Bandhu, please dont be upset. I shall definitely do some thing. You can trust me.". Saying so he again sank back into his sofa. We observed silently the most unbecoming behavior of the Chief of Army Staff. Meanwhile Mr. Tofayel Ahmed said some thing in the ears of the Prime Minister. As he finished the Prime Minister became furious and demanded,
"Capt. Hyee, Capt. Huda, Lt. Tayab at Comilla and Capt. Zahir at Sylhet must be punished. They brutally tortured the prisoners". This was addressed to Col. Huda.
"Sir, they are subordinate officers. Whatever they did, they did so on orders. The allegation of torture is baseless, and unfounded. However, should you want to punish anyone it should be me as the overall commander. If you decide to punish my subordinate officers leaving me aside then I shall be humiliated and it will be difficult for me to go back and command the troops."
The Prime Minister was taken aback by such an unexpected reply.
Suddenly, he got up and said,
"All right thats enough for today. You all may leave now". Then he looked at me and said,
"Dalim you stay back for dinner". So I stayed back and the rest left. I could sense that the Prime Minister would like to talk some thing in confidence. Mr. Tofayl Ahmed had also left along with others. Sheikh Saheb and I went inside the house. It was about 11p.m. at night. The food was served in the inner verandah as usual. We both sat down for the dinner. While eating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman said,
"How could all these happen to Awami Leaguers when you are there in Comilla?"
"Chacha, believe me, we started the operation with no prejudice whatsoever. Chief visited Comilla before the operation and had said that you have told him in no uncertain terms that even if your dead father were found guilty he would also not be spared this time. We just acted accordingly. I request you to come to Comilla and see how jubilant the people are. They are organizing special prayers for you in every mosque. Every body is thinking that this time you mean business. You are going to straighten up the Chatar Dal. In such a situation as the leader of the nation you should give priorities to the peoples sentiment. I think after this operation your popularity has again gone up. Now if you release the culprits for political reason will that be beneficial to you? I think you are going to loose more. Your advisors may say anything, but I consider that it will not be right to release them without trial. It is you personality who would be effected the most with such a wrong decision."
"But then how am I going to run without my party?" He asked.
"Ofcourse you need your party. Why dont you consider this to be a rectification campaign? One can always have a party comprised of good and honest people throwing out the miscreants and the evil ones. Please Chacha dont take any offense, do you consider it befitting to be known as the leader of the thieves, looters, miscreants and thugs? It is true that most of the people so far caught are Awami Leaguers. That it self proves that at presents your party is infested with bad elements. Discard them and see how much support you get from the people."
Sheikh Saheb was listening quietly with a grim look. Suddenly he broke silence,
"Well, I know very well so called Janagon."
I could not understand what he meant by that. We finished our meal. He retired to his bedroom. I was also preparing to leave. At that time Sheikh Kamal appeared from some where
"Boss, you have just finished Awami League. This is no good." I replied,
" If all bad elements are Awami leaguers then that is not our fault."
With out prolonging any further I just left. It was a long day and I was dead tired. When I reached home at Malibagh I found Abba was still awake and waiting for my return. I understood Nimmi must have called from Comilla and informed him about my arrival at Dhaka. Abba asked what happened? I narrated every thing. After hearing everything he said,
"What do you think? Do you really believe that Sheikh Mujib had deployed the army to go for the miscreants? I know him very closely. When I was the general secretary at the S.M. Hall, we did Muslim League politics together. He has no principle. He always achieved his aim through clicks and intrigues sometime with lathis. He is a great opportunist. As far as I am concerned he wanted to kill two birds with one stone. In one hand he wanted to take care of the present anti government movement particularly JSD and Sharbahara party and on the other hand he wanted to expose the armed forces as an oppressive tool by creating a conflict between the people and the armed forces. But you people knowingly or unknowingly have frustrated his plan. See now what he does. I am concerned about you. I only hope that you dont get victimized".
I had nothing to say in reply. How much he was right that only the future could tell. Abba found me very tired so he said,
"Make a call to Nimmi and sleep". Before calling it a night he concluded,
"Dont over estimate Mujib. He is just an average man".
Next morning Maj. Gen. Shafiullah called me and asked to see him at the headquarters. At the headquarters I saw Col. Huda. He was also called. Col. Huda said,
"Chief will go with us to Comilla to release those guys".
I became thoroughly demoralized. Col. Huda was also very sulky about the whole thing. Capt. Nur Choudhury was then the ADC to Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman. I went to his room and said,
"I want to see the Boss right away". Capt. Nur went in and informed Maj. Gen. Zia bout me. I was immediately called in. I found him very grave as well.
"Well I know every thing. Dont loose heart. God is there. You have done your duty and forget about the rest".
We returned to Comilla alongwith the Chief again by the helicopter. The Chief personally released those who were arrested. Right in front of our nose they all went out as victors chanting the praises for Sheikh Mujib. We had to digest every thing helplessly. Before leaving for Dhaka Maj. Gen. Shafiullah told us,
"Prime Ministers desire is an order."
This incidence demoralized the entire defense forces deployed all over the country. Rumors were ripe that Sheikh Mujib was going to call off the army operation very soon. Since then we just remained deployed. But we stopped taking any interest or initiative in the operation. We were just passing time.